Don’t talk to strangers. The infamous piece of “wisdom” told to every small child as a precaution against kidnapping, rape, and trauma, but they neglected to tell us that, for the most part, it’s not strangers committing these crimes. It’s the people we already know.
You can be a happy child, in a loving home. Attentive parents who are actively involved in your lives, and still be molested. They prey on the weak, but it’s not exclusionary to the weakest.
You see it’s not always the fearful exchange you hear about on tv, the ones your parents warn you about. They take their time, spending months or years to groom you to be their “best friend”. So that you start to see them as your “best friend”, someone trustworthy and on your side. Not like other adults, but a giant kid you can play with and vent your frustrations about other adults to.
And as that trust grows they begin to ask increasingly boundary pushing requests, but you comply, because you are young and because you don’t understand the risks. You comply because you trust them. Because you have no reason not to. You comply, because maybe your parents even trust them too. You comply, because we are engrained at a young age from multiple sources that adults are to be obeyed and that we do not have full bodily autonomy. You comply because they told you it would hurt them if you don’t. And they are your best friend.
And so you do it. It feels wrong, but you are so desperate to have this “positive” influence in your life, this cool person who cares, who treats you like an adult. Trusts you with secrets. And makes you feel like you are special. Unique. You do it because you think you are just too young to understand and they must know better.
And they teach you how to lie. And they accidentally show up places they know your parents won’t be at to spend alone time with you. Fill your head with valid reasons why we should keep secrets from every body. Because to you, even as a child, this feels like a real relationship.
Not all abuse is what we classically describe as violent. It can take years to even come to the realization that your relationship was sick. That this person has preyed on you. That what happened was wrong, that a 10 year old and an adult shouldn’t be in a partnered sexual relationship. You excuse it to yourself that they were just immature, and you were just mature for you age… and that they truly loved you. You even referred to them as your first boyfriend for more than a decade after your “relationship”. Because you still actually believed that and called them a “good” guy who didn’t mean to do wrong but was just so attracted to you and your body that they couldn’t help themselves. Then you remember that they were attracted to your undeveloped, child body. That they couldn’t resist the charm of a 10 year old. And you start to rethink your position. The trauma is felt. Your entire life is changed by the experience. Your trust for people. Your sex life. Your self-worth.
But remember. Don’t talk to strangers. Because they’re the ones who’ll hurt you.
Each night is a fresh hell brought forth by memories I can never erase.
Since the war, my life has become a monotony of misery. My sheets soaked in sweat each night from panic, tangled and shredded at my feet from the struggle.
I’ve gone through five sets this year alone. And it’s only April.
Palms sweating. Heart racing. Numbness in every extremity. Unexplained, excruciating and near constant pain. Hot then instantly cold, unable to regulate my own internal thermostat. Racing thoughts of worthlessness and suicide. Rocking in my bed, unable to lift my head or even leave the safety of my sheets some days. The constant invisible agony that no one sees.
Each quick turn of the head gives me glimpses of gore. Hacked bodies lying on city streets, machetes headed in my direction. Flashbacks that can over take my whole reality and leave me in psychosis hell in an instant with terror in every direction. You see to me a trigger is only the small part of the gun staring in my face. It has no relation to the things it “should” and people’s coddled affection for my ailment only leaves me pitied and alone in my misery. There is no amount of shielding that will lessen my fate. You see, the smell of cooked bacon, reminds me of their burning flesh, but I can read about rape until the cows come home. I can explore gore without emotion, but spending joyful times with my nieces and nephews leaves me paralysed with dread for days.
You see, my brain has learned to interpret success and joy as pain and trauma. Permenantly etched as the new reality, each new bliss follows hours or days or even weeks of panic and intense urges to flee, run away, hide, or die. Just stop the pain that follows. I can’t go through it all again. Afraid to be happy, feeling underserving, it has transformed my life into a sad misery where every joy is literally pain. Pure torture.
