Little S & Adult Me – An Entry About Coping With Flashbacks

Ten days now since my last session with A.
So far sticking to The Rules (as stated in my previous post).
But it’s hard. Really, really hard. Having had a break from flashbacks for a few months I seem to have entered another period where I keep having them. And I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s to do with A. being away.

It’s almost as if whenever I haven’t got somewhere safe to put my thoughts they start building up inside of me, in the shape of stress. And when it gets to a certain level, something breaks and the flashbacks come back. Like clockwork.

Of course, there are other ways of relieving pent up pressure than through talking therapy, but, sadly, for me one of the easiest ways has traditionally been to get a scalpel out and cut myself. I’m trying very hard to avoid going down that road this time around, but it is incredibly hard to resist, knowing that as little as two or three small cuts would instantly calm me down.

I think people often underestimate the addictive quality of self-harm. It isn’t just a case of choosing not to do it; it takes an enormous portion of will-power to keep to your resolve. Especially when the effect of not cutting is that you have to deal with the fact that, sooner or later, you’re going to experience a flashback.

Contrary to most peoples’ idea of flashbacks, they are not like films playing before you or in your head. At least that’s my experience. Yes, I do sometimes have flashbacks which involve all five senses, but, what makes a flashback different to any other memory is firstly that they pop up whether you want them to or not. Which means that as soon as I feel pressure building inside of me I start worrying, because there is just no way of knowing when I’ll have one, or where I’ll be when it happens. Or how I will react to it.

Naturally, the flashbacks that are audio-visual are the most difficult to cope with, but, I have to say, only by a very small margin. For me, flashbacks are more about emotions, regardless of which specific traumatic experience they are linked to. And even the ones that are essentially just a pure raw re-experiencing of feelings (without the actual image, sound or smell of the abuse) are completely disorientating. Not in the sense that I don’t know where I am, but in the sense that I feel as if I’m existing in two places at the same time. I’m both Adult Me and Little S at the same time. And what’s more, they are all at once both separate and the same.

Also, although it may take a moment to realise that I am in fact having a flashback, as soon as I do, Adult Me gets enormously angry and frustrated with myself for not being able to stop this from happening, while, at the same time, Little S is busy trying to deal with the fear/shame/sadness that the flashback has brought out. In a way it’s like dealing with a past and a present trauma at the same time. And it’s very difficult to know which is which.

I remember having a particularly bad flashback in the middle of a one-to-one session at the women’s crisis centre last year. The person who was with me kept talking to me, and I could absolutely hear her; in many ways I knew exactly where I was. Yet, when the person who was with me asked where I was, it was Little S who answered by describing a room in my childhood home.

Needless to say this is not a pleasant experience, nor an easy one to cope with. Even though I have by now become reasonably apt at finding my way out of a flashback, they do still shake me. Quite badly.

Even when I am able to bring myself back into the present reasonably quickly, it is still a very disturbing and frightening experience. Also, I have a tendency to not realise I’m having a flashback, until I have already started acting it out in the present, by scratching my forehead until I bleed or digging my nails hard into my palms. In fact, it’s often the physical pain of those very actions that somehow kicks Adult Me into action.

So, as I said earlier – it is a struggle to not allow myself to, in the absence of A., go for the easier option and just get a scalpel out.

But, I keep trying.


PS. Just wanted to say a big thank you to those of you who commented on my last post. I really appreciate it.

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