Why Are Memories of My Past Trauma Coming Back Now?

Thoughtful woman“I’ve been fine for years. Now I have nightmares every night and can barely function at work. What’s going on?”

“I thought I was over it. I even went to therapy as a kid! Why is it all coming back again?”

“I feel like I’m falling apart, but the abuse was years ago. Does this mean I’m getting worse?”

One of the first things survivors of sexual abuse ask me when they come into my therapy office is, “Why now? Why are these feelings and memories coming back now?” Often, the underlying question is, “I was fine before, but now I’m struggling. Am I going crazy?”

If you’re having this experience—being suddenly overwhelmed by a past trauma—let me reassure you the same way I reassure the people I work with in my office. No, you’re not going crazy! As difficult as it may be to believe, a sudden reemergence of old feelings is often a sign that you’re ready to heal on a deeper level.

Recovery from Trauma Happens in Stages

Healing from a trauma such as sexual assault or abuse happens in stages. In the first few days after an assault, we tend to shut down because the emotions feel so overwhelming that we can deal with them only in small doses. For ongoing sexual abuse or molestation, this shutdown state may last for the entire time the abuse occurs. Eventually, in the days, weeks, and months after an assault occurred or the abuse ends, we usually find ways to “put the past behind us,” to regulate our emotions and to build a stable life. We may still experience some triggers or have some nightmares, and we don’t typically forget about what happened, but over the years we start to feel “normal.”

Then, sometimes, all those feelings come roaring back. What’s going on?

When the fear, the anger, the sadness, the helplessness, the heartache—all the emotions that were perhaps too painful, too complicated, or just “too” in the immediate aftermath of the trauma—suddenly reemerge, your new task is to sit with those emotions and let them have their say.

In my experience as a therapist, what’s happening is that some deep, inner part of you finally feels safe and stable enough to address the leftover emotional fallout that’s been patiently waiting for years. Your job right after the trauma and in the years since the trauma occurred has been to find stability. You developed successful coping mechanisms that let you function in the world without falling apart. Those are invaluable skills that are going to get you through the next part of your recovery.

You Are Strong Enough to Feel Vulnerable Now

When the fear, the anger, the sadness, the helplessness, the heartache—all the emotions that were perhaps too painful, too complicated, or just “too” in the immediate aftermath of the trauma—suddenly reemerge, your new task is to sit with those emotions and let them have their say. They’ve been patiently waiting for you to develop the strength to cope with them successfully, and if they’ve shown up for you now, after all this time, they think you’re finally ready. You are strong enough to feel vulnerable for a while.

So what do you do? How do you cope without getting overwhelmed?

  • Know that you are not regressing or going “crazy.” Reassure yourself that these seemingly new emotions are a normal part of the trauma-recovery process and that they won’t stick around forever. These emotions don’t mean you’re moving backward in your healing or that you’ll always feel this way. There is an end!
  • Recognize that “the only way out is through.” These emotions will go away, but only after you let yourself feel them. Emotions give us valuable information about ourselves and the world, so you need to learn to listen to them. This is your opportunity to learn that skill.
  • Go slowly. If all these emotions feel overwhelming and scary, you can take them in small doses. I often recommend setting a timer for 15 or 10 or even five minutes every day, and using that time to feel whatever you’re feeling right then. When the timer goes off, stop. (This is where your strength comes in!) It may be hard to feel at first, or hard to stop feeling, but that’s why you’re practicing. This exercise helps you build confidence that you can turn off the flood of emotions, which can help reduce anxiety about letting yourself feel.
  • Give yourself credit for your progress. As you work through this stage of the healing process, you may find yourself caught up in one emotion for a while. You may go through a week-long period of sadness, for example, or a month of feeling really angry. People sometimes feel stuck when this happens and forget that they haven’t always felt that way and are therefore not likely to feel that way forever. Keeping a journal or talking about your feelings with a supportive loved one can help you see that you’re moving forward.

