monsters under the bed…

Content Warning: drugs, being drugged, r*pe, self harm, cutting

After my post the other day on here, I sincerely thought it would be quite some time before I came back to write. Lo and behold, here I am – trying to release the cacophony of trauma and triggers in my head and heart and trying desperately to find some kind of equilibrium. I’ve been crawling into bed at night the past few nights cringing and shrinking from sleep because I don’t want another nightmare like I had Sunday night. The nightmare I haven’t had in 4-5 years. The nightmare that immobilizes me as it hits and I watch with total helplessness as my brain reverts to my 5 year old self, terrified in bed, unable to move, my vision both blurry and fading in and out, I hear his footsteps coming to my door. I knew he was coming, I knew he would hurt me, I knew my body was unable to move, and I knew I was done for. I lay there, in my 31 year old body, but feeling like I was the small 5 year old I once was, trapped in that dark room, trapped on a single twin bed, feeling the presence getting closer, just waiting with heart in my throat to see his shadow hand start reaching for my body. Heart pounding, eyes the size of dinner plates, unable to move, unable to speak, unable to even voice the repeated “no, no, no, no” in my head. Sobbing, tears running down my cheeks from under my weighted eye mask.

“He’s coming.”

I abruptly regained the ability to shift myself out of my body and into my 31 year old self’s space and I wrapped my arms around little me and started whispering the truth to them as we know it. I told them that we’re safe, that we’re in my house, my adult bed, my adult bedroom. I told them that I am going to take off my eye mask, and we’re going to open our eyes and we’re going to see my ceiling, and we’re going to see that we’re safe. It took several minutes of talking them/me down and before the freeze started fading from our limbs. I placed a shaky hand on my eye mask, my heart doing those really painful high anxiety drops, and I carefully opened my eyes, crying even more as I realized I really was safe. Physically, I was in my bed, I was in my own adult body, but that nightmare puts me right back in that moment when it actually happened. There is no cognizance of a timeline, my brain only remembers it as a currently happening event whenever it pulls that particular memory forward. That particular memory has never been sequenced or placed in the timeline as a past event. It is always still a presently occurring event whenever it gets triggered and comes through.

Last weekend I fell upon a trigger I never knew I had. A trigger that impaled me in such a way that my following actions were solely driven by survival and fuck all else (not really, but I experienced my brain shutting down all logical functioning and only the alarms and the trigger were driving). I have never had this happen before, although to be fair to myself, I’ve never had this trigger come up before nor had one this impactful. The knee jerk reactions I took in the few days following the trigger were all for self protection. The reactions I acted out during the actual trigger were as if I was being hunted by someone and absolutely no one was safe. I didn’t actually have any logical cause for believing I was unsafe, or that anyone around was no longer safe. My brain didn’t know that though.

I am trying my best to release the embarrassment and shame I feel for how I acted “under the influence of my trauma.” I am a firm believer in taking responsibility for the impact of my actions, regardless of my intentions. And I feel like the impact has been so big and out of my control or even ability to resolve. However, the one thing I do not regret doing is deactivating my social media accounts. I have never done this before without having a backup or because I was switching to a new account. This time, it’s done. The accounts are on hold in case I want to come back, but I’m honestly not sure I want to. I have gone so deep within myself I have not even recognized myself over the past 5 days in particular.

I had started getting triggered by this trigger when I was in the hospital with my 5 year old, as they were going through a major back surgery, and then the following inpatient stay. I was having to make decisions about what pain meds and muscle relaxers to give them to make them the most comfortable and allow for their back to heal. I didn’t understand the sudden gut punching panic when I was asked by the nurses which one of the mind affecting drugs I thought they’d respond to the best. I just knew I couldn’t give space to that panic, my only drive was caring for and protecting my child. And yet, every single time they came in to give the next dose, parts of me were both screaming in terror and wanting to rip the syringes out of the nurses hands. 

We got discharged way earlier than expected, and all of us went home, my child doing so much better than everyone expected. I was beginning to feel like maybe I had made the wrong decisions for my child, I was still feeling the panic, but was also fighting to remind myself I had truly made the absolute best decisions I could have made. Despite that, the panic and terror was still bubbling in the background and I pushed it down as best I could. It still wasn’t time to pay attention to my needs and figure out why these things were being triggered. I thought I was being effective with pushing the panic and terror down. That is, until I went to an outdoor concert with some friends and was really enjoying how much space there was and the fact it was so covid conscious (we were all spread out on the grass). Some of the people I was with decided to take some shrooms and I felt a twinge of that panic rise up again. I tried not to let it affect my time out of the house, just gave it “the nod” and pushed it back down. I had felt that panic before when other people around me have done or talked about doing shrooms, or even participating in cannabis, before, but I always had just chalked it up to me not being able to do any mind altering substances due to my history. I thought I knew the reason, even though now looking back, this panic was sharper, more intense, and very different than anything I had felt before.

