Living with Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)
One trauma should be enough. In anyone’s lifetime, if all was as it should be, no one would experience the pain of trauma. But in this fallen and broken world, many people experience continuous or multiple traumas beginning in childhood. This world of surviving multiple traumas, of always having to adapt and change in order to continue on, creates a world of chaos and pain that never seems to end.
Often what happens when you have gone through multiple traumatic events, is that you begin to feel a constant weight of “the next shoe dropping.” You wonder when you will have to dive back into survival mode again. Expecting that trauma is a part of your life and there will always be another trauma coming at you. Viewing the world through this lens of when, not if, is something not everyone will be able to understand. It’s a consequence of what happened to us, not a deficit we can readily just choose to overcome.
PTSD can develop when a person does not have access to adequate resources to heal from their trauma. They are unable to move through the grief and healing process in order to reclaim their life. The journey to heal from one trauma is complicated, inexpressibly hard at times, and exhausting. Living with C-PTSD is a completely different beast. Every step towards healing brings with it wounds from the past that you may not even know are there. It is always at the ready to react when those deep and hidden wounds are poked. C-PTSD begs for constant attention to healing and continuing on your journey.
Regardless of where you are in your healing journey, C-PTSD will bring challenges to your everyday life. The invisible wounds of trauma, even when walking in your healing, are never fully healed. Depending on the depth, complexity, and pain intertwined in your earlier traumas, you can and will be caught off guard. You will be shaken again when you are faced with another traumatic experience. Traveling the path of C-PTSD means that you will be good some days, then suddenly struggle. This journey is full of deep holes and booby traps you didn’t set and struggle to see until you are in them.
You can be at your absolute healthiest, living your best life, and you can be taken down to the point you begin to question if you ever really healed at all.
Navigating Trauma after Healing
To be real for a minute, this is where I find myself now. I poured myself into healing from the Columbine shootings and earlier childhood traumas. Knowing I was at a point in my life where my healing journey wasn’t complete, I navigated life in health. I loved the life I was living, who I was, and I was pursuing a life I wanted. I thought I was aware, of my triggers and how they impacted me. I thought I knew my limitations and how far I could push myself before I overstepped my own boundaries. Though I had gained an enormous number of tools and techniques to manage and heal those residual parts of my past, I didn’t understand how I’d use them now.
What I didn’t know was how my deepest wounds had not yet been touched by healing. I did not know how painfully those wounds would react when they were attacked instead of protected. I am able to handle a lot of traumas, mine and others. I am resilient and strong. But I am also human. I have areas of my soul that are wounded so deeply they stayed more or less hidden. Until they could no longer remain hidden.
The last few years I have been walking a new path. A path I never knew or imagined I’d have to walk. I had no idea what I was going to have to do. The trauma from the last few years was progressive, subtle at first. The trauma of suffering with severe Peripartum Onset depression, anxiety, OCD, and rage. Losing our home in a fire at 3 months postpartum. Multiple additional challenges and pain beyond what I thought I’d ever have to deal with in this phase of my life. But it all snuck up on me. I didn’t realize I was not OK anymore until I was REALLY not OK. It wasn’t until I realized that the things I was feeling and thinking were similar to right after the Columbine shootings, that I figured out I was suffering through another battle with active PTSD.
Having C-PTSD has complicated this new healing journey in profound ways. I am able to see the healing that I achieved before, but I also struggle in ways I thought I’d dealt with already. A resurgence of an addiction, desperately trying to stay present and not continue to dissociate and check out, and an internal struggle so fierce, you’d think I was battling for my very life. Which, of course, I am.
The New Battle Ground
This is how I am beginning to understand the profoundly devastating consequences of surviving multiple traumas. Because I am not only fighting for myself now, but I am fighting for my son. I am fighting to protect him from the worst days. To show him how to be resilient and healthy. Fighting to teach him that no matter what, you still have to get up and move forward. Teaching him to honor himself, his emotions, and wherever he is at that moment without shame. Knowing when to fight and when to rest and take care of yourself.
The healing journey that I am on now, is harder than anything I’ve ever done before. There are so many times that I want to give up. To just stop fighting and let the pain overtake me. But that is not who God created me to be. I did not fight like hell to claw my way out of the grave I was in after Columbine, just to go back to that same grave (metaphorically). C-PTSD complicates everything. The things I’ve learned so far in my healing journey seem hard to utilize in this journey. I am having to relearn so much, and to be intentional about self-care in a way I never had to before.
In the hardest moments, when the light seems impossible to see, it is almost impossible to think of who I will be after I am through this leg of my life journey. Truthfully, I don’t want this leg, I don’t want this journey. I want to be on a path where I can have a reprieve from trauma for a while. I can’t change where I’m at or what I am going through. No matter how much I want to.
But I can do the hard work. I know that I can get through this, because I’ve done this before. And so can you. The strength and resilience that compels you to keep going is what will keep you hanging on wherever you find yourself. You’ve done this before. You’ve survived the worst, often more times than you can remember. You are not only a survivor, you are a warrior. The battle scars we carry weigh us down, but we can continue to fight.
Living with C-PTSD, even if you never have to survive another trauma, brings challenges that others can’t even conceive. Choosing to not let the past dictate how you live your life, changes how we step into the fight. Yes, things may be harder than they should be. Life may feel like it’s a never ending war and that you are drowning in defeat. But you have already survived some of the worst in this life.
Whatever life has for you next, you can and will overcome it. If you choose to. We can get bitter and live in anger at the injustices we’ve had to deal with, or we can focus on getting healthy (again). Struggling to handle new traumas when you’ve healed so many earlier traumas, does not mean the healing isn’t real. It can move you to greater levels of healing and freedom if you can embrace a new journey to healing.