If you need additional support or resources, a therapist specializing in trauma recovery can help. If you need immediate help regarding sexual assault or abuse and you’re in the United States, you can call the 24-hour National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) for support, resources, and referrals.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lisa Nosal, MFT, therapist in Sonoma, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • NanaJ

    NanaJ

    May 18th, 2015 at 10:27 AM

    My thought automatically was that maybe you are actually strong enough now to deal with the pain that you had to suppress many years ago. I think that the mind knows what the person can handle and is only willing to allow those thoughts and memories reemerge when it knows that this is when you are strong enough to deal with it. I am so sure that this still feels very painful to you, and it will take time to work through it, but this is progress, and that my friend is success.

  • Jessica T.

    Jessica T.

    January 7th, 2017 at 6:32 AM

    I found it so helpful to comfort the child within. To actually give her a hug (mentally, but with true feelings), say it wasn’t her fault, and say I love you, you didn’t deserve that.

  • Annabelle

    Annabelle

    May 18th, 2015 at 3:12 PM

    This can be a good thing! This could mean that you are finally ready to break through the fog of your past and into the clearing of the future!

  • cole

    cole

    May 19th, 2015 at 3:36 AM

    It can feel awful when all of this reemerges and makes you feel like you are taking a hundred steps backward. It is easy to try to think that this is all part of the healing process and i know logically that it is but it still doesn’t make it feel any better when you start thinking about things and having it impact you all over again when you thought that those feelings were buried and gone.

  • Kat

    Kat

    May 19th, 2015 at 10:16 AM

    so this could be the moment that you have been waiting for but you didn’t know it! this is the time to turn your life around and make it better than it has been, find confidence in yourself and your own abilities and stop allowing the things that happened to you in the past have a detrimental effect on what your future is sure to bring you.

  • vivian

    vivian

    October 15th, 2017 at 2:12 PM

    I AM HAVING A HARD TIME sorry ,.

  • Lisa Nosal, MFT

    Lisa Nosal, MFT

    May 19th, 2015 at 12:47 PM

    cole, I know it can feel awful, and I’m so sorry you’re going through it. I always wish that I had a magic wand that could let people skip over the painful parts of healing. I have found that clients who keep reminding themselves that they are moving forward, not backward, can at least start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

  • GailW

    GailW

    May 19th, 2015 at 3:07 PM

    The other night I had that dream again… Where my Mother had explained to everyone what a bad child I was, how they had no option but to send me away!! One of her friends was in it and she was running me down.. For the first time ever I stood up for myself.. Said I wasnt a bad kid, I had bad things done to me and I did some bad things but I wasn’t bad…. Why did I steal $’s from mothers purse, to buy food cause I was always hungry.. Why did I steal food, cause I was hungry… Why did my mother beat me, tell me I was stupid and so ugly no one would ever lI’ve me?? I dont know but nothing I ever did would have caused her to do that… When I woke up I couldn’t figure out what prompted the dream.. I thought this was so far behind me…. Then I realized it was time for more healing and I had to have the dream again.. When I go for my next counselling appt, for the first time I will actually talk about why I’ve always felt my Mother was justified.. Why I’ve always been embarrassed to see people I grew up around… It’s another step I need to take to let go,. I’m so happy this was your post today..

  • Lisa Nosal, MFT

    Lisa Nosal, MFT

    May 19th, 2015 at 8:16 PM

    GailW, what an amazing dream! It’s so wonderful when your dream-self is able to stand up for you! Paying attention to the messages your dreams are giving you — that you aren’t a bad kid, that you didn’t deserve that abuse — can really help you track your healing, especially when you notice a big shift, like you did.

  • Claudia N.

    Claudia N.

    May 20th, 2015 at 5:25 AM

    While I agree that some of us who experience trauma (and on this planet, it is very few women or men who have not experienced some trauma) will need to re-examine it in different life stages, I think it important to note that as a culture we tend to go through periods of shoving the reality of extensive sexist and racist and homophobic violence into proverbial cupboards. And we need to question the ideology of therapy as a support for people dealing with traumatic issues. Support groups and political action have more extensive research to document help with processing trauma, and the therapy community is steeped in sexism and racism and bias. We need to push for new models to empower people, and not to re-hash psychological mumbo jumbo about therapy. Most of us experience trauma and we need to empower our voices, not therapy sessions.

