I had the opportunity to share my experiences with TBI and PTSD with the troops at the former Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Dix last February and March. During one of the sessions an NCO asked me if I thought the flashbacks I had were of the actual accident I was in or if it was just my brain's perception of what happened since I experienced long-term memory loss. I don't know the answer to this. All that I do know is that when I had flashbacks they were intense and very real. I do not have any way of knowing if what I was seeing during a flashback was the actual circumstance of the incident or not. I was the only one there, so there is no else to help me piece that together.
This is a good example of what I spoke about in my last post. I carried great fear in regard to these flashbacks. I dreaded when the next one would set in. I never knew when or what would trigger them. I was being closely guarded by an enemy that was sitting inside of me. If the flashbacks I was having were a perceived rendition of the event, which is certainly possibly, then I was sitting as a prisoner of my own brain's "idea" of what it thinks happened. This was my perceived reality. Does the perceived reality make the experience of a flashback any less intense or any less real? Absolutely not, but I was being controlled by an experience that didn't actually exist in this exact present moment.
It doesn't matter whether what I was seeing is real or my perception of what was real, the fact is that a flashback is not what is current in our present moment. (although it often feels that way) It is the brain's processing of this previous event or previous series of events.
Now, what I said yesterday is that Knowing that just because you feel the way you do in the moment, doesn't mean that's the way you have to feel for your entire life. It also doesn't mean that the way you are feeling is a fact of the circumstance you were in, meaning sometimes our perceived reality does not necessarily match the actual circumstantial reality.
Applying those statements means that I don't need to be afraid of what my brain's perception is of the event because the event doesn't exist right now. It doesn't get to call the shots in my day to day life. I do. If the brain is holding someone prisoner through PTSD, it's important to remember that the warden is you and you have the keys. You don't have to stay there for your entire life. And just because you feel there is something you should have or could have done differently in whatever situation of trauma you were a part of, doesn't mean that's entirely true. You responded in the way your mind and body instinctively allowed you to. Fight. Flight. or Freeze. Your mind and body will always choose one. How you remember what happened may not actually be entirely the way things went down because our perceived reality may very well not be the entire story.
This can be a very tough idea to swallow. Our experiences. Our memories. Our flashbacks. They all feel real. We all want to think we know what happened, but there is so much that is lost in translation. I mentioned yesterday that police officers know all about investigating. When people are upset and traumatized, they have to sort through the information they get because people do not always remember things clearly and accurately. It's not that everyone is out to not tell the truth, it's because trauma is a huge information download that overwhelms the processes in the brain with chemicals.
It's important to use this same skill of investigation when trying to understand your own experiences with PTSD and trauma. Being proactive with your own healing is such an important role in the healing process. Investigating if how you are feeling is valid and appropriate is huge. Could you really have done anything differently? Or did you truly give you best given the circumstance? Or is this unfair self-blame? Are you remembering every ounce of the event clearly or is some of it blurry and your mind is filling in with the idea that there must have been something you should have or could have done?
I certainly cannot answer these for anyone, but I have answered for myself and I didn't always like the answers I came up with. Sometimes investigation leads to things you didn't want to know, but this is all part of the learning process. It's much better to fear something that you know is truly going to help you move forward, even if you are a bit uncertain, than to fear something that is going to control you and make your life miserable.
Does the perceived reality you are consistently living over and over again match the circumstantial reality of the event that took place?
I never speak as a counselor or a doctor here. I speak as what several soldiers consider to be a "wounded healer" and a certified meditation teacher with advanced training in military combat stress, trauma, resiliency, and PTSD. These posts come from my experiences and the comparative experiences of troops, police officers, firefighters, and medical professionals that gave me their ear and helped me to understand that our journeys haven't been all that different. We've all visited the battlefield within and have earned our stripes through a myriad of different life experiences. You will know what speaks to you in each post because something of what is written will linger. It will cross your mind at the strangest of moments and an energetic gateway of information opens. You will see something or feel something that you hadn't before and you will know that just because you thought your life was one way, doesn't mean that's the "end all, be all." There's more than just the layer you brought home from war.