I still hadn’t processed or approached those underlying threads of panic until a week and a half after my child had come home, it all suddenly came down upon me like a ton of bricks. I was going to have to deal with it whether I wanted to or not. I felt more spun out than I expected, the trauma triggers that I thought would be activated weren’t, and I frankly was dumbfounded at the intensity of my feelings and the, once again, incredibly overwhelming terror and panic over something that wasn’t clear yet. 

It is a gut punching feeling being able to name what I was feeling as sheer terror and panic and not knowing why I feel that way. It’s like I had been kidnapped, was blindfolded, and was just waiting for someone to hurt me badly, but not knowing where it’s going to come from or who’s going to do the hurting. My brain had been thoroughly hijacked by this trigger and surrounding trauma and wasn’t willing to give me back control. I was heartbroken and distressed, sobbing and unable to eat anything, and I cognitively didn’t know why.

I turned to the one thing I could think of that would maybe, JUST MAYBE, give me some answers or understanding of what as happening in my body and brain. I picked up my copy of The Body Keeps The Score and continued reading where I had last left off. The part I was reading was talking about exactly what my brain was going through. It was talking about how the brain, when activated with trauma, has two choices/paths with self-awareness. The first is to feel the feelings, and lose all access to the vocal/speaking and logical part of the brain, but you feel everything and can [usually] hold on to those feelings to describe them later when your voice returns. OR you can shift into the analytical/logical self-awareness, and narrate what is happening, but you don’t feel the feelings and its harder to then access those feelings later. The intensity of feelings is never really there for that second choice.

Basically neither choice is ideal, but it explains which choice my brain chose and why I was unable to access my voice and logic during the highest trigger point. I was so deep in the weeds of my feelings, my brain was highly activated with the trigger and I literally lost the use of my voice fully by the end of the trauma event. I had had minimal access to speak short sentences or yes or no, but by the end, my voice was gone.

This past weekend, I got to attend a Red Rocks show for the first time. I was truthfully excited, despite the activated trauma and other complicating factors. I had been to RR before, but just to walk around and visit the venue. This would be my first time for a show. I was anxious about the timing, was it still too soon after my 5 year old’s surgery? I was, however, committed to my plans. I let my fear of not being there for someone cloud my own judgment and needs. I put aside my needs, and made choices that I have greatly paid for.

I knew this show would have a lot of people on substances there. I had not been around that many people since pre-pre-pandemic. I haven’t been around that many people [close to 10,000 people i believe] since way before I discovered that I am autistic and now need specific things to be in place if I am going to be surrounded by large crowds. But I did not know all of this, I knew some things in theory, but I had nothing to pull from because this would be a brand new experience. It was a great risk, but one that I willingly chose to make. I’m not sure how much of this is actually on my shoulders. I did not manage my choices well, and I accept the responsibility for anything I did to inadvertently cause harm. .

The anxiety I had surrounding some preceding events to the show had started revving up the panic and terror again, but I was too focused on my plans to recognize that that was happening. My self awareness was in the dumps. My brain was already starting to get hijacked by the trauma/”lizard” brain, and I wasn’t catching it either. When I finally made it to Red Rocks Saturday evening, I was uneasy about a few things, but also did not feel like I knew how to call them out. The first was watching a lot of drama rattling around that had nothing to do with me, but was really destabilizing to multiple people in our group. If my aware brain had been coherent, I would have noticed that unexpected things were starting to rattle my grip on reality way too much. I started to spiral, and it didn’t take long before that started shifting into a fear of my own. I began to feel like I was being hunted, and kept looking over my shoulder, watching each face as people walked by me, trying to find the person who was out to get me. Actively looking for those signs of someone about to cause harm.

I was “okay” until I wasn’t. “Okay” here meaning sort of holding it together, mostly functioning, being able to answer the “are you okay?” questions with what I thought was an honest yes I think so. But by the point of no longer being okay, there was absolutely no chance I was coming back to any groundedness or mental clarity. I had no choice but to ride out the trauma trigger bus and hope I made it out on the other side. I thought I was okay with seeing people I knew take substances and starting to act differently. I thought I was okay with being the only truly sober person (who wasn’t even smoking cannabis) among a crowd of mostly high and fucked up people. I didn’t realize what I was grasping for as I tried to desperately find anyone or anything that was familiar. Forget safe, I was willing to just take familiar. The people I knew changed before my eyes, they got high and I, panicking, watched as their actions changed, their behaviors changed, their voices changed, and I found myself both terrified of and terrified for them.

