Granted that the Beatles did not write a song called “All of
My Yesterdays, Todays, and Tomorrows,” I kinda wish they had. This year, my PTSD journey could be called by that title. I am reminded of this by a comment a Vietnam Veteran left and that I have heard from many other Vietnam veterans. It goes something like this:
“Every day I was in Vietnam I thought about being back in America.
Everyday I’ve been back in America, I’ve thought about Vietnam.”
The experience of intrusive thoughts – it’s more than just a thought, it’s a lived experience – is one of the deluxe features of PTSD. Intrusive thoughts often plague us. Some people have vivid flashbacks. But more than just reliving the trauma is the fact that we can’t shake the thoughts, the memories, and the raw responses that went with the original trauma.
PTSD’s intrusive thoughts remind me of the old vinyl records: It feels like when the vinyl records would get a scratch and the song would keep skipping and repeating the same bit of information over and
The intrusive memories can feel like the memories are on some continuous loop feed and I can’t turn it off.
If it were a vinyl record then I could just nudge the needle and things would come to a reasonable conclusion. If the record was too flawed, I could smash the record, its flaw, and assert some control over the situation. I only had to listen to the repetition if I chose to do so. PTSD denies me the
choice: The Memories Intrude, Over and Over.
At times I cannot nudge the record of my memory. The needle skips over particular memories. My mind hovers over trauma and what it has done to me. I am stuck with it. I remember trauma, I experience trauma, again, all these years after.
PTSD endeavors to endlessly re-inflict the memories and symptoms of terror and helplessness and doubting if there is a God who can allow all of this. The memories may be of events now old, yet the wrenching horror as I cry and vomit and stutter and shake are ever present and ever now. Shit.
The PTSD-Identity wants me to get so frustrated with this feature of the PTSD symptoms that I will shatter the record itself. The only obvious way for this to happen is for me to do myself in either slowly or quickly. PTSD wants me to kill myself. Drink myself to death slowly, or die quicker with a gunshot or by cutting. Some engage in reckless behaviors, thrill seeking, really kind of hoping they die in the crash.
The PTSD-Identity knows that the permanent record of my life is engraved upon my soul. All of my experiences, good, bad, indifferent, are written on my soul. My sins, my virtues, my joys, and my anguish, are all written there. The PTSD-Identity wants to take over my soul, it wants to rewrite my identity so that it only operates on the Despair Channel.
Next! On the Despair Channel!
Experience PTSD’s Intrusive Thoughts!
Death, Grief, Sorrow, Rape, Betrayal, Murder, and More!
On the Despair Channel!
Alienate the Whole Family!
Give Up On Yourself!
Give Up on God!
Give Up On Love Itself!
Death, Grief, Sorrow, Rape, Betrayal, Murder, and More!
Be Consumed by the PTSD-Identity!
Only Here, On the Despair Channel!
Yet, trauma-induced despair does not have to define my soul.
Trauma and its damage is part of my life experience, this is true. But the PTSD-Identity wants me to believe that the only thing that defines me is trauma, that there is no hope, and I am better off dead (And, No, I am not referring to the Pox News Network when mentioning PTSD’s Despair Channel, but given their programming, well, I can understand the confusion. After all, by their fruits you shall know them).
Often in our urgency to suppress the memories of the trauma and the memories of the trauma’s later effects upon us, we strive to forget. We enslave ourselves to new symptoms in order to try and not remember, if only for only a little while.
The slave collar that PTSD welds upon our necks often includes abuse of alcohol and drugs. We think, if I drink enough, maybe I will not remember for 10 or 15 minutes. We know it is a stupid bargain to make, but sometimes when the memories are all over us, gnawing on us like a feral dog, then drinking myself into a blackout may seem like the better option (Note to my employer, I don’t drink anymore…and I certainly don’t watch the Pox News Network!).
Sometimes people try to drown their PTSD memories with alcohol and we discover that PTSD memories can swim.
Hyper-drinking won’t make the intrusive thoughts or the nightmares go away. They will make your family, your credit rating, and your job go away (not to mention your liver and your driver’s license).
Today and Tomorrow is More Than Yesterday’s Trauma
We need not despair that all of yesterday’s traumas will determine all of my todays and tomorrows. There is hope, we do not have to despair. We do not have to weld on the PTSD slave collar and thus give ourselves a whole different set of problems to deal with.
When we receive triage for various wounds and injuries we usually try to save the life and then the function. After our time in the ER and when the insurance company kicks us out of the hospital we still have to continue on with treatments and therapies. Depending on the wound or injury, you may have to do therapy everyday for the rest of your life. The limb may not be as useful as it was before, or it may even be gone. Yet, we work at healing, we work at not getting any worse, and hopefully we actually get better.
But, please note this: We have been wounded. We must now take care of the after effects of those wounds for the rest of our lives. If we do, then we can get on with our lives.
We have been soul wounded both by trauma and how our society neglected us after the wounding. The intrusive memories will come and go. The PTSD-Identity will try to get us to think we will have no more tomorrows, no more todays, only the horror of those particular awful yesterdays.
The PTSD-Identity will want us to only consider despair and give up on hope. But we may have to endure the symptoms from time to time, but we need not give up, we need not kill ourselves, either slowly or quickly.
The other day, less than a week ago, I was on the floor in my bathroom at 5:30 am weeping. It had been a hard night. Bad dreams, bad sleep, physical pain from other problems, and intrusive thoughts that just would not go away. I felt afraid, fearful, and ashamed to have PTSD.
Unlike 20 years ago, I knew the memories would pass. I knew that I would be able to reclaim part of my today and that every tomorrow would not be filled with despair and PTSD agony.
It took me a few days to recover. I am grateful that I am still alive. Sometimes I can pray about it and speak the words to God how I feel. Other times I cannot even speak, I only reel in the soul pain of PTSD. The difference between now and 20 years ago when PTSD suicide was calling to me is that even when I am too stupefied by PTSD symptoms to frame words and pray to God, I can open myself to God, open my pain, my sorrow, the pieces that want me to give up, and I simply know, that God feels it for me and knows it too.
My religious commitment is not built around say a quick prayer and God kisses my owie all better. It is not built around having God replace the pieces of my body which are now gone or no longer of much use.
God’s purpose is not to make me all syrupy happy. I know even when I am in the pit of PTSD, I know God knows. I live in hope (and experienced knowledge) that tomorrows don’t have to be as bad as yesterdays. When one of my days is as bad as a yesterday, then I am now comforted in the knowledge that when I am crying and can’t form words because I have fresh memory holes, well, I know God still loves me, I know God made me in His Image and Likeness. I retain value and a connection to God no matter how bad I may be getting wracked by PTSD. For me, that is enough. I know I matter. God loves me as much in my pain and in my suffering as in my health and in my joys.
And, He loves you, too.
Don’t give up. The worst can be relegated to yesterdays and most of our todays and tomorrows don’t
have to be too bad. PTSD wants us to give up.
Even in your PTSD, God loves you. Stay Alive. You have value.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z