  • Grayson

    Grayson

    May 20th, 2015 at 9:45 AM

    I don’t think that you should totally dismiss therapy Claudia N because for many people this is the only thing that they have ever had that has allowed them to find that voice that they have been missing for so long.

  • Lisa Nosal, MFT

    Lisa Nosal, MFT

    May 20th, 2015 at 6:31 PM

    Claudia N, I absolutely agree that therapists have historically had a lot of harmful blind spots about social justice issues (and many individual therapists might still be struggling with that). Most codes of ethics for therapists now, however, include “cultural competency” as a requirement for ethical therapy, which addresses exactly the issues you bring up: That we live in an unequal society biased against groups of people, and marginalized people can’t fix that by doing “inner work” that ignores external injustice. Good therapists should be able to validate people’s reality and strengthen their inner sense of self, which can help people fight against inequality from a place of wholeness. (And if you don’t feel your therapist is validating in that way, it’s ok to talk to them about it or to find a different therapist.)

    And I certainly believe political action against systematic injustice is another ethical requirement for therapists, and I encourage everyone to participate in such action, as well as support groups when they’re available. I’ve actually run several support groups, and they can be invaluable. Recognizing that you’re not alone and that your voice matters is a wonderful way of fighting back against an unfair status quo, and I think therapy can be a complement to that as well.

  • felder

    felder

    May 25th, 2015 at 6:56 AM

    It is important to know that while the trauma could be coming back and you feel strong enough to handle it right now, you have to be willing to take it slowly… let this unfold in a way that still feels safe for you and that you can handle in small pieces at a time.

  • Adriana

    Adriana

    July 26th, 2015 at 8:32 PM

    I feel I can’t get through sadness, anxiety, and memories from emotional abuse in my marriage where I was isolated from my family, friends, recieving blamings, control and manipulation. I had a lot of stress at work with special education while getting divorce, grand mother’s passed away, plus still receive negative texts from my ex about me and my family.
    I feel exactly they way this article talk. Even with my therapist from 2 years and Psychiatrist. I feel even ashame that I didn’t do my best as an employee for the 1st time ever in my life. I went back for contemp for enforcement of agreement and midifying share parenting and I have fears about not be able to be updated with bills and my new home. No child support and alimony on time; etc.

  • Cynthia p

    Cynthia p

    July 26th, 2015 at 8:35 PM

    this has been true for me personally after a re emergnece after 30 years, when I was at one of my most happiest , content times of my life.
    I find this article right on target and appreciate the knowledge shared.
    I am ok
    :)

  • Dr Powell

    Dr Powell

    July 27th, 2015 at 10:52 AM

    this is exactly what I’ve been teaching my patients. thank you for saying it so well

  • George

    George

    December 9th, 2015 at 9:58 PM

    How does a husband help a wife he recently married only to find out she was sexually abused as a child and I was the first person she told in 50 years? I am overwhelmed with anger and learning to understand but my wife won’t hear of it. So she pushed me away. Now iam confused and hurt by all this. Don’t want to divorce her but having a hard time with all the rejection and symbolic like behavior that in some way this is my fault.

  • Amber

    Amber

    February 7th, 2016 at 7:04 PM

    I would talk to your wife about how you feel. Maybe consider talking to a counselor about how best to support her.

  • Mala

    Mala

    September 5th, 2016 at 4:45 PM

    What you need to do is to get over yourself and realize that what you feel about her experience and her silence does not matter. You have no right to be angry or “help” her if she doesn’t explicitly ask you to do so, because it doesn’t matter if you mean well or hell – It’s still her body and her choice. One of the hardest things for abuse victims, which men overall seem to have a really hard time to understand, is the fact that they have to stuggle every day for the rest of their lives with taking control over their own bodies again.
    Your wife trusted you, she felt comfortable enough in her own body again to be able to tell you about what happened to her. You repaid her trust with removing her choice and right to her own body by trying to tell her what to do about it, and instead of apologizing to her and doing everything you can to earn her trust back you lock yourself into a bubble of self pity. Your wife is in serious pain and your concerns are your own feelings of confusion and hurt, over something that has absolutely nothing to do with you.

    It really can’t be stated enough times:
    Your opinion does not matter. AT ALL.

    Go apologize to your wife, tell her that you love her and that you realize you’ve been an idiot and that you’ve no right to tell her how to handle it but that you’ll always be there if she wants to talk. Tell her you respect her decisions, but more importantly: Mean it.

  • ann o.

    ann o.

    January 6th, 2017 at 5:28 PM

    Mala, thank you for the well-spoken reply. I am tired of people thinking they have every right to my already violated body. It only makes me shut down worse and have more trust issues.

  • M

    M

    January 2nd, 2017 at 9:48 AM

    I am in my mid-thirties and I too have a bacground like your wife and I also have not spoken out about it . I am also married and have never told my husband a thing about it. It must have taken her alot to come out and tell you about it you have not the slighest idea I think. You will never understand and she might see it the same way as I do. I am just starting to deal with the thingS that has happed to me in the past by acknowledging it and it’s been the most painful experience of my life- painful were I thought it would be better if I were not here dealing with it. Thankfully I am past that point of view and hopefully soon I will get the courage to get some professional help. I am sure your wife loves you as I love my husband, I too have pushed and rejected him and only till recently I have come to realize this on my own. I realize my behavior towards him and others -men are due to my past. I will talk to my husband about it when I am ready and when I do I feel he will understand and he will be supportive. Reminding her that you are there for her, support her, remind her that you will not hurt her and she is safe would be nice, but also having patience -she might not realize that you feel this way or like myself not realize what she is doing to cause her husband to feel as such. I don’t know if this is an excuse but I also feel it is like a defence mechanism she might be trying to avoid getting hurt or feel vunerable. Getting a divorce seems harsh to me especially when she mde the effort to open up to you. I think talking to her about therapy would be a start and also couple therapy separately would benefit both of you. She might not want too at first(I been avoiding it) but she will see soon that it can help. You can also seek therapy on your own to better understand where shes at and how you can be supportive of her situation and also as a support for yourself.

  • Mary

    Mary

    February 10th, 2016 at 12:46 PM

    Thanks for sharing this article, it definitely hits home for me! I am what you would call a “runner,” I run from my past and then I dissociate everything. It’s been a protection mechanism for me ever since I was 5. everyone has their own way of dealing with sexual abuse for me I got angry, and dissociated so much. I also was raped at 16 and never told anyone until now. I’m now 34 years old, I am happily married and feel more stable and safe. It’s so true, why is all that trauma coming up now? But I feel more safe and stable plus I have a 1 year old son that I adore. I want a better life for him so I’m working tremendously to heal everyday. It’s never easy going back to the memories, sometimes I want to keep running because that’s where I feel most safe. But I really want to heal this time, and this time I’m ready. Thanks again!

  • Marie Louise

    Marie Louise

    March 8th, 2016 at 9:35 PM

    thank you for sharing. As a person who experienced long term sexual abuse and then teenage rape. I am fully aware of the embodiment of trauma. My freedom and liberation has been realized from the shackles of those experiences and it was a process. Doing yoga, breath and movement moved those shackles quickly. Our body holds on to our past and using these tools helped me immensely. Good luck in your process of discovering freedom however it works for you. Trust your body is amazing at healing. You have the strength to let it go. Much love

  • Adrianna P.

    Adrianna P.

    March 20th, 2016 at 10:08 AM

    This is happening right now. It’s what I needed to see….

