Trauma and fear

In the last few weeks I have often felt a lot of fear. Fear in my stomach. In the worst case as such a big knot in my stomach that it almost caused me pain, in other cases more like a contraction of the stomach.

Fear is the most difficult thing to manage, at least for me. I have had these purely emotional flashbacks without realising it, and the difficult thing is to realise that the fear I feel in this situation corresponds to a flashback, and not to the present.

A fortnight ago I wrote about flashbacks:

These damn purely emotional flashbacks, with no memory in my mind, and sometimes (many times) it takes me quite a while to realise that I'm having a flashback.

I had a pretty brutal flashback from at least Monday noon until Tuesday afternoon. I was almost pure fear, an unexplainable fear based on my current situation or some of the things that are going on around me. An emotional flashback. A fear of my past, of my childhood or adolescence.

The difficult thing is that in a flashback situation and when I am not aware of the flashback my mind tries to explain the fear based on the current situation, and something harmless becomes a threat to my life. When in such a situation I interact with people, it is based on a completely disproportionate fear, which can cause problems in relationships or intensify a hitherto irrelevant conflict.

Fortunately, in the last two weeks I haven't had so many flashbacks without realising it. The most common - and this happens to me almost every day and almost every night - are short flashbacks full of fear, but my mind somehow knows that the fear does not correspond to the present, i.e. my mind is aware that it is a flashback. Nevertheless, I feel the fear, I feel it in my stomach, or even in my whole body. Especially at night I need to open my eyes to make sure where I am, that I am in a safe space (e.g. in my bed, or, as I am travelling, in a bed at a friend's house), to calm down some more.

In the first example of an emotional flashback without realising it, the hardest thing is to realise it, to tell myself that I am having a flashback. Once this has been achieved, I can apply Pete Walker's 13 steps for dealing with flashbacks. In the second case, this step is already done, and I can move on to telling myself that I am in a safe space, that no one can hurt me, etc. Recently, in these flashbacks that last maybe 15-30 minutes, I usually don't think anything. My mind goes blank. Beyond the fact that I am aware that it is a flashback, a fear from my past, I don't think of anything. My mind cannot identify where this fear comes from. But there is no need to appease my inner critic either, just as he doesn't say anything. What I do in these situations is to cry at first, because initially the fear surprises me, it overwhelms me. Then I try to breathe, to become aware of my breathing and to breathe more profoundly (breathing is often very shallow in these moments). I also accept the fear and feel it with the awareness that it will pass. And it does. It passes. It's not that simple, obviously. Many times I slip back several times, the fear overtakes me again, I cry again, I focus again on my breathing, I calm down, and I slip back again. But I know that this is part of the process, and that the fear will pass. And, I think it's important to accept the fear, feel it, and let it go. My body has held both the fear from my past - from my childhood and adolescence - and the pain, and both have to come out. Now I seem to get more of the fear.

But there are also other fears, even more difficult. Like the fear I felt regarding the issue of possible sexual abuse, a fear of not knowing and of uncertainty. A similar fear I felt a few days ago about my father, when I wrote: "I am left with the fear in my stomach, and above all with anger. I feel that here I am discovering something in the pandora's box of my trauma, but I don't know what it is and where it will lead me. I know it's painful, I know it's scary, I know it makes me very angry...".

I don't know if it's really a fear of knowing more, or maybe a fear that I might not be able to handle what I might discover. It's not so much a fear of my past, although it's related to my past, because what I'm going to find out is going to be from my past. But the fear is more related to the present, to the pain that this discovery might cause me.

In a way I tell myself that whatever it is, I have survived it, and that here and now I am safe and I have many friends who love and support me. Sometimes it works, sometimes the fear is so much that I know it in my head, but I can't feel it. And these are the really difficult, almost unbearable fears.