I think if it had just been people getting fucked up on substances, then I think I could have made it through somewhat still in one piece. But there was super heavy bass with the music, there were strobe lights, lasers, so so so many people, and the vast majority of those people were fucked up on drugs. The bass was physically painful, and that was even with significant ear protection in. I hit a point of severe overstimulation as the headliner came on at the show. I lasted maybe 5 minutes in the stands, then I HAD to leave, I had to get out there. I couldn’t physically breathe beyond taking really shallow painful breaths, my eyes were having that really uncomfortable tunnel vision, not quite blacking out, but way too close for my comfort. My joints felt like they were all stuck like the tinman in the wizard of oz. I went to step up onto another row that was a little clearer of people and twisted my knee as I stepped up. I knew I had hurt it, but was not able to access just how much. My body felt numb, my brain felt frozen, my eyes were unable to focus on anything. It was the beginning of a full blown panic attack but I didn’t know it was one.

I finally got out of the crowds and to where there were just a few people. I paused to catch my breath and hoped I wouldn’t actually pass out. I have never, to my knowledge, actually passed out before, but I have gotten way too close several times. I had chosen to take my jacket off earlier in the evening, as I knew if I was cold, it would help me numb my senses and that would keep me going. It was one of those moments of “gotta weigh the costs…it’s a lose/lose situation.” I lasted 5 hours before I no longer could numb myself enough to not wear a jacket. The second I put the jacket on, among the crowds of people, the bass screaming, and the lights flashing, that was the second I started losing it. I felt my senses start waking up as my body warmed up, and I could no longer numb myself or convince myself I wasn’t absolutely and utterly and painfully overstimulated. The thing that made me lose my grip entirely happened next, and then happened two more times. I was walking up the long steep stairs to go buy myself a bottle of water and then hopefully find a secluded place to try to calm down. I hadn’t gotten very far until someone just collapsed next to me. I heard the thud of their body hitting the ground even with my ear protection still in. I was so shocked and stunned I froze. It appeared they were either really drunk, really high, or probably a combo of both, they had dropped/spilled a rather full alcohol can when they fell.

Heart in my throat, lungs burning as I then raced up the stairs the rest of the way, my arms were shaking, and I knew my jaw hurt from how much I was clenching it shut to keep from crying out. I hadn’t lost my words yet, but I was still shaken by that person falling. I got the ridiculously priced bottle of water, and sat down to try to bring myself back together, even just a little bit. I texted a friend in the group down in the rows to let them all know where I was, and then tried to find some way to calm down. I decided to try walking back down about 45 mins later, intending to just stand in the shadows, just out of sight of the lights, and just out of the reach of the crowd. I got halfway down when I realized how dissociated I was, and if I didn’t take a few moments to reorient myself in my body, it was going to be that much harder to come back after this was all over.

I walked back up to the bathroom building. Every other time I had been in the bathroom thus far that night had felt like I was not really there. There was an uncomfortably large part of my brain that was questioning if anything was actually real. I wasn’t really sure – confident? – that I knew where I was. This time heading to the bathroom I made a conscious decision to be very intentional about how I moved, how I went about using the bathroom. I carefully took off my layers, placed my phone in a safe and clean spot, and with each movement, I came into my own body and started realizing how scared I actually was. I noticed how shaky I was, and how abandoned and alone I felt. I tried to start putting together a plan in my head that would get me to a safe-ish place where I could wait out the rest of the show. I felt trapped and physically had no back up plan to get out of there and home. Once again, I found myself in a situation where I was trapped, had no back up plan, and was overwhelmed, scared, overstimulated, and panicking.

It was that awareness as I came into my body that quickly pushed me into mutism. I needed help, I needed it so badly, but I didn’t recognize the people I knew in my group, they were too high and acting too differently, I didn’t know or trust anyone else enough in the group I was in to go to anyone else. I certainly wasn’t about to try to trust anyone with how activated I was, and how I felt like a cornered animal. I still kept feeling that sense of someone coming to get me, but I didn’t know exactly who it was I thought was hunting me down. The sense was getting stronger, and I am finding the words I have are not sufficient to describe how intensely trapped and scared I was.

As I tried to slowly and intentionally make my way back down to the row my group was in, I stopped in a top corner of the venue, in the dark shadows there, and paused for a few minutes to decide what I was going to do, and then another person fell heavily right in front of me. This thud was louder than the first and my body forgot how to breathe and move. As I stood there frozen, unable to decide what I wanted to do, my entire body shaking, another person came and half fell half slumped over against the wall I was standing next to. They were talking to themselves and acting really strangely. They were making weird movements and gestures with their phone, and looked like they were maybe about to pass out. I was sure I wouldn’t be able to help if something happened to them, and that thought was finally enough to force my legs to work. I managed to carefully walk back down the steep steps, and found a railing to lean against. I couldn’t stop my body from shaking. I was very much aware that this was me being traumatized now, on top of being overwhelmed and overstimulated.

