One particularly distressing part of working through flashbacks involves your body losing control. If you are dealing with a particularly traumatizing memory, your body might lose control during the present just as it did when the traumatizing event took place. Your bladder or bowels might empty, or you might find yourself vomiting. This is all a normal aftereffect of the trauma. However, because losing control of bodily functions is embarrassing as an adult, many child abuse survivors are too ashamed to talk about this aspect of flashbacks.
Two of the most traumatizing events I experienced ended with me vomiting. When I recovered the memories of these events, my body felt the uncontrollable urge to vomit again. Unfortunately, I had an empty stomach. My body retched and retched until a little bit of stomach acid finally came up. I felt completely fine physically both before and after the vomiting. However, upon recovering the memory, I had no power to stop the retching.
In the remake of the movie Sybil, Sybil experienced a loss of bodily function. (I cannot remember if this scene was in the original version, too.) One of her alter parts was triggered by the music that her abusive mother used to play. This part held the memory of being tied to the piano while her mother played. As a child, she kept begging to use the bathroom, but her mother would not let her go and threatened her if she wet her pants. Eventually, her bladder gave out, leading to more abuse. As an adult, this alter part caused her to lose control of her bladder when triggered.
When you experience a flashback, you relive the trauma. Many people mistakenly believe that flashbacks are only visual, but they can involve any of the senses. Our bodies hold memories of the trauma as well. It makes perfect sense that, as we recover the memory by reliving the event, our bodies will react in the same way that they did when the abuse happened in childhood.
The good news is that, if you choose to face the memory and heal from the trauma, losing bodily control should not be an ongoing problem. Now that I have faced and mostly healed from those particularly traumatizing memories, I no longer feel the urge to vomit if I think about those events.
Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt