*Content may be upsetting to some. Please read with caution.
I opened a can of biscuits, all by myself!! Doesn’t sound like a big accomplishment, does it? To almost 8 million Americans, that simple task could have meant DAYS in the protection of a dark room on high alert. Seems crazy, right? My name is Bridget and I live with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Here’s my story and what I want the world to know…
I am a survivor. Make no mistakes, I spent 23 years as a victim living in disgrace, ashamed of what I had been through, mad at myself for “allowing” me to be in an abusive relationship and functioning as badly as you can imagine. I am a Domestic Violence Survivor. For the longest time, I considered myself a victim. I was the victim for 23 years, and I did a fantastic job at playing my role. However, the consequences to my family, my children, and at the time, even my husband was definitely not worth my little bubble of control. I started taking my power back one morning walking into a brand new therapist’s office. I won’t lie and say that I walked in feeling like this was going to be a game changer. In fact, I had serious doubts; it would go any better than the last five therapists I had been too. The difference this time around, I had two daughter’s that were victims of sexual assault. How could I possibly help them, when I could not help myself?
Any time someone hears I have PTSD, the first thing they ask is in what branch of the military I served. Makes sense, but when I say “no”, the look they give is one of, “So, how do you have PTSD?” Here’s the thing, PTSD not only affects adults, but children as well. Military and Non-Military. It can be from being involved in war, domestic violence, car accidents, death of a family member, sexual assault, sexual and physical abuse, natural disasters, like tornadoes or hurricanes, and the list goes on. Look around you. Seriously, stop and look around. Chances are someone around you, whether at home or at work, is probably living with PTSD. Some may be aware, some may be diagnosed, but most are suffering in silence.
The brain is the biggest and most complex organ in the entire human body, this is a fact. Experts do not know why 10 people can go to war, see the same things, experience the same things, and yet four return with PTSD and six do not. Two kids in the same house witnessing the same abuse every day, one has PTSD and the other does not. The brain has many ways of protecting us, but sometimes our bodies just don’t cooperate. I may hear a car backfire and hit the ground crying, but the person standing next to me laughs because it startled them and it was funny. The first thing I say to someone who is going to be a new permanent fixture in my life, is that I have PTSD, please do NOT sneak up behind me until I get familiar with you. My previous GM has been working with me for almost 5 years, and she had some mad ninja skills. The more I worked with her and the further I got into therapy, the more I told her about my PTSD. She can tell when I am triggered almost better than I can. In fact, it only takes a couple months for someone to know my story and turn around and just say breathe. It helps to know someone recognizes it and is willing to say you’re ok, you got this, but with one simple word- BREATHE!
I walked in to my therapist’s office she will disagree, but she is phenomenal), and the first thing I said after I explained I was there because my daughter was sexually assaulted, was I will not discuss myself, my past, and I will NOT open a can of biscuits. True story, my kids had never had canned biscuits their entire life up to that point. In fact, I walked around them in the grocery store in a wide circle. They were forbidden in my house. Why? Was I assaulted with a can of biscuits? Of course not. However, right after I came back from that nightmare year of college, I was working in a preschool and assisting with breakfast. I had grown up around canned biscuits, my dad use to make donuts out of them when I was a child. I mean, what else can you use a fry daddy for? Anyway, unexpectedly a can of biscuits opened all by itself. I hit the ground, crawled under the table, curled into a ball, started shaking, crying, hyperventilating, and I swear I was having a heart attack my chest hurt so bad. I became dizzy, disoriented, confused, scared, helpless, and frozen. Once I calmed down, I was so ashamed and embarrassed. How could I face these people again? I had to work and stay busy, as that is how I was out running everything. Why not speak to my parents, you say? My parents did not know. I was a pro at hiding bruises, lacerations, and that was just the physical side. I had one friend who knew, though not the details. She actually figured it out when I was home for Thanksgiving break several months prior. There was no one to turn to. Therefore, I pulled myself up, put on my happy face and decided I would never touch canned biscuits again. There went my dream of making donuts with my kids. I started controlling everything. I was diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), not necessarily washing my hands all the time (though I do in fact do that), but doing everything in a set order and routine. If something came up that was not part of my day, I would slide into a tail spin. Changes were not my friend. The spontaneous, I am going to take on the world, Sasha Fierce person I once was, had disappeared. I couldn’t have my back to doors or windows. I couldn’t hop in the car with my parents, husband, or anyone and just drive without knowing where I was going, when I would get there, and when I could come back home to my bubble. No one around me noticed, though my mom spent over 20 years trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Was it drugs? Did I have a closet drinking problem? Was I depressed? Was I suicidal? When I finally sat both of my parents down about 6 months ago, my mother felt like she had failed me. She hadn’t. She tried, no one tried harder. How could she help me when she didn’t know. How could anyone help me, if they didn’t know. It was not drugs or alcohol. I was too much of a control freak at this point for it to be any sort of substance abuse issue. I HAD to be in control. If I could control life, I could live. The problem? I wasn’t living. In fact, I was hiding and pretending, rather well if I do say so myself, and I was in fact depressed and suicidal.
As a parent, you hate it when your kids are hurting and suffering. Nothing can prepare you for staring into the face of your child as they finally find the courage to tell you they have spent the last 5 years being abused by a stepsibling. Suddenly, so many things became so clear. Why she would come back from a 6-week visitation and not have showered or slept. Why she would have sudden outbursts of anger and tears. Suddenly sitting in HER therapist’s office, wiping the tears from her eyes she told me as if she had committed some great crime, and I missed it. How could I have not known? The same reason my parents didn’t know. Something else a parent can’t prepare for? The call from your oldest daughter, crying in tears, and mumbling about what sounds like someone forced themselves on her. My experience, at least gave me the insight to know what to ask, where to go and what to do. I couldn’t do anything to help them come out on the other side of it though. I called a friend who was also terrorized by that college boyfriend from so many years before, started crying and said I can’t help her. She’s hurting and all I want to do is ignore it and cry. She told me then as we sat on the phone hours apart and crying, that sometimes you just have to face it to get through it. This was a foreign concept to me, even though I never had a fear of anything growing up. I knew one option, RUN AWAY!
A month later, I found myself in my therapist’s office for the fourth time, and said “I’m tired. Let’s do this”. That was my first big step with taking my power back. I still wouldn’t open the biscuits. However, for the first time in 23 years, I had a friend who had the same name as him, and I wasn’t scared he would pop up every time I said his name (Kind of like playing Bloody Mary as a child). She brought up the biscuits, and I shot it down immediately. She never mentioned it again. We started with small stuff. Hey, when someone says I am taking you on a surprise trip instead of refusing to go, I ask what city you will be in, tell a friend, keep your cellphone with you, and check in. Finally, I had a plan. That day we went to the Old Santee Canal in Moncks Corner, SC. Not only did I shock my best friend by even going, I shocked myself, my friend, and my therapist. I got in a canoe with my boyfriend and paddled out, camera in hand. I had no idea where we would end up or what I would do if things went horribly wrong, but I had my cell phone. I had just completed my photography certification and had a brand new cannon rebel. To this day, those are still my most favorite pictures. They don’t make a lot of sense to anyone, but me. However, when I look at them, I see doors opening, color in the world, and most importantly, I realize I did not even know my own strength. For the first time in almost 25 years, I felt like a survivor. Like I could take on the world, but was the world ready for me?
I enjoyed my new found freedom for a bit. Then one day, out of the blue, I didn’t go around four aisles to avoid the dreaded canned biscuits. I walked right up to them, took a breath and put two cans of biscuits in the cart (very gently so as not to have them popping open) and headed to the check out. I promise I felt like I was handling a live grenade (I have no idea how our active duty and veterans do that every day). I went home, placed them gently in the refrigerator in the very, very back. When the kids came home, I let them know they were in the fridge and not to touch them or bump them. I never hid my past from them, just the details. I didn’t want them to grow up one day, and go into the world, or worse yet off to college, and NOT know people exist that will hurt them intentionally. This was far beyond stranger danger. It was important for my daughter to know in hopes of avoiding dangerous situations and for my son to know because men are affected by domestic violence almost as much as women are. I would even be willing to venture out and say men are affected probably more so or the same as women, but it goes unreported. I knew it was coming. I knew I was going to have to take a deep breath and go for it. Three days later, the day before my therapy appointment (in case I needed her to reel me back in and reassure me I was safe), the kids were at school and I was home alone. I locked all the doors, checked the windows, and walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. There sitting on the second shelf were two cans of biscuits that might as well have been torpedoes of death. I gently took them out of the refrigerator, placed them on the counter and had a standoff. It was very much like the Wild, Wild West. I was the sheriff and those biscuits? Man, those biscuits were the evil robber and villain that had been terrorizing my entire town. This was a battle I was going to win. I double checked the doors and windows, took a deep breath, grabbed a can, peeled off the paper slowly and popped the biscuits open. I stood in the kitchen, frozen, waiting for the fall out. No one was storming in. No one was coming after me. I was safe AND I had opened the biscuits. I gently put the other can in the fridge, tossed the open can in the trash, and sat down in the living room. Now, what? We had biscuits with dinner. I walked into my therapy appointment, looked at my therapist, and said, “Well, I opened the biscuits”. I have never been more proud of myself in my life as I was at that exact moment. It has become a running thing between my therapist and me. Any time I hit a road block or change starts affecting me, she says, “But, you opened the biscuits”. When I talked to her about taking the GM job and leaving the comfort zone of my SM position, she said, “but you opened the biscuits”. Seems crazy, right? Nevertheless, in truth, now when things come at me, I take a step back, take a breath and tell myself to just open the biscuits already.
