*Trigger warnings – I have been very honest and open about my body memories, so please take care*
Body memories are hell, absolute hell. They have to be one of the scariest symptoms of PTSD- for me at least.
To physically feel something that took place years before, in itself is frightening. To feel as if your trauma is happening or has just happened all over again is terrifying.
It is hard to explain body memories to someone who has never had them and even then my experience of them is likely to be different to that of another survivor. I often describe body memories as sort of echos, but if I am honest, that only covers some of the body memories I have experienced.
Some body memories feel like just that to me, an echo of a pain that once was. However, as I have progressed in therapy, the body memories have intensified to the point where sometimes I struggle to tell whether it is a body memory or a new pain. For example when I experience abdominal pains, I wonder if it is hormonal or a body memory, yet so often when the memories subside a little, so does the pain.
I belong to an internet forum called “Pandora’s Project” and it was there that I first learned that I was not alone-in my experiences.
I read how others experienced body memories and nodded with relief as I read explanations that used the words “body vibrations” and “echos”. They really seemed to fit with what I was going through.
About 18 months ago, as I was going through a period of disclosing details of my abuse to my T, the body memories intensified. It was then that I turned back to “Pandy’s” for some reassurance. I had begun to experience new levels of body memories that were so utterly disturbing I feared I was going crazy.
*Extra Trigger warning here.*
The pains were so real. My thighs would feel bruised, my hips and lower abdomen ached, my throat would be raw and my jaw tight. My back was painful, and my knee would often give way as I walked. I would suffer recurring Cystitis, worrying mid cycle bleeding and distressing rectal bleeding. These were all so much worse around anniversaries or in the lead up to (and just after) disclosure to my T. It was (and sometimes still is) horrific.
On “Pandys'” and elsewhere on the internet, I sought answers in the stories of others. While they were difficult to read, they brought me hope and comfort. I was not crazy as I feared, nor dying of cancer (as confirmed by numerous hospital appointments) instead I was deeply wounded by my past.
I was unable to share any of this with my T, or anyone for that matter, for over a year. I talked of body memories but not the depth to which I suffered. I finally feel more able to share (as this posts shows!) and my T has certainly been aware for some months of the types of body memories that accompany the cycle of disclosure. However, while it was a relief to tell my T, it did not make the body memories go. More recently though, things seem to have changed.
The cycle I normally go through when I am bothered by a particular memory or a set of memories, starts off as intrusive thoughts and then turns into nightmares and flashbacks. These gradually intensify and then the body memories begin, which then get considerably worse until I finally allow the memory out. Those body memories become almost unbearable in the days following a disclosure in therapy, and then they gradually fade away.
More recently that cycle has changed. Despite more disclosures over the last two weeks, I have not experienced the body memories following therapy. I do not dare say that it has changed for good, things are forever changing- but for now at least, I am not suffering in the same way following therapy (see “Spent”). Perhaps that is a risky thing to “say” given that I have therapy tomorrow and it is likely there will be more disclosures?!
I think the reason it has changed is because finally, I am able to connect with my memories as I talk about them. In fact I am connected with them constantly now. I have known for a while now that my memories are real, but knowing and feeling are different.
I am now in the process of accepting the reality of my past. I believe my memories are true and real. And now I have nowhere to hide from them (which is scary), when I am talking to my T about the things that were done to me, I am not only telling, I am beginning to feel it too. The last 2 weeks I have told more details of my past and I have felt instant relief. I have come home absolutely exhausted, but not carrying the trauma of my disclosure.
My T has often explained that the body memories appear to be from where I did not feel in the past, where I was subjected to emotional and physical agony, but remained numb and switched off. He has told me that the pain has to escape somewhere.
There have been so many sessions I have told my T what my abuser did to me and I felt traumatised and upset at the memory, but not actually felt how I did (or at least should have felt ) as it was done to me. Instead I would come home to suffer terribly with body memories.
I feel as if I am finally in touch with my feelings as a teen, I remember how it felt, or should have felt. I see what he did to me- not to someone else- but to me. It is not like watching someone else’s life in my memories anymore, it is mine, I am connected to it. My experiences, my memories and my pain. So as I tell my T the horrible things he did, I am beginning to feel it too.
It is all very scary and very painful. I do not want to talk and feel, I dread my T sessions right now- but wow- is it not worth it when this really could lead to the end of body memories?!
I so hope it is true, I hope this is real. I hope one day soon I will longer have to experience the horror of body memories.