  • Kim

    Kim

    September 17th, 2016 at 4:58 PM

    Good

  • Sue

    Sue

    September 18th, 2016 at 12:54 AM

    I had 35 years of reliving my nightmare…. the first 25 years not knowing what all about as I had blocked it and the birth of my first child threw the reality of what happened forward 😢. I cant remember the first 2 years of my sons life consumed with the utter devastation of what had happened to me as a child. When i reported it to the police 5 years ago i slowly started my road to recovery but the pure fear I felt every minute of every day that the threats from man who hurt me as a 5 year old would come true…even when as an adult! My life was consumed with the fear, anger, upset, I was diagnosed with chronic PTSD… I had another child and I lived 2 lives ….. the perfect mummy so no one in that part of my life….friends, school, even my husband sadly did not have a clue…. then when on my own I was in complete and utter crisis. It got so severe I knew I needed help…after many counsellors who were quite frankly useless and the majority believed I would never heal until I forgave (that became my first question to any counsellor before we began!!!)…. I eventually found the lady who saved my life. She is a Trauma Focussed CBT counsellor, I had approx. 40 sessions before I had EMDR to process the traumatic memories that were stuck litetally on my forehead. It has been the most incredibly, at times overwhelming, journey but I got through it. My point here is I went literally to hell and back, my lowest point of complete despair and it was at that point I was ready to heal. I just would like anyone reading this to please understand it does get worse before it gets better but that is part of process, you dont see it like that at the time but when through the other side its as clear as day. Please anyone out there struggling…. you are amazing, have faith, have strength, someone may have hurt you but your inner core…your heart…. loves you unconditionally, just trust it and you will slowly heal 💜

  • dee

    dee

    September 22nd, 2016 at 2:09 PM

    I’m a 34 year old mother of 3 beautiful llittles and I’ve been happily married for 10 years. I was a victim of sexual, physical, emotional abuse as well as neglect by my parents. I manage to run away from home when I was 18 and set forth a journey of healing except I wast strong enough to seek proportional help. I tried but I just couldn’t even get out of my car and I sat in the parking lot of the therapist office. I realized that I had to do what ever I could on my own to lead a healthy life and somehow manege to unplug myself from all my toxic friends and family and started a “new” life. I hung out with people who had their ducks in a row. I eventually got married to an amazing guy had 3 little ones. 3 weeks ago a person came into my life unexpectedly that set me into a free fall of emotions, memories, nightmares and panic attacks. I’ve realized that by never sharing my story I had never dealt with any of this emotions and I had push them in a dark room somewhere in my mind. I started seeing a therapist two weeks ago and things have gotten worse it just doesn’t help that I am horrible at expressing emotion and I feel stuck. I used to be a very social person but lately I want nothing to do with people. I’ve deleted all my online social accounts and have stomped answering messages or emails. I want to fast forward this phase its awful and painful and my inability to express it makes it 10X worse. I dont know what to do :(

  • DF

    DF

    March 1st, 2017 at 12:12 PM

    Thank you for sharing. How is everything with your husband? How is the communication between both of you?

  • Margaret

    Margaret

    September 24th, 2016 at 2:32 AM

    I can’t thank you enough for this post. It’s the first time in 5 years that I’ve found an answer that makes sense to me about the past. Thank you.

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    December 23rd, 2016 at 2:22 PM

    Thank you for this post, it has helped me alot. I am having a tremendous amount of emotional/physical memories of repressed sexual abuse. I am trying to get a glimpse of what actually happened but when I am am napping or sleeping I wake up suddenly just as I get to the scary point in the memory/dream. These physical symptoms tell me that memories are trying to come up and I am ready to have them break through but it is very hard. I have a good therapist and she is helping me with this. I wish I had healed this all many eyars ago but you are right that this kind of healing comes on stages, and only when we are ready.

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    December 23rd, 2016 at 2:24 PM

    oops, typos ! “years ago” and “in stages.” : )

  • Charlene

    Charlene

    January 17th, 2017 at 8:30 AM

    Although I never suppressed the memory of the abuse at the hands of my brother, I just never told anyone. When my son was about the same age as I was when I was being abused, I went through a period of depression and couldn’t stop thinking about what he had done to me. My doctor explained that because my son is about the same age as I was when abused, it acted liked a trigger. I guess it just never goes away. My 91 year old father is inappropriate in his behaviour with me on occasion. I just stay out of his reach when he gets like that, but it brings back all the bad feelings.

