As Alyssa and I drove to our family gathering Sunday, I was sharing with her some of the things that I learned in therapy last week.
For the past couple weeks, I’ve had a different kind of trigger that would bring about one of my PTSD symptoms. I will explain what happens to me and we will see if I do a good enough job with the explanation so that you actually understand what happens.
One of my PTSD triggers are sirens – ambulance, police, fire alarms, etc. Any siren that blasts will immediately bring the memory of Alyssa’s gray face as she lay motionless in my arms. Every siren used to immediately cause a panic attack and a flood of tears followed by an overwhelming feeling to run as fast as I could to get away from the noise. My brain felt like it was flipping inside my skull, my body shook, my stomach felt like barfing and my heart ached. Actually my heart felt like someone was stabbing it with a knife over and over again and there was also a pain filled emotion.
That was then…in the past.
Now, however, there is a different scenario.
When I’ve heard sirens for the past several weeks, unfortunately I still see Alyssa laying in my arms and feel an overwhelming emotion. It isn’t always the same emotion, so depending which emotion it ignites, there is then a series of other flashback type scenarios that simultaneously appear in my head. These other scenarios have nothing to do with the Alyssa flashback, but my emotional response is the same.
Let me give you an example. The other day I had three simultaneous flashback memories.
- When Alyssa stopped breathing that horrible day, I felt helpless. I knew that I could not “make” her live. It was an overwhelming helplessness.
- At my father’s funeral, I tried not to look at the front of the church where his cremated body rested. Eventually, I did look and the impact of the realization that I would never be able to spend more time with him hit me. I wouldn’t be able to make up for all those moments he didn’t share with me. I felt totally helpless to overcome the disappointment caused by the lost opportunities with Dad.
- While still married to my second husband, I remember trying to get him to communicate with me. At some point of this particular conversation, I told him that all I wanted was to be loved and cherished. The blank look on his face as he stared back at me spoke volumes. I knew that he would never feel those things for me and nothing I said or did would ever change how he felt. I was once again helpless to change the situation.
So last week, those three helpless moments in my past crashed down upon me when I heard a police car siren go speeding by my car as I was driving to a meeting for work. I had no forewarning that it was going happen, so I couldn’t prepare for the onslaught of helplessness that blanketed every cell of my body.
Thanks to my wonderful therapist, I had the coping tools necessary to get me through the moment. I said to myself in a very matter of fact voice, “Alyssa is alive and at work, probably wishing it was time to go home. I won’t ever be able to recapture any moments with Dad because he is dead. That opportunity is simply over. He loved me the best he could and I love him still. Lastly, my second marriage ended. I live in one place and he lives far away in another place. I don’t have to beg him to love or cherish me because we aren’t together anymore. So there is no reason to feel helpless about Alyssa, Dad or my second husband. Two of the three are not even really in my life anyway.”
After saying all that stuff to myself, I took a deep breath and let that helpless feeling leave my body. I had let each painful memory hurt for a second and then I put them all in perspective while shoving them back into the past where they belong. After I coped with the helpless emotion and released it, there was a feeling of intense peace. It was a huge relief. I didn’t restuff the pain down inside of me, but instead I had felt and coped with the helplessness of each situation.
The policeman in the car with the siren and all the cars that were driving around me didn’t have any idea that I was experiencing this flashback of emotion. Nor did any of them know that by putting into effect this methodical and very rational self-talk, I had released myself of emotional baggage. No one knew that this type of emotional bombardment will continue until I have coped with each of the emotions I have stuffed down inside of me because I didn’t cope with them when they happened. Then after I work my way through all of them, it will release my brain stress and once again I will regain my short term memory.
I have shared this experience with a few people and now I’m telling everyone that reads my blog. No one would know this about me if I didn’t share it. Without opening my heart and soul, no one would see this aspect of my PTSD recovery. The people that truly care about me will have either listened to me or will take the time to read the post in an effort to understand my struggles. Other people will read the post and know how this experience feels because they experience the same type of PTSD symptom. Everyone who reads this post will know me a little bit better than they did before they read it.
It is impossible to know someone without taking the time to listen to them. Even after listening to someone, it is still impossible to really know everything about them. Living with someone helps you know them better only if they are emotionally open, but you never really know EVERYTHING about someone.
However, I think there is an exception to this “knowing” thing…
You never really know someone until you both love each other unconditionally. You may not know everything “about” the person or even know “exactly” how they feel about everything, but if you love each other unconditionally, you can know each other. When your heart trusts enough and is willing to lay it all out in the open for the other person, love makes up for all the things you don’t know about someone.
Unconditional love is a priceless gift. It says, “I will love you no matter where you go, how you act or what you say.” When it is reciprocated, unconditional love says, “I know you will always love me the same way and will never do anything purposefully to hurt me.” It is an unselfish, honest love that has no limits or boundaries and can be relied upon without exception. When reciprocated, unconditional love opens all the doors of the soul and creates a bond that transcends time, distance, age and human weakness.
I believe that unconditional love is the secret to lasting relationships. It is such a beautiful love. It is the kind of love we see in movies like The Notebook or The Mirror Has Two Faces. It is the love we gravitate to because it promises complete acceptance. It is the greatest of all loves and you never really know someone until you love them unconditionally.