There is a certain amount of escapism that comes up with post-traumatic stress. The re-experiencing symptoms are uncomfortable, frightening, and downright uncomfortable to put it mildly; This leads to seeking out ways to escape, cover, numb, eradicate, flood, or otherwise out run how it makes you feel. It's amazing how much strength and resiliency can show up in a person with PTSD when they don't want anyone to know they are suffering. They can do a generally good job of passing it off as a bad mood or an "I'm fine" there's nothing wrong; I'm just tired kind of attitude. There is also sometimes a "care-free" attitude of having a non-attachment to the ordinary things that other people attach themselves too. Sometimes it is spending time "enjoying" the freedom of having survived a traumatic experience only to disassociate from other behaviors that may be equally as dangerous.
I've often said that you can't out run what you are carrying on your back. PTSD can't be covered, numbed, eradicated, flooded, or otherwise out run. It is a storm we must move through, not around, or away from. Backing down this enemy means walking right into it. Admitting the fear. Admitting the frustration. Admitting the anger. Admitting the feeling of being trapped, cornered, and imprisoned. Then stepping right into the center of it and letting it know, you won't continue to live in fear of it; You have questions and it has answers. It doesn't get to win this war. It may have been the parting prize of a traumatic situation, but it does not get to be the warden of your life.
Different people choose different methods of escaping it. This is where we begin to see issues with alcoholism, substance abuse, physical abuse, rowdy/risky behavior, isolation, withdrawal, and well, good old fashion disappearing acts. Do you know someone with diagnosed PTSD that just isn't available or around a lot? There's a good reason for that. It's easier to be on your own than to deal with triggers you don't see coming and aren't sure you can deal with. The guilt of isolation and withdrawal is a heavy burden of its' own, so with that you begin to find people turning to alcohol or drugs or just disappearing in general.
For me it was simply travel......I liked being in places where nobody knew me. Iceland was one of the finest places to escape. Easy to be normal there. Nothing to explain. No expectations for how to be or who to be. No reminders of lost memory. Just a highly unusual place with the nicest people I've ever met. It is called the "Land of Fire and Ice", precisely how I could describe my PTSD. In many ways, it represented how PTSD was manifesting in me, without me ever realizing it. It took me a good few years after that to move towards an actual diagnosis.
How many of your behaviors are manifestations of your PTSD that you haven't recognized yet?
Are you choosing to numb the discomfort or move through it to better understand it?
Are you choosing to fear it, instead of learning from it?
Are you choosing to mask it for fearing of what it is trying to show you?
Are you choosing to let it be the master and commander of your life because you feel you deserve its' suffering?
These are uncomfortable questions because the gut answers them before you do. The drop in the stomach, the flutter in the heart, the need to shut down the laptop and stop reading. All of these are signs you are moving closer to the center of yourself. I remember them well.
When you start looking at all of this you are going to learn things you don't like....but as I have told many children and soldiers, we don't have to like it. I'm never offended when someone doesn't like something, but we do have to do things sometimes that aren't comfortable. Sometimes those uncomfortable steps are about moving through our fears and those fears aren't always real. They are perceptions we have chosen to buy into. We really shouldn't believe everything we think because most of the time the bad things we think about ourselves aren't true anyway.
I encourage you to consider all of this in your thinking as we move into a very challenging weekend for many people. Memorial Day is often advertised as the "unofficial start to summer", but we know all-too-well that this is a time of deep mourning for many. The celebration of life is important, but the honoring of death is important too. I ask that you consider how you will move through this challenging time. There are choices to be made in how we handle the difficult emotions that come up. I know your pain. I have lost my soldiers too, my friends, those I love, both in death, their illnesses, and well, their escapism from PTSD. My choice is to be here for others and to simply offer my support to you and hope that it helps open your perspective to something you may not have thought of prior.
Before you take that drink, pause.
Before you take the bite of that burger, pause.
Before you react to the person distracted by the start of summer, pause.
Before you withdraw out of discomfort, pause.
In that moment of pause, thank them for their sacrifice. Tell them you miss them and ask them to please offer you the resolve to keep going in their honor.
When your tears arise, allow them to fall. They won't fall forever. They will come and they will go. The most important part is the art of allowance. Allow yourself to be as you are and know that you do not walk this path by yourself.