If you have ever had a flashback, you probably wonder how flashbacks could possibly serve a good purpose.  If you have never had a flashback, count your blessings!  If you wonder what a flashback is, here is my definition of the term based on my own experience:  A flashback is the energy left by a horrible, traumatizing past event.  This energy has been trapped in the victim’s mind.  The energy, along with the memory of the past event, suddenly and randomly thrusts itself into the present in the form of a horrendous emotional sucker punch! The past becomes the present, and there is no future.  This is a flashback.  A person experiencing a flashback is momentarily trapped in that time warp, existing in the present but reliving the horror of the past event.

The above information is based, as I mentioned, on my own experience and on reading I have done in an attempt to understand my personal experience.  I have experienced my share of flashbacks, although they have been blessedly infrequent.  They have, however, been frightening enough to have caused me to seek help.  The flashback that drove me to seek therapy in 2009 took place while I was riding public transportation.  I had just left a person who presented herself as a spiritual advisor.  She had asked me a lot of questions, firing one right after another, and when I left her office, my mind was foggy and I was disoriented.  The fog continued as I rode the bus to the light rail station and caught the train.  Then, as I was sitting on the train and heading to downtown Portland, the past thrust itself into my present with a force that sent me mentally reeling!

Suddenly I was nine years old, crouched on the kitchen floor, and my father was roaring at me.  I tried to cover my ears, but when he saw me do that, he hit me.  Thus, I had no protection from the violence of his ranting.  And then he did the unthinkable:  To punish me, he picked my favorite cat up by the tail and bashed her against the kitchen wall.  I left–I simply left.  My nine-year-old self was there on that kitchen floor, but I wasn’t in that self.  Later, after my father had left the room, I came back into my body and held my cat.  She was not permanently damaged, but I was.  I know that now.

The flashback had passed by the time I reached my destination, and when I got off the train, I was a bit disoriented but otherwise okay. I resolved that day to find a skilled therapist who could help me undo trauma damage.

Why did I have this flashback more than sixty years after the event? Maybe the flashback was triggered by the tone in which the woman questioned me or by the rhythm of the questions.  Maybe the rapid firing of her questions and the tone of her voice collided with the long-buried memory of my father’s rapidly-fired curses and caused the flashback.  I don’t know.  Whatever the process, I was unaware of it until the sudden, explosive flashback. As a result, I searched for and found a therapist, but she and I were not a good match.  Luckily, I don’t give up easily. The person I now see is an excellent match, and I have new hope for a future without the distressing symptoms of PTSD.

So–what good purpose do flashbacks serve?  If they are as horrible as I have described them, how can they do any good at all?  If you have a flashback and recognize it as a flashback, then the good the flashback serves is to let you know you need help!  A flashback is a symptom, a signal to you that you need to find a therapist who is trained and experienced in helping people who have been traumatized.  Furthermore, modern approaches to trauma therapy have the advantage of helping a person in a shorter time than some therapies of  previous eras.  Modern therapies such as EMDR ( http://www.emdr.com/), Lifespan Integration (http://www.lifespanintegration.com/), and ego state therapy (http://www.egostatetherapy.com/) can provide the possibility of relief from PTSD symptoms in a much shorter time than some of the older therapies of the past.

We are lucky today to be living in an era when brain research has progressed to the point where scientists can understand the physical damage that trauma does to the brain and mental health specialists can design therapies that heal this damage.  If you experience flashbacks, please take the next step and find a therapist who can help you undo the damage of past trauma.  Your effort will pay off! 

For more authoritative information on flashbacks, here is a link to follow:  http://www.tag-uk.net/ra-article7.html  As I have said on my website (http://www.jfairgrieve.com/) and on this blog, I am not a mental health professional; I am just a writer who is trying to undo the damage of past abuse and alleviate my PTSD so I can spend my last years of life in relative freedom from flashbacks and other distressing symptoms.  I’m getting there, and you can, too!

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