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Sunday, August 4, 2013

PTSD—Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Divorce: Part I

I call it Post Traumatic Stress Divorce.

It’s been almost three years since I fled to the west to escape my marriage and abusive, addicted, cheating husband. I call August 14th my Day of Freedom, the first full day after I left for good. I celebrated the first anniversary in 2011 with a party at my house with my close friends who knew my plight.

I know I must be healing a little bit because I used to fall asleep every night thinking of being abused and when I would wake up, the first thing I thought about was his abuse. It was as if I fell asleep watching a horror movie, then woke up and the movie was still on.

Those days only number about once a week now.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, used to be called Shell Shock when I was growing up during the Vietnam war. It was thought only people in the military, in battles where their lives were threatened to a great extreme, suffered from it. Now we know anybody who’s life has been threatened can be stressed like this.

When trust is compromised and your sense of safety is in distress, as in an abusive marriage, it’s only normal to think you’re crazy because your mind is going loopy (literally). During PTSD, caused by a crazy spouse, some people react like a deer in the headlights—paralyzed from fear, unable to stop their thoughts of the last time they were abused.

Sometimes it only takes a trigger, like a sentence on television, or even a conversation about marriage, to bring on my PTSD cycles. (Yes, I have been diagnosed with PTSD.) I can be sitting in church and get on a loop. It happened to me at a Weight Watchers® meeting last week. The instructor called on me saying I looked like I had a question. I didn’t even know what she was talking about. I said, “No, I’m just listening.”

I find I can shake myself out of it a lot easier now, but I know I have a long way to go.

While it’s normal to have nightmares and triggers from a traumatic event, the symptoms should only last a few days or weeks. PTSD sufferers may take years to recover, if they ever do. is a good website that lists the symptoms and causes of PTSD. While verbal abuse and divorce aren’t listed as causes yet (physical abuse is), there is a disclaimer that states it can be caused by “. . . any shattering event that leaves you stuck and feeling helpless and hopeless.” Divorce lawyers and counselors are working to get "high conflict divorce" added to the list of PTSD causes. I think there should be a new classification cause on that list called “Traumatic Marriage.”*

According to the website, there are three main types of symptoms of PTSD:
1.     Re-experiencing the traumatic event
2.     Avoiding reminders of the trauma, and
3.     Increased anxiety and emotional arousal.

Symptoms of the first type:
1.     Upsetting memories of the event
2.     Flashbacks
3.     Nightmares
4.     Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
5.     Intense physical reactions to reminders of the traumatic event, like pounding heart, rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, sweating

Symptoms of the second:
1.     Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, feelings that remind you of the event
2.     Forgetting aspects of the trauma
3.     Loss of interest in life (depression, in my book)
4.     Feeling detached and emotionally numb
5.     Sense of a limited future or no normal life again

Symptoms of the third:
1.     Difficulty falling or staying asleep
2.     Irritability; outbursts of anger
3.     Difficulty concentrating
4.     Being on “red alert”

I'm imbued with all the symptoms of the first type, number one of the second type, and number one of the third type. Hoping to get past it all someday.

Does this all sound familiar? You might be suffering from PTSD. How do you cope? I'd like to know.

This is Part I of however many parts it will take to do this subject justice. Just like depression, PTSD is a part of a betrayed, abused spouse’s life.

Edit: psychologists now call PTSD from abuse and adultery in a marriage/divorce "Betrayal Trauma."

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