I didn’t even realise it was today, yesterday, the 27th of June. PTSD awareness day. We should all be aware of it, and realise that it is occasionally a sequellae of trauma, a bit like how reduced kidney function or renal disease is occasionally a sequellae of an acute kidney event. Some people only need a bit of an acute event for their kidneys to be severely impacted. Others need more. It can be managed, but it often cannot be cured.
Well, that’s the same with PTSD. People are individuals, and it is not your perceived level of the trauma the person went through that indicates the impact it has on the person, or the validity of the impact it has on that person. Rather, it is the level of severity of the impact on the person as they experience it.
I have PTSD. I was with a narcissist for many years in a romantic relationship. I’m talking narcissistic personality disorder here, complete with impacting every area of his life, not just your regular old arsehole.
I have a moment I can remember and identify as a PTSD flash back. This happened while I was on holiday. I’m sure there were many before this, lost in the haze of ‘dealing with it’ (before I even vaguely understood what was going on inside my own brain), but this is the one memory I can pluck from my brain and say “see this, this is a PTSD flash back”.
He was, as many narcissists are, obsessed with the perception of power and wealth. “Keeping up with the Joneses” style. One of the things he loved to do was go to fancy hotels, have a luxurious full meal, spend a bit of time in the casino, and stay the night. It was like a “stay-cation”. It was all very posh. Sometimes he would dress me up. Later, he would insist I wear things that would make me appear unappealing and unattractive, or awkward in such a setting.
While on holiday earlier this year, my travelling partner and I briefly checked into … okay, it wasn’t that fancy of a hotel, but it was on par with what he used to like to go to, decor wise. I was waiting in like for the desk to check in. My travelling buddy was waiting with our bags. I was tired, a bit over stressed because of wanting to get checked in and get some sleep before the next leg of our journey.
It hit me like a brick to the face. I would turn around and it would be him standing next to the suitcases. My stomach dropped, I wanted to vomit, and I’m pretty sure if I had opened my mouth it would have been my heart that came up. I was shaking. I forced myself to turn around, knowing that as soon as those suitcases were in sight … it wasn’t him I saw. Instead it was the amazing, loving, equally tired human being I was on this mad journey with and I welled up with tears of relief. It took a bit to stop myself from crying then and there, and even longer for the shakes to subside. I was back to crisis control – everything is fine, nothing is wrong, it’s all okay, everything is fine.
It wasn’t okay, and it’s not okay, and it will probably never be okay, because every time I see someone who looks like him I want to vomit. I have nightmares that this new life I have built for myself is just a figment of my imagination. I will not enter certain places to eat because they are affiliated with him in my mind. I will not act in certain ways because those ways were associated with him and the abuse.
Words cannot express how much this trauma has impacted me, how PTSD affects my life even now, almost half a decade since it all ended. There are many more years of slow healing in my future, assisted by amazing human beings, animals, good music, medication, and a whole load of therapy. Even then, I suspect there will be some things that I will just never be able to do, or experience. And that is totally okay. Because there are other things that I can do, thanks to being free of him.