PTSD And Manifesting A Healing

"PTSD And Manifesting A Healing"

I still have post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD – from being drugged and raped in 2007. I used to just think that the PTSD symptoms were just negative personality traits of mine. I thought I was just irritable, easily provoked, and agitated by nature. I thought I used marijuana habitually because I was too “weak” to give it up, and yet I was aware that I felt more “normal” with it than without it in terms of sleeping, eating, and mood. I’ve never sought an official diagnosis, but since February 2011, when I became consciously aware of the rape, it was suddenly painfully obvious to me that I’d been suffering from PTSD for years.

I’ve always felt shame when expressing my “negative personality traits,” and simply attributing them to PTSD has made no difference in this respect. Perhaps the shame is there because I haven’t taken the time to appreciate the adaptive purpose PTSD can serve? I feel I’ve begun to gain a deeper understanding by reading Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman, particularly of how PTSD initially affected my life immediately following the rape, even though I was completely unaware that it had happened.

You might be wondering how I could not be aware of being raped – I wondered that too! I can only assume that because I was drugged unconscious, and perhaps also because I was badly injured during the rape, my conscious mind automatically denied the possibility of rape to me, this being an adaptive response so I could remain functional. It wasn’t conscious denial, it’s just the prospect of rape didn’t even cross my mind. As Herman notes, “This voluntary suppression of thoughts related to the traumatic event is characteristic of traumatized people.” I told myself it was just that I had a mystery back injury from drinking. “Did I fall?” I wondered to myself. The point is, after the rape, I was unaware that rape had occurred, and yet my life began to disintegrate before my eyes. At the time it was a mystery to me why I felt compelled to make so many bad choices, but compelled I was and there was no stopping it. This post is an attempt to understand this “bad behaviour” as adaptations for survival instead of simply shameful behaviour.

After the rape, I was suddenly afraid to live alone, so I moved in with Sam, someone I’d just started seeing and barely knew. I couldn’t roll over by myself to get out of bed due to the rape injury, so I told myself that I simply needed Sam to help care for me. My job performance immediately crumbled into shit, and as I watched myself fail I felt powerless to fix it, but also felt uncharacteristically neutral about it. I was more confrontational with bosses, and more antagonistic with peers. I started drinking heavily and blacking out regularly. I just trusted that Sam would take care of me and babysit me when I was drunk, which he usually did. I wasn’t attracted to him, and I was in no emotional state to be dating anybody, but I knew he’d do anything for me, so… in that respect he was perfect! Sam eventually pushed for sex, and I was so numb I let him and honestly didn’t care if he was using me. I broke things off with the attractive Italian architect I’d been seeing because I didn’t want him to know what a mess I was. I now know all of this was a reaction to the rape, but at the time I hated myself for letting everything go to shit and could make no sense of any of it. The only explanation was that I was a terrible person, and that’s what I believed about myself.

In Trauma and Recovery, Herman discusses the three cardinal symptoms of PTSD: (1) Hyperarousal; (2) Intrusion; and (3) Constriction. Having read examples in the book about how these symptoms manifested in others, I was shocked to see how my “bad behaviours” were actually attempts at mastering my own feelings of helplessness and reestablishing a sense of control of my environment.

Hyperarousal is the first cardinal symptom of PTSD. It means constantly being on guard for something bad to happen. For me, this first manifested as insomnia, explosive anger, and aggression, but years later has turned into generalized anxiety and a fear of alcohol, night clubs, and even fear of walking past strange men on the street. I have a strong startle response to loud noises as well, and was recently reminded of this when Hallowe’en fire crackers started going off two weeks ago. The question is, how is any of this helping me?

The adaptive purpose of this chronic arousal of my nervous system is that I “feel ready” should I be faced with any further traumatic events. It’s actually an elaborate illusion of smoke and mirrors though, since there’s really no way to prepare oneself for an unknown future trauma. Rather than offering me any real control, hyperarousal serves to allow me to feel a sense of mastery and control over my environment when in fact no one is capable of that level of control. Complete vulnerability is the fundamental state of humanity, and that’s hard to accept for anyone. Even those who have not been traumatized feel a false sense of control over their environment when in truth, if someone really wanted to hurt them they could find a way to do it. But there’s comfort in this illusion, and therefore it is adaptive.

