Happy, sad, angry, calm, relaxed, frightened, amused…. these are all normal emotions, aren’t they?
One thing I’ve been gradually learning during recovery is that it’s okay to feel more than one thing at once. That it’s okay to be angry with someone and still love them; it’s okay to be crying but also feeling happy about something. It’s okay. It feels very weird, and a little bit like a fruit salad and very much more out of control than feeling one emotion at a time, but is probably more real. One emotion at a time, I’m beginning to realise, is like trapping yourself.
I’ve had random issues with emotions. I have no problem with laughing, but sometimes if I laugh I feel guilty…I’ve known people to die as a result of abuse, does laughing mean I’m disregarding their pain and suffering? I get told: of course not. But it doesn’t make the feeling and worry go away. However, generally speaking, I’m happy having a sense of humour and laughing with friends.
I’m happy…no, I’m comfortable also with feeling stressed. Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? I don’t enjoy stress. I hate it. But if I’m not stressed, I feel a bit lost. I’m so used to living in a mad whirlwind and to be relaxed for too long throws me. I end up more up-tight than had I actually been stressed, because I’m stuck in the “it’s too good to be true, something truly horrific must be just round the corner.” Stress also generally means I’m busy, which is an excellent hiding strategy. If the world is backing me into a corner, I’ll just work instead and ignore the threat. NB – this is not healthy, and I don’t advise it!
I now let myself cry, although apparently not as much as I should do even now. However, at the start of my degree the idea of crying filled me with fear…and now…well…let’s just say there’s a few people who’ve probably had to wring their jumpers out after I’ve finished sobbing on them. It’s healthy, apparently. It never feels it at the time… (but then nothing healthy ever does…think about it: running = hurts; salad = boring; sleep = nightmares; 2l water = boring and bloatiness-inducing; 5-a-day = you look pregnant and digestive system has heart failure…. etc etc. In short, nothing healthy feels nice at the time). So crying feels like hell, especially when you’ve been going forever, your eyes feel like someones scratching them with a fork and there’s tears, dribble and snot everywhere and basically it’s one of your most unflattering moments, and very exhausting.
Later, however, you feel much better.
Anger? I still struggle with this. I seem to be getting angry and snappier more often which I hate. My counsellor encourages me to feel anger; she says it’s healthy, reasonable, and a useful defence mechanism. But I’ve only really ever seen anger to be extremely dangerous, and it always scares me that if I’m angry, then that must make me an abuser too. Working on this.
But what about the emotions regarding my past? This has always puzzled me, and scared me sometimes. I can remember and re-live the most horrific event, and within a matter of hours be functioning again. I talked a bit to my therapist about this a while ago at our initial meeting. I said I felt I must be heartless. But she asked me whether I do cry, and do care…and the answer is yes. I cry for each child I heard screaming who I couldn’t protect, and for each time I was hurt. It’s just very short tears and over with quickly.
We then explored the purpose behind my flashbacks so far…and cut a long story short, I now understand what’s going on. The purpose for my memories surfacing so far hasn’t been to let me process the emotions. It’s been to give me information which I needed as a matter of serious urgency; they’ve been giving me odd pieces of a huge jigsaw puzzle. I’ve largely been getting the black and white bits of information but the really raw part – the emotions – have been kept on the back-burner. I’ve hardly scratched the surface.
Now I have the information, the next stage is to actually process the emotions. This scares me a bit; it’s like knowing you need to take the plaster off but knowing fine rightly that you should have shaved your legs beforehand AND that you don’t have nice warm water to encourage it off: it’s going to hurt.
My therapist stopped me from freaking out though, thank God. She helped me to understand. She asked me to think about a memory, any memory, but not too much as to fall into a flashback. (Balancing act). So I did. She asked me to think about which bit was most traumatic for me as a child. I initially focussed on what I guessed was the “right answer” – ‘I was raped…he hit me…he used objects…’ but really, that was what was traumatic for me as an adult who understood these concepts. She kept pressing me to think about what was most traumatic for me as a child at that time.
I felt my bottom lip tremble as my inner child remembered. “My knee hurt,” I murmured, “I’d twisted my knee earlier.” The therapist smiled encouragingly, and asked me how that made me feel as a child. Suddenly this HUGE tornado of emotions woke up and smacked me in the face: extreme terror, pain, confusion, sadness, hurt, loneliness, desperately wanting my teddy bear…
“STOP!” I yelled, and the memory vanished. “What the hell was that?” I was stunned; a twisted knee had caused that?
The therapist explained gently… as a child I simply didn’t have the ability to process and understand what was happening; this is why I developed multiple-personality disorder. Apparently it’s also typical with children to focus on one part of the pain, and channel all of their emotions into that. So all of my emotions about the abuse and the situation were channeled into my twisted knee, because that was a type of pain I understood.
Only when I go through the memories, and let the inner child’s emotions surface by listening to what traumatised her the most, can I truly recover. I don’t need to know the facts; I need to let the emotions out and give my inner child the comfort and care she never received.
I protested immediately; the idea terrified me and I’ve been feeling better; I don’t want more flashbacks that although will be far less violent, will be several times more emotionally intense. The therapist nodded and said it was up to me when to start; some women wait until they’re elderly but then they don’t know what it’s like to truly be themselves until their life is nearly over, and that seems very sad to me. And how can I hope to help anyone if I refuse my own emotions?
So I said I’d let that next stage start once the therapy had properly started. Therefore, this is now something in the immediate future. I am scared, I won’t lie. I know the facts, and know what kind of emotional turmoil must be trapped inside me, and feel a bit like a volcano that’s going to go off. But I got through the last stage in just over a year. I’m not spending the next 20 years in a state of emotional pain, or indeed an emotional numb-bot. I’ve got a summer ahead, and bring it on. At least with these type of flashbacks I shouldn’t need restraint by a group of adults, but may need more cups of tea and tissues…
Let’s get these emotions out, let my inner child be finally comforted, and recovery even closer to the finish line… I shouldn’t be scared of my emotions, but I can’t help it.
So if anyone sees me crying in the near future, don’t worry – my knee probably was twisted again…
- Emotional flashbacks and you don’t understand what they are about… (healingfromcomplextraumaandptsd.wordpress.com)
- Repressed Emotions (living2dayblog.wordpress.com)