(Trigger warnings throughout this post and I apologize for the length — sometimes writing for ‘me’ gets wordy–and I appreciate any readers who will actually plow through this one).
Juanita Broaddrick has shared about being a rape survivor and when I first owned my own story, I stumbled upon hers and was engrossed in it. (‘allegedly’ Bill Clinton* raped her in 1978– he denied it but I believe her, not him). Anyway, she wrote that it (the rape) ‘never goes away’. It clicked with me, being both at once depressing and also legitimizing for what I was going through myself. 1978 is a LONG time ago. But in reading hers, and other stories, I began to see that owning your story is so very difficult because once you do — it will never go away again (delusion/denial/dissociation allows it to ‘sort-of’ be gone).
*yet another reason why I am not political anymore — in the last presidential election both sides had way too many ties to rape and/or sexual assault claims.
Traveling triggers my PTSD. Traveling also relieves my triggers and has been one of my favorite ways to deal with things like family drama during holidays, certain seasonal events with bad memories attached to them (for which I prefer being out of town), and my health (which benefits from milder climates). Many of the blogs I follow have shared similar thoughts about travel; so perhaps traveling is a common tool amongst trauma survivors and/or the chronically ill.
First off — as many other blogs have already shared — I am aware that not everyone is on a chronic illness spectrum that allows it, and/or has the kind of extra finances on a regular basis — to include frequent travel in their own box of coping tools. I am trying to be sensitive to that, while also being real and honest in sharing my own story.
There is no doubt that our healthcare system and what we actually know about health in general is in real crisis. More and more it is only the wealthy and/or the very smart/highly educated who are able to navigate through their health issues with any real success. I believe sharing our N=1 stories, with the paradox/gift that is the internet, is one tool God is giving us to fight back against some of this oppression. And that motivates me. Another motivator is more selfish. I find great help for ME by writing out my thoughts until they make better sense. And so here goes:
Travel is great; and travel is terrible. There’s nothing like a reset in a different location far from home to clear my mind and my body. But, there’s nothing quite as horrible as being triggered far from home. You’d much rather be in your safe chair in the living room with the shades closed. Your own bed. Your favorite blanket…equally awful is booking a room that looked great online and turned out to be so run down the stained shower stall triggered events that happened in the squalor filled, imposed poverty, bathrooms of my youth.
ALSO not pleasant.
I hate that I am so ‘high maintenance’. That is NOT me at all. I am a big fan of simple and I believe less is often more. I’d rather simply spend more time with my husband than have him valiantly work long hours to pay for frequent escapes and vacations that meet all of my (many) ‘needs’. But I hate, even more, being reminded of my trapped childhood inside a house without locking doors and window coverings (there was frequent voyeurism) and an environment so utterly devoid of care that it was squalor from the time I could remember to the time I finally said NO to enduring holiday dinners in a filthy kitchen that smelled of cat urine combined with rotting tuna and cabbage. And so we usually travel like we eat: as basic as possible but very well, and constantly considering all my ‘avoids’. And I thank God for blessing us enough to keep doing it.
To have a triggering episode (physical or mental) while away from home can be THE WORST thing ever. And so I end up having less actual vacation time than I feel my body and brain could benefit from because I inevitably blow the entire budget on non-triggering accommodations and foods, alone. My main travel rule is nothing less than ‘3 star’. And my husband can tell you where the cleanest gas station and restroom stops are in cities which are hours away from ours. I’m thankful he remembers these things as I don’t always remember it — even though bad restroom stops are huge triggers for me.
Complex PTSD, for me anyway, is this strange combo of amnesia and photographic memory.
Our last winter vacation included a lot of open air, high balconies. These were very triggering for reasons I couldn’t immediately identify. I worked through it. I eventually saw some root issues I hadn’t seen before–like a lot of trust issues with myself, with strangers and also with people I know (I kept having obsessive thoughts that someone was going to hurtle me off a rooftop–or that I would hurl myself off accidentally or something too). I am still working on my fear of heights and have accepted that me jumping out of an airplane to try and overcome it just isn’t happening. EVER. I do have better insight into what is causing it all, though. But my body, which had been doing fairly well prior, physically tanked on that trip and then really tanked after returning home.