Intrusion is the second cardinal symptom of PTSD. It is a replaying of the trauma, either in dreams, in actions, or in words. Herman explains that people often feel compelled to “recreate the moment of terror, either in literal or disguised form,” and that “in their attempts to undo the traumatic moment, survivors may even put themselves at risk of further harm.” Since I had no conscious memory of the rape, for me the intrusion manifested more like it would for a child who’s play scenes reenact an early trauma of which the child has no conscious memory. For me, it seems this played out as drinking heavily and blacking out, and also letting Sam “rape” me. Herman further explains that even when voluntarily chosen, there is something about these reenactments which feels involuntary. These behaviours appear maladaptive on the surface, but there is something more subtlety adaptive at work here.

Freud called this reenactment the “death instinct” since he could not understand why a person would voluntarily place themselves in great danger again and again. I certainly could not understand why I was doing these things, only that I was compelled to do them. I can see now that I was unconsciously trying to recreate the scenario so that I might gain mastery over it. I had more control when I made myself lose consciousness then when I was forced unconscious by another. I had more control when I agreed to be “raped” than when I had no choice in the matter. Dreams that replay the trauma are also part of the intrusive symptoms, but I would not experience an intrusive dream until four years later, which was an exact replaying of my memory of leaving the rapist’s apartment, and not really a “dream” at all, a quality shared by the traumatic dreams of other PTSD sufferers. After I had that dream, I indeed found a way to master the situation by reverse engineering and fixing my rape injury.

Constriction is the third cardinal symptom of PTSD. This means going numb, giving up, being the proverbial “deer in the headlights” calmly surrendering to death or danger over which you have no control. This is the response seen in animals caught by a predator, knowing they face certain death. I felt this most in my inability to respond to the fact that my life was disintegrating before my eyes. I also experienced constriction when I cared nothing about letting Sam use my body for sex. It’s like it wasn’t even me, like my body was no longer a part of me. It was a simple trade-off for the protection I needed and was in no way an expression of sexuality on my part. Sex was the furthest thing from my mind. Taking drugs or alcohol in hopes of intensifying the level of dissociation is also part constrictive symptoms, and I was drinking every single day to achieve maximum numbness. Years later I was, until recently, using marijuana on a daily basis to deal with the constant anxiety I felt. One of the unexpected side effects of ceremonial shamanic use of ayahuasca was no longer feeling the urge to numb myself with substances every day, and I truly feel that this was where healing began for me.

Although constriction is a merciful reprieve in the moments before death, or expected death, its continuance is ultimately maladaptive to healing if one survives the attack. Healing only happens when we feel, and numbing my feelings day after day was a huge obstacle to healing. I feel my substance abuse was one of the most shameful aspects of my PTSD because I attributed it to shortcomings in my personality, not understanding its purpose. It was only after I no longer smoked every day that I understood and forgave my reasons for it, so harsh was my judgement of it.

Now that I have a better understanding of how PTSD has affected my life, I hope it will be easier to accept that I’m human and not superhuman, and that I was simply reacting to a trauma in ways that were normal and ultimately adaptive for me following the rape. The shame I feel about these behaviours has been felt for a number of years at this point so it’s now a case of deconstructing false negative beliefs I’ve created about myself, and honestly, I feel better already after simply writing this post. This post focused more on how PTSD initially affected me, and less on how it has morphed as the years when on, but that is definitely something I’ll be writing more about in a future post.

If you have any stories about how PTSD has affected your life, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Although PTSD looks messy on the outside, it’s all just an instinct for healing and mastery. However, I also feel that in my experience and on the grand scale, PTSD symptoms have been adaptive behaviours to simply feeling powerless. What has made all the difference for me is knowing that I have the power to manifest healing in my life, and that I do not have to be a passive reactor to my environment, using these behaviours as crutches to limp through life. I don’t always remember that I have this power, but I do my best to remind myself of it often. I have the power to heal myself, I have the power to choose change, and I have the power to be happy.

