For me, the end of winter means April is coming so every year, I brace myself for the wave of PTSD.
April marks the month I finally ran away from my oppressive family and their abuse and every year, I suffer my trauma anniversary.
Even though I left my oppressive family and society, that sense of oppression continues to follow me. Even though I left my parents, it sometimes feels like everything they built inside me stayed. I hear their voices shout the most gut wrenching things in my head when I feel good about myself.
For example, I got a 19/20 in my college course this past semester which was the highest grade in the class. I still felt like I wasn’t good enough and asked myself, “How come?”
I heard my father’s voice loud and clear:
"That’s because you didn’t work hard enough. You have a woman’s mind so it makes sense that your best effort isn’t perfect. In fact, you must’ve gotten lucky or maybe the professor took pity on you. You’ll keep failing so just get married and do what you’re made to do."
I’ve been wired to believe this is true and no matter how much I prepare for my trauma anniversary, the past still pulls the rug from under me with thoughts like these and the timing of them.
I didn’t realize that I fell back into my parents’ teachings about both myself and the life I would lead. I didn’t realize that this past month, I was in a constant state of PTSD, that I’ve been spending my days in pain and my nights trying to get away from it while my body was on autopilot. Even though I’ve been going to classes and work, my focus and routine were shattered.
But it helps to understand that this way of functioning is exactly what kept me alive. For the first 20 years of my life, I spent my days surviving and my nights dreaming of getting away. My days were filled with trick questions that could end in beatings and isolation. Yet through all of it, I went to school, attended afternoon Islamic classes and helped babysit as a “normal” individual. I was “normal” because I knew that if I accidentally shed a tear after being ruthlessly beaten before school, I would have hell waiting for me when I got back. Memories of that life come back to haunt me in April.
But life goes on.
This year, I’ll have my first official home. I was homeless when I arrived because I had no money, no plan and no one to rely on. But I worked my way up through shelters, group homes and transitional housing and after a year and a half of saving, I got a place that was even better than I hoped for. In fact, there are so many things that turned out better than I’d hoped, but instead of joy and gratitude, I keep finding myself choking on my own tears. I find myself sobbing until I can’t breathe.
When I packed my books in excitement and made my way to the new house, I was smiling at the thought of leaving homelessness and I decided to buy myself flowers to mark this milestone. With my roses in one hand and my suitcase of books in the other, I went to unlock my new front door and I was suddenly hit in the stomach with a baseball bat of PTSD. I couldn’t step inside for hours, and I had to call a friend to come sit with me on the driveway to help me calm down.
She helped me remember that how I feel is not an accurate representation of where I am now.
She helped me realize that it’s important to validate my own emotions before I peacefully let them go. I stopped suppressing my emotions and if I’m sobbing in the bathroom, I’ll gently say to myself:
“You’re safe, you’re happy and you’re okay. It’s not your fault. It happened to you, not because of you. Its all in the past now and you have moved on. Look at the beautiful life you’ve made and the person you have become.”
Then just like that, the trauma is validated and let go. Because it’s not enough to run away and fill life with new shiny things when the past hasn’t been resolved. Therapy made me realize that the person whose validation, love and support I need the most is myself.
Resolution doesn’t have to include the people that abused me because I was never going to get that from my parents.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t let it all go.
That’s what April has become in my life, the month of letting go. And that’s what I do every night at 3 am, after a nightmare jolts me awake. I sit and soothe my trauma away. I’m glad I refreshed my coping skills and I’m grateful that I can see how beautiful life is when you let things be. To allow my emotions to come flooding in without judgement, to validate them and then let them go, is a form of self love that I practice not just in April but all year round.