I’m 46 years old living in Miami, Florida, and in 2013 I was diagnosed with Complex post-traumatic stress disorder. For 17 years I had been verbally and psychologically abused by my husband.
But up until 2012, I was fine. I was facing each instance of abuse individually and surviving. My brain had not compounded them all together. Instead I would bury each instance, neatly packing it away before the following day. It worked for many, many years. Over time, it was like I had forgotten all the traumatic events all together.
But suddenly in 2013, I began to have flashbacks of past experiences coupled with intense feelings of fear, rage, pain, helplessness and hopelessness. I can’t stress enough the word intense. These feelings were overwhelming and took over my entire body. I was frozen as the flashbacks came, and when they passed I could still feel them in my body.
It’s hard to describe, but I’ll try: Imagine the closest person to you dying. Now imagine them dying again. Now imagine, to you, they die every day. When the phone rings, it’s not them when it should be. You want to call them three times a day, but you can’t because they’re not there. You set the extra plate on the dinner table out of habit. It feels just as real, even when it’s not happening.
Day after day, month after month, the flashbacks came with a vengeance. I could recall every word he said and every gesture he made as he ripped into me. These were the early symptoms — later came the anger. Then the,”How could he say/do this to me.” Then the need to resolve it, but the inability to do so. In desperation, I reached out to my sister one day and said, “Why am I feeling like this now? I don’t remember being this torn up when this was all actually happening. Why now?” She took it well and simply said, “Apparently you thought you had forgiven him for those things, but you didn’t. Now they’re coming back to haunt you.”
I went to go see a psychiatrist, and it took about a minute for her to tell me I had Complex-PTSD. I should have been mortified, but I was relieved. She put a name on what I was experiencing. I went home and poured myself into the Internet to get a better idea of what was happening to me.
I put my whole family together and broke the news. Some understood, most didn’t. PTSD is mostly spoken of in regards to soldiers. But they were prepared to do whatever it took to support me when the time came. After many years the time did come to face my relationship. I simply said, “I have filed for a divorce and you will be served.” I was terrified as always, but courage only comes in times of fear. Having the diagnosis of C-PTSD gave me the strength and the courage to do what I hadn’t been able to do for 18 years: leave. The diagnosis didn’t break me, it made me. It gave me the name Survivor. It gave me the identity Fighter. It gave me a new motto: Never again.
When my doctor asked me if I was still suffering from the abuse, I could answer, “Not anymore.” She said, “Good, because if you are still suffering from the abuse, you cannot be treated.”
Then she asked me if I was still experiencing pain. “Yes,” I said.
“Good,” she said. “I can work with pain. It means now you’re consciously aware of the trauma he’s brought into your life. You are ready to confront this head on by letting the pain in, accepting that someone has wronged you, owning it and changing it. You cannot change what you cannot confront.”
That changed everything.