I still struggle with things. Sometimes I flare up and don’t know why, BUT I have educated myself and those around me. I have yet to master the car wash where you put the car in neutral, take your hands off the wheel and then pray as the car automatically goes through the washer. I have gotten better, as I know worst-case scenario, I will get soapy and wet. I also still don’t handle conflict like most people, but I am getting better at that as well. I watched E.T. as therapy homework, not nearly as terrifying as I thought. I wrote out every single detail I could write out about that year in college, handed it to my therapist, and we destroyed it. Am I cured? Not by a long shot, but the difference between now and 6 years ago- I am a survivor, LIVING with PTSD, controlling my life and not the world around me.
I took another huge step, without my therapist knowledge, until I was done and sat my parents down with my daughter and my boyfriend beside me and explained to them I would never tell them the details, but that I was sitting before them a living breathing miracle. I should be dead. Not because of a can of biscuits, but because someone decided my life was not worth being taken care of, and then I spent 23 more years punishing myself and continuing to let him have all the power. The details of that year aren’t as important as the fact that though I have scars, some you can see and some you can’t, I am a survivor and hope to be an inspiration to others. It was a little over a year ago that I stepped into a church for the first time in a very long time, with my amazing best friend by my side, hugging people I didn’t know, being on the inside of a row, knowing that what I have been through has a purpose. I would not ever want to go through it again, I mean I barely survived the first go around, but if it means I helped my daughters or helped someone else, then it was worth it. Sometimes, you can’t stand the sounds of fireworks, crowds, loud noises, surprise parties, horns honking, etc. Sometimes, it would be easier to hide in your safe bubble and let the world go on without you. However, sometimes, it is worth taking a deep breath, putting one foot in front of the other, stepping outside of your comfort zone, and LIVING your life.
PTSD is not a joke. It has been around since before Desert Storm and even Vietnam. It lives in houses tormenting brothers, sisters, parents, and grandparents. It is the silent negative Nancy, always in the room. Before sitting down and writing this article, which I have to say I was really shocked I was asked, I spoke to my therapist my old GM/trusty sidekick, my mom, and my mom’s Friend Linda, who spent 20+ years as a psych ward nurse. I needed to know that telling my story wouldn’t hurt anyone else, we had already suffered enough. I needed to know that I had the strength to do something as simple as writing a piece on something I live with every day. My mom, ever the optimist, said. “Oh honey you can do this, you’ll be great at it”. My trusty sidekick and friend, said, “You wanted to turn this into a positive and help someone else, you can do this”. My daughter said, “Mom you’ve come so far, show the world”. My therapist said (with a twinkle in her eye) you can definitely do this. Bridget you opened the biscuits. You’re funny and you’ve come so far. However, Ms. Linda with all her years of experience, asked to read it when I was done, and said you know there is a part of everyone I believe, that has some sort of PTSD. It is something we should talk about more. Oh how right she is.
Therefore, I tell my story, not as a pat on my own back, but to let everyone know, you can LIVE with PTSD. You CAN open those biscuits. Do I still try to control everything? Of course, I have been doing it for so long it is rather hard to let go, but I am improving. Do I skip off to the fireworks show? Absolutely not. I know my limits, and for once I am not afraid to say, this is not an activity or a place I need to be. Sometimes I can push myself and know I’ll be ok, but sometimes I just need to say no not happening. My therapist says I have been through a lot and I came out with some fantastic instincts, but I have to trust them. It took me a long time to trust myself, but my instincts have never been wrong. I am a living breathing example of what living with PTSD can look like. If you or a loved one has PTSD or you think someone might, take a minute to educate yourself. Be open-minded. Don’t judge or laugh. What you see as someone jumping out and saying BOO, could have days, weeks, or months of traumatizing effects to someone else. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I can see it. Can you?
As I finish up, I am not going to say I jumped on writing this and had it knocked out in one day, though I could have. I have been preparing for this for the last couple of years and as I have typed this out, I have cried, had goose bumps, had to walk away and breathe. Worried. Paced. However, as I am coming to the end, I realize I have grown so much.My social media is on lockdown and not even with my real name. This is the first time since 1993, my legal name will be out in the open, and you know, for once I am not terrified of him and what might happen, but proud of myself. I hope this helps someone better understand, and if you are one of those 7 or 8 in 100 people that is reading this and suffering in silence, just know, you are NOT alone. There is help and understanding out there.
Now, what about those biscuits? Anyone want to take a deep breath and open a can with me?