October 7, 2016

Complex PTSD: I am Learning to Choose my Breath over Flashbacks.


*Warning: strong language.


I am not in a flashback.

There is no crisis—now.

I have cried three days in a row in yoga, my body quietly trembling even before savasana.

I keep it quiet because they are not trauma-centered yoga classes and, while a teacher would most likely be unsurprised at one of their students suddenly sobbing, I do not expect the others to bear that. As it is happening, I know that my holding back means that I move forward less quickly and that it will take longer for the grief to leave my body, but it is a compromise that I am willing to make to be there.

My body remembers the pain I experienced in childhood, and it quakes as the sensations arise and my adult mind and heart compassionately observe and say the words that I need to hear.

My lips move quietly in a whisper, “I was just a child, I was just a child…” as I open my arms for Joseph, that young boy, to come in to their safety, and I quake and tremble with him in recognition of what he went through, how scared he was, how angry he was, and how he turned against himself out of necessity because there was no other explanation for why a beautiful boy was treated so badly except that he was bad.

And I see how, having abandoned himself, how he grew up to fear the darkness and the evil hours of the nighttime and how he pushed himself to stay awake to be ready to fight the actual dangers when he was sleeping in the same room as a violently self-destructive alcoholic. And then the worse intolerable thoughts and feelings that arose when he was alone and didn’t even have him to cling to for safety.

I see how that response and that self-abandonment never shut off.

I see him at 11, bravely taking a stand against the person he loved the most in the world and learning that being an outlaw is so much more than telling the law and polite society to go fuck itself, that it is truly being alone.

I see him at 15, the first time a girl kissed his bare stomach, flinching so violently that he almost kneed her in the face.

I see him at 17, re-experiencing what had occurred six years ago in both the flashback sense and in the present “this is happening again right now” sense—hyper-focused on his Pop who was raging drunk and wanting to fight him in a parking lot on Father’s Day.

I see him in his relationships as he grew to be a man in this chronic state of stress, and I see how he fought and loved and treated people well and badly and did everything he could do to find a way out of the horror he carried in his dissociated body and how it just wasn’t enough because he just didn’t know. He just didn’t know…

I see how last night he stayed up reading Facebook and only got six hours of sleep when he could have gotten nine, and how he did it the night before and the night before that. And how before Facebook there was compulsive downloading, and collecting, and minesweeper, and solitaire with real cards, and talking to whoever was up on the west coast, and reading pulp horror novels, and ripping paper into little strips, and masturbating again without desire, and saying, “Fuck it!” and having another cigarette—or basically anything that gave an excuse or required no brain power.

Anything that gave some hit of feeling and satisfied that urge to just keep moving—to not feel that awfulness and not give in to that terrible time of night where his thoughts attack him. Those lonely hours where his only recourse is to turn to thinking about how great it would be if he were dead because no one has told him how to make this stop otherwise, and because he did learn when he was 11 that he deserves this.

I didn’t know, I didn’t know—how in the fuck was I supposed to know? I didn’t know what this was until so recently and I’ve maxed myself out at every step trying to recover and get my fucking life back. Here I am, having made a conscious commitment to reconnect with my body, on the floor with eight strangers in a runner’s lunge and I’m crying.

I am not in a flashback and I am not in crisis—now.

I am here again for the first time, and I remember.

Somehow I know now that real crisis is over and that I have found a thing that will save me.

I focus on my breath for a moment and it comes again.

“I love you, Joseph. I love you.”

And the tears quietly roll down my face.


Author: Joseph King

Image: Author’s own

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren


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