Category Archives: Denial

PTSD: Distractions – Change Your Focus

Three weeks ago, my therapist suggested I should go see a movie. During the first week, I thought it was silly to go to a movie by myself. What was the point? I brought up the suggestion to a few friends who all said that they can and have enjoyed going to the movies alone. That’s when I admitted that I didn’t feel I was worth the ticket and popcorn. Again, my therapist encouraged me to go the following week and even told me that she sometimes goes alone because of her movie preference. I thought about it. I even felt guilty about not going, but I still couldn’t bring myself to go alone.

For a long time, movies were something Tom and I did together. I’ve only seen one movie with a friend since breaking up with him. My company paid for the ticket (and my friend’s ticket), the popcorn, and the drinks. It was a movie we both wanted to see, and we did enjoy it. But…going alone means being alone with my thoughts. Of Tom not wanting to go anymore (he got bored with going out to movies). Of not feeling worth it.

Last week, I had an idea and told my therapist about it. I saw on Facebook that my old college wind ensemble was putting on a concert this past Sunday at 2pm. This was something I could do. I was in band from 6th grade through five years of college. And, I typically try to do the local community band for the summer and Christmas concerts. Tom never went to these unless I was on stage, so it feels different. In fact, being on stage for this last Christmas concert was the calmest I’ve felt without medication in a really long time.

So, waiting until the last hour before the concert and almost deciding not to go at all, I jumped in the shower, got dressed, and drove to the auditorium where I have so many college band memories. I listened to the director (my director) talk about recent times with this group of young musicians, which made me miss band. The concert started, and I sat and listened to the music. I actually attended the concert and tried the “change your focus” distraction. But, you know what? I couldn’t feel anything. Music moves people. It can make some people sing and dance. It can bring people together. It can make you feel so deeply that you get goosebumps or cry because it moves your soul.

I felt empty. I thought about going up to the stage to hug my old band director, but after a few minutes, I just couldn’t stay. I left feeling disappointed. I left with my heartbreaking all over again. Damn, I wished I could cry.

This pain and alternating numbness can be all-consuming. I hadn’t felt it to this degree in a while. It hit me last Wednesday and has come back to visit for a few hours each day. Why? I don’t know. Do I wake up with it? Sometimes. Are there triggers? Sometimes and not always the same. Does it get worse before going to sleep? Yes.

Distractions used to work. They did. Before Tom and I broke up…when I would wait for him to come home, I would watch television shows, play puzzle games on my phone, read a book, or clean the house. When waiting on him to come home from work changed into not knowing where he was, what he was getting into, when he would arrive or IF he would arrive…when fear took over, distractions slowly stopped working. The commercials during shows would be when I’d try to call him. At some point, I could no longer focus on reading, cleaning, or playing mindless games. Eventually, all I could do was pace between the bedroom and the living room, pausing to watch the security cameras and begging for his headlights to appear, so I would know he had made it home safely.

When we finally broke up, I was five months into my new job. Thankfully, it was new. It provided me with enough distraction to get me from May until about October of last year. Then, just like all of my other distractions, it slowly stopped working and I could just barely focus enough to get what was required done.

I am still stuck in this varying ability to focus even today. When I am working with someone, then it tends to be significantly easier to be present and provide feedback. But, if I’m working alone, it takes a lot more effort to stay focused…and sometimes, it’s just more than I can handle. I guess the good thing is I’m apparently the only one aware of how bad it is. That’s probably why it’s so hard for anyone to believe that there is something wrong, to believe me…and what’s worse? When I’m not feeling so bad, I still question myself – it really wasn’t that bad. If I can still laugh, how come I still feel so much pain?

I came across this article on Facebook. It is well worth a read especially if you are someone or you know someone who has survived trauma – this article is not trauma-specific, so you will not be inclined to try to compare your situation to someone else’s (been there, done that before). Please take a moment to read and pass it along.

Why Trauma Survivors Can’t Just ‘Let Go’ by Vicki Peterson

I am pretty sure I’m still frozen in the stubbornly not processing phase. It doesn’t help that writing is my most open form of communication either. So, here I am.

Denial & Dissociation

In the past, if anyone asked me how things were going, I always tried to sugarcoat or gloss over the negative stuff to protect Tom. I didn’t want to worry people, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I always hoped that he would come back to me and together we could fix things. I was also in denial.

To this day, I’ve always felt some degree of denial. Even when I first started reaching out to a couple of friends about what had been going on, I still felt that it wasn’t that big of a deal. Their responses and encouragement to tell my therapist what happened very slowly started to open my eyes – none of what I went through, what I had been living with, or what I was dealing with was normal or remotely okay. Up until that point, I was only feeling the direct impact of Tom’s actions, particularly when he wouldn’t answer his phone or would come home really late (after midnight or sometime the next day). Everything else (stupidly) didn’t matter to me…including his drug use, the money he was spending, and the emotional turmoil he was constantly putting me through.

