Overcoming Flashbacks & the Inevitable Emotional Trauma (Part 1)

“Wait here for just a minute… I’ll be right back,” I said, as I jumped out of the car, leaving Tim in a ‘no parking’ zone. A minute or two, with him in the car and the car running, wouldn’t be a problem.

I ran into the grocery store to get a money order. Only one person in line ahead of me, and it was a quick transaction. Great! I stepped up, asked for the money order, handed the cashier the money, and seconds later I held the money order in my hand. Wow! That was quick!

I rushed back out of the store. Outside I stopped. Looked around. No Tim. No vehicle. Nothing.  It had been a great day. Until that moment.

I waited. I paced. I looked around again, scanning the parking lot. Nothing. I went back to the store, looked for a pay phone. No pay phone. My cell phone was in my purse. My purse in the car. I returned to the sidewalk where Tim had dropped me off, scanned the row of cars parked there. A horn honked. I looked to see if it was Tim. He wouldn’t honk for me. He’d come get me. I walked to the other side of the store entrance, scanning the cars.

Something inside of me snapped. Not anger. Nothing to do with the present circumstance. I was a little girl again. Lost. No one there. No place to turn. No way to call for help. Tears threatened. My chest felt a sense of panic. My brain fogged over. People all blended and blurred into faceless figures. I turned away, ashamed of the tears, threatening to spill over. Where am I? Where is he? Why am I all alone?

Reason and awareness of the present tense fled. Now I was a little four-yr-old girl at a bus stop, rushing through the crowd, afraid of being separated from my parents and siblings… Now six and walking the sidewalk of Chihuahua with my family, fighting the same fear… Now fifteen and leaving home to take care of myself… Now sixteen and wandering from place to place, job to job… Now seventeen and flying to California, running in fear… Now eighteen and back at the Detroit border, waiting for someone to pick me up…

Alone… alone… alone…

Forgotten…

The tears spilled without reserve. I turned my back to the parking lot, pretended to study the flowers for sale outside the story. What is happening to me?  

A man, scruffy, dirty and rough-looking, marched toward me. He didn’t smile. “HI!” he said, boldly. Loudly. No emotion. Then he marched away. Probably homeless. Why am I distressed? I have it so good!

“Hi,” I whispered as I turned, letting my hair fall over my face.

People rushed past. A horn honked in the distance. I scanned the parking lot. No Tim. I turned away again. Time passed slowly. It felt like forever. Why didn’t I take my phone? Why am I here, alone? My mind raced. No way to connect to my world. I froze in fear. The tears stopped.

It felt strange and yet familiar, all at the same time. I wanted to run. But I realized I had nowhere to go. I would wait. Nothing like this had ever happened before. I tried to tell myself that everything was ok, but something inside of me wouldn’t stop.

I turned. Squinted. Was that him? I waited. A horn honked. I walked across the two lanes of traffic. I waited. It was Tim. He pulled up. I opened  the door and sank into the passenger seat. I took a deep breath, holding in the tears.

“Don’t ever do that again,” I whispered in panic.

“Do what?” Tim asked.

“Leave me like that,” I whispered. Somewhere deep in my soul a dam burst. I sobbed like I’ve only sobbed a few times in my marriage.

Tim pulled into a parking spot, wrapped his arms around me, and just held me. Terror lingered, somewhere below the surface. Slowly reality set in. I was fine. An adult. Safe with Tim.

I looked at Tim, “What’s wrong with me?” The flood of tears started all over again. Slowly I realized I had experienced a flashback. Buried deep in my subconscious all the fear of abandonment in childhood and all my lonely teen years had overtaken me, overwhelmed my reality, and drawn me into the past.

Tim continued to hold me. “Hey… you’re going to be ok. What happened?”

“I don’t know… I really don’t know… Let’s leave. I’m ready to go.”

“Will it help to talk about it?”

“Maybe, but I don’t know what to say. I can’t talk about it yet. Let’s go,” I said again.

“Can you try to talk about it?”

I started and the words tumbled out, as I tried to explain the panic, the fear, the loneliness, all those years of having no one there. No one who noticed. Or cared. No consistent ‘presence’ in my life. The dam burst again… and again. Tim just held me.

I felt myself calm down. The turmoil in my mind eased. The jumbled thoughts became coherent. “I’m ready to go now.”

Tim paused, still holding me. He leaned back, “Can I pray for you?”

I nodded.

…To Be Continued…

© Trudy Metzger

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3 thoughts on “Overcoming Flashbacks & the Inevitable Emotional Trauma (Part 1)

  1. Morven R. Baker October 15, 2012 / 6:32 am

    Only someone who has experienced a flashback can truly understand the terror. My heart aches for the little one who was abandoned so many times in her life, and I thank God for Tim, and his empathy & patience. Comfort, sweet one.

  2. jritterbrunson October 17, 2012 / 3:21 pm

    It must be terrifying to be blindsided like that and never know what the next trigger will be. I applaud your courage.

    • Trudy Metzger October 17, 2012 / 3:42 pm

      Thank you. I am thankful that the extreme flashbacks are *almost* a thing of the past, but still they are disconcerting when they happen. The big thing is to not fear them, and learn to recognize them quickly.

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