  • Inriia

    Inriia

    January 17th, 2017 at 8:47 AM

    with what minor bad things I went through (and I realize most people tend to say that), there was no purpose for it to come back. no reason that it needed to. I had been fine for years, surviving and getting through college with no thoughts about what happened as a kid by the family member. then got a bad nightmare one night which got me wondering. it wasnt till after we moved out of state it started coming back. and now life is a mess, or rather I am.
    sorry to complain in here. wanting to put in agreement

  • Tt

    Tt

    November 29th, 2017 at 5:49 PM

    Hello, I have dealt with sexual abuse since 7 (I think). I had to live with my father all my life. But now for some reason I can’t stand to be around him. I used to be around him sometimes we sang together an went to the same church. My mother often wants us to come over but I told her I don’t want to be around him. Am I wrong for feeling this way? I know everybody says yes of course you have every right to feel what you feel. But I was around him all this time. What is really going on?

  • Df

    Df

    November 30th, 2017 at 3:06 PM

    It is normal. It is better to stay away from him to prevent any backslashes. Your health and calm are more important.

  • Tanis c

    Tanis c

    February 12th, 2018 at 8:37 PM

    Why after 15 years I started talking to my sister..and after a car accident I was in..she said something and now after 15 years of memory loss from my childhood I am getting flashbacks ..it’s scarey2zk

  • Lea

    Lea

    February 18th, 2018 at 5:14 PM

    I was raped by a ex boyfriend for a long time I knew I was raped but didn’t remember any of it.couple weeks ago everything came back like what I was wearing,what all happened in the relationship it scared the heck out of me.im back on anti depressants.but now I feel a lot stronger

  • Skyeler B.

    Skyeler B.

    May 1st, 2018 at 5:27 PM

    its not as bad as rape or sexual assault but rather like old memories coming back up to the surface from when i was a kid from watching movies like rio etc and this was back when i was a teen im 22 now

  • Jack S.

    Jack S.

    November 14th, 2018 at 2:41 PM

    I was abused from the ages of 6-8, then at 11 faced sextortion and when I took a stand the abuser went to share everything with the school and post that my personal history is marked by rejections and (attempted) victimization which resulted in 26 physical conflict in 6 years of school. I am almost fully recovered, am confident, a highly employable employee and I still dont take bullshit from anyone. If you have met me you would have never guessed what I went through, never.
    Takeaways from my recovery:
    1- EMDR is highly effective for an emotional outlet and a reconciliation of trauma. I reached to positive conclusion mostly. However, if the conclusion is negative in its nature “eg; I coudlnt defend my self, am weak”, it may mean that you have to accept that you were once weak and now you will need to transform your life (eg; self-defense skills / protect your children) keeping in mind that hope is unbelievably vital.
    2- A-Z approach. You read the trauma from Z-A, this is why self-blame and shame can manifest themselves. A-Z helped me with self blame. As I blamed myself partially, hence couldn’t work with myself towards a resolution. When you look at the choices you made during the abuse (eg; Freez or submit), well, you were too young to understand these things. Back then, you didn’t have the awareness or/and power, because if you had, you simply would have prevented it.
    3- Face your dragon. Face the repressed memories that you keep consciously or unconsciously suppressing – I personally had 3-. Whether alone or with a therapist. But if you don’t face them, they will get you. It might sound scary, but as the article advise, the only way is through. The alarm system in your mind wont shut unless you process the experience in full. Do not delay it, cause it might be triggered any time.
    4- I refused to be a victim. And this had helped me a lot in my attitude towards facing the issues.
    5- Visualize a confrontation scenario and memories the points you have so that you would be ready to use it if you had to.
    6- Sue them if you can. I coudln’t. But I definitely would if I could.