When I finally started opening up, I was never actually able to breakdown and cry. My eyes have watered, but I never felt a release or even allowed myself to really feel everything. There was relief that I could talk about things – that I was no longer keeping everything to myself, but there was still a lot of denial, numbness, heartbreak, and lack of being at peace. There is a lot of stuff I still haven’t fully processed – complicated grief, anger, fear, more pain than I care to admit, etc.

In addition to being in denial, I also felt very dissociated from events. I could describe every situation with very little emotion – in some dark way, I could even joke about a lot of it, like “can you even believe that happened?” Some things might be more of a struggle verbalize, but I’ve still managed to keep my emotions in check.

Things that have been harder to talk about were/are

  • feeling like I lost the part of me that finds peace and release in being spanked and taken care of,
  • feeling like all I did still wasn’t enough when all I wanted was stability, consistency, and a little attention from the man I loved and thought loved me,
  • and begging him to stop doing the things that were tearing me apart (these conversations, I remember vividly).
  • It’s also really damn difficult to talk about those moments in the middle of the night when I woke up and he wasn’t there…when anxiety and panic were my only company.

Every time I talk about any of this…I feel like I’m talking about someone else. That person over there went through this – I just watched. Which in some gut-wrenching way makes me feel even more powerless and heartbreakingly guilty because I stood by and did nothing. This dissociation has allowed me to be mostly in control of my emotions and reactions and pretend like nothing is still bothering me.

It’s very difficult to compare situations with others when the reasons that cause PTSD can be so different. For instance, I did not experience sexual abuse, yet I can’t deny that I identify so much with the woman in the following article.

Denial Won’t Help Me Recover From Trauma

Because I did not experience the same type of abuse, I feel that my experiences were somehow “less than,” and therefore, I shouldn’t feel as bad as she does. But, when the woman in the article describes how she had been dealing with everything, it resonates with me on so many levels, even to this day.

Now, if I compare my situation to the next article which talks about an addicted partner, I feel like my experience was far more severe and involved. I have quite a bit more to deal with because it wasn’t only that he was using drugs.

Living with an addict in denial: Coping with depression and anxiety

I know that I shouldn’t be comparing situations at all, but I am too filled with my own self-doubt, self-invalidation, and avoidant coping mechanisms. Sometimes, I don’t even trust my own feelings, and I project that distrust by thinking others won’t care or believe me either. My friends have had to call me out and remind me of what the hell I went through for me to even pause in my self-sabotaging cycle. I had to and still have to be reminded that I need to feel and it is okay to feel, but I’m still too wound up, overwhelmed, and afraid to breakdown that wall.

This next link that I came across is a rather long slideshow for those who are interested. It hits on so many things I can relate to. It is interesting that an addict can have so many narcissistic tendencies – they are really all about themselves when it comes to the drugs and their next fix.

“Why can’t I move on?” Narcissistic Abuse: A Complex Trauma

Tom would do all of those emotionally abusive things when we were together, and he was very passive aggressive. He is finally no longer coming around to my house or communicating with me, but the emotional damage runs deep. I haven’t been able to breakout of doing the same emotionally abusive things to myself.

Last week in therapy, we decided to push trying something different to this week. Instead, we talked. How is that different from every other week, you might ask. Well, I still tend to be less emotional and more logical when I talk to people in person. But, this time was different. I was able to talk as if I was writing to her in an email, which is where I’ve always had an easier time expressing myself. I was able to be more open, and we finally talked more about PTSD.

I told her about a recent television episode of 9-1-1 where all of the first responders were in therapy trying to talk about what they were experiencing. They were all dealing or not dealing with various things associated with PTSD. I told her that I could agree with something each one of them said when they were expressing themselves and talking about what they were going through. She said that like those characters, I am going to have to move through and release those emotions. I can’t/don’t know how to do that. I said, “[my therapist’s name], I’m too afraid to feel any of those emotions. I don’t want to do that at work, with my parents, or by myself. I only feel safe trying to do that right here.” She replied, “Well then, we need to get you over there in that chair and start feeling.” I eyeballed the totally normal looking but very exposed office chair and nodded nervously. I think that’s when I added, “I hate how easy it is for me to lie and say I’m okay when I am not okay.”

Guess we’re going to try to feel feelings this week…in that chair…where I can’t sink into the couch or hide behind a pillow. Ugh.

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