How Do I know?
For a little over a year now, fourteen months, exactly, I have been working hard in therapy. Ego state therapy is the modality I have chosen. There are other modalities that work, too, EMDR being one of them. Eventually, when I’m ready, I will use EMDR, too. For now, I need to finish my work in ego state therapy.
Why am I working so hard and why do I stay with therapy? Because it works! At any rate, it works for me, and therapy has been proven to work for many other people. What do I mean by “it works”? I have evidence! For one thing–and this is extremely important to me–I can finally use public transportation without having a PTSD response when a problematic situation arises. I have no car, so wherever I go, including to my therapy sessions, I must take the bus or the light rail train. Most trips are quiet, meaning that most of the time none of the passengers is obnoxious and loud, engages in angry conversations on a cell phone, or argues loudly with the driver. However, sometimes the ride is not peaceful. Sometimes a passenger will get on who is intoxicated and loud, or sometimes somebody gets on who is determined to pick a fight with the driver or another passenger.
In the past, when these things happened, I automatically dissociated, left my body. Why? Loud, angry voices connected somewhere in my brain to the loud, angry voice I heard during my twenty-year marriage and to the loud, angry voice of my mentally ill father during one of his outbursts. Verbal violence, I call this. This violence assaults my mind, heart, and soul just as beating on me with a whip would assault my body. When somebody shouts or roars at me, I feel the impact throughout my entire nervous system. I learned early in life to leave my body when I heard my father’s rants, and I continued this pattern of dissociating when my former husband threw his violent tantrums. Loud, violent noises of any sort, then, have triggered my PTSD response. But no longer! I said that tentatively and hopefully six months ago, but now, as time passes and I continue my work in therapy, I say it less tentatively and with more certainty.

The other day, for example, I was on the bus, heading to my therapy session, when four people, two men and two women, entered the bus. One of the men looked half asleep and had arms full of needle marks, the other man was talking loudly, and the two women were talking back to him loudly. I was on my guard, afraid there would be trouble. The loud man sat in the seat behind me, and the two women sat across the aisle from me. As the bus headed toward my destination, the talk became more sexually explicit, the man telling the two women how good they looked with no clothing on and how he wanted them to undress him, and the women replying by telling in detail how they would go about obeying him. All this in amplified voices, as if they were intentionally addressing the entire busload of passengers.
Did I dissociate, space out, and leave my body? No, I did not! In the past, I would have “left” when the volume and intensity of the speech ramped up, but not this time! I stayed right there, in my body, and I was pissed! My anger, I realized later, was real and appropriate to the event. I was angry because the rest of the passengers and I were a captive audience to the nasty conversation of those four people. I was angry that the driver did not stop the bus and tell the four people to leave. And I was angry that the two children on the bus had to hear the filthy language. I will admit that I was stunned when I reached my stop, too stunned to think of calling the transit company and reporting the incident, but at least I had stayed in my body, had witnessed the whole incident, and had gotten angry. For me, getting appropriately angry is a big step, a sure sign of progress!
Chances are, if my thinking had not been blocked by my PTSD symptoms when my former husband intimidated me by his raging and loud tantrums, I would have ended my marriage much earlier than I did and would have spared my children and me a lot of abuse and pain. I cannot undo what has been done in the past, but through my work in therapy, I can make sure that part of my history doesn’t repeat itself! Remember: PTSD symptoms can block rational thought. If you have PTSD symptoms, alleviating them may save your life and the lives of those you love!