When people laugh and joke that they have “PTSD” after something minorly annoying happens to them, I feel like they have just punched me in the gut and left me breathless, keeling over from worthlessness. Diminished. Like my struggle is worthy of their laughter, and that I am somehow weak for having this viseral physical reaction to the protracted trauma I experienced. I consider if for just one moment they could reach inside my head and feel this type of terror face to face if they’d ever make that joke again. But then, I wouldn’t wish that horror on anyone. Not even for a moment.
My reality looks bleak. There’s a 70% chance I’ll suffer from this trauma for the rest of my existence. You see, I’m a prisoner of war, trapped forever in the hell my own brain has created to compensate for the horrors it could not explain. It’s no wonder most of us just decide to end it. There are enemies all among us, politely ensuring we survive only to endure more horror and there is no one ever coming to rescue us. We are in this all alone, forever.
It doesn’t matter how “good” things get… it’s still the same.
With everything coming up, me feeling passion and spark again, the darkness still pervades. I couldn’t get out of bed this morning. Couldn’t get out this afternoon. Overwhelming sadness and pain and sense of dread.
And now I’m behind in my work. And the stress and pressure I knew would follow are here. I don’t think I can actually do this job. This dream job that I’ve been waiting my whole life for. I’m no longer actually capable. And it’s not because I’m not smart enough. But that my brain only has a tiny capacity to be able to deal with, because it is burnt out from just existing at this point.
All day, all I’ve thought about is dying. How it would legitimately be the best option for me and everyone around me. I wish I wasn’t such a coward. Every day is hell. Every day is pure agony. I can’t take it anymore. My heart feels like it just might explode. My brain is the same. My body is physically exhausted. But I’m just supposed to live in pure agony every day for the rest of my goddamn life so other people aren’t a little fucking sad when they think about me? And they say suicide is selfish?
Fuck. I just can’t anymore. It’s just too fucking hard. I’m drowning, and there is no life preserver. There’s no lifeguard. No one is coming to rescue me, and my arms and legs no longer work.
My therapist, psychiatrist, and doctor all say they are running out of options for me. I’ve tried every therapy they’ve got. Nothing changes. I’ve tried every medication they’ve got. Nothing changes. I’m coping, but I’m barely hanging on here. They are now suggesting trying things I’ve already done again. Hoping the second time around will bring success. I know it won’t. My brain is forever damaged. Everything I try is just a band-aid on a mortal wound. It will soak up the blood, but ultimately, it’s not going to change the outcome.
So things are progressing.
I got offered a new job. Working as a research consultant on an incredibly important project that could make great changes in my community for an extremely vulnerable sector. I had been volunteering with them to get out of the house a few times a week to progress with my healing, and in the process made myself indispensable to them.
Despite my employer fully understanding my illness, offering me as many mental health days as I need, offering healing support, and the chance to take a healing retreat. Despite them saying I can work from home as much as I need, skype in, and trust them with the truth. Despite my feelings of being empowered once again, my passion being reignited, my confidence increasing. Despite the good salary, benefits, and supports offered there. I’m terrified.
I haven’t worked a full day in almost 5 years. I’ve been afraid to have anyone rely on me for anything, because I couldn’t properly ensure I could do the work.
I know it’s the right decision to take the job, but what if I fail?
What if I can’t do what’s necessary?
What if I don’t sleep for a week, and require hospitalization again?
I know it’s going to be hard. My employer has set it up so that I start part-time for two months to get back into the swing of things, and then move to more full time hours. They have told me I can ease into gradually, and gradually accept more responsibilities. They begged me to take the position. Said I was desperately needed.
It feels good. I won’t lie… it feels nice to be needed again. To have the spark reignited of overwhelming passion for a project. But my self-confidence is severely shaken. It feels like I am not capable or intelligent anymore, like I used to be.
I know that this will come in time, so for now. Fake it, until I make it.
I haven’t shared this yet before to anyone.
I don’t have nightmares and flashbacks about the rapes. I feel degraded and I was physically hurt after them. I don’t have nightmares and flashbacks about the other violence that was done to me. These things don’t keep me up at night.
