PTSD Survivors Speak: On Being a Survivor

Guest post by Stephanie Preston

(Actually by a strong voice within me that spoke this day –- I wrote quickly for this voice doesn’t speak very often for it is yet a faint, foreign whisper.)

“Survivor” –- just the word itself brings to my mind a bedraggled, hungry, exhausted, physically and emotionally wounded soldier slowly, painfully walking home at the end of a horrible nightmare of a war.

A war he didn’t start.

A war he didn’t want.

A war that ripped his soul and forever changed him.

A war that mercilessly chewed him up and spit him out.

How would he go on?

How could he look at his family and friends now that he had such horrible wounds from such a tragic experience?

How could he live among them and “keep it together” when the horrible, sometimes overpowering memories and flashbacks and nightmares plagued him?

How could he ever, ever tell them how horrible it had all been for him?  Could they handle it? Would they throw him away after they knew?  Would they still love him? How could anyone ever, ever understand?

How could he ever smile again amid so much pain in his heart?

Would it just have been better if he had died in battle?

I admit I do not know exactly how it is to be a soldier of war and I don’t presume to know all about it, but I have felt like this image I have in my mind many, many times –- sometimes daily –- in my journey of recovery as a survivor of child sexual abuse.  Oh how it is such a torture to even write the words “survivor of child sexual abuse”!!  My body and mind scream in great fear “Don’t say it!  Don’t say it!” and my heart feels broken all over again.  I think it breaks fresh daily each morning when I wake up and consciousness returns and I remember present reality and it hits me I’ve got to do this all over again.  Many times it feels like a huge rock has slammed into my chest, grabbed my throat and sucked the breath and life from me leaving me hollow yet full of pain and fear. And the screaming of the tornado within me returns to my ears.  It’s like something precious has been ripped from me all over again, only now it seems that the joy and wonder of life have also been brutally stolen from me.  Like the soldier, an innocence and wonder of life have become a distant, many times completely elusive, memory.  In fact, it is hard at times to believe I ever could have possessed them.

I imagine a soldier may be shocked that life goes on after the war and somehow, in ways he never thought he could, his mind and body go on despite the wounds and awful pain.  Some soldiers may be able to look deep inside their souls and learn just who this person they are is that survived so much horror. Just as a soldier may learn these things about himself, in my journey I am learning new things about me.  A lot of these things are frightening and shocking and seem unbearable.  I am discovering this wounded, screaming child I have always been and who wants so badly to be heard and known and set free.  She also wants to cry and sob and she begs for help, safety and protection.  She has many war stories she has needed to share with me, many horrors she experienced that she never understood.  She scares me to death.  To even acknowledge she is present within me is excruciatingly painful because her pain, her plight, her pleas are so enormous.  And she is Me!  What do i do with an inconsolable, screaming child in pain that lives within me?  The screams in my ears can be enough to drive me mad.  I can only tend her in small doses. Her requests, no, her demands, take so much of my energy!  It leaves me exhausted and overwhelmed, immersed in great pain. My body shakes with tremors from the intensity, almost like it can take no more. And the experience always leaves me feeling like I am in between two worlds –- the present and the past.  And both are full of pain.

I have heard that many a soldier comes back from war changed. How does he fit in anymore?  He sure doesn’t feel like everyone else. He doesn’t feel like the same person.  It can be this way for a survivor of child abuse also.  You just don’t know where you fit or where you belong.  You feel like a jagged puzzle piece that fits nowhere in the puzzle.  You just don’t see the world like non-survivors.  It is a dangerous world you cannot trust. You stand back and you are always on alert looking for the enemy that may surface at any moment. And in the aftermath of trauma and all its pain, some try to find a way out.  Some turn to drugs, to alcohol, and even to end it all.   A human being can only take so much and daily doses of memories of traumatic events can sap the strength of even the most powerful, skillful warrior. Yes, a warrior. I believe that is such a great word for it also, just like survivor. For is it not a daily battle for sanity, moments of peace, and even at times for a precious, deep breath?  Every moment you are a survivor, you are also a warrior fighting to continue to survive with wounds that run deep. You carry wounds that have stricken your spirit.

It is really so very strange to me that I think of a soldier of war when I think of the word survivor.  Why?  It is because my own abuser was a veteran of war.  He was a wounded soul.  Yes, I have a measure of pity for him and I wish his life had been different.  Yet, at the same time, he didn’t have to ruin and shatter mine with his greed. Each day I keep breathing, relying on God and the great support I have around me, is a day of victory over my abuser. Each prayer, each sob, each scream within me is a moment of victory for Me because I am working to recover and reclaim Me.

No matter how many times I fall with grief and pain and bloody wounds, I must reach out to my support and get up again or I won’t survive. I must fight for the screaming, crying child within me. I must champion the helpless, innocent, victimized child in me — for would I not do so for any other child that cried out to me for help? Even the moments I am overcome with grief and exhaustion and thoughts of quitting, if I am even just breathing then I am still fighting.

I will not let him win for I am a survivor and I am a warrior.

And I am not a lone warrior.  I am not alone.  Thank God I am not alone.

Photo acknowledgement

The ideas contained in this post solely represent the perspective of the author. To contribute to ‘Survivors Speak’ contact Michele.


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