Hi! My name is Sara Aird, and I am a C-PTSD survivor. First, a little bit about me, I live in Utah with my husband and three kids. I recently returned to school to get a writing certificate with the goal to share my recovery story with other survivors and build communities of support and hope around healing from C-PTSD. Puzzles are very therapeutic for me – a visual reminder of my recovery work and putting the pieces together. I love cookies, reading, nature, and Dr. Pepper.
I have been recovering from C-PTSD for almost fifteen years, but I didn’t realize I had experienced complex trauma or understand its long standing effects on me until eight years ago. Most of my life, I felt broken and out of place, like I didn’t know how to operate in this world or with other people. I suffered from severe anxiety and depression growing up, along with self harming and suicidal thoughts. Most of my memories of childhood were foggy or missing altogether. I was dissociated from my body and my feelings, which caused me to feel numb and shutdown. For a long time, I knew something wasn’t “right”, but I couldn’t tell you what it was, so I assumed it was me. I believed there was something wrong with me.
To cope, I developed survival skills: isolation, perfectionism, dissociation, shame, obsession, compulsion, people pleasing, and others. I struggled making connections in relationships and making decisions about school and work. After I got married, I started experiencing emotional and somatic/bodily flashbacks and nightmares. My other symptoms and survival skills became more intense. As these symptoms escalated, my relationships continued to deteriorate and my ability to manage my life began to unravel.
Initially, I entered therapy because I wanted to improve my relationships and alleviate my depression and anxiety, but I discovered quickly that I had more to unpack. As I peeled layers back, I began to see my confusion and struggle were rooted in unprocessed traumatic experiences from my past, specifically my childhood.
To begin processing my underlying trauma, I needed to find ways to create safety and stability in my life. Initially, I practiced a lot of self-care. Self-care looked like learning to take care of myself physically and emotionally, meeting my basic needs, listening to my feelings with compassion instead of judgment, setting boundaries in my relationships, and saying no to things that were harmful for me. This was really hard, but necessary work, to create a safe and loving environment to process my trauma. Body-based tools were really helpful because trauma is stored in our bodies and we don’t always have words for our experiences. Sometimes it is hard to talk our bodies out of what they are reliving, so grounding tools that engage the body are great, like yoga, tapping, breath-work, mindful movement, and stretching.
Learning about complex trauma and how it showed up in my life: physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, sexually, helped me understand myself and my experiences. With this knowledge, I began to see that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I was having a very reasonable response to the chronic trauma I had experienced. My mind and body had been trying to protect me. I had learned how to survive, and now I could learn a new way of living and relating to the world and others. I was able to find healing therapies and modalities that began bringing long-lasting relief and recovery, things like EMDR, Inner Family Systems, somatic release, therapeutic massage, bodywork, grounding, and other trauma-informed tools. The road has been long and painful, I think it is important to honor the devastating and invasive nature of this kind of trauma, and healing has happened. There is a way to walk through this.
Complex PTSD is what it says it is. It is complicated and complex. It can feel like it is so much a part of you that you will never escape it. It affects us in body, mind, and spirit, and those effects are felt at deep and harrowing levels. Know that you are not alone in this experience and that your experience is real and valid. You are not broken. You are having a normal and protective response to very traumatic and painful events. Complex PTSD isn’t who you are, it is a result of what has happened to you. There is a way through. Healing is possible. The road can feel endless, I know this, but you will find your way. Be sure to surround yourself with support: empathetic friends and family, knowledgeable therapists and professionals, and other fellow travellers on their own healing journeys. We are not meant to do this alone. Practice gentleness and compassion when you can. You are so much more than what happened to you. You can reclaim your power, your tenderness, and your life one step at a time.