When the Bad Stuff Keeps Coming Back – PTSD and Survival

Last night, I had a bad dream.

It was a lucid dream.  It was a dream that was so real, I woke up in a daze.  The lines between sleep and reality were blurred for a long while after the alarm went off, and even after I was up and walking around, the dream clung to me like sticky, wet fog.  It clogged up my brain like cotton wool, and stuck behind my eyes like the brightness-burn you get after staring at your computer for too long, when every blink illuminates against the inside of your eyelids a perfect, colorless, reverse image of real life.

The dream I had was about real life, and it still burns.

The life and the dream.

When I was six or seven, I was the target of sexual assault.  The abuse lasted almost three years.  I don’t think of it often, and until I had a daughter that hit the age I was when it happened, I never thought of it at all.  Those memories were dark and ugly, denied and decidedly irrelevant, tucked away in the back-most corners of my head.  I didn’t drag them out, I didn’t talk about them, and the armed guard in front of the closet door where they lived knew to not let anyone inside.

There they sat.

I did deal with the contents of that closet.  I wrote a blog post.  I forgave my childhood self.  In my mind I pulled Little Erin onto the motherly lap I have today, wrapped my arms around her, and promised to love and protect her as though she were my own.  I burned some bridges, forgave some people, cut out some haters.

Most importantly, I stopped lying to myself.

I stopped telling myself “it doesn’t matter,” I stopped pretending that it didn’t affect me, and I stopped believing that I was beyond help or repair.  I embraced the truth.  I embraced MY truth.  I found my strength, found my voice, and I started living loud.

Just as we always do when life gets traumatic and ugly, we survive.  We keep going.  We Dig Deep, find our Greatness, stand tall, tip our chin up, grit our teeth, push through, and just. keep. going.

For the most part, I have healed.  I don’t think about the bad things anymore.  I don’t consider myself to be a victim – never have – and I live a happy, fulfilling, powerful, hopeful life.

For the most part.

Sometimes, though, the past has a way of sneaking up on me and biting me in the ass.

Like last night.

Last night, I had a bad dream.

It was a lucid kind of dream, like I mentioned before, but even more so.  It was REAL.  In my dream it was real.  *I* was real.  I could taste all the things, and hear and smell and feel and see like I was standing there myself.  It was a real dream, and it was a real life replay of a particularly ugly, shamefully pejorative, disgustingly debasing episode of abuse I experienced as a kid.  In my dream I was that kid, even though I was an adult, and it felt the same.  All of it.  Every sense and all the fear screeched and clawed at the walls of my head and mind, and even though it was a dream and I KNEW it was a dream, I couldn’t get away.  I couldn’t wake up.  I couldn’t run or fight or cry or scream, and no one heard a thing.

Just like when I was a kid.

The alarm went off and woke me from my nightmare, but not completely.  Instead of an alarmy splash of water to yank me back to reality, it was more of a tap on the shoulder.  “Hey, time to deal with NOW reality.  Leave this reality for another time.”

Because the dream WAS real, just not “now.”

And it will for sure come back again.

It always does.

PTSD is a real thing.  The width and length of a crack in your psyche does not indicate the depth to which it runs, and sometimes those cracks run deep.  Sometimes the cracks trickle and fizzle all the way to the very basement of your soul, past the point of cosmetic repair, past the point of therapy and long-term healing.

Sometimes the cracks run so deep, we can’t even see how far down they go.

The  burrow past the dark.  They trickle past the fear, and cleave into parts of ourselves we don’t even know exist, even during our most self-aware moments.

Today I was reminded just how deep my brokenness goes, and it was sobering.



Eventually, the light of day caught a bit of my attention.  The sound of The Mr in the shower bathed me in routine.  I kissed my kids’ sleepy, slumbery faces “good morning,” the first arguments of the day trickled from their room as they got dressed, the smell of ham and coffee filled my nose and set my stomach growling, and I found a bit of a foothold in the reality of my day.  My hand wrapped around my warm coffee mug, the hot, bitter taste flooded my mouth, and my fingers trailed absently through my daughter’s hair as we reviewed the lunch menu.  I got dressed, felt the rough scratch of denim against my thighs and the tug of the waistband against my hips.  With every breath and blink I clawed and fought against the past, climbing out of the fog in my head toward “real right now,” never looking down, never looking back at “real from before.”

I tipped my chin up and just. kept. going, hand over hand, one foot above the other, and slowly, slowly made my way out of the dark, ugly crack in my head.

When you have suffered at the hand of another, particularly as a child, every day of your life from that point forward is a fight.  Every day is a fight against the blackness, against The Nothing, against the dark, hateful thoughts that tug and pull and tangle you with creepy, crawly, sticky fingers.  Every experience, every thought, every touch, every breath.  Life becomes a fight, a full on, no-holds-barred war inside your head and heart and guts, black against white, joy against self-destruction.



Fight for what is now.  Fight for joy and love, power and hope.  Fight for bliss.  Fight that those you care for will never be damaged as you were, and their innocence might remain intact for as long as you have the power to guard it.  Fight for YOU, for your younger self, for the child you were and the innocence you lost.  Fight for what you deserve, for your worth, and for your Greatness.

Fight for today, fight for right now, and fight for tomorrow.

What’s done is done.  I have to remind myself that all the time.  I’ve had to become an expert in forgiveness and letting go, not because I’m a great person with a kind heart, but because I want more for myself than bitterness and hate and resentment and fear.

I want joy.

And I want YOU to find joy.

No matter how deep and long and wide the crack in your mind runs, there is nothing wrong with you.  You are enough, just as you are.

You just have to believe it, and you have to be willing to fight.


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