“I wish I could understand the words,” I thought, driving down the highway this afternoon. I gazed at the radio. “Guns ‘N Roses not Bon Jovi,” I said. I was still learning the music of that era and always confused the two bands. The rains were coming, but I couldn’t see the black clouds rolling in. I only replayed the voices in my head.
How long had it been? Fifteen years? Twenty? I was twelve when the voices in my head started talking to me. But this time, it was different.
“Do you know what PTSD is?” my therapist had asked me moments ago.
Of course I knew. “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” I answered. “War veterans have it.”
She shook her head and chuckled. I wasn’t offended. I knew she had spent years treating children and adults…survivors of trauma…all with PTSD and none had ever been to Vietnam or Afghanistan. I was one of them. I smiled to myself.
“They had seen war,” I said. “Just not the kind most people know about. I know. I spent my life fighting my wars.”
“I slip in and out of the worlds,” I told her. “And the worlds are real. They are real. I can see them, smell them, feel them. I am there.”
“Of course they are,” she said as if nothing I said could surprise her. “That is PTSD. That is what the mind does. Mid-trauma, when you have no escape, the mind lets you escape mentally to survive it. But most people experience snippets of trauma. You,” she said, “were held at a constant state of severe trauma for a prolonged period of time with no break.”
“Twenty years,” I said.
“I can’t control my body,” I said, shaking my head.
“Of course you feel that way.”
“I watched animals being ripped apart…their remains thrown at me. I was beaten for years. Then I was raped…I was chained to a bed and bitten for months. He drank my blood. And when I escaped him, only three days later, another rapist found me. Five years that one enslaved me. He raped me moments after the towers in New York fell.” I shook my head. “My body isn’t mine to control. It never has been,” I had said. “My body doesn’t belong to me. It never has.”
“And to cope you slipped into the other worlds and stayed there,” she said.
“It’s so hard. Most sounds trigger me. Thirty minutes, every hour, every day.”
“It will get easier,” she assured me. “You’re aware now. And you’re going through the adjustment stage.”
“It was so hard at first,” I said. “I hate it here. I want to go back to the worlds in my head.”
“Reality is hard,” she said. “But imagine the other side.”
The other side…
“One day when you wake up, and you will hear a dog barking…and it’s just a dog.”
My eyes widened with disbelief. To imagine such a thing…I couldn’t.
“Nothing is hurting it,” she said. “Or you hear a car back fire or children playing…or someone shouting…and its all just life happening. And it’s okay. One day, you will know you’re safe.”
“I want that so badly,” I said. “But you’re talking unicorns and ponies.”
“It is real,” she said.
“I was asked once what it is like living with PTSD,” I said. “It is like you are alone on an island and you see danger and enemies everywhere. They are out to get you. In the store, in church, on the street, in your home. I am like Don Quixote who sees monsters everywhere…but they’re just windmills. The war is over. I am told I am attacking windmills. There is no danger. No threat. but I can’t put down my weapon. I can’t put down my sword. I must attack the windmills or they will kill me. Even though they are just windmills…they will kill me. To live every moment of every day as if you are in the jungles of Cambodia even though you’re in a park surrounded with children. That is PTSD.”
And that is when I heard it…
“So never mind the darkness
We still can find a way
‘Cause nothin’ lasts forever
Even cold November rain.
I burst into tears right there in the car. Nothing lasts forever. Not this war I’ve been fighting for twenty years. And one day, one day, I will wake up and sound will just be sound. And I won’t need my swords, or Bergen, or the voices in my head. I won’t need the worlds, books, movies, or music to escape. Or my mind. Because I won’t be hurt…not now…or ever again. And I will know I can control the fate of my own body.
And all at once I could see me loving my swords, but not needing them. Writing about war, but not needing to. Loving my husband, just my husband, and not having to cower in a corner in my room searching the dark for windmills who are out to get me. One day, I would not need my 6’2” Viking Nord Lord beside me.
“Windmills who,” I repeated. That is the mind of someone with PTSD. Things are alive and are out to get you. My mind replaced people who were there with “things” that can’t move. That’s the delusion of PTSD. I am living Apocalypse Now in my head. Every moment of every day.
But now I know…I don’t have to.
The black clouds broke and I drove in the rain, but I smiled and tears fell down my face. I was ready to step out of the cold November rain. I can do this.
This is an excerpt from “Unbreaking Me.” “Broken” revisits my life during those twenty years, and is due to release on 11 September 2015.