~ “Enjoy where you are or you will never get where you’re going. Enjoy where you are and you will BE where you are going.” – Bashar, channelled by Darryl Anka

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5 Comments on “PTSD And Manifesting A Healing”

  1. […] PTSD And Manifesting A Healing (yourbodyisperfectintelligence.com) […]

  2. kate says:

    I relate to a lot of what you wrote about. I was a little bit fun loving growing up and in H.S. Got pregnant in H.S. And had an abortion. But managed to keep it together and go off to college. I always took full blame for the pregnancy and regret my choice to abort now, over 22 years later. The boy never gets any blame. I was likely date raped (or assaulted) 4 years later in college. It is was part of a long list of bad luck (and choices) that threw me over the edge. I smoked pot and drank in college, like many of my peers, and was a little depressed. I dabbled in eating disorder behavior, again like many of my peers, but was always popular, got good grades and had a good heart. My friends used to jokingly call me Mother Theresa. I on spring break my friend and I decided to stay an extra night at a place of some guys we met a few njghts before. We drove up the peninsula to the condo…it was someones grandmothers and she was there. We stayed in and were out on the porch. I rememberhad my first beer and cmmented about hothew mhch itit was affecting me….the sun was setting and I dont remember it getting dark or doing anything…even a movie or tv or anything. I remember starting to make out with the guy…and have strong memories if the flower print bedspread…and then I woke uo the next morning. I remember them sort of grinning weird about the beer being strong….and thinking it wnowas odd. Tdeadhe next mirning, i had stuff in my hair. I did not know what it was. Now in my older age, i kniw it was ejaculation. I reasoned that he had eaten breahimkfast in bed and got wet biscuit in my hair. I tried to clean uo in the bathroom. Another girl who was their friend was too. I kept saying what is in my hair to myself…and she just looked at me in total disgust. My friend was quiet the wholewhole way home. She looked at me odd toi. We never talked aboufut it. She is now dead from suicide or overdose. She died last year…she is the only person who could confirm my belief about what happened. I mentioned my concern to someone a month or so later that i had a void of memory and i didnt know what happened to me. I was dating him and he said dont worry abiut so i did not. I think went into high gear with my eating disorder and tried to get help with it that summer. The doctor told me i was just neurituc. Six months later i smoked laced pot thought i was going crazy, not knowing it was laced…likely w/ crack or sone other amphetamine. I sought help…got dumped full.of pills…eating disorder jsu got worse and worse. I was so introverted and hidden. I let my self be used…I could stay grounded to keep a job…i self destructed. Finally, with good ED treatment, getting off all the pills that were never treated, and witb family support, i changed my whole outlook in life. Nothing wijld.have changed w/o the grace of God He has given me answers to why the six year nightmare happened…and how it wasnt all my fault. I never smoked pot regularly again…and the last time was in 2000. I dont ever drink to get drunk…and don’t get drunk. I have not had a relapse into ED since 2000/2001. I pieced the rape together with memories ac couple years ago when i worked in center investigating rape, and after writung a narrative of my sjx year hell….im ok now and have been. But, i wish somehow i could go back and wake.myself up.

  3. kate says:

