Emotions Part 15: PTSD, cPTSD, and Dissociative Experiences

I wanted to write something about the relationship some of us have to traumatic experiences from our past.  It seems important that I write this from an intuitive, non-technical place.  For me, this is because intution – as opposed to fear – is what we need to develop regarding our power to manage our way through the world again, and the events that have wounded us.  Events that separate us from ourselves.


Night, Night.  Absence of light

I have a terrible feeling and I don’t know where it is.  It’s like a shadow in me somewhere; a shadow that flits around if I see it – feel it – out of the corner of my eye.  I turn quickly, and it’s gone.  But it’s inside me.  I don’t really want to see it anyway.  It’s like the shadows in my bedroom when I’m a kid.  In the dark.  Too scared to look in case it’s real.  And so I hide under the covers, hoping it will go away.  Wrestling with myself; tensing up and wanting to relax; hiding instead of getting out of bed and putting the light on.  My struggle under the covers makes me more and more tense until I’m stiff with fear.  Too terrified to walk down the hall to the bathroom, I pee on the floor, then jump back into bed.  Eventually, exhaustion forces me into a sleep.  And I dream a terrible dream.  A dream full of shadows.

Day.  Presence of sun

I awake and the shadows are gone; burned away by the sunlight streaming through the window.  The man who was going to get me last night morphed into my dressing gown hanging on the back of the door.  The dog that was going to sink its teeth into my ankle if I got out of bed, is my bag sitting under the chair, where I left it; buckle for a tooth, strap like a tail.  It’s okay to get up now. I’m exhausted, weak.  For a brief moment I begin to scan my memory for the dream I had last night.  Dreams.  All night.  Then I stop myself.  I don’t want to remember.  It’s hard enough having forgotten.  I feel a tightness in my chest and I haven’t even put on my slippers.

People happy.  People numb.

I feel my chest all day.  Is it my heart?  Or another shadow?  Could it be the same heart that beat all those years ago, and survived?  No, it must have been a different heart.  They smile and ask me how I am and I say ‘fine’.  They don’t want to know how I am.  I don’t want to know how I am.  I hear them muffled, talking through pillows; smiling through a vaseline lens.  Zombie.  I am numb.  I dig my fingernail into my thumb to see if I’m still there.  But as I do it I realise I don’t want to know.  Go through the motions.  Slow motions.  I am an awkward lump in someone’s sofa.  I am floating on a raft on some stranger’s sea.  Travelling, away, away.  I cannot cope with people happy, people numb.

Come back, come back…

Come back, come back….Jack.  The Titanic has gone and a frozen soul flip-flops like a Dover Sole.  My head is full of sea slime and barnacles; fluff and torment, and little kid terror that I am dead already; drowned with the top coated, top hatted.  In a dream I took a razor, and in a navy blazer, rolled the sleeve and cut some old arm in there until it bled.  Some old army navy blazer.  A little slice won’t phase her.  A slice of ham, a bloody palm.  Starve him out, carve him out.  I feel a telegraphic signal shoot up through the wire, between a brain and a pinkie.  I’m back.  It’s an arm.  It’s alive, it’s alive.  I am Jack’s palpitations.  I am his broken soul, his trembling tears.

Jumping Jack, back in the box

Jack-in-the-box.  He’s back in the box.  I close the lid down tight whilst gritting my teeth, and feel him pressing back with his head; bracing his legless spring up hard when only a tiny hook and flimsy catch keep him locked away.  Keep his scary face at bay.  Horse blanket over the box.  Horse shit.  I put the box inside a bigger box.  Put it all inside the cupboard down the hall.  Lock the door and put the key inside a pale green bottle, then listen to it rattle.  With the word ‘HELP’ written in spare blood on a scrap of paper, rolled up, slipped in, corked and bunged.  Throw it to the sea addressed to Bob and Carol.  They’ll look after me.

If they can ever find me, beyond the fearful waves.

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. jim- says:

    This is superbly done Stephen! I can relate to a bit if this. I quit after being a medic for 15 years in a rough part of the city. I got out because it was turning me into a person I didn’t want to be. Cynical, grouchy, you know the drill. But the longer I’ve been out the more intense the memories. I’ve seen a lot of horrible things, had my hands in it, and what I’d blown off for years has crept in to disturbances. I’m handling pretty well, but I do get some elevation in the ol vital signs now and then.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Stephen says:

      Kind words Jim, thank you.

      I think that this relates back to that rather heavy post I wrote the other day about the insanity of society and its effect upon human beings who retain their conscience and sense of right and wrong. We become the most easily wounded in a world that does terrible things. Which is not to say we’re sensitive little flowers. Just that we haven’t stopped caring. When you care you keep the door to the world open, and the shit can get in.

      I still carry stuff, as you mentioned, that comes up and troubles me. I think it’s a process of our psyche/ soul – whatever you want to call it – saying ‘hey, come and look through this and see what we can learn, see what we can get rid of, and see what we can keep’. It’s hard because it gets the heart going and promises more pain. But I think it can be worth doing. Short-term inconvenience giving longer-term peace, and maybe a few skills and more wisdom for moving ahead better prepared and with more confidence in ourselves….

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Wow, this is so well written. I have PTSD and can relate a lot. It does feel like night and day. I used to get to such a dark place at night and then be back to normal in the morning and not understand how I could be so different. I also say, “come back” to myself and write “help” all over… thank you for expressing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephen says:

      Hi there. Thanks for dropping by and for seeing so clearly what I was trying to express!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Jean says:

    Beautiful description! It “speaks to my condition.” After about 25 years of working with my childhood horrors, there still are shadows lurking in my soul.

    I’d like to thank you for following my blog and liking so many entries. I hope you find it useful in your work. As a former therapist, I know how unsupported one can feel working with the effects of severe childhood trauma and how hard it can be to do this work while sitting with one’s own trauma.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephen says:

      Thank you Jean. By sheer coincidence I just read and liked your latest post as you were writing yours!


    2. Stephen says:

      I think for me I’ve pretty much managed to heal myself from the crap I’ve gone through in the past. It helps me be a better human being (I hope!), and by default a better therapist I think. I’m not afraid of darkness in people as a result because I see it for what it is, and it makes us stronger advocates for our patients. Healing also means we see just how weak and lost those who hurt us really were, which is also an important insight that patients gain when they start to recover.


  4. You have a gift for poetry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephen says:

      Thank you again Anna

      Liked by 1 person

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