"I heard it today and I couldn't help but sing along
'Cause every time I hear that song
I go back to the smell of an old gym floor
And the taste of salt on the Carolina shore
After graduation and drinkin' goodbye to friends
And I go back to watchin' summer fade to fall
Growin' up too fast and I do recall
Wishin' time would stop right in its tracks
Every time I hear that song, I go back, I go back
We all have a song that somehow stamped our lives
Takes us to another place and time..."
Kenny Chesney- I Go Back. What a jam, right? It is such a fun, summer song that can get you right in the feels at the same time. We all have had those times when we feel something, hear something, smell something, touch something, or see something that completely warps us back to a different place and time. It could be a song from high school that brings you back to the night you stayed out late and lied to your parents. It could be the smell of a particular perfume that makes you immediately feel the presence of your late Grandmother. It could be the sound of the city traffic that in that one moment transports you back to your 20s, when you moved far away from home, trying to make it on your own. It could be the taste of a specific alcoholic beverage that reminds you of your first hangover. It could be the fuzzy feeling of a pillow that makes you feel as though you are sitting on that 1970s couch that was in the basement of your parents' old house. One sense can take you back to some of the most prominent memories in your life or to some from your past that you might not have even realized you still held in your brain.
Good times, huh? Everyone loves those moments! But imagine if the memories or places you were taken to were not so happy. Imagine if they were dark, scary, confusing, anxiety provoking places. This is similar to what it is like to experience a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) flashback. A sound, an object, a scent, a person, a feeling, or a touch could trigger an emotional response to a previous trauma, i.e. abuse, neglect, violence, sexual assault, bullying, etc. The way that you are sent back in time to a fond memory... a flashback does the same thing but in a negative fashion. Sometimes, the responses that occur during a flashback can be so strong that the individual actually dissociates to avoid feeling them, meaning s/he basically detaches from reality or has an out of body experience. Not only does this happen during the flashbacks, but it also could have occurred during the initial trauma itself. To provide an example: Some survivors of sexual assault have discussed how they have either "blacked out" during the trauma or watched the incident occur from outside of their bodies from say a bird's eye view. They mentally detached themselves from the situation, as a defense mechanism to avoid actually having to feel or process what was happening to them. Although the involuntary dissociation assists in reducing physical/emotional reactions to trauma or flashbacks, it is not a healthy response to addressing and overcoming these situations. No one can live his/her life through utilizing defense mechanisms, dodging triggers, and avoiding emotions.
To work through any form of trauma, it is imperative that you find a therapist that you feel comfortable with. It is difficult enough to get up the courage to attend therapy or discuss your "problems," don't make it worse by feeling stuck with a therapist that you do not feel hears or understands you. Once you have built rapport with your therapist, make sure you do not re-traumatize yourself. Sometimes, once we finally take the plunge to talk to someone about our life experiences, we end up dumping everything out on the table and cannot even control the rate at which our word vomit is flowing during the session. Although the initial emotional release might feel freeing, you also might soon find yourself overwhelmed, on edge, depressed, confused, or distraught. You have been suppressing your traumatic experience for what could be an extremely long time and now you just opened up that wound again. There are many different ways that your body and mind could react to this. Take your time. Take a breath. Slow down. Process. Heal strategically. Of course, your therapist will guide you through this; however, it is important for you to also be aware so that you can prepare for anything that happens during or in between therapy sessions.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with PTSD/flashbacks and needs someone to talk to, please feel free to reach out to me.