    Sorry for typos! I relate to a lot of what you wrote about. I was a little bit fun loving growing up and in H.S. Got pregnant in H.S. And had an abortion. But managed to keep it together and go off to college. I always took full blame for the pregnancy and regret my choice to abort now, over 22 years later. The boy never gets any blame. I was likely date raped (or assaulted) 4 years later in college. It is was part of a long list of bad luck (and choices) that threw me over the edge. I smoked pot and drank in college, like many of my peers, and was a little depressed. I dabbled in eating disorder behavior, again like many of my peers, but was always popular, got good grades and had a good heart. My friends used to jokingly call me Mother Theresa. I on spring break my friend and I decided to stay an extra night at a place of some guys we met a few njghts before. We drove up the peninsula to the condo…it was someones grandmothers and she was there. We stayed in and were out on the porch. I rememberhad my first beer and cmmented about hothew mhch itit was affecting me….the sun was setting and I dont remember it getting dark or doing anything…even a movie or tv or anything. I remember starting to make out with the guy…and have strong memories if the flower print bedspread…and then I woke uo the next morning. I remember them sort of grinning weird about the beer being strong….and thinking it wnowas odd. Tdeadhe next mirning, i had stuff in my hair. I did not know what it was. Now in my older age, i kniw it was ejaculation. I reasoned that he had eaten breahimkfast in bed and got wet biscuit in my hair. I tried to clean uo in the bathroom. Another girl who was their friend was too. I kept saying what is in my hair to myself…and she just looked at me in total disgust. My friend was quiet the wholewhole way home. She looked at me odd toi. We never talked aboufut it. She is now dead from suicide or overdose. She died last year…she is the only person who could confirm my belief about what happened. I mentioned my concern to someone a month or so later that i had a void of memory and i didnt know what happened to me. I was dating him and he said dont worry abiut so i did not. I think went into high gear with my eating disorder and tried to get help with it that summer. The doctor told me i was just neurituc. Six months later i smoked laced pot thought i was going crazy, not knowing it was laced…likely w/ crack or sone other amphetamine. I sought help…got dumped full.of pills…eating disorder jsu got worse and worse. I was so introverted and hidden. I let my self be used…I could stay grounded to keep a job…i self destructed. Finally, with good ED treatment, getting off all the pills that were never treated, and witb family support, i changed my whole outlook in life. Nothing wijld.have changed w/o the grace of God He has given me answers to why the six year nightmare happened…and how it wasnt all my fault. I never smoked pot regularly again…and the last time was in 2000. I dont ever drink to get drunk…and don’t get drunk. I have not had a relapse into ED since 2000/2001. I pieced the rape together with memories ac couple years ago when i worked in center investigating rape, and after writung a narrative of my sjx year hell….im ok now and have been. But, i wish somehow i could go back and wake.myself up.

  4. Thank you for sharing your experiences here. I too struggle with PTSD and I related to virtually everything you wrote. I was also drugged and raped. It was 22 years ago, I was 16 and a virgin, and I couldn’t deal with what happened at all. I too thought I was ‘bad’ for ‘letting it happen’ even though I only gained consciousness twice while it was happening. I was unable to tell anyone at the time, apart from my friends who had taken the view that I WAS bad because I had slept with the guy my friend fancied…while she was also drugged and unconscious in the other room. She would have slept with him willingly and had been flirting with him…but of course a rapist isn’t really interested in consentual sex. He was 11 years older than us. (He was also sentenced to 7 years in prison for breaking into a house and raping a girl only weeks after he’d raped to me. This had heaped on a load more guilt at the time, that if I’d gone to the police it might not have happened to her)

    I couldn’t deal with the rape at all and also turned to cannabis to numb things. I was extremely confused at the time and didn’t even know if I could call what happened to me ‘rape’. I was very young…and thought that rape just happened to people walking through woods at night in a min-skirt! I had been wearing an ankle-length dress…no legs or chest showing etc. I was pretty innocent at the time and had had a faiirly sheltered upbringing. I had been at college studying for my A levels when the rape happened. I couldn’t deal with anything after that. I can remember being like a zombie at college. Just sitting by myself in the canteen area with my walkman on and staring out of the window. I was even crushing up whatever tablets I could get hold of (natra-calm, proplus, ibuprofen, etc) and putting them in joints to smoke. I was very numb and didn’t even care what happened. In retrospect I know that the kind of music I was listening to was reflecting to me the state I was in. I listened mainly to the band “Alien Sex Fiend” – songs such as ‘Isolation’, ‘Now I’m feeling Zombiefied’, ‘Death’, ‘My brain is in the cupboard above the kitchen sink’. Also listened a lot to other Goth music – “The Birthday Party”, “Fields of the Nephilim”, “Sisters of Mercy”, “Bauhaus” – all pretty dark stuff. I dropped out of college not long after the rape.

    I couldn’t even begin to deal with what had happened to me. I left my parents home 6 months after the rape too as my home no longer felt safe either because he walked me home after raping me and came into my parents house. My dad shook his hand and thanked him for walking me home safely 😦 something else that has had me riddled with guilt for years…that I ‘let’ my dad get manipulated too. The rapist had known exactly what he was doing. The walk back must have taken at least an hour…of which I can’t remember anything apart from fleeting images of him laughing and me walking with my head down just wanting it to be over. I feel I was in total shock and my survival ‘just do whatever you have to to appease and stay alive’ instincts had kicked in. I pretty much feel I’ve been living in that ever since. ‘Keep your head down’,’keep them happy’,’don’t draw attention to yourself’,’stay quiet’. I’ve mirrored everyone in a bid to not anger them, to stay safe. ‘If I talk like them and hold the same views they won’t hurt me’…of course none of this was conscious.

