Something happens, and in a moment, I’m transported back in time. From a place of safety to a place of terror. My mind flashes images across my eyes of the things that happened before. And for a moment, in that wild moment of panic, my life loses it’s hope and I lose the sense of what’s around me.
In my case, I’ve noticed that flashbacks occur most intensely and frequently during periods of transition. Recently, I moved to a new city. A city that a love, with friends who I love, and a safe environment away from the dangers of home and the fears of what’s happened before. But sometimes, even knowing that I’m safe, being actively aware that I’m all right now, isn’t enough to stop my gut reactions.
For the first few weeks, I stayed with my best friend. I’ve known her for years, and she’s always been a kind and positive influence in my life. In my soul, I know that she would never hurt me. But the other day, when she quickly sprinted across the room to let her cat out the door, my body froze and my mind seized up. I’d had my back turned, doing the dishes, when out of the corner of my eye I saw the blur of a person moving quickly.
Flash. My tiny, red-headed friend was instantly replaced in my mind by other flashes. A flash of my brother barging towards me with his hands outstretched, ready to reach for my neck and strangle me. Ready to scare me into submission, ready to yell at me for all the things I was supposedly doing wrong. In that moment, I lost my cool.
As my friend ran past, I whirled around and slammed back into the sink as a scream escaped my lips and I began to shake. “I didn’t do anything!” I yelled, before I could stop myself. Before I could even realize what she was doing, which was humming along innocently, running, to go play with her cat and let the cat outside.
People who’ve suffered from abuse are trauma survivors. Which basically means that we experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and that the chemical connections in our brains have been altered to constantly be on the defensive. A playful sprint becomes a menacing threat. A single word becomes a death sentence. A brush of the hand becomes the touch of a devil.
Recently, I’ve been struggling with flashbacks. Each time I have one, I have to take some deep breaths afterwards to calm myself down. “You are safe,” I tell myself. “No one is going to hurt you,” I promise. “I love you and you are good enough,” I explain to the wounded child within myself. I have to go back and think about why I reacted the way that I did, and remind myself that it wasn’t real.
Sometimes I think flashbacks are the worst part of any trauma. Sometimes I feel like I can’t shake off the past, and that it continuously affects my future. Right now, I am searching for a way to remember the past, without reliving it. Meditation helps. Yoga helps. Good friends help. But ultimately, the constant reminder, every day, that I’m safe now is what gets me through.