Maybe It’s Not About Flashbacks Anymore

I’ve been in therapy of some sort for 16 years. I’ve done group therapy and individual therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy, and whatever those other kinds of therapy are called. I’ve taken every antidepressant, every anti-anxiety medication, and a couple atypical antipsychotics. I even experimented with electroconvlusive therapy (it didn’t work). I’ve been diagnosed with depression, OCD, bipolar, and finally, after I figured out that I was sexually abused as a child, post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve gone to support groups for adult survivors of child abuse. I’ve helped run support groups for survivors. What I’m saying is, I am a pro at the therapy circuit. I’ve done it all.

I have a lot to show for my hard work, too. In 2000 I was all but bedridden. Now I rise out of bed every day, have a solid network of friends, and get cabin fever if I stay inside the house for more than a couple days in a row. I don’t get nightmares about being abused anymore. The days of suicidal ideation are long gone.

Even with all this progress, however, I still feel a bit broken. I get caught in rigid loops of compulsive behavior. Twitter can suck me in and destroy an entire day. I turn on the computer to play a game for an hour, and then can’t pull myself away. I try to work but then fall into a loop of unproductive email and social media checks.

At first, I approached this problem as another aspect of abuse recovery. I assumed these compulsive behaviors were a way to distract myself from flashbacks. If I could work through the last remaining bits of trauma, maybe my compulsions would fade.

This strategy was a complete failure. I did feel anxiety when I tried to pull away from my compulsions, but it had no trauma root. There was nothing deeper going on, and searching for a trauma root made the problem worse. My 16 years of expertise were completely powerless against this foe. I was skilled with a hammer, but this wasn’t a nail.

So what’s going on here? I don’t know for sure yet, but I think it’s just some kind of general mental rigidity. Abuse changes the way the brain develops and functions, and maybe this is just a symptom of that long-term damage. It’s like I’ve emotionally recovered from a car crash, but my bones are still broken. Even if I’m in a good mood, it doesn’t mean I can walk.

The answer might simply be medication. Some antidepressants can help with compulsions and mental rigidity. The last time I tried them (literally all of them) was back in the early 2000’s, when I was bedridden and the abuse was still repressed. Antidepressants didn’t have any noticeable effect back then, but now they might. In the meantime, I’ve stopped looking for a trauma root to this problem, and it’s helped. The stakes feel less high and sometimes I can nudge myself enough to change gears.

I’m proud of the 16 years of hard work I put into recovery. I think this marks the end of that era. Now I have new challenges to face.