It’s been years since she broke free from being either goddess of the universe or scum of the earth – usually the latter more than the former. On one hand, she was bestowed extravagant devotion to the point of embarrassment. Conversely, without warning, a cloak of silence was bound about her. Deliberate, mind-numbing silence in which she was disregarded for days and sometimes weeks at a time.
She finally left but the ravages of her maltreatment did not, she was to learn.
Our stories are not all the same, but the path of our stories have brought us here — under the umbrella of CPTSD. I met Cara a few years after her divorce at a company workshop. Just a couple of years apart in age (and sharing the same birthday month), we became inevitable sister-friends. The first hint of trouble was when her infrequent flashbacks became progressively more interruptive of both sleep and daytime activity. I was the one who suggested that she research the topic of flashbacks.
Like many of you, no doubt, Cara was familiar with the anxiety condition labeled Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But she was no military soldier returning from the ravages of war! Why was her research taking her to this topic? As she kept digging she had a breakthrough (or more specifically jaw-drop) when research took her to a distinction of PTSD labeled Complex PTSD — with the differentiation of prolonged, repeated experience of interpersonal trauma in which the person has little or no chance of perceived escape.
Further research took Cara to recognized specialists in the study of “narcissistic abuse” (another new term in her vocabulary), Who knew there was a whole branch of Psychology specializing in this topic? Cara was shaken to realize that she matched most of the debilitating symptoms of CPTSD including flashbacks, hyperarousal, and difficulty sleeping (with harrowing nightmares). Again, she had a basic knowledge of flashbacks but it was a totally foreign concept to her… until these invasive and vividly physical recollections attacking her waking hours increased! She’d be working on an innocuous past-time and a rogue thought would trigger a vividly painful recollection from years previously, and she’d be inexplicable “physically” in the moment of that traumatic life episode.
Thankfully, Cara’s research also brought her to a community of professional resources including subject matter experts, therapists, and the CPTSD Foundation – and with that, answers, support, and relief. The flashbacks and nightmares are now gone and in my next article, I’ll share the steps Cara took to alleviate them. In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, noted author Bessel van der Kolk asserts that “Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs…”
Acknowledging the warning signs is a major first hurdle. Cara tends to be quite pragmatic, resisting the idea that she was in any way a victim. (Even in her marriage she never regarded herself that way.) No “victim mentality” for her…no, indeed!
Hmm. Yes, indeed! She was a victim who was emotionally (and sometimes physically) mistreated on a treacherous level. By any other word, that’s a victim. Embracing that stance of “victim” was a major breakthrough for my friend because it made her receptive to solutions towards healing.
Cara has come to a measurable distance over the past 3-4 years, and I hope to support you with her story. She’s evolved from bruised tunnel vision to hope-filled proportions. She’s not quite there, but her enthusiasm for life is renewed, her life perspective is improved and she’s more comfortable with herself these days. As her comrade, I’ve benefited from the growth of Cara.
Cara is a natural born “fixer.” You know, folks who enjoy – almost compulsively – finding solutions to problems. More specifically, other people’s problems. (In retrospect Cara discovered that narcissistic abusers actually target “givers” like her.) Back in 2018, she started a new job as a Contract Administrator, and she was thrilled to get this position. It’s remote, pays extremely well, and she could set her own hours. It truly is a dream job (she’s still there).
During the online orientation session of new employees from around the United States, Cara was delighted to learn that a fellow new employee Ann (not her real name) lived just a couple miles from her. Later Cara and Ann emailed each other, excited about meeting each other, and Cara arranged lunch at her house.
“Tell me about yourself,” Anna said as they excitedly marveled about the odds of living so close to each other through this globally affiliated company! “Are you married?”
Cara later recalled that she absent-mindedly dove in on her narcissistic spouse, how badly she was treated, and that she’d left and didn’t look back! She said her reaction was immediately apologetic. “I’m so sorry,” she said, quite dismayed with herself. “I’ve just met you and I’m creating a terrible impression! I’m not usually this candid with a new friend.”
Ann paused introspectively and said, “I realize now why you and I were brought together. My husband is a narcissist and we’re not getting along. I’m very unhappy, and nobody understands. It sounds like you understand.” Thus began a luncheon that, as Cara told me, she’d not forget — conversing with a woman who was living the torment that she had left and was steeped in pain and confusion.
Cara says that Ann was brought into her life because her natural reaction would be to “look for solutions for Ann. “What I didn’t realize at the time,” she said, “is that in doing so, I’d discover my own path towards healing…discover solutions for me!”
Providence? I’m convinced of it beyond any shadow of a doubt. Ann wasn’t inclined to “look for solutions” for herself regarding the after-effect of her marriage. That’s not my friend. She’d simply left and resumed her life. However, as stated before, the body never forgets. Cara’s flashbacks, autoimmune issues and fibromyalgia attest to that fact. Whereas she was physically freed, nonetheless the toll of mental and emotional mistreatment percolated within her.
The next several months were a tumble down Alice’s rabbit hole indeed!
Next article: “Flashbacks Be Gone!”
Charlene is a Personal Brand Specialist for a recognized Career Management company, enabling job seekers to position themselves as an authority in their industry, elevating their credibility and differentiating themselves from the competition. Her background is Corporate Training before transitioning into Career Management. She is also a workshop presenter and speaker.