Confronting a traumatic memory via sensory triggers when you have PTSD

Sometimes in life, you experience things that are so painful to think about that your mind puts the memory into a box and pushes it away.

It gathers dust in a corner, never to be looked at again. At least, that was the plan.

It gathers dust in a corner, never to be looked at again. At least, that was the plan.

But then, over time, you find yourself getting reminded that the box is there.

Maybe it’s a smell, a sight, or a sound that triggers you. Or you could be sat there, minding your own business, when suddenly you’re back inside that memory.

People with PTSD will often experience flashbacks – being involuntarily reminded of traumatic experiences that they are trying to avoid and forget about.

The problem is, if you spend your life running away from something, you can’t live in peace – because at the back of your mind is a nagging fear that something will trigger you when you least expect it, and the thought of experiencing that pain again is too much to bear.

From time to time, certain places, sounds and smells will remind me of my painful introduction to life in the capital – one that was dominated by poverty and sexual abuse.

Sometimes, when I’m about to fall asleep, my mind will start replaying the most difficult memories that still plague me, and I feel trapped – like I will never be free.

But then I started wondering if there was a way that I could free myself.

Instead of running away from the flashbacks, quickly shoving them aside and distracting myself with something else, what if I confronted them head on and saw what happened when I came out the other side?

This scared me, and I found that whenever I thought about facing up to my demons, my mind would snap away from it, like an elastic band – a defense mechanism, to stop me from hurting.

But while that protective instinct had helped me to get through everything, and kept me functioning, it wasn’t going to heal me. It was like putting a plaster over a wound that kept re-opening.

One day, I had nothing in particular planned, and it occurred to me that this would be the perfect opportunity to voluntarily dredge up a scene from my past that kept haunting my evenings and face it.

I made sure I wouldn’t be disturbed, and that I had enough time to process whatever might happen. I also knew who I could contact if I felt particularly upset – and this all provided me with the safety net I needed to proceed.

Plunging into a traumatic memory felt like diving headfirst into a swimming pool, knowing that I couldn’t swim.

It felt cold and dark. I was back in the filthy bedsit I’d been forced to stay in when I was made homeless; I was being touched without my consent, and forced to do things I didn’t want to.

Source: What it feels like to confront a traumatic memory when you have PTSD | Metro News

Random sensory quotes

Ken, my husband, just smelled like he belonged to me. I’m not talking about hygiene. I’m talking about when you hug him, he either feels like a member of your tribe or not. It’s their scent.

— Erica Jong