Peer support subsequent to trauma contributes to full recovery

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Sensory Flashbacks From Physical & Sexual Abuse

Discussion in 'Flashbacks & Dissociation' started by Maggiemay, Oct 4, 2012.

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  1. Maggiemay

    Maggiemay Well-Known Member

    I suffer from complex PTSD & have multiple traumas in my past. I experience a lot of visual & auditory flashbacks, which are petrifying, but I can handle them & ground myself in the present.

    But, I find sensory flashbacks excruciating. I have been experiencing them from traumas aged 3-5 which I have no proper memories of, but I know I was being physically abused by my father. The effect on my body is excruciating - I have no control over myself - will literally fight, kick, thrash around, fit - it's so violent & agressive I can't sleep in bed anymore or sit on sofa, as if it happens I will most likely fall & have seriously hurt my back from doing so. Also, in my sleep I have been reliving these experiences & hiding every night in strange places in my flat & scratching myself until I bleed. It's horrid waking each morning.

    I also experience sensory flashbacks from childhood sexual Abuse aged 9-12. It was bad enough when happened 1st time round, let alone re-experiencing it all over again, as if it's as real as all those yrs ago. It physically hurts a lot & yet again seriously feel like am loosing ay sense of control/sanity.

    Does anyone else experience sensory flashbacks? How do you deal with them? How can you ground yourself in reality/ the present when can't access the world around you/logial thought? I hate it all so much :(
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  3. samson

    samson Active Member

    I have not had any that severe but I have had them and totally understand how overwhelming they are. My T has not offered much "magical" help on that front other than to try to ground myself. The problem for me is the "ick" just hangs with me sometimes for several days. I'm really sorry you are going through this.
    Maggiemay likes this.
  4. Maggiemay

    Maggiemay Well-Known Member

    Thanx hon :)

    Nice to know am not alone :) Read book T leant me called 'the body remembers' which help me understand it all a lil better, and that outside of my control, but not how to solve it :( I try and ground self, but so hard, impossible during sleep as not even aware what I am doing, and during the day I'm often only semi-conscious when happens so struggle to apply grounding techmniques :s urghh!! I know what you mean about 'ick' feeling - constantly have it at the moment as happening so much :_(

    T said only way to overcome it is consciously do re-living with her during the day. This concept petrifies me!! Had flashbacks when with her before and so so embarrasing to think someone can see me at my most vulnerable :(

  5. SweetPeaandSunBird

    SweetPeaandSunBird Well-Known Member
    Premium Member

    You are not alone in this. I used to have so many, sometimes 10 to 15 a day for a period of 6 months. The thrashing about, etc. Are you on medication? My medication is helping me, but I still have these quick convulsions that look like a wicked chill going down my spine. I was at a departmental meeting Friday and one of the members there has some mannerisms that remind me of my father. If tension arrises during the meeting I get one of those "ticks." I had two quick ones during that meeting yesterday. It used to embarrass me (sometimes it still does), but then I tell myself, Well, some folks have bad breath, so tit for tat. My dark sense of humor helps me sometimes. Other times I look for the unconditional ones to soothe me: my cats and my dog.

    Sleep is difficult for me during the night. I wake up with night sweets, my jaw clenched, my hands in hard fists and my blankets and pillows strewn all over the floor. Something that calms me down is smelling some lavender or crushed geranium leaves. I've forgotten this (so I need to listen to my own advice), but I used to dab some lavender oil on my pillow to calm my fitful sleep.

    Society needs to reassess itself. There are so many cracks in social support. If folks get uncomfortable around us (yes, it's understandable), maybe it will jolt them awake and turn their attention to how/why traumatization is a community problem.

    Perhaps you could look at your body memories as testaments of your strength, reminding you that wow! you were a resilient child because you managed to reach adulthood in spite of it all. (So easy to say, so much harder to do. For example, for every one time I tell myself that I'm a good person, another voice says, you're such a freak. I try to amend that second voice by chiming in with a twist, yep, I'm freakin' here, so there!)