The show ended and I wove through everyone to try to find my group of people. It was after midnight now and that meant it was one of the people’s birthdays. Everyone started singing happy birthday to them and I felt devastated and heartbroken as I sat there, numb, shaking, mute, attempting to open my mouth and it wouldn’t work. I couldn’t get any sounds to form, no words would move across my tongue. All of the things I had hoped for and planned to do blew up in my face, and fell apart in my hands, and I was left holding mere shreds of everything. The only thing my brain would coherently let me think was “I just have to get home.” I kept repeating that line in my head over and over and over.

Roughly 36 hours later, the trigger finally broke through. I don’t think I really stopped crying during that time. I felt beyond rattled, I felt like my entire heart and mind were so shattered, I couldn’t find all of the pieces, and none of them wanted to go back together. I was reading through The Body Keeps The Score again, and suddenly sat bolt upright. I knew exactly who I had been looking for, terrified they were going to find me, at the show. I had been watching and looking for my dad. I had been scanning each and every face that went by, looking for his sickening grin and possessed eyes on his way to hurt me. I had watched the people in my group hand out and accept mind altering substances. And it triggered the memories of happily taking “medicine” from my dad to only horrifyingly discover later that it was that medicine that let him hurt me. I had trusted adults who were giving me “medicine, and they used that to severely hurt me. My 5 year old traumatized brain doesn’t understand consent, especially when the protector has been triggered and they are seeing everything as a threat. So there I was surrounded by all of these people willingly taking substances that were altering their minds and perception, and I was terrified that they were all going to get hurt by the big horrible shadow man [my dad]. I watched as people I knew took substances and watched as they handed out substances, and then watched as they became a different person before my eyes, and those unfamiliar and inconsistent (inconsistent with who I’ve known them to be) actions were enough to convince my protector brain that they were both in harms way and the harmer. I tried to explain my fear of/for those around me at one point to the only other person [that i knew of] in our group who wasn’t on anything besides cannabis, but I don’t think I made much sense to them.

I have never been around people doing any sort of drugs besides cannabis. And the people who I have been around doing cannabis had either been doing it because it feels good to them, or it has been really intentional with the purpose of going on a journey. I don’t know enough about any of the drugs that people around me were taking at the show. I had no context, I had no way to ease my brain out of the highly activated protective state it flew in to. Hell, I didn’t even know WHY I was so triggered!! I had all of the pieces, but was missing the frame to pull it all together. I didn’t know that this was a huge trigger. I didn’t know that watching people do drugs makes me feel so fucking scared and unsafe. I didn’t know that it would trigger the huge protector in my brain who lacks all logical sense and whose only goal is to protect me. I had no idea that watching people’s behaviors change in front of me would trigger those sickening memories of how it felt to be drugged. Which leads to the fear of being abused, which then leads to the horrifying realization that I had been drugged and hurt and r*ped.

All of this was swirling just under the surface and getting stronger and causing so much havoc in my head at the show. It wasn’t accessible, I just had the ways my body and brain were reacting and I could only manage, or at least kind of try to, the things that I understood. I am grateful I have not had any urges towards SI [suic*dal ideation], but I have quite a few moments of wanting to self harm. Those shocked me, but also, honestly? I have needed relief so badly that cutting was the only thing that sounded feasible in bringing about that relief. I have wanted out of my body, I have wanted away from this godawful stomach dropping heart flipping palpitations from the extremely high anxiety. It’s been nauseating, I’ve had so many migraines, so many moments of just sobbing and feeling so much shame for how damaged my brain is.

*note: I did NOT and will NOT cut myself. I have however realized I do have another very consistent habit of self harm…going to chat with my therapist about this one.

I’m not really sure how to move forward with myself from here. Knowing this trigger is a huge relief. But what does that mean? What does it change? Right now, I know that I will never put myself in a position again like Saturday, I will not go to an event unless I have a predetermined way out. Or I will drive separately. I do not think I can be around anyone who does any sort of substances, regardless of how prepared or aware I am of whats going to happen. I think these both need to be a really hard boundary. I also think another boundary needs to be not going to see an artist where I actually can’t hear the top layers of their music, can only hear the bass and feel it ripping me apart.

I am still rattled such a huge trigger has been hiding all these years. I am heartbroken over how the weekend ended. I am struggling to ground myself still and pull myself back in to inhabit all parts of my body. There are still quite a few numbs spots around my limbs and sides that I haven’t been able to get back into yet. I chose to take some really really big risks for myself this past week, and I have paid so harshly for them. I have learned a shit ton of information about myself and it’s all come at a really high cost. I feel like I am very raw and tender still, and this will probably take quite a bit of time to heal.

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