“PTSD is a psychological reaction occurring after experiencing a highly stressing event (such as wartime combat, physical violence (abuse), or a natural disaster) that is usually characterized by depression, anxiety, flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, and avoidance of reminders of the event.” *
During and after my childhood sexual abuse, I found myself dealing with systems of PTSD; I was depressed and overwhelming anxious. I would often experience a trigger during consensual sex that would cause flashbacks, taking me back to my childhood abuse. I spent years after my abuse trying to withdraw from family gatherings to avoid my perpetrator. As a child, I had horrible nightmares. I wasn’t aware that I suffered from PTSD until many years after I was grown.
My heart would race, and I would feel overwhelmed...
if I smelt that familiar, disgusting smell of my perpetrator,
when any man would try to touch or hug me,
when I didn’t feel in control of my situations,
when my husband would get angry,
when my husband would imply I was stupid,
when I didn’t want to tell someone the truth because they might think less of me,
when my husband would threaten to leave me if I gained weight,
when I had to go home for any holiday, not knowing if my cousin would be there,
if I had to go to the old barn where my abuse happened frequently,
and if I had to perform certain sexual acts.
Once I understood why I felt the way I did, it made it easier to deal with my overwhelming anxiety. I learned to breathe through my triggers and talk myself though these reoccurring emotions.
My favorite exercise is the Belly Breathing Exercise below, I talk about in my book Finding Your Voice and my Hope and Healing Workshops.
Belly Breathing Exercise
This is a great exercise to help you relax and self-sooth. The first step to learning how to belly breathe is to put your hands on your stomach near your navel. Take a couple of deep breaths. Do your hands move outward or inward when you inhale? The goal is for your hands to move outward and expand as you inhale, then let your hands move inward as you exhale. This is how babies breathe at birth. The goal is to focus on your breath instead of your anxiety while relaxing.
Breathing Exercise Steps:
1. Inhale deeply and let your stomach expand outward as you fill your diaphragm and lungs with air for a count of four.
2. Exhale deeply and let your stomach collapse and fall inward as you expel all of the air out of your chest, stomach, and diaphragm for a count of four.
3. As you do the exercise, I want you to only focus on your breath while you count. Inhale and exhale each for a count of four, five consecutive times until you feel calm and relaxed. Repeat as necessary.
As you do this exercise, you can expand your inhalations and exhalations longer if you like. The goal is to expel and release your fear and anxiety as you breathe and count.
When you feel fearful and anxious, ask yourself the following questions:
· Am I in danger now?
· Is this situation as bad as it seems?
· Do I have a valid reason to be fearful in this situation?
· Is this an old emotion appearing in my current life?
· What can I do?
· Am I okay?
I tell myself daily, “I am safe, and I will be okay.”
Remember you are in control of your body and your life today. You have the power to self-sooth and focus on your current reality while letting go of your past fears and trauma. You are not a victim; you are a survivor.