    I hope you have a better time of it tomorrow and beyond.
    Unmensch and maddog like this.
  6. Maggiemay

    Maggiemay Well-Known Member


    Nice to not feel alone with this - thankyou, I really appreciate it :)

    Must be horrid to have it so often - I have it full on aggressively, so much so I fall out of bed/ off sofa a fair few times a day, esp when a little more relaxed and falling to sleep. But, also have constantly in right arm and leg - had it all investigated 7 yrs ago, found to be non epileptic myoclonus. Am on quetiapine, lofepramie, atenolol, omeprazole and emergency temazepam and diazepam.

    I know what you mean about it being embarrassing - I try and hide it, but it just makes it worse and more aggressive if I try and stop it happening :( I just bought guinea pigs to keep me company in my flat, I find them very soothing :)

    So sorry your nights are so bad:( but I sure can relate! I used to use lavender a lot - I must got some more :)

    Ahh I love your positive spin :) I guess it has made me see in some ways how determined I am. Done a lot of work with T on self compassion as I have a lot of Shame, Guilt, and sense of responsibility attached and really struggle to show self care and compassion. But, since body memories have got bad it's helped in a way as shown me and given me insight into how frightening and painful life was for me, I can't help but want to protect and nurture little me :)

  7. SweetPeaandSunBird

    SweetPeaandSunBird Well-Known Member
    Premium Member

    I'm so glad you replied. These days my body memories aren't like the full-fledged whiplash ones I used to experience. Occasionally, during PMS, I get one or two, but they don't last nearly as long as they used to. Generally the main difficulty is sleep (the dread of going to bed, first, then, the fitful sleep). I used to take a medication to help me sleep like a log, but I remained an inanimate log for much of my waking hours. I decided to get off that medication; it was Trazadone (spelling?). So, I've swapped a lot of naps for long-deep sleep.

    This might sound silly (and I forget to do this like I should), but I've found that if I brush my teeth (well, my dentures now - ha!) and gargle with a mint-flavored mouthwash, I sleep better. (Wow! this does sound silly but maybe it symbolically washes away the dread? Who knows...) Also, another silly tip (that works for me) is to change my pillow-cases when I find I've had several nights in a row of fitful sleep. Perhaps it's the idea of self-nurturing at bedtime (the mother I've become to myself that is more aware of the importance of nurturing than my mother had). I try all sorts of wacky ideas. I make no promises for any of this stuff to work for you, though.

    And, with that, I'm going to brush my "teeth," to symbolically get myself moving and start a massive load of laundry, along with so many other to-do's today.

    Hope you have a beautiful Sunday.
    Maggiemay likes this.
  8. shell

    shell Guest

    My body memories for sexual abuse are position related, so I can stop them if I get up and walk around, if they don't let up and the pain is too intense.

    I have found just accepting them and acknowledging them, without fighting against them has reduced them. I journal what I felt, talk about it in T, and now I am having far less. I hug a teddy bear, acknowledge her pain, and have some compassion for the little girl that went through it.

    My body memories help me to understand the past, as I only recovered my memories last year, but my initial reaction of fighting them, made them increase. Breathing deeply from my stomach helps with the physical pain, the more I focus inwards the worse the pain, if I just lay calmly, and accept it, the pain is more managable.
  9. SweetPeaandSunBird

    SweetPeaandSunBird Well-Known Member
    Premium Member

    This is true for me, too. If I sleep flat on my back, I'm almost certain to have a vivid nightmare.

    And, what you said about how they increase in resistance to trying to stop them from coming in is something I remember, too, when they were at their worst.

    Maggiemay, how long have you been working in therapy? (Take this as a rhetorically question if you don't want to answer.) I ask this because my worst period of these was when I really started therapy about the childhood abuse. Now that I've been in therapy for a decade, the body memories have been much more manageable.

    Thanks for starting this thread.
    Maggiemay likes this.
  10. Shellbell

    Shellbell I'm a VIP

    My flashbacks and nightmares are continually getting worse. I get a lot of sensory flashbacks, or visual, but not auditory.

    I find breathing deeply helps the pain too. I think I'm going to need to work on the self compassion though as I get really angry at myself for not being able to control the flashbacks. It's like I'm still desperately trying to just 'ignore' all the abuse like I did for 20 years. I think my reaction of fighting the flashbacks, is making it worse.