  • Melissa

    Melissa

    December 7th, 2018 at 9:07 AM

    I am 20 years old soon to be 21 – a full blown adult. I’ve joked with my family and close friends that I need to grow up and stop letting people hurt me and take advantage of me, but I never realised the seriousness of where these emotions of self-hatred, anxiety, abandonment and punishment to myself came from. That was however, until I began counselling 3 months ago to try and deal with my depression and my anxiety as it was getting increasingly worse and near enough taking over most aspects of my life. I decided to start seeing a therapist when I realised that all this pent-up anger at myself, hatred and self-loathing had followed me into work and I lashed out at one of my colleagues. To me this was the last straw – I refused to let it take over completely, especially since I absolutely love my job and the people I work with and I didn’t want to jeopardise that.
    I began counselling and explained to my counsellor that I always seem to be following the same patterns like allowing negative people in my life and letting them use me either sexually, financially or emotionally toy with me. I said I couldn’t understand why I kept letting the same type of people in. I thought it was something to do with being bullied in high school and my self-esteem being damaged because of it. She said I needed to start to work on re-evaluating who I let into my close circle and whether they deserved a spot in my closest circle or whether it was time to let them go. So, I did. Don’t get me wrong; I did feel a slight empowerment from finally putting my foot down and cutting off toxic people from my life, but it still wasn’t enough to completely make me feel OK with myself. My journey of finding self-love had only just begun.
    I had a break from counselling to go on a trip with my family where we attended the Christmas markets in a town about 2 hours away from where we lived. On this trip I felt good. I really did. I was enjoying myself with the closest people in my circle possible – my family. I was very fortunate to have such a good upbringing and people that genuinely loved me, and this trip was a reminder of that.
    My mum, has had social anxiety from postnatal depression since my little brother was born 17 years ago and she only recently, a year or so ago, managed to overcome this and get back out of the house and start living her life again. She had paid for us all to go on the trip, so we felt obliged to do what she wanted to do – which was fine until we reached a busy street filled with all hectic bars and clubs. I had a panic attack and blatantly refused to go in. I couldn’t figure out why – so in my next session I mentioned it to my counsellor.
    She asked me what it was that caused me to panic; and I said that I felt tipsy from the couple of drinks I’d had at the markets, there were too many strangers, I was in an unknown location and although my family was with me I couldn’t shake the feeling of feeling unsafe. She focussed on the drink aspect of what I’d said, and she asked me “Why did being tipsy” matter? and to this I sat and thought over the last few occasions I had a few drinks and tried to remember if I’d ever been able to get drunk. As a 20-year-old living near lots of nightclubs my counsellor found that very odd. I explained to her that although I do go out clubbing and I do have a drink if I feel like I’m taking it too far and enjoying myself too much I stop, sober up, have a panic attack if I can’t manage to sober up or go home feeling sad. I put it down to clubbing just not being my thing – something I didn’t enjoy. But then I realised it wasn’t just clubbing that I had an issue with as I am the same at family parties, meals with friends, pub nights with work etc.
    I tried to think back to the last time I ever did fully let loose and get as drunk as my friends did – and it took me back to a night where I attended a family party with my friend. That friend was my ex boyfriend’s sister, so with it being her family it also meant that it was his family and that meant that he was also in attendance to the party. I drank a lot to not feel awkward being left sat at the same table as him. I got too drunk and wondered off – always thinking that I was trying to find the toilets but grabbed the wrong door handle instead. But I was wrong – there was more to it than just that. Talking about it with my counsellor – how I felt and what I was drunkly mumbling that night came into perspective. I felt too drunk and as a result; I felt scared and unsafe. I told everyone something wasn’t right and stumbled off. They presumed I was too drunk that I just felt sick and had gone to the toilets to throw up and that’s what I meant by “something wasn’t right”. But that wasn’t the case.
    Because I felt too drunk and too unsafe, I willed my drunken body to safety by hiding in a store cupboard in the building. I sat there rocking back and forth chanting “Please let this be over” and I only came out after I heard the music stop and knew I’d be able to go home and finally feel safe. Until speaking about this with my counsellor I always just presumed I was too drunk and went in the wrong room whilst looking for the toilets. Now I remembered feeling unsafe for some bizarre reason.
