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.

Under The Influence Of Music – An Entry About Setting Boundaries

Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy“.

That’s a line from the track “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” by R.E.M. which has been playing very nearly non-stop on my computer today. It’s one of my “listen and forget the world”-songs along with The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane”, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Walk This World” by Heather Nova. My I haven’t a clue what I’m feeling but whatever it is it’s too much for me to deal with right now-songs. The kind of music that allows you to just melt away from the world, if even for a moment. The sort that offers you a safe haven in the midst of all its noisiness. No need to think, no need to feel – just sink into oblivion and let it wash over you, sound wave after sound wave crashing over your head.

I’m not consciously trying to numb myself, I’m really not, I’m just so frustrated with things that I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel stuck and tied down and at the same time so spun out of control I don’t know how to rein myself in, how to find my feet again. That feeling you get when you start out spinning round and round because you want to, but then when you stop the world carries on spinning around you whether you want it to or not and there is nothing you can do about it other than to wait for the world to slow down to a manageable pace.

I’ve been thinking a lot about love and life and death and everything in between lately, trying to figure myself out, trying to make sense of it all and coming up with very few, if any, answers.

I haven’t succumbed to self-harm, not really. Not since that time when I tested the scalpels. But I’ve been doing other things I shouldn’t be doing. Like researching suicide methods, for example. Not because I necessarily feel any more, or indeed less, suicidal than I have in the last week, but because it works something like a drug for me.

I could probably give you a detailed run-down of up to ten fail-proof ways of ending my life without even having to leave the flat. So it’s not a case of actually needing to find new and exciting ways of offing myself (if there is such a thing as needing suicide methods). D. suggested that it is similar to the way some people get addicted to pornography, and I guess there is some grotesque truth to that.

But even more than that I think it’s about control. Akin to how a person with an eating disorder may gain a sense of control from being able to decide when to eat and when to throw up, knowing all these methods allows me to feel that I have at least some sort of control over my life. Or my death, at least.

I am fully aware that this is not a good way to deal with things, but much like you start craving that drug high after the first few innocently experimental hits I get a craving for new information. I can’t just know a little bit about this method or that, I need to know everything about it, and so, what was meant to be a quick checking up on a fact turns into hours of research.

Thankfully D. is now back and at the end of my session today we made a deal; to try not to do any research at all for the coming week. And I intend to stick to that. Hence listening to my safe-music.

I know, I know – it’s hardly a unique or hard-to-come-up-with idea this Just-knock-it-on-the-head-technique (to use one of D.’s favourite expressions), but this is exactly what I mean when I say that I need direction and guidance in order to cope. Without someone to check up on me, someone to help me re-focus week on week – I just seem incapable of sticking to the healthier option, even when I know what it is.

Having lived the better part of my life without many rules to follow owing to the, at least partially, self-imposed big sister/good girl/self-sufficient reliable daughter-syndrome I find it incredibly soothing to be given some set rules to stick by. Adult supervision. It makes me feel cared for. Looked after. Safe.

I suppose that is the reason why I find my sessions with D. and Drayton Park as a whole so comforting. A sense of home, of something steady and clear and – yes – containing, where I can let go of the responsibility for a moment. Because, as much as I like having all of the above qualities attributed to me, if there is no let-up ever, it can easily become incredibly over-powering and I lose track of what is reasonable and what is over-doing it, and I end up thinking that those things are all that I am. I lose sight of what is me and what are merely aspects of the person that I am.

I forget that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.