    I'm hoping EMDR therapy I'm having in the future will help this too.
    maddog, shell and Maggiemay like this.
  11. Maggiemay

    Maggiemay Well-Known Member

    Thanx guys for ur replies, really lovely to know am not alone with this. It means a lot! I've been having computer problems so haven't been able to reply properly. It's getting fixed at the mo, so I'll reply properly later :) But for now a big big thankyou to all u amazing people for making me feel accepted and normal :) Sensory flashbacks sure arm distressing and incredibly painful - I wouldn't wish them on anyone! Xxx
    Shellbell and shell like this.
  12. Hi Maggiemay, I experienced a series of rapes and sexual abuse from my brother in law and his "friends" from the age of 13 until 17/18. I have had flashbacks ever since then which seem so real at the time that I can even smell what they smelt like and hear their voices. I also get pelvic pains which mimic the rapes. I have difficulty controlling these flashbacks throughout the day and night. I had one therapy session a few weeks ago where i was diagnosed with PTSD and this has helped the night terrors massively. However I recently stopped skin picking/self harming which seems to have increased my flash backs :-( there is no pattern to them. They just randomly happen. I feel a little bit gutted that subconsciously it still affects me. Xxx
    Maggiemay likes this.
  13. Violet03

    Violet03 Active Member

    Maggiemay, I am so sorry you are going through that. My flashbacks are very similar to what you described. I have visual and auditory flashbacks of physical abuse that are upsetting, but I am able to ground myself easier with those. The sensory flashbacks with very little visual component are the most difficult. I have clips of images but not the whole visual Memory. I am not usually able to control these as well. These flashbacks are usually of my sexual abuse. I literally re-live the whole experience. I feel everything just like you described. My abuse happened from infancy until I was 15, then again when I was 21 I was raped. During this type of flashback I cannot control what I do. I cannot focus on breathing, grounding, or any other conscious activity. I act and feel the same as I did during the original trauma. I wish I could be of more help to you. I just wanted you to know you're not alone. That knowledge has helped me a lot in the past.
  14. SweetPeaandSunBird

    SweetPeaandSunBird Well-Known Member
    Premium Member

    This difference in the type of flashbacks and their degree of difficulty that you mentioned I find to be so true for me, too. (Your history for why you have them, too, is in line with my experiences.)

    One thing that helps me ground myself even in those most rattling flashbacks (though it takes more time for the "grounding" to finally work) is to say something to myself that reminds me that I'm not in the 1970s but rather in the year 2012.

    For example, when I was little, our dog was NEVER allowed in the house. But, as an adult now, I have my dog Sadie in the house. So, when I'm in that little-girl space of fear trapped in my childhood home, I try to repeat to myself: Dog in the house. MY dog is in MY HOUSE. My dog is ALWAYS allowed in MY HOUSE.

    I don't know if something like this might help for you, but, while still exhausting to have a flashback that requires such a mantra, eventually it brings me back to current time/space.

    Thanks for bringing this issue up.
    Maggiemay and Violet03 like this.
  15. Violet03

    Violet03 Active Member

    That's a great idea. I was never allowed to have my dog in the house either! Today I have my baby girl Roxie by my side every day. Next time one of those happen I will try to remember your technique to bring myself back. Thanks for the advice.
    SweetPeaandSunBird likes this.
  16. Maggiemay

    Maggiemay Well-Known Member

    Again guys, thankyou so much for all ur advice & support, cant believe how many other people have to go thro this hell - Like the grounding ideas, I find them so so hard with body memories, esp when end up in floods of tears & screaming to go away. Within my memories I only remember touch, nothing further, but my flashbacks suggest otherwise. So hard not knowing. I had amnesia for a good 10 yrs & forgot it ever happened - oh to be in that place again! :( xxx
    Shellbell and shell like this.
  17. maddog

    maddog I'm a VIP

    I also find that concentrating on objects, thoughts or any aspect of reality that is very different from the time of the trauma is really helpful in trying to ground my way out of flashbacks and sensory memories. It can be as simple as focusing on the presence and feel of an object that I did not own and which had no presence in my life during the trauma, such as my computer or mobile phone.

    I always sleep with my phone attached to me and my house keys in my pocket, which, while not necessarily a very healthy sleep behaviour, is very useful when grounding. Sometimes just touching these objects and saying to myself "I have a mobile phone now, and there are numbers of safe people in it... these are my house keys. I own a house now. I didn't own a house when I was a child..." etc can help.

