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Thursday, August 8, 2013

PTSD--Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Divorce: Part III

Edit 2017: PTSD that occurs in abusive marriages/childhoods is now called "Betrayal Trauma." When you put your trust in someone--spouse, parent, friend, teacher--and they are abusive and betray your trust. Childhood physical, emotional, or sexual abuse perpetrated by a caregiver are examples of betrayal trauma, according to Jennifer Freyd's Betrayala Trauma Therory.

While journaling my divorce memoir, sometimes I actually broke out in hives. My keyboard tapped and sang; my mind was "in the zone,” until my arms started itching.

My concentration interrupted, I’d apply lotion to my arms. “Did a mosquito get in here?” I wondered.

Back to typing, it wasn’t long before my neck would itch, then my chest. I looked at my chin in the mirror and saw the hives. There was a rash on my upper torso.

Then it hit me.

“What am I writing about?” The passage didn’t seem too terribly disturbing, but I realized I had been at it all day, regurgitating the abusive treatment in my marriage. My body saw it as a traumatic event being relived. My psyche had all it could stand for one day. I took an anti-histamine.

I found out this is called a Psychosomatic event, or more modernly referred to as Somatoform Disorder. Hives come out when we’re overly stressed; some people break out in a sweat; others suffer from tension headaches or migraines. Chronic pain falls under this category of illness.

This disorder is common for people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—PTSD. As I said before, PTSD used to be referred to as Shell Shock back in the day—Battle Fatigue, suffered by those in the military when exposed to prolonged killing, maiming, running for your life, distress of having one’s safety violated. The scars from such an ordeal as war are devastating. I don’t mean to equate my abusive marriage to what someone in a war zone has suffered for an extended period of time.

Yet, everyone’s body is different. What one person can take may be the end all for another.

So it is with a traumatic marriage, one where abuse has occurred for years or decades. The fear of constant bombardment of name calling, fist thumping, temper tantrums and holes in walls can send a woman into a kind of shell shock.

Everyone relates to verbal abuse differently. Fear can cause three reactions. In addition to fight and flight, there is also fright. That was my reaction to my (ex) husband’s verbal abuse. I would sit, eyes wide, body paralyzed, wondering if he was going to hit me, harm me, kill me. He never did, but the verbal abuse happened so often (sometimes several times per week), my mind had flashbacks many times per day, and especially during the abuse.

Over thirty years, I felt as if I’d been in the middle of a war zone. My body had had it, physically. My mind couldn’t take it anymore either. Thus, the PTSD and auto-immune diseases.

Now that I am away from that situation—and happily divorced—I find I can help myself during times of flashbacks, hives and whatever else comes down the pike. I recognize what’s happening and that is the beginning of healing—and dealing.

Following are some ways you can deal with the stress of a traumatic marriage and the decision to seek a divorce:
·        Ask for support from friends or family. They may not understand what you’re going through if they haven’t experienced it, but they should love you through it anyway.
·        Keep a journal. It’s very cathartic.
·        Find a support group for those who are victims of domestic abuse, if that’s your problem. It’s good to know you’re not alone in your plight.
·        Eat well, get enough sleep, exercise
·        Do something fun. Visit friends and family. Get your hair done—or your nails—or both. Do something that will help you feel better. Give yourself permission to laugh, socialize. Get out of the house and do things. Try a new activity.
·        Relaxation techniques. Try yoga or take a walk in the park. Look at the stars at night. B.r.e.a.t.h.e.
·        Talk therapy. Find a counselor who can help you through your hard times or talk to a friend who understands.
·        Please stay away from drugs and alcohol. It might be tempting to escape your troubles. I often said, I’m glad I don’t drink because I would be an alcoholic, if so.
·        Avoid major life decisions. I’m not taking my own advice here. It’s usually said to wait a year before making changes, like moving or switching jobs. These are classified as types of grief, so it will add to the stress, grief, of a divorce. In my case, I felt I had to get far away. I left my home, my extended family, my friends, my community, my reputation—my identity—all behind me. I fled to the west where I had friends and two of my kids who could help me through what was to come.  It was a leap of faith. It was right for me.
·        Prayer works. Whatever your religion or level of spirituality, giving up your worries to a higher power, a Heavenly Father, can ease the load you carry. I know my Heavenly Father loves me. I depend on Him still. I know He knows who I am. He knows my name. I feel His love for me.

It’s OK to mourn your loss. Divorce is a type of grief. You’ve just lost your marriage. It died. Give yourself time to heal and be patient with yourself. Heaven knows, you’ve been through the ringer.


Amy Freeman said...

This is so true. My coping device was shutting all my emotion down. The problem with this is that I didn't feel anything in any other areas of life either. I would watch a sad movie with friends who would all tear up like normal people and I would sit there like a stone. They would all just marvel at this. It took years to undo this. But I did it. You CAN reverse the damage. We are stronger than we think we are.

Susan said...

Amy, I'm so sorry you had to go through this. I'm glad you can give us all hope that there is strength to be gained and the damage can be reversed. I look forward to the day I don't space out during conversations because somebody said something to trigger a flashback. Thanks for your comment!

Shel Harrington said...

A lot of interesting info here, Susan. Amy pointed out your blog to me because I am a divorce attorney and she thought some of my clients might find it helpful. I agree. I blog as "The Divorce Attorney Who Doesn't Like Divorce" and my mission is to encourage spouses to keep things fresh and be vigilant about complacency in their relationships. However, I know that there is absolutely a need for the institution of divorce - unfortunately you are a shining example. And I mean shining literally - your words and offering of collected resources will let many others know they are not alone and where help can be found. Thank you.

Susan said...

Thank you for your kind words and your endorsement of this blog. I hope others will realize they are not the only ones going through this.
I never wanted to get a divorce. But since I had to, I want to help others get through it, especially help with the extreme conditions mentioned in this blog.
Thank you for wanting to help others. I will definitely check out your blog and encourage others to view it.
Thanks for your comment!