Breathing. We all do it, without any thought. Because to not breathe, well that means you die. But when you are dealing with Complex PTSD breathing can be hard to do. I know that sounds ridiculous. I feel ridiculous even saying it.
Here’s the deal. Trauma produces PTSD but unlike PTSD that is caused by one event in your life (say you witness a death of another person or you are involved in a horrible car accident), complex PTSD is caused by a long lasting trauma (yep, like living in an abusive marriage for 15 years). Maybe I’ll share more detail on what CPTSD is in another post. But for now here is the basic definition:
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder
Psychological Disorder Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological disorder that can develop in response to prolonged, repeated experience of interpersonal trauma in a context in which the individual has little or no chance of escape. C-PTSD relates to the trauma model of mental disorders and is associated with chronic sexual, psychological and physical abuse and neglect, chronic intimate partner violence, victims of kidnapping and hostage situations, indentured servants, victims of slavery and human trafficking, sweatshop workers, prisoners of war, concentration camp survivors, residential school survivors, defectors of cults or cult-like organizations, and narcissistic child abuse. Situations involving captivity/entrapment can lead to C-PTSD-like symptoms, which can include prolonged feelings of terror, worthlessness, helplessness, and deformation of one’s identity and sense of self. C-PTSD has also been referred to as DESNOS or Disorders of Extreme Stress Not Otherwise Specified. Common symptoms include: Hyper vigilance about people and safety, deep fear of trust, terminal aloneness, emotional flashbacks, emotion regulation, loss of faith, seeking a rescuer, helplessness and toxic shame, muscle armoring, dissociation, persistent sadness and suicidal thoughts.
Pretty heavy stuff.
Most of the time I am fully capable of breathing. It comes quite naturally 🙂 But then there are times like tonight. When I can’t breathe. And I’m not talking about a small moment of can’t catch my breath or feel like the wind was knocked out of me. No. Like a full 20 minutes of hyperventilating, chocking, unable to draw a deep breath. It is scary and it came out of nowhere.
These panic or anxiety attacks don’t happen to me very often but when they do it’s legit. Here I was, had a pretty relaxed evening, my youngest was even super sweet and chill and put himself to bed like he was 16 🙂 I was watching Tv and snuggling with my pup. And then there it was. One character on the show. was going through trauma therapy and was having flash backs, and something the character said and the response she got from the tv therapist, triggered me. It was the weirdest thing. It wasn’t a slow progression into crying and panicking. It was sudden and intense. I wailed, I sobbed, I could not take a breath. I was shaking and my hands were gripping for anything around me that felt sturdy. I did not feel safe. As I’m writing this, I don’t feel safe. My heart was beating at an accelerated rate and I didn’t know what to do. I was worried that I was going to pass out.
All I could get out were the word, Oh God Oh God Oh God. And then God sent my sweet friend through the door. She immediately knew what was going on, sat on the floor and held my hands and breathed with me, she guided me back to reality. She prayed over me and let me take my time to move through the storm. There was no judgement, question or criticism, she was just there. Sometimes that is all it takes. Someone to BE there, even at 11pm.
As she was praying I got this image in my head of God’s Angel, Michael, standing in my living room, his sword drawn, taking a stance to protect me against the darkness. He was brilliantly shining and so big he filled the room. Because this battle I’m fighting is not against flesh and blood, it is against the spiritual darkness that is trying to devour me.
I think, no I know, that Satan preferred it when I was cowering in my room, hiding from my prison guard, becoming numb to the pain. He is not happy with me for fighting my way to freedom. He is not happy that I am speaking out into the darkness. He is trying to keep me down, every chance he gets. Sick kids, check. Missing Thanksgiving because, well, sick kids, check. Helping a fellow trauma and abuse victim, creating triggers, check. criticisms from all sides, check. A continually harassing prison guard, check. Back pain, check. Nightmares, check. The list goes on, you get the idea.
But as I sang tonight, “my chains are gone, I’ve been set free. My God, my savior has ransomed me, and like a flood his mercy reigns, unending love, amazing grace” I hear His truth. The only truth. I am loved, chosen, cherished, strong, brave and free. I’ll be honest my heart is still not quite back to normal now at almost 1am. The tears are still close to the surface, but I know this; I am free. These moments of panic will probably still come over me from time to time and that sucks, but I will overcome this in time. I need to remember to give myself grace on this journey. I don’t like going through all of the feelings and emotions, I don’t like the healing process, but what I do want is to be healed, fully. So I will continue to do the work to get there. One day at a time.
I just need to Breathe.