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Posts Tagged ‘emotions after flashbacks’

Yesterday, I blogged about a memory I just recovered. In that blog entry, I just wrote about the memory itself. I wrote that in the morning. I am writing this in the afternoon as the emotions are starting to wash over me.

I remember this process from when I was recovering memories on a regular basis. When I was ready to release a memory through flashbacks, I would get a bad headache and experience anxiety as I relived the experience. Afterward, I would calm myself down and accept the truth of whatever the flashback revealed. This almost always happened at night.

The next morning, I would awaken with the flashback being stored as any other memory, so what was hidden from me only a day before was now accessible just like any other memory. In the morning, I would think about the flashback logically – OK, that it explains why ___ always triggered me, why I did X, Y, or Z, etc. I would think that I am OK – that it is so much better to remember than repress it. In fact, releasing a new memory gives me a lot of energy, like finally putting my arms down after holding them up for too long.

If this is where the process ended, I think healing from child abuse would not be that bad. Sadly, that’s not where it ends. Later in the afternoon, as is happening as I write this, all of the emotions that I “froze” along with the memory of the event get “unfrozen” and wash over me – the shame, guilt, sadness, despair, and all of the other painful emotions that I was unable to process when the event happened.

My emotions were interesting as I processed the memory last night. I had previously recovered a memory of seeing my sister “killed,” which I blogged about here, here, and here. The emotion I felt most strongly as I relived that memory was despair. I wanted to die because my reason for living – my sister – was dead (I believed).

I did not feel despair or suicidal with this flashback, which is unexpected. Instead, I felt immobilized. I had already been through believing my sister had been killed (after “witnessing” her “murder”) and then the shock of processing that she was alive the next morning. So, I was uncertain how to react this time. I knew I was seeing her dead body a second time but did not know what to believe, so I just shut down.

Whenever I think about a Christmas tree, I see myself immobilized in front of it. I see my limp body unable to move. I think that captures how I felt as I saw my sister’s “dead” body being carried toward me.

My head is really hurting. I’ll write more as I process more. This is a hard one.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled My Most Traumatizing Child Abuse Memory, a reader posted the following comment:

I hope you don’t mind but I have a question though. Reading this post I wonder how you manage to deal with the images, smells, feelings etc afterwards. I mean I am really struggling to manage after a memory surfaces or an image appears, it just gets played over and over in my head. PArtly i think because I’m trying to work it out – is it real? Am I making this up? Does it fit with everything else I’ve remembered? Does it fit with the person who I thought I knew? And most of those things I can’t work out, and so it just plays and replays on continuous loop. I try and remind myself that it isn’t happening now, but it doesn’t seem to help. I just wondered how you managed that, and manage to look at these things, remember them but not be tormented by them. ~ Karen

A friend gave me some really great advice about how to handle flashbacks. She used the metaphor of a fire hose. The flashbacks, including the emotions, images, smells, etc., are like the high-pressure water running through a fire hose, while I am the fire hose housing the pressure.

As these very strong emotions, etc., flow through me, I frequently fear that they will sweep me away because the power of the current is so strong. However, I must remember that I am the hose. I am stationary. Emotions might be extremely strong, but I do not have to get swept away in them. Instead, I need to let them flow through me, just as the fire hose allows the high-pressure water to flow through it. I am the hose, not the emotions.

Now, think about what happens to a fire hose when it gets a kink in it. The pressure of the water builds and could potentially break through the hose. That is what happens when we fight the emotions. When you fight the release of the memory by questioning whether it happened, refusing to allow the emotions to release, etc, the pressure builds up in the hose. Think about a cartoon where the hose gets bigger and bigger until it explodes. Metaphorically, this is what you are doing to yourself when you fight the process of releasing the memories.

Whenever I deal with a new memory or, in the case of the blog entry about my dog, face a traumatizing memory at a deeper level, I accept what comes. I invite the pain to course through me and then out of me back into G*d, the universe, or whatever you want to call it. I visualize the pain as black stuff inside of my spirit. I slowly and deeply breathe in air filled with self-love. Then, I slowly breathe out air filled with the pain. I visualize the air and pain flowing out of my right side. (I am not sure why. It just works for me.)

I do this exercise several times until I feel the pain flowing out of me. Then, I become the hose – merely a vessel for the pain to flow out of the deepest recesses of my soul and back to G*d. I choose not to attach any of my energy from today to that high-pressure water because the energy is about the past and not about today.

After I finish this exercise, I “go to the beach” in my head. The beach is my safe place. I visualize myself sitting on the beach and soaking in the positive energy. This helps me “seal off” my hose so that the negative energy that I just released does not flow back into me.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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