The most well known form of re-experiencing is flashbacks. This is when you feel you are back in the trauma of war or rape or whatever you have lived through.
Everyone knows about this symptom. When an event
happened so fast and was so overwhelming, it stays in the reptile brain
as bodily memories, emotions, flashes of visual information, smells,
sounds, touches. Any one of these can trigger a flashback.
Smells and sights are especially triggering because of the direct
connection with the brain. This is another form of the brain warning you
of danger, but it can also cause danger if you think you are somewhere
else for a few minutes and act on that.
One of the biggest problems
with PTSD is that survival skills that have kept you alive can become
your biggest problems later. This one is mostly a problem.
the funniest moments in our life, Bob's and mine, of trying to help
people with PTSD happened when he was giving a writing workshop years
ago at the Portland, OR VAMC. One of the guys told the group that when
he got back from Vietnam he went to a community college and for English
he had to write a journal. He got an F on the first one, and said to
himself, "F*ck her, I'll make it personal. I'll write one of my night
mares." He did. She corrected it and handed it back. He rewrote it. She
corrected it and handed it back. He rewrote it. She gave it a good
grade. He rewrote it a couple of more times just to make it completely
accurate. Then he noticed he was not having the nightmare anymore. That
night Bob said to me, "You know I have not had any nightmares since I
wrote Chickenhawk. I never noticed..." That is what happens if you can
turn those non verbal memories into some form of narrative memory, by
writing, talking or any other way that works for you.
If someone is having a flashback, don't jump them. Try to tell them they are safe at home.
One of the quickest ways to get out of a flashback is to carry a safe
scent with you, like vanilla or lavender, something you identify with as
a good smell and that has nothing to do with the war zone or whatever
danger you faced. The direct connection between brain and nose can help
you short circuit the flashback.
The next symptom is when you have
intense reactions to things that remind you of the trauma or symbolize
it in some way. I will talk about that tomorrow.