Part II

The following post, Part I and Part II, is my attempt to describe my internal experience of trauma when I was a child and later, when I was a woman living in a domestic violence situation. As I mentioned in the introduction, this morning I realized that my inner battle appears to be over–the white flags are up. Am I healing? Yes, I believe so. I am, as people say, “cautiously optimistic.” However, PTSD and C-PTSD can be healed, and after so many, many years of internal struggle, I believe I am at last experiencing the peace I have worked so hard to achieve.

As I wrote this first section, I felt a deep sadness for the little girl I was. Nobody knew I had been sexually abused by the neighbor woman or abused by my parents, and nobody knew how hard I struggled to do what I was supposed to do at home and in school. Nobody knew about the war inside me and the constant screaming and sobbing. There simply was nobody I could tell. And even if there had been, what could anyone have done? During the 1940s, probably nothing! I might have been sent to an asylum, in fact, diagnosed as being schizophrenic.

Thank God that we now know about C-PTSD and “parts”! And thank God for the rugged spirit of my Scottish coal-miner ancestors. They didn’t give up, and neither did I!

October, 1980

It’s a fall day in October, a day when the dead leaves lie on the ground, crisp, red, and golden. The morning fog has lifted, and I can see the neighbor’s horses romping near the river, manes, golden and brown, lifting and falling rhythmically in time with the thud of hoofbeats in the sodden pasture. Nature is at peace. “But what is wrong with me??” I ask myself this question, over and over. I find no answer.

So what is happening to me? I hear music in my head. Loud, classical music, familiar pieces I played in the school orchestra when I was a kid and played the bassoon. I know the pieces inside and out, and I can hear the part of each instrument. No, I don’t just hear a melody; in my head, I hear the whole piece, all the parts. If you want me to hum the trumpet part, I can do that. Any part.

And then, suddenly, I hear another piece on top of the first piece, another piece of classical music, and this new piece is fighting with the first piece for domination of my head. “God, why can’t I turn the music down? Why can’t I separate the two pieces? Why is this music so loud?” And when my son comes home, I put my head next to his and ask him if he can hear the music. He looks at me blankly. He doesn’t understand. I take his look as a “No!” I’m the only one who can hear the music.

I want to sleep. If I can sleep, I won’t hear the music. But I have things to do—dinner needs to be cooked, the house needs to be tidied, dishes need to be washed, clothes need to be put in the dryer—too much to do to sleep. So I begin directing my behavior by talking through each step, whispering so nobody will hear me. So nobody will know. That works. By telling myself what to do, I bypass the music. My ears take in my words, my brain focuses on the spoken messages, and I can function. What a relief! Once again, I have found a way to carry on as if nothing is wrong. Once again, I can get my work done.

The next morning I get up, the music begins, and I eye my husband’s closet where he keeps the guns. I hate guns! They scare the hell out of me! But maybe a gunshot would do what nothing else will do. And then, as gently as a maple leaf drifting to earth in a fall breeze, a thought comes to mind: “Perhaps that nice lady who I talk to sometimes when I take my daughter to therapy can help me. Maybe she can tell me how to turn the music down. It’s worth a try.”

April 1981

That nice lady and I have been working together for seven months. The music has faded, and now I hear just the old battle sounds, the screaming and crashing and sobbing. Sometimes I believe I hear my five-year-old self weeping. Even those sounds are muted, however. I can think. And my eyes are opening to sights in my household I have not seen before, sights that I do not like. I am wondering if perhaps I am wrong in believing that every evil I behold is my fault. Maybe evil exists outside of me. Maybe evil is happening to me. Maybe I am a receiver and not a doer of evil. Maybe, maybe . . .

* * *

On the Thursday before Holy Week in 1981, I caught my husband in the act of sexually abusing our daughter. I turned him in and filed for divorce. My therapist and I worked together until fall of 1983, when she retired. By that time, the war in my head had faded, although not entirely. I found a part-time teaching position in the local community college learning center. I loved the work, and I went back to school and earned two graduate degrees. I retired from community college teaching in 2004. In the period between 1984 and 2010, I saw fourteen therapists. None of them gave me a diagnosis of C-PTSD, but a couple of them recognized my PTSD symptoms and tried to help. The one who was most skilled left the area before I was able to benefit from his help.

Once again, in 2009, the war heated up, and I heard the screaming, the crashing of metal and the shattering of glass. I sought help and found a therapist, but she did not have the training to help me. By the time I found my present therapist, in 2010, the war had grown more intense. I asked my therapist why, at my age, after so many years of not experiencing abuse, I was once again experiencing the PTSD symptoms. She said she didn’t know, but she knew that if I worked hard, I would heal. And I am. She was right.