Monday, February 21, 2011

Relapse and Recovery

I think it less common in blogging to share a relapse and its analysis, but it may well help some readers.

Triggers just come along. We used to always share with our German guests that we lived near a firehouse and a siren might go off any time; it was more than just a courtesy for those who had lived through bombing raids. The recent trigger that set me off was – of all things – a tv commercial.

You may have seen it. There is this beautiful unclothed woman lying on a bed, seemingly asleep. A huge snake starts crawling over her. In talking about it a few days ago, my wife assured me it was an exaggerated erotic image. Sigmund Freud would have agreed and whoever developed the commercial obviously felt inspired by its manipulative potential with buyers. Not me. I looked and then I could not get the snake out of my mind. If you have had a post traumatic experience you know about the sensations accompanying a flashback.

 Backtracking, I recognized where this came from: an event when I was thirteen. I was at Boy Scout camp. There was a limestone cliff with tunnels in it and we loved to explore them. One time, as was I crawling out to the outside on my stomach, the light ten feet ahead of me, a rattlesnake suddenly gave warning right in front of my face. I froze. A long minute later, I moved a finger. It rattled. I waited – for one and half eternities. Finally, I moved my finger again. Nothing. I crawled into the light, told the scoutmaster about it, thought nothing more about it, simply a small incident in my conscious memory.

Then, decades later, I was finishing a manuscript for a third book on OCD, one specifically on its religious aspects. I was reviewing some passages in Acts, when it hit me that young Saul had a flashback on his way to Damascus. Lights went on all over my mind as implications about Paul’s ministry shot here and there. I had done a good deal of counseling over the years with PTSD situations and I was elated as the insights flowed. I started re-reading PTSD books and went on to new ones. I really dug deep into descriptions of symptoms. Then one night about three years ago, I shot straight up in bed. There was a rattlesnake in front of my face: this time I could see him. I do not know if it was a record for emotional denial, but it will do for my purposes!

As you will recognize, of course, I could not get rid of that snake. It had been graphed into my brain; I  had just largely suppressed the experience: but it was there.   

Now It’s time for the evening news; tomorrow I will share how I worked with the flashback and then we will backtrack further the rest of the week.

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