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Twisty Turny Part Two: PTSD Does Not End When the Threat is Gone

I have shared openly about the trauma that I experienced after my husband and son were injured in an accident in our home. A fall down the stairs left Jeff with a shoulder injury, Benjamin in the NICU with a traumatic brain injury and me holding the pieces. The bomb of trauma exploded, leaving a broken family in its wake. At the time, both Jeff and Ben were seriously injured and I stepped into the role of caretaker, working to keep everyone and everything moving. It was only once things settled down that I realized I wasn’t okay.

photo by Ashlee Burke photography

It’s been nearly three years since that day, and so much has changed. Yet, while so much has changed and so much progress has been made, I’ve found myself continuing to deal with PTSD. I’m better- for sure, but there are times that I realize that PTSD doesn’t end just because the immediate threat is gone.

I think that’s the biggest misconception even by our closest loved ones. They see that Ben is “okay”, and think that I should be too. But my body remembers- somewhere deep down inside, my brain remembers. It just takes a threat, or a triggered memory to start a reaction. Trauma does that- it lives inside of you.

The other day, I was driving down the road and an ambulance and fire truck, sirens blaring, pulled out in front of me. It had nothing to do with me other than causing me to pull over for a moment, but I was immediately transported back to that day, memories of those sirens and lights at my own home.

And then, it was gone.

That’s the difference- my difference. While PTSD is still very much present in my life, my ability to deal with it has changed. I’m able to separate then and now, and view the trauma through a lens of reality, rather than distorted by fear and emotion.

The same goes for my sweet Ben. For so long, I lived in fear- waiting for another accident, one that, would this time, take him from me. Guess what? It hasn’t happened. He is living and thriving, a sweet miracle for me to witness every day.

There are still times that I’m shrouded by the shadow of PTSD, but I’m learning to live. I’m learning to let Ben live. Together, we are working to navigate a “new normal” that includes a hyperactive mama just trying to find her peace and a sweet boy that finds adventure in every moment.

Baby steps.

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The Twisty, Turny Cycle of Trauma

Jeff gave me a book to read this week. Once More We Saw Stars, by Jayson Greene. It’s getting wonderful reviews and is a beautiful, achingly powerful book.

Greene shares the journey of losing his two-year-old daughter, Greta, in a horrible incident. She is with her grandmother and a piece falls off a building, striking her in the head. The book goes through their experience with grief and finding happiness in life again. I’ll leave it there in the event you want to read it.

I’ll also leave it there because I’m going to confess, I couldn’t finish it. I made it through the first two sections of the book before I was stricken with such a horrible, visceral reaction that I couldn’t keep reading. I laid in bed last night with Jeff, crying, practically sobbing. My heart was broken- for this family, but also in thinking of my own.

When Ben had his accident, he was only two weeks old. What has haunted me ever since was the idea that he almost died, in my own home, the one place I could keep him safe. What if… When if… When.

I’ve lived, waiting for the other shoe to drop for nearly two and a half years.

When you experience trauma, there is a cycle of grief. Like anything else, I think, you travel through these stages. We all know them– denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I’ve often wryly told people that I’ve been through these stages with Benjamin, and sometimes all in the same day. I’ve also added a sixth stage to my own grieving process, and that is fear.

I live with a fear that it will happen again. That this time, Ben will be taken from us. That when he gets old enough that he begins to venture out on his own I will receive a call that he is gone.

Trauma is never far.

What I’m trying to learn now is how to process that trauma so while it’s always a part of our story it isn’t who we are. That the accident is merely a moment in time, but the journey is the mark we make upon the world because of it. It isn’t easy to not allow yourself to become defined by a life course-altering second.

That’s one thing that has amazed me about Jeff from the very beginning. Once we were out of the woods and knew that Ben was going to survive, he has been nothing but optimistic. To him, Ben is limitless and he has this ability to live without the gut-crushing fear. For Jeff, Greene’s is a book that allows him to be grateful, for me, I succumb to the fear that is never far.

I straddle a tightrope between the trauma of an accident- the indelible print on my heart and mind that it leaves- and the promise that Ben has shown. The meaning he gives and the joy he brings. As I continue my own journey through grief, I look to my husband and young son for guidance on how to power through.

In the words of Jayson Greene, “this is going to feel like it’s going to kill me, but all I have to do is step into it and it won’t”.

And it hasn’t.