June is PTSD Awareness Month. In November 2011 I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I am not a soldier of war. I am a Survivor of Domestic Violence. My battle was 15 years of abuse at the hands of a man I loved. PTSD changed how my brain functions. My amygdala (controls emotional response and our survival instinct) has increased in size and my hippocampus (controls memory moving from short term to long term) has shrunk. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not a Mental Illness (which it is often referred to as), but a Psychiatric Injury that happens after threatening experience. It could be from being in combat, watching a family member die, a car or plane crash, a natural disaster or sexual assault and abuse. One in ten survivors of Domestic Violence will be diagnosed with PTSD.
I left my abusive marriage almost six years ago. Wow….what a six years it has been! There have been pitfalls followed by many joys. It has not been an easy journey but it has made me who I am today and for that I am grateful. Let me tell you how I have changed and grown. How I have healed.
When I walked away from my marriage I was so empty. So broken. The night that ended my marriage was Sept 26th 2010. During the previous nine months my ex had been continually raping me. We had not been sharing a room during that time, but he would come into my room during the early hours and sexually assault me. In order to survive I convinced myself that he did not know what he was doing. Like all of the forms of abuse he did to me; the verbal assaults, the emotional and mental games he played, I had believed he did not know what he was doing. That he was out of control when it happened. It was easier to deal with the abuse if I believed he did not mean it. To realize that he knew exactly what he was doing, that it was purposeful on his part was too much for me to acknowledge. Then Sept 26th 2010 happened.
My now ex was standing at our kitchen sink doing the dishes. Understandably I was not coping well with these continual rapes. Being assaulted in my own bed in the wee hours of the morning and then having to swallow it all down and get up and make breakfast for my children was becoming too much to bear. Something broke in me that night and I reached deep down inside of myself and confronted my ex. I walked up to him, stood beside him and asked him point blank why was he raping me. I expected him to deny it and to say that he had no idea he was doing that. That response would fit into the level of denial I was living in. I then somehow thought we could calmly sit down and talk this out as I explained his out of control behaviour and would then ask him one more time to get help, but it did not work out that way. Instead……instead he admitted that he knew exactly what he was doing to me when he raped me. That he knew he was hurting me. I remember watching his face as he stared out of the kitchen window. There was no remorse in his voice, no sadness, no regret, there was just a sense of calm around him.
It was then that my world shattered. It was then that I realized everything he had ever done to hurt me or our children had been intentional. He was never out of control. Every lie that I had told myself to survive no longer had any standing power and I started to let out a blood curtailing scream. I started to scream, “It’s Over! It’s Over!” (our marriage) and I started to walk around the house taking down every wedding photo or memento and I threw them into my bedroom closet sobbing uncontrollably. My “fairytale” was over. Oddly enough my ex followed me around saying “No’. Saying that it wasn’t over and begging me to stop taking our wedding things down. Perhaps this was his own level of denial where he seemed to believe that no matter how bad he treated me I would stay.
The next day I texted him from work and told him to pack his things and be gone by 8pm or I would call the RCMP and have them remove him from the home. He was gone when I came home.
So what happened after that? Did I skip off into the sunny horizon and live happily ever after? Nope.
At first things were ok. I was happy and I was free. I was no longer suffering daily abuse. I no longer had a knot in my stomach wondering when the next explosion would be. My children and I no longer walked on eggshells. They ran around and played and made NOISE!! It was wonderful. No one had to worry that they were going to wake the monster and suffer as a result. Life was good. Then I fell into a darkness.
I was not sleeping well at night. I was starting to suffer horrible nightmares and I would wake at 4am unable to sleep anymore. I struggled to focus on the simplest of tasks. I felt like I was losing my mind. I was lost. It was then that I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was put on meds that made me very groggy and I spent a lot of time in bed. I struggled to function, but I kept trying everyday to be a mom and to go to my job. I tried to be human, but the flashbacks and night terrors were all too powerful. Soon I was put on long term disability. I still struggled. I still spent a lot of time in bed as my whole system detoxed from 15 years of abuse. I had uncontrollable outbursts and was living in a world of fear. I was afraid to leave my home. A trip to the grocery store often sent me into a panic attack.
I was lucky that through darkness I had a great support system. My sister, my amazing fiancé and many professionals. I reached out for support wherever I could find it. Slowly with that support I picked myself up off of the floor. Slowly I broke my isolation and made friends. Slowly I was able to function as a mum. I could make meals and interact with my family. God also became a driving force in my life. I started to live again.
The battle with PTSD is a tough one. I admire anyone who battles it, no matter how they got it. Whether it be from a war or a car crash they are all hero’s to me. We all face terror on a daily basis and that takes an amazing amount of strength to survive. We are warriors. Warriors who have good days and bad. I am better than I was but I am still not healed. I believe this battle will be a life long one for me so I take it all one moment at a time. I trust that God has got me and I will survive. I am also starting the journey of receiving a PTSD Service Dog. I believe she will bring more peace to my life.
As June comes to an end I ask that your awareness of PTSD continues past June 30th 2016. If you have a loved one with PTSD learn the symptoms. Listen to what they need and support them. It’s not an easy role to be in, but they do need you even if they say they can do it all on their own. PTSD is scary and often you feel that isolating yourself is best, but let me tell you that it isn’t. We need to know that we are loved. That we are safe and that the bad moments will led to good moments. We need to know that to survive this battle.