    She sat there and let me process what I had just remembered; and as I was trying to process it one question bothered me. Why did I feel so unsafe? and then it hit me. A memory literally just flashed up in front of me. It was a memory from when I was about 13 where me and my friend had attended a house party where we didn’t really know anybody, but my friend was talking to one of the guys at the time. Every time I’ve tried to think about this night before my counselling sessions I just hit a blank wall. Literal black nothingness and a sharp shooting pain all the way through my head. It always confused me, because usually my memory is impeccable, but I just figured I was too drunk that night to remember it fully and I left it at that. Well that was until it decided to spring back up at me during my counselling session… instead of the sharp shooting pain and nothing; I saw flashes of disturbing incidents. I won’t go into details as I don’t want to distress anyone with memories they experienced of similar nature, but just know that it was bad, I was paralytic at the time and 100% unable to consent.
    It all made sense then. I didn’t hate high school; I hated myself for what happened. I blamed myself without realising it, because although I didn’t remember the memory because my brain repressed it to protect me I still remembered all the feelings I felt that night. Alone, abandoned by my friend I was with that night, scared, drunk, vulnerable, stupid for putting myself in that predicament and used.
    It’s why I cut myself off from everything in high school. I blamed my 13-year-old self subconsciously. I was trying to not feel anything like her anymore; so, I changed the way I looked, I lost weight, I changed my hair style, I stopped playing the saxophone. I started acting out, arguing back with my parents, falling out with friends, refusing to do schoolwork, bullying other people. 13-year-old me would have never done those things.
    I reinvented myself after I left school. I changed the way I dressed and my hair colour, I stopped contact with people I went high school with, I made new friends, I got in relationships with boys who had issues and were troubled. I became obsessed with trying to turn bad people good. I became obsessed with needing to feel loved, and instead ended up in relationships where I felt used, taken advantage of or played. Like how that guy took advantage of me that night. And I knew these people were bad for me; but I kept holding on and refusing to let go because deep down I thought I didn’t deserve to be happy. Subconsciously I did that to myself because that’s all I felt I deserved.
    My brain finally felt like I was ready to deal with these emotions and the memory and that’s why my anxiety and depression became uncontrollable. It wanted me to know that there was a reason for the way that I am and that I can overcome it. The scary part about having anxiety and depression is thinking that it will be a never-ending thing because there is no root cause for it. Now I have a root cause I can work to manage it better and stop blaming myself. I’m guessing that because I become an adult soon that it wanted me to finally deal with unresolved issues and emotions from my childhood that I didn’t even realise I had so I can move on and live my adult life to the fullest.
    I feel better for finally knowing and having something to blame other than the unknown. I feel better knowing there is a reason, and that it won’t last forever. I’m mad at myself for hiding it from me for all these years yet still allowing me to suffer because of it, but I understand why it did what it did. I was only a baby. I wouldn’t have been able to cope with a memory that traumatic. I wouldn’t have been able to focus in school and get the grades I needed to secure a decent future career for myself, I wouldn’t have been able to live the life that I have lived.
    And it sounds completely ridiculous, but I also don’t regret what happened back then happening. Without it I wouldn’t be as cautious as I am, I wouldn’t be the caring selfless person all my friends and family adore, and I wouldn’t be 100% me.
    I am a great, beautiful, loving person who deserves the best in life. I try the hardest for the people I love, I’m honest about how I feel to both myself and other people, I’m loyal, passionate, determined and courageous.
    If I could speak to my 13-year-old self I would tell her we are not to blame, what happened to us was not our fault and that we do deserve to be uncontrollably happy.
    My past has not been defined by what happened; I still have many happy memories to hold onto instead, my present will not be controlled by the emotions any longer; I have more happy memories to make. And my future will be me overcoming it all.
    I will be standing on top of the biggest circle known to man, the world, with my own perfect circle of the people who love me unconditionally.

  • DF

    DF

    December 10th, 2018 at 4:18 AM

    Sending you millions of blessings and happiness. You are a very strong woman. You deserve the best.

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