    After the rape I had other bad experiences with men. Not feeling like I could say no to them, not being able to leave etc. This all added to my feelings that I was bad. I didn’t want sex but I kept freezing…as you say it is like allowing them to rape me.

    My first long term relationship was very mentally and emotionally abusive. I was with him for 3 years. In retrospect I think he was very mentally ill and paranoid…but at the tender age of 18 I didn’t know anything about mental illness and psychosis. I just felt that I MUST have done something wrong for him to be so violently angry with me. Of course feeling ‘bad’ inside from the rape, and feeling the shame about it all didn’t help. It left me wide open for abuse…and believing I must deserve it. That time was extremely mentally damaging for me. Any sense of my own identity that was left after the rape was totally shattered in that relationship. I smoked a lot of cannabis with him for the first year of that relationship. Luckily my body started giving me very bad chest pains when I was 19 so I had to give up the cannabis…something I’m very grateful for in retrospect…though at the time it had felt like a bereavement. Cannabis had been my friend, it made things bearable.

    Five years ago (aged 34) I met my current partner, Riki. Prior to that I had lived my whole life numb…using mainly food and some alcohol to numb myself. I believed that I wasn’t frightened of anything, and that I didn’t get angry. I was doing voluntary work for a mental health charity…trying to help and ‘fix’ other people. After Riki and I got together the whole trauma resurfaced, and the PTSD symptoms became obvious are very harsh. Since then I have been living in near-constant flashbacks. I might have been before that but I wasn’t aware of it. I can remember sitting in the car in Asda’s car park when I first realised that I was hyper-vigilant. I noticed myself checking all the mirrors regularly, noticing every movement, every person or car that went by was noted. I believe I had been living in that state a long time but not aware of it.

    During these past 5 years I have had regular appointments with a shamanic/homeopathic healer (the last year or so she’s been treating me for free bless her as I can’t work so can’t afford to pay), I have had two separate year-long counseling stints with counselors from the rape charity “The Birchall Trust”, and I have had NHS Psychology appointments for over a year. All of these things have helped a bit but haven’t stopped the PTSD symptoms at all.

    I realised a while ago that it was the body-connection that has been missing and that is vitally important. I had done so much mental/emotional/spiritual work on myself to try and ‘get over’ the things that had happened to me…but the debilitating fear and freezing was (and is) still happening. The treatments hadn’t been wasted as I’d learned a lot about myself and about trauma etc…but it hadn’t given me any quality of life back.

    I read Peter Levine’s ‘Waking the Tiger’ book and it made a hell of a lot of sense to me. I had totally disowned my body since the rape. I had lived out of my body…a floating mind basically…for all those years. And when I tried to get back IN to my body there were loads and loads of terrifying feelings in there.

    I still haven’t been able to get back into my body…and I try…lots. At the smallest trigger I’m out again and back in survival mode. Adrenaline is pumping around my body most of the time. All the PTSD symptoms you mentioned are still there. My partner is an amazing fella…he’s stuck by me all this time, even though most of the time I am reliving being with the rapist, or with my abusive ex rather than being with him. Not many men would say with a woman they can’t even hug most of the time, let alone sleep with…but he has. I find it heart-breaking that the PTSD still affects me so strongly. Even though i KNOW my partner is a beautiful person and wants nothing but to love me…I am playing out the past all the time. I am in fear whenever I go home to him. I tip toe around in the morning for fear of waking him. I can’t do anything I want to for fear of angering him (the rapist and my ex). I am in ‘good girl’ and appeasing all the time to try and stay safe. I find it so frustrating that I am still living this out constantly even though I’m aware of it and know what is going on.

    Your talk of your break-through with Ayahuasca has interested me a lot. My partner had an Ayahuasca experience last year, here in the UK. Although he feels it wasn’t very strong (only one session and no purging) he found it helpful…and would like us to find a way to get the money so we can go over to South America to try it properly.

    I was wondering if there was anything else that you have found very helpful…and how you are doing on your journey now? (sorry this post is so long!)

    With love and thanks again for sharing your story, it helped me
    – Kathrin


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