After Escaping a Violent Marriage
I don't know which is worse, dealing with the domestic violence or the post traumatic stress disorder that followed.
It began within 5 days after I finally separated from my husband. I tried to go to sleep at night. Within minutes, I would fly out of bed with my heart racing. Sometimes I ran. I had no idea where I was running to or what I was running from. I felt terror and needed to escape but there was nothing to escape from. I didn't sleep for 2 solid weeks. My memory no longer worked. I was slurring and unable to speak. When I did speak, I was unable to remember what I was trying to say and couldn't complete a sentence. Sometimes my heart would race for no reason. I forgot major important information like what state I lived in.
My first sleep after 2 weeks did not go well. I kept waking up from horrifying nightmares. In all my nightmares, there was death, gore, and a prevailing sense of helplessness. Sometimes I would fly out of bed, or tear up my bed, sleep walk… and almost every morning I awoke to a state of paralysis. I would feel that I'm floating over a dark abyss or a black hole that is trying to suck me in. I couldn't move. I couldn't scream. I felt death was sitting on top of me and I was helpless and weak.
Eventually, I refused to sleep at night. I would play endless hours of solitaire and average 1 to 3 hours of sleep. When I did sleep, I left the light on. I felt afraid of the dark, afraid of night, and most of all, afraid of life/death. I wanted escape worse than anything and began plotting my suicide. It was my intense fear of death that kept me alive. Soon, I discovered the wonderful world of alcohol and used it to escape life and to sleep at night.
Before alcohol, I tried to go to counseling. I was diagnosed with PTSD. My counselor treated me with EMDR. I had to relive all the awful events in my life and especially the trauma. I had to relive my friend's suicide. After a few sessions, I quit. I hated therapy and never went back. The nightmares persisted and I began to live my life in the club. The strobe light, the alcohol, the music… it was like being in another world and it was escape.
For the first 6 months after the trauma, I wanted no contact with my old friends. I felt that they could hurt me and they did hurt me and I just can't bear more hurt. I found life unendurable. Pain/hurt/terror/fear/pain/pain/DEPRESSION…. Was all I could feel.
One night while I was sitting with my parents, a heavy blanket of fear came over me. It wouldn't go away. I lost faith. In one second, I no longer believed in God. Suddenly life took on a horror movie perspective. Everything looked dark and sinister. I was unable to locate my lost faith. Everything was hopeless and I was helpless. Everything was evil and there was nothing good. I felt that death was imminent and I had no future. No hope for a future. In one minute, I lost all happiness, hope, faith, and vitality. The feeling never went away. I was under this heavy blanket of fear and horror and I couldn't shake the feeling. Not sleep, not time, nothing in the world could make it go away. I also lost my memory. I didn't lose my complete memory, just a few years, a bunch of friends, and a million things I used to know. I passed by a church building everyday to work and I thought it looked familiar. It took me a year to finally realize I used to attend church there and even work in their daycare.
I didn't associate with my coworkers or family or friends. I felt alienated. They lived in a world of hope, friends, and family and I wanted to keep my horror movie to myself. I felt awkward. I felt foreign. I received no support nor did I ask for any. I refused to cry. I just picked myself up, went to work, and paid my bills as if the trauma didn't occur. I picked up as if I wasn't suffering memory loss, alienation, anxiety, or loneliness. My sleep suffered greatly. I could no longer solve puzzles or equations or any of the other things I used to find easy.
About 6 months after the trauma, I went numb. I was walking across the parking lot to work in the morning and couldn't feel my legs anymore. I went physically and emotionally numb. Whenever someone made a joke, I was unable to laugh. I was unable to cry. I lived like a robot or a zombie. I processed everything logically and distanced myself even more from people. I no longer felt emotional connections. Everything seemed to be a dream and I felt disconnected from my body. I lived in a trance. Time would pass by quickly and I felt like I was moving through a pool of molasses. I still couldn't shake the feeling that I was going to die and it was going to be horrible and nobody cares. The world was a cold place and the only reason I lived is because my heart kept beating against my will.
During the state of numbness came a feeling of euphoria. It was like a drug. A friend referred to this as the 'laughing phase.' I was laughing and like, 'la dee da, I almost died, I lost everything, hahahaha….' This persisted for about a month. It annoyed the heck out of everyone. I began to actually speak of what happened to people who didn't know, but I was all 'blissful' and people wondered what drug I was on.
After the state of bliss came anger. I was very angry. I was angry at life, angry at people, imagining with longing for the death of certain peoples. I would curse and pound my steering wheel. I would break my belongings. I was too angry to handle life. I felt robbed of hope, robbed of a future, robbed of my life. I wasn't ok anymore and someone was to blame and I wanted him dead. With anger came hatred. I'd never hated anyone before. I used to choose not to hate because hate was immoral. Now, with my faith gone, my morals uprooted, my way of life disturbed… I hated with an intensity that would shake my body.
After everything, after all these stages, I began reliving the event. I would have flashbacks. One moment, I would be washing my hands, next moment I was on the floor in tears after having relived the event. I would go a few days where I would be o.k., and then I would have another sleepless week of night terrors and emotional crisis. Eventually, there became more days where I was o.k. and could handle life.
I kept having anxiety attacks whenever someone confronted me about a problem. I wished people would just leave me alone. If someone was unhappy with something I did, I couldn't handle their disapproval. I would be shaking and in tears whenever my boss would point out a mistake I made at work. I became an extreme perfectionist. I tried to be absolutely perfect so everyone would be pleased and happy. Also, I couldn't handle change. When a new road was built, someone married, or a coffee shop closed, I couldn't cope with it well. I wanted, desperately needed; my world to go back to the way it was before the trauma. I wanted to be 22 again. I wanted to start over. I wanted to deal slowly but the world was changing too fast.
The above I wrote years ago and since then I’ve sought counseling. I used to believe that I was strong enough to handle anything and to handle it alone, but it hurts never to talk about it. When I talk about it to people who never have survived such a thing, it is hard for them to hear. Counseling has made it possible to share my story and hear I’m not alone in this.
These days I’m doing well. I went from severe shyness to teaching a classroom full of adults. I haven’t had night terrors in over a year. I’m in a committed relationship with a man who discusses his feelings and lets me share my own freely.
I no longer feel that I’m walking on eggshells and I’m not afraid any more.