I just spent the last few days on retreat, where my family later joined me. It was some much needed self-care away from the trappings of life. Over the last several months, I’ve grown more aware of how necessary self-care is for someone like me facing the realities of complex trauma head on.
Speaking of head on, on the way home I had a very close call. On a twisty mountain road, I drove my daughter and two cats, while behind me, my husband followed with my other children. In the other lane, a Jeep and a truck careened toward us, side by side, vying for the same spot in their single lane. One second sooner, and the Jeep would have hit me head on. One second later, and the Jeep would have hit my husband. Instead, it slammed through the guard rail between our two cars, flipped over a boulder, and rolled down the hillside.
My husband, a trained trauma nurse, was the first to reach the driver. He helped her crawl out of her overturned car, and miraculously, with my husband’s assistance, she was able to walk up the hill, where an off duty EMT joined us. A sheriff happened to drive by and stop a moment later. All of us were in shock, but no one was hurt.
The woman admitted she got impatient with the truck she tried to pass on the right. We gave our report and got on our way, trembling for the rest of the drive home. In the moment, it was a blur. Time slowed down, and we were just getting through the moment. It wasn’t until much later that we were able to process just how close it had been. The skid marks from my husband’s car were lined up exactly with the spot where she crashed through the guard rail. Unable to sleep, we both replayed the scene over in our heads.
As someone who has been processing the long term effects of complex trauma, the symptoms of this new shock is familiar territory for me. Too familiar. I spent yesterday in a daze, while talking myself through the confusion and the awful clarity, anxiety, and depression that followed. In the moment, I was numb to the terror and eventual anger that my family was put in such danger, but it surfaced later. I knew my anxiety was a mask that covered a more intense emotional response to what just happened, I just wasn’t able to access it yet.
I had to correct my husband for minimizing the intensity of what I was feeling. To him, we were OK, so the experience must not be that bad, no use psyching ourselves out about it… For him, that may be the case. As a complex trauma survivor, I knew that what we went through was going to affect me deeply. For me, it was triggering an involuntary physiological response in my brain. It was not just a one-time event. It was connecting me with all the trauma I had experienced previously. C-PTSD is like that. It’s a giver.
But also, because of the work I’ve been doing, I am so much stronger and more aware of the impact an event like this has on me. I know what to expect. I can coach myself through the symptoms and I know when I need to ask for help. I can practice more self-care. I can allow myself the time and space to process while removing any shaming attitudes about what I “should” be thinking or feeling. So, for me, this is a milestone worth celebrating. You could say that for me, there was never a better time to experience a near-death traumatic event.