I have PTSD. I think I realized that I had PTSD back in 2012 or so, though I’m not really sure. I’ve had an ongoing relationship with my disease for a while, but it sits right alongside some other mental conditions I have.
It’s getting better, slowly — at least, I think it is. You can never be sure though, when little things will set you off. It seems like the stupidest thing can ruin your day and send you into a fear-based spiral. I am certainly not incident free. But, I am trying to use self-awareness, reflection, and compassion to find my way through. I write in other outlets, but cannot share these things, these private things, with a semi-public audience. At least, not without my anonymity. I will tell you what I can — about me, about how I ended up with this condition, and hopefully about my struggles and successes.
Non Combat PTSD
I am not a veteran, and my PTSD is not related to military service. Many PTSD sufferers are military, and I feel for them. Sometimes, though, I feel like non-combat PTSD is marginalized. I love the awareness for PTSD. I wish there was some public knowledge that PTSD is not just because of gunshots and war zones.
I did not experience a public trauma, like 9/11, or the Boston Marathon bombing, or the Newtown, CT shootings.
My First Near-Rape
My first inklings of PTSD came in 2003. Just over 12 years out now, and nearly half my life ago, the story comes easily enough to me. I was nearly raped on a cruise ship. I was thirteen, he was fourteen. He held a razor to my throat and told me to “Blow him.” I escaped relatively unscathed, thanks to my reflexes and a dead-bolt. I will avoid describing my Stockholm-like attachment to this abuser for now, though we are friends on Facebook. I believe somewhere, down the road, I will need to contact and confront.
I don’t know that I ever had full-on breaks with reality after that incident. I absolutely disassociated in situations involving physical touch. And unfortunately, I often still do. I can remember being disgusted by my “first kiss” — much after the near-rape. Disgusted by my first intimate skin-to-skin contact. Memories of, “is this over yet?” are seared into my brain around all sexual experiences. I can remember nearly biting someone who tried to tickle me, when I was 15. It was all tied up in that fear response, the one that saved me. So perhaps, the PTSD started then. But several more incidents have cemented its presence in my life.
I waited months before confiding in anyone about the incident with this man-child. The first person I confided in was 26 years old. We met in a Yahoo! Chat room. Now that I am 27, I can see what is starkly wrong with that situation. Were I confronted with a similar confession from a young teen, I would instantly encourage them to talk to a parent, or a therapist. I would not engage in an 8-year long distance relationship with them.
I would not shower them with love and affection at first, growing increasingly distant and controlling. I would not string them along as I dated and eventually married someone else, only “breaking it off” when suddenly, they were 23 and smart enough to catch me.
But that is what my ex did. We began “dating” when I was 15. It was very real to me. I shared pictures, videos of myself when I was 16 and 17; we met in person when I was 18. He stayed in a hotel a few minutes drive from my parents’ house. My parents had no clue then, or if they knew, they stayed far, far away from it.
I moved close to him, from New York to Florida, for a few months. I saw him twice, for a total of eight hours. I moved back home to finish college. I told my parents a modified story, and they went along with it, although they never met him. I bounced around the states for work and school, before finally settling in Ohio to start my Ph.D.
He was never angrier with me, never more scared, than when I told him that I felt raped. I was 20 or so, he was 32, and we were at a hotel in the middle of nowhere. We were spending a night away from camping with my friends. Our hotel phone had rung, and when he had hung up, he told me that they needed me to produce ID. I started freaking out. He started laughing. As I was still calming down, coming out of survival mode, we had sex. Then he turned over and went to sleep. It was bad sex. It was not rape, not in the legal form; nor did I ever say no. I was unable to. Disassociation had robbed me of my voice, and he was clueless.
It was rape, though, in the deepest emotional form. He had groomed me from the tender age of 15 to love him. To believe that he was my only one, my soul mate. When we had sex, it was fulfillment of that promise. But that promise was always a lie. He always went home — probably to other girlfriends, definitely to a life without me. Our communication would drop to every other day, or week. He once went three months without speaking with me. And I hung on, desperate, because he was my soul mate. I didn’t know anything else. No one had taught me that there were other people who could love me. Other people who would respect me. And other people that I could love. In that way, I was raped. I was raped every time he spoke sweet nothings to me, every time we had sex, and every time he left me for his “real” life.
I was raped because it was not me. It was my body, that night. But my words were gone. I was acutely aware. I made convincing moans. I “passed” — but I was not there. It was not me. It was a shell of me. It was a construct I made to protect myself from losing him, because the thought of losing my protector was unfathomable.
The relationship deteriorated, as it will when you date a teenager and turn around to find an adult, pursuing graduate education. My world view expanded, and I became more combative. More questioning. More demanding of respect.
We fought. We fought about my independence. About the fact that I needed to travel for my education. Arizona was out of the question, but I went anyway. He ignored me during my entire time there. And when we fought, he would yell. He would yell, and I would disassociate. I would cry, miserably, until he forgave me. Or he would disappear. He’d come back a few days, or weeks, or months later, and pretend it never happened.
Yelling is my largest trigger. It is my biggest piece of baggage from that time period. If I hear yelling — and no, it doesn’t need to be directed at me — it sets me on edge. If there’s more, or if something else happens, that my wired brain perceives as a threat, it goes on lockdown.
I run away. I cry. I hide. I lose my words. I become combative. I hit. I bite. I do a LOT of things when my PTSD gets triggered, and I often can’t control any of them.
There’s one more. One incident that really, really brought the fact that I had PTSD into the spotlight. Led me to realize that this isn’t normal.
My Second Near-Rape
So after my falling out with the pedophile, I was 23 and completely new to dating. I had never dated before. On top of that, I had always enjoyed power-exchange pre-PTSD, and that manifested as a BDSM fetish at a young age. My BDSM fetish was prominent in the relationship with the pedophile, and the power dynamic drove me to stay in that toxic situation longer than I should have.
As a single person, I began seeking out the BDSM community. 99% of the people I met were wonderful. The 1% gained my trust, tied me up, and then tried to rape me.
I said no, and for some reason, he listened. This serial rapist, whom I would later find out had raped 2 of my friends and countless others, sensed his own danger when I told him to stop, and he listened. I disassociated.
The next person that I got close enough to, is the one I married in March. The one that I’ll be celebrating my marriage with, in September. He is a perfectly normal, sweet, honorable, vanilla man.
I was able to hide the PTSD for a few months, but when you live with someone, it just comes out. Especially when that person has a habit of yelling at video games, when yelling is your trigger.
I look back and count my blessings every day. Many, most, people would be blindsided by PTSD in their partner. Undiagnosed, no less. But for every freak out I’ve had, he’s been there. Whether I’ve wanted him there or not. Whether it was his “fault” or not. He’s held me until I’ve calmed down. Even if I’m hitting him, or pushing him away. Even if I’m hiding.
He doesn’t let me. And my inner demons are finding fewer and fewer places to hide. They can’t “succeed” in pushing him away. He’s here for good. They’ve retreated to my dreams. And my dreams are what brought me to this blog.