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PTSD (SA) Flashbacks and Regressions

Author’s Notice: This is a part of a series of articles on dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related to Sexual Assault (SA) from a spouse’s personal viewpoint. These articles are meant to help the friends, families, and others who are or will have to deal with victims of SA. This is an extreme case and not everyone will exhibit all of these behaviors. Since an estimated 1 in 5 women in the military experience SA, I thought it would be beneficial to have a first-hand account. All articles in this series will start with PTSD(SA).

Background

My late wife, Sue, was brutally raped and anally sodomized between the ages of 7 to 14. Every summer, her parents would send her and her younger brother, Doug, to her aunt and uncle’s farm where a farm hand would abuse her. He would threaten to abuse her brother if she did not surrender. She submitted to being bound and gagged and sexually assaulted. Her aunt was a diabetic. When she told her aunt about the initial attempted abuse, her aunt threatened to give her a shot of her insulin warning her to keep her mouth shut because good farm hands are hard to find. Sue’s mother perceived her story as just trying to get out of going to the farm for the summer, and her mother handled her father’s concerns. Sue, Doug, Sue’s mother, father, aunt, uncle, and the farm hand have all died so there are no issues of liable with this recount of events.

I did not know anything about the SA until 10 years into our relationship. Looking back over our time together, and with what I now know of PTSD and SA, I can see all the signs. At that time, it was all very confusing because I did not have a basis from which to deal with the situation.

Flashback

It is my understanding that flashbacks can occur in any number of forms from a mild wave of fear, to a brief moment of horror, to a full blown, relived experience. It can occur as a thought or in a dream, but all mental health professionals agree, there is some kind of a trigger that will set it off. It could be a sound, a smell, a taste, a situation, but no one ever tells you in the literature that a feeling of safeness can also be a trigger. In Sue’s case, the Psychologist said her mind told her that she was now in a long term, safe situation, so here is your horror; handle it. As the spouse, there is no way to prepare, but you can be aware. This is how I found out about the Sexual Assault.

We were having one of our arguments, one evening. I was getting really tired of fighting. She was shouting, and I was sitting on the sofa listening to her rant. When she stopped, expecting an answer to her question, I calmly said, “Just because you yell the loudest, doesn’t make you the winner.” Her eyes flared, she gasped, turned red then purple and collapsed to the floor – unconscious. After about 15 seconds, I stood up to go check her vitals, just in case. That is when it started.

She was lying on her stomach, when the pantomime began. All I could do is watch in disbelief. Her arms were pulled above her head as if by a ghost. They were being pulled and yanked around as they were being bound. She was crying and whimpering as her head was being pulled back and forth. Her voice changed as a gag was put in place. Her left leg was dragged out straight and bound. I stood there watching in horror as the rape was being acted out. About 20 minutes later, she came to consciousness. I held her, and told her what I saw. That is when she told me the whole entire story. I told her she had to go see a doctor. She refused. Under all circumstances, it was not going to happen –NO DOCTORS.

Lost Time or Regression

Sue and I called this ‘Lost Time,’ and the Psychologist she saw never gave it another name however, I believe the proper term for it is Regression. I think the best way to describe this is, when things became too much for her to mentally handle, she would revert back to a simpler time. She would become a child for a period of time. This happened maybe a dozen times. It seemed the younger she was, the easier it was to bring her back to reality, and the episode would be short; conversely, the older she was during the regression, the longer the episode. She would not know me, or where she was, but would talk to me and answer questions.

One time she reverted back to 8 years old. It was winter, the temperature that evening was -5º F. I found her in the back yard, in the snow. She was barefoot, and in a t-shirt, playing. She thought it was summer, and the cold had no effect on her. Another time she reverted to the age of 17. That was an extremely scary episode for me because she was mentally sharp enough that I had trouble reasoning with her to bring her back. It lasted over 10 hours. In all instances, I stayed very calm. I spoke to her constantly, asked questions, kept her in the house, and presented logical reasons for her being there until her mind seemed to overload and she came back to reality. Once back, she remembered nothing of the episode and was very upset because she had ‘Lost Time’ and could not account for it. That was my proof to her that she had a regression. Still, she refused to get help. It was not until she was forced by authorities that she sought out a Psychologist.

The last major episode she had, she regressed to the age of 14. She was convinced I had kidnapped her because I would not let her near any of the exits. She threatened to call the police, and did. They instructed her to lock herself in a bathroom which I directed her towards. Five minutes later, six officers were at the door. I let them in. Told them where she was. Sat on the sofa as they instructed, and I told them the whole story. Sue had come back to reality while in the bathroom. When she had come out, she wanted to know why the police were there. They told her. She accused me of calling them. The officers assured her that she made the call. She was asked if she was under the care of a mental health professional. She told them she was not. She was then informed if the police had to return and she was not under care, then she would be removed to a state mental health facility. The next morning she called our HMO to meet with a Psychologist that afternoon.

Conclusion

The Psychologist agreed to working with her on an outpatient basis. The first two weeks, she met with the mental health professional every day (including weekends) for 3 to 5 hour sessions. It was then reduced to week days for 1 to 2 hour sessions for the next three weeks. Reductions in session happened periodically until she was down to once a week. There were only two more episodes of regressions while under care. Eventually, all the odd behaviors abated, and life had some normalcy about it.

Related Articles

PTSD (SA) Skewed Value System -- http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art41759.asp

Signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Vets -- http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art181079.asp

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