When I close my eyes, I see their faces. They are burned into my memory forever. The first one is the one that haunts me most. We were in the car, out-maneuvering a road block to try and get back home safely. We had been out trying to get food because we knew we wouldn’t get any in a while, and by the time we came back to the district it was overtaken. The road block was lined with bodies, we knew stopping was not an option, so we sped past it. And as we slowed down just after the block to try and get around it, there she was. This woman, naked, and covered in blood. She ran beside the car and begged at my window to be let in. Banged her fists against the glass. I started to open the door, when J leaned over me and locked it tightly, swerved out of there as the drunken militia men shot random shots at our car. I see her face. We could have let her in. We could have saved her. As we sped away, we saw them shoot after her, and her go down. We saw them catch up to her and chop her still living body to pieces. I did nothing. I said nothing. When it mattered, I froze.
The next one came knocking at our door a week after the fighting intensified and the streets were lined with raping, killing militias. Begging to be let in, for food, for shelter from the militias. J said no. No one can know we are in here, or we’ll die like the neighbours did. I didn’t argue. I didn’t even put up a fight. I just froze. And then we watched as bits were chopped from his body with machetes, while they laughed. We smelled his body burn through the night.
This happened several more times during the several months of occupation. I did nothing. I remember each of their faces so clearly. Their pleas at our door, or at my car window. I did nothing.
J said if we helped them, we wouldn’t be here. But we didn’t even try. I see their faces every night. I feel the cold of the tub under my foot as we propped ourselves up into the tiny window from the third floor where we would go to watch the militias when they weren’t in our courtyard. Watch and do nothing. Watch as these people begged at our door. Watched as the militias came and rounded them up. Watched as they butchered or lit them on fire. Watched. And did nothing. That was our day. Gather supplies from the house when the militia was out, one of us watching in the window for them to come back, then running to our hiding places when they returned. Staying in silence for days, weeks at a time. I swear, J and I could read each other’s thoughts by the end of it. We had short hand signals for everything.
I don’t even know their names. But I could describe every detail of their faces. They are as clear to me as if they were here right now, standing in front of me. I see them everywhere. When I go for walks. When I’m hanging out with friends. I’ll turn my head and see them pleading, as if they were right here, and I was back there in an instant. I shake it off. Go out for a smoke. Try to remember what I was talking about if I’m mid-sentence. I can at least recognize and not be terrified by it anymore, but it’s a constant. Every day. Everywhere I go. I see their faces. They haunt me because I didn’t do what I should have done.
Why didn’t I say something? Why did I just watch and do nothing?
People always tell me how strong I am, and I just laugh, because that feels like a fraud. When it counted, I wasn’t strong. I didn’t stand up for the people I could have. I didn’t stand to my core values. Of what I believe and always thought I would do if ever given the chance. I’m not a hero. I’m a freezer. I did nothing. And their deaths are on me.
No matter how much I try and rationalize like J did, that we did what we have to do to survive. I can’t. I did nothing. I said nothing. I put up no fight. I would have rather died there knowing I tried, then live with this guilt. It’s eating me up inside.
It’s so hard to explain to people that I’m ok, like I’m not going to kill myself or anything, but I’m really not OK. I’m struggling every day, and I try to hide it as much as I can, but some days, it’s overwhelming. I haven’t slept properly in years. It’s taken it’s toll. My adrenaline is constantly on overdrive. I still jump at loud noises, and cry or panic at fireworks. I still have days where I can’t leave my bed, or my house. Days where the outside world seems so scary that all I want to do is run and hide in the woods and never come out again.
I’m doing the things. I’ve done countless therapies, drugs, experimental treatments, healing ceremonies, counselling, acupuncture, routines, diets, you name it, I’ve probably tried it at this point. Most with this disorder never fully “recover”. They spend their whole life with flashbacks, nightmares, pain, numbness and tingling, hot and cold, insomnia, etc.
