In light of recent cases highlighted on Social Media about PTSD an CSA I thought this post might be relevant.
I apologise to those who have already read it but just felt it might help some who hadn’t.
This week I have been re reading my first book I DID TELL I DID my true story of childhood sexual abuse. Because of people in my ‘family’ who hold a personal grudge, nothing to do with my books, it was taken off the market a few months ago but is currently being re published and will be available in July. Going back over the horrors of my childhood , is once again, very hard but had to be done.
As a child, I hadn’t been aware of when the abuse began and it wasn’t until during my professional training, that I discovered, if the first act of abuse is not remembered as such, it possibly had started when a victim is a baby. Horrific I know but fact. In my own case, the abuse had always been there.
During my growing up years, with no love at home and living in a web of lies, I sometimes found life almost too much to bear. I had a few distractions, one being my ‘bestie’ Claire and the times I spent with her and her family. The other being church where I was a member of the choir for many years. It was here that I prayed, asked God to make me safe, to make the ‘nasties’ stop. God wasn’t listening.
At 15 I was given medication for headaches, or so I had been told, they were, I discovered by chance years later, antidepressants and anti anxiety tablets. Each time I tried to stop these pills, the panic set in. The acute anxiety, the flashbacks and nightmares. It was when I tried to stop the medication that I would ruminate over things that had happened to me, feel terrified of my own shadow. My heart would beat faster and I would become unsteady and dizzy. Every sound was like a warning shot of terror. I couldn’t concentrate and trusted nothing and no one. My short-term memory would be impaired and life seemed to be happening to everyone else and I was on the outside. Having been told that it was ‘just ‘ me, I accepted my weaknesses and believed I was inadequate not to be able to cope with my life.
Those of you who suffer the same, might recognize some of these symptoms as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, at this time, I didn’t. I knew it was because of the withdrawal, the effects of coming off the medication, benzodiazepine drugs, as told in my 2nd book NOBODY TOLD ME ,but nothing else.
It was many years later that I learned, that PTSD is often suffered by victims and survivors of Childhood sexual abuse. Having suffered this and also having become unwittingly, dependent on prescribed medication, I can see now that I didn’t stand a chance. This is not written for sympathy but understanding. I thought I would share my thoughts.
Abuse of any kind can leave some or all of the above symptoms. Childhood Sexual abuse is always traumatic and will always leave the victim with some kind of legacy. Maybe not always every symptom of this condition, but at least a few, and in some cases, all of them.
When CSA first appeared to ‘hit the headlines,’ people would say, ‘it was a long time ago, how is it affecting them now?” In cases where people have pushed the abuse well back in their psyche, they are able to live a normal life. They go to school, on to a job or college, marry , have children and seem to be ‘okay’. But it can often take a tiny trigger, a smell, a song, a word or something that throws them back into the horrors of the abuse. With me, and I am sure others, this is when we try to make sense of the ‘whys’. But there is often no sense to find. That may be when they tell or maybe when they seek help with what this memory has hit them with. Some patients/clients I have seen, will talk about everything and nothing, to avoid going back to the nasty time of what had hurt them. Some will say they have no idea of why they feel the way they do. It can take many many sessions before the real reason for their symptoms come to light. They may have suffered for years, with flashbacks, nightmares, heightened startle reflex and problems with concentration to name some symptoms and put up with feeling that way. Sometimes too afraid to seek help and talk about their past. Seeking help can be seen as a failing, or maybe the shame and guilt, heaped upon them by their abuser, prevents them from telling.
Children don’t often tell of the horrors they are facing. Often having been threatened in all kinds of wicked ways by their abuser, they are too afraid to tell. This is why we now have brave adult victims coming forward; not able to do so as little kids, they for some reason, thankfully have found the courage to tell their story, tell of the evil in their lives. Having pushed it so far down for years and years, this could be when the PTSD has a field day. I just hope that these brave souls have the support they need.
For myself, at the age of 15, suffering headaches and inability to work well at school , a teacher suggested I saw my doctor. This was when the help he gave me ,was in the form of the medication mentioned above. Over the years, coming off these drugs, I would have panic episodes, so severe that I became terrified and acted in bizarre ways, was unable to think straight, make decisions, function . At the age of 22 I became a Mum, I had to cope. Having stopped all medication, during my pregnancy, the flashbacks and nightmares came back but I worked very hard, to ignore them. I was so happy about my first baby,that nothing could touch that. The shakes, the fear etc. were pushed aside. I had been on medication for around 6 years so the withdrawal was not as severe as it would become later in my life. Over the years, coming off the meds I would suffer every symptom of PTSD but that went unrecognised. For the next 23 years, I was on and off the meds but the nightmares were always there. I was still unable to sleep well and my sense of judgment was impaired. I found trusting people very hard, I had low self-esteem and feelings of guilt and shame around my past. This made it easy for me to make mistakes, many failed relationships although my 2nd and 3rd husband played their part in this, I know I must have been quite hard to live with at times. I was over protective of my daughters, especially when they reached the age of about 7, the most crucial age for my own past abuse. I was over protective and possessive I can see that now. Many of you who are CSA survivors might recognize yourself here.
It took 18 months of hell to break free form the medication. I still have nightmares and flashbacks, not as often, but outside influences of my now happy life, affect these. The legacy I am afraid is lifelong and when people say ‘it doesn’t matter now as it happened so long ago’, I have to accept their ignorance and lack of understanding.However, I will continue to educate such people.
Until I did my training in CBT and gained a Masters in Psychotherapy, I had not identified, that not only were the symptoms mentioned, present when I withdrew from the medication, but were in fact, to a degree, always there as a result of the CSA. It was a revelation to me. Might sound strange but actually made sense and gave me a boost. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t that I just couldn’t cope, it was because my childhood trauma was still affecting me. Hence my writing my autobiography and then the sequel. Cathartic to say the least.
Today, PTSD is often attributed to trauma, soldiers having suffered horrors of war, car accident victims, any kind of shock. Now at last, victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse are being, in some cases, acknowledged as suffering from this debilitating condition and receiving the help and treatment they need and deserve.
Even today, having worked hard on my own lifetime horrors, accepting that I was in no way responsible for what happened to me and forgiving myself for my mistakes; even now a trigger can bring back some of this nasty condition. A smell, Whisky is one, and I am back in the evil that was my abuser. Sometimes memories just come and I feel like a child again. Sometimes others actions, such as unfair and unjust actions, such as the lies and injustice in my current ‘family life, hurt me and send me back to the same terror and fear that my childhood legacy has given me. But still here and still fighting!
PTSD is a legacy that we didn’t ask for but can and will overcome.
Thank you for reading. x