The trip I took this summer, after radically changing my diet, was noticeably different. It involved a lot of driving, stretches of poverty-stricken areas, and a lot of switching of hotel rooms. At one roadside restroom stop (after dark) the only bathroom was located away from the service station in a dimly lit corner of a parking lot. I hesitated but I really had to pee!
When I entered the dirty bathroom a woman, my age but aged far more than me, was just leaving and she was sobbing openly. “Why would someone do this to me? I really need my medicine!?” Someone had just stolen something or other from her handbag. I offered to help her, I asked her what kind of medicine it was (thinking I could maybe give her some of my own stash of Advil and minerals, etc. and then quickly realized it was not a simple over the counter ‘medicine’ she’d had stolen…) but just as my eyes were opening wide and making that connection, she blurted, “oh don’t even worry about it” and with two hurried steps, into some bushes beside the unlit restrooms, she was in utter darkness and I had no idea where she even went. I used the restroom anyway, in anger, squatting over the disgusting toilet and clutching my own purse in my lap and thinking to myself that if some drugged up cad was going to try and accost me, he was in for one hell-of-a-fight before he was gonna take my purse or my dignity.
The old me had returned. The scrappy, brave, don’t push me, tough girl who grew up with scraped knees and a mean left hook. Those haven’t been my thoughts in well over a decade now. I wouldn’t have even considered that bathroom a year ago, and would have insisted my husband accompany me if I had no other choice. Because I’ve been crippled on a very physical and physiological level — by fear and body pain — nearly to the point of defeat.
In the area we recently traveled, most three star properties, which I knew were my limit, were the equivalents of two star and less in other locations. Everywhere I went, memories were surfacing. Weird ‘feels’ were constant. Hairs standing up on the back of my neck every hour or so. I was definitely flaring PTSD-wise. But, strangely, my neck was NOT tight, my muscles were not in knots and I slept fairly well considering. Plus, summer itself is triggering for me as the worst of the abuse episodes happened from extended family members who would take me on trips (to isolate me) or to their homes for extended stays, usually in the summer when I wasn’t in school. So it is hard to say what exactly the triggers are sometimes — because the way the wind blows through the leaves in the summer can be enough to trigger me.
Yet this last summertime vacation was so triggering based on the locations we traveled through. The change in landscape from where I live, and being brought back to childhood by the sight of a certain kind of plant, a lack of trees, restroom breaks with toilets that didn’t flush (or sobbing women who’d just been mugged), and/or a distinct color of rocks and soil, was jolting.
Yet, I did notice that I wasn’t as jolted as I had been for so long now, either. And I slugged heavy bags, and coolers of food and water, in and out of vehicles and hotel rooms for days, without any upper back pain. I didn’t have dizzy spells or nausea. I slept ok and when I didn’t get enough sleep I could still function the next day. My neck wasn’t killing me the entire time. I only took two Advil, total, in over three thousand miles of travel. The hardest part of the trip was finding decent food as much of what we could find in gas stations and roadside restaurants was on my avoid list. So I just ate a lot of steaks. Crappy ones at that.
And I know that I know, now, that a lot of the physical manifestations of PTSD came from physical toxicity and that can be healed through diet changes. I KNOW this based upon my traveling experiences alone and the differences between last winter’s vacation and this summer’s road trip. Wherein on one I was eating my old diet and the other — a diet which eliminated known toxins.
But, if my experience is indicative of a larger pattern: I don’t think my PTSD went away. It just isn’t as hard as prior. Which is a gain, but it is still hard.
I do not think the actual PTSD triggers will ever go away– no matter how carefully I watch my diet. Evil is still evil and it is everywhere and in some spots of the world it is definitely more concentrated than others. I am coming to believe that my PTSD is the devil’s toll for living in a world over which he rules. Certain parts where his dark influence is greater than others are those very parts wherein I will be more triggered.
I am accepting that. As a Christian my hope for eternity is in Jesus. In this world, my hope is also in Jesus, who brings light to the dark. Pretty sure that He is telling me my daily bread is going to have to be carefully managed and that that’s going to lift off the heavy yoke that I feel has been over my back and my shoulders for life — since suddenly I can sling a heavy suitcase and not have any neck tension whatsoever. And since I was prepared to fight myself with a potential restroom stalker rather than run and hide under my husband’s cover.
But I’m still gonna insist on staying in three star and above hotels, and I don’t think I’m ever going to drive through certain parts of America ever again, either.