Nearly one quarter of those with PTSD attempt suicide. The number with C-PTSD, which is what I have, is even higher. I can see why. It’s literally hell every day. I don’t want to die, but living like this for extended periods of time can be unbearable. There’s no relief. I’ve reprogrammed my life through all the different CBT, dialectical, etc. therapies, so that I can live mostly a “normal” existence, but I don’t sleep. And they’ve got nothing for that that I haven’t already tried. It puts stress on all my organs. I have constant pain. I feel like half the person I once was. I can’t concentrate, my intelligence is dwindling by the day. My memory is non-existent.
I’ve decided to try an experimental approach again, and am going to take DMT in a therapeutic environment. I figure I have nothing to lose. I’ve got a month until I can try, and I am eagerly hoping that this will give me even a little bit of relief.
Until then. Back on the scheduled tasks tomorrow. Back to the routine. Keep at it. Fake it till you make, even if you never make it. Fuck, it’s depressing.
Man, I’ve been busy.
It’s true the saying, do what you love and opportunity will follow. Some amazing things happened this week for me.
Weeks after I thought I’d been denied, I got a call to come and work that evening at the restaurant I applied to serve at. It will be a chance for me to get out of the house once a week, and make a little bit of extra cash while I do.
The same day, I got an amazing opportunity to consult on a meaningful, impactful project for a community I love, and potentially make some decent cash while I do. I’ve been scrambling to get the proposals in, but it will be worth it. It feels nice to feel useful again, instead of just a drain.
I’ve been doing the things. Keeping myself and my house clean. Keeping up with my practice of guitar and poetry. Keeping up with my sleep hygiene. Still not sleeping well, but going through the motions at least. Keeping my brain busy during the day helps, because at least I use the time to lay quietly and not think.
I’m extremely nervous about starting this new project. What if I can’t do it? What if I have a brain explode in the middle and can’t work for a week? Will they fire me? Will I lose everything for the organization I’m trying to help? There’s a lot at stake for a lot of people, and much of it is resting on my broken shoulders. I can’t help but worry I’ve taken on too much once again.
I’m trying though. I’m trying desperately to be “normal”. Whatever that is. Failing miserably. But still I try.
I did what I was supposed to do today so far. I’m trying really hard to stay on track, but I’m still running on almost no sleep. I get maximum 3-4 hours a night it seems. Sometimes much less.
I had a meeting with my therapist today. She suggested I see a neurologist since I never saw one after the war, and I had my head kicked in severely, and cerebral malaria in that time. Maybe there’s some damage there. It would explain a lot. I can barely think anymore and my fear centre seems fucked.
It’s probably just the PTSD though. It’s always that. It overtakes my physical health in so many ways. It’s incredibly destructive.
I met with my new nurse yesterday and worked out options for me. I seem to have already lost the one sheet she gave me with the list on it… soo.. shit. That’s my biggest problem is that I don’t remember what is said because I’m overdrive during the appointment and I miss things. I feel stupid. So stupid. All the time now.
I’m trying. I’m trying so hard. I want so badly to be normal. Or at least, not damaged anymore. But that’s never going to be reality for me again. I’m damaged.
I’m feeling really lonely. But the weirdest thing is that lately, the last few months, I’ve had zero sex drive. Normally, the more depressed I get, the more I masturbate, seek out sex. It’s an addiction, my self-calming mechanism. And now, I feel like I may never want to have sex again. I haven’t watched porn like I normally do. I haven’t had sex with anyone, and I haven’t masturbated in months, and I don’t want to. I’ve never felt this way in my entire adult life and it’s making me concerned.
I’ve got so much shit to deal with, and I’m barely coping. I don’t know how I’m ever going to manage to be a productive member of society again. I don’t know how I’m ever going to manage to have a full time job again. I can stay at a job, and do great work, but then, inevitably, I can’t sleep for days, weeks at a time, and I can no longer function for anything else. I miss work. I miss deadlines, and then I get fired. No one wants a worker who isn’t always reliable.