    I too am so sorry that so many of us know and need to rely on such strategies, but it offers a little comfort to know there are things that do work and help to keep us in the present when the sensory memories become so distressing.

    Shellbell likes this.
  18. Maggiemay

    Maggiemay Well-Known Member

    Thankyou so much for the heads up :) My phone is always with me so that idea is perfect for me :) Last night, thanx to my good friend diazepam = no fighting & thrashing about, no body memories as went to sleep & woke up in bed - not trying to hide somewhere :D but along with upping up dose of quetiapine = very fuzzy head. Not great for last therapy session :s xxx
    Shellbell and maddog like this.
  19. Maggiemay

    Maggiemay Well-Known Member

    Managed to convince Dr on Mon to give me more diazepam, he was amazing and equally as concerned as me so nice to feel listened to. Really really struggling this week tho :( feel absolutely awful since Sun. Think I pushed myself too far last week & what with withdrawal coming of my anti - d (lofepramine) after Dr finally listened to cardiologists advice that making tachycardia worse 3 months after it started!! Ugh!!

    Body memories still pretty bad, u guys explain them in such a better way than me, esp the pain - it feels unbearable. :( Gotta ask for neurologist referral when see Dr on Mon, T worried all my physical manifestations of ptsd may have neurological link, especially when on notes if says I'm epileptic. I thought when it was all checked out 5 years ago it was found to be localised but notes, and how my body is now reacting says otherwise, sigh. :( Would make a lot of sense and then hopefully meds to control it would help a lot :)

  20. Shellbell

    Shellbell I'm a VIP

    I'm glad your doctor listened to you and is so willing to help. It makes a huge difference.

    I really hope the referral to the neurologist goes well too and you the right medication prescribed to manage that as quickly as possible.

    I'm sorry you are struggling so much this week and I understand that coming off the AD meds. I hope your week starts to improve.

    Hugs ((((Maggiemay)))).
  21. Maggiemay

    Maggiemay Well-Known Member

    Ahh thankyou :)

    My drs normally pretty good, although fought with him for ages not to be on mitazipine after taking myself off it as it turned me into an elephant & now psych & T both said am not clinically Depressed as moods continually swinging so actually an anti-d won't ever be the solution. My biggest difficulty is Anxiety which he's now accepted :)

    Will be interesting to see drs take on neurology referral - want to know what neurologists discharge letter said before - he made a point of telling me it wasn't my fault or within my control & was localised, but never saw discharge letter.

    Feeling better today than I have since Sun. My body is just ultra sensitive to any changes at the moment - all very annoying but I guess it's due to constant hyper vigilance :(

    Hoping it'll all settle down soon - I dont want to lie to Dr but everything's in place to go back to work in 3 weeks and I don't want anything to stop me - desperately need some normality now! Plus a phrased return so won't have full responsibility for my class til Easter time! :) headteacher has Ben great, despite initially being very upset by his decision to get someone else in to teach my class - I couldn't have taught well and done all this reliving this term - flashbacks/blackouts/dissociation is bad enough for me to deal with alone, let alone when in room full of 9/10/11 year olds who expect things from u.

    Shellbell likes this.
  22. Shellbell

    Shellbell I'm a VIP

    I'm on Mirtazapine and I've put on a few kilo's. I need an AD though as I had severe Depression before I went on it, although this week I'm almost back to feeling as bad. Seeing my doc tomorrow about it.

    I'm glad you're feeling better today.

    I understand totally how hard the hypervigilance is - it's draining. And the flashbacks from sexual and physical abuse - I have those too - it's really distressing.

    I'm glad the head teacher is being supportive and phased return sounds good, not too much all in one go. I understand that need for normality and I think it's a good amount of time to sort through things before you get back to full time teaching at Easter.
    Maggiemay likes this.
  23. Maggiemay

    Maggiemay Well-Known Member

    Thankyou :)

    Suffered depression a lot in past, way before ptsd diagnosis, but at the mo it's controlled thro work I've done in therapy, I just hope now I've come off anti-d it doesn't go downhill again as last thing I need on top of everything else is a recurrent low mood.

    You're def right about flashbacks - I hate them!! But visual & auditory ones getting better on quetiapine.

    Am very lucky with my head, have worked there for 5 yrs now & was always open about stuff :)

    Shellbell likes this.
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