My PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) Journey (from “Jonathan”)... PTSD has led me to my past
Johnathan, an ex patient from the Hope Street Centre has, since leaving therapy, written about his PTSD journey and experience of EMDR. All names and identifying details have been either changed or anonymised to protect identities. The article is followed by some information about EMDR therapy and support for people who experience dissociation. The Hope Street Centre has a number of practitioners who are qualified and experienced in EMDR for both adults and children and who are skilled at working with different types of dissociation, please see the list of therapists for more information.
Please be aware that some readers may find the following content disturbing.
"I had always known there was something very dark in my past, but for most of my life I could not get anywhere near it. Just the knowing that something unidentified was lurking back there was enough to send me into a state of panic. I was painfully aware that, especially over more recent years, I was becoming a ball of exploding stress, with repeated “attacks” seemingly kicking off at random throughout each day and night. This continued for all but a few days a year, year on year. Repeated calls for help with my respective doctors only led to them telling me that I was working too hard and to take a break. Some of the stress would yield some pretty weird stuff at times – sensations, notions, and “special effects” courtesy of my eyesight. Some of this had been noticeable to other people and had caused much ridiculing over the years. I consulted with many a specialist over the years to no avail.
The only perceived related memory I had was from childhood, when I awoke one night to see an unidentified figure in my bedroom, silhouetted against the dimly lit curtains. The size and outline did not match anyone resident in the household at that time, which had left me trying to work out why it had been there, for most of my life since. I always recall that the sighting was just the start of the problems with someone moving about my room in the dead of night on many occasions over the ensuing years. I had long given up trying to communicate this to my parents, who were adamant that anything happening to a child at night could only be a bad dream. So I had nobody to guard me from what was happening in there. It took many years of terror before I plucked up enough courage to flee the bedroom without believing I would be grabbed and punished by whoever was there. I began regularly fleeing to the safety of the toilet where I would lock myself in and doze for the remainder of the night. In trying to work out how someone could get into the house so regularly, I recalled my parents shutting themselves into a single room downstairs after putting us to bed, with the rest of the house in darkness. Also, that the locks had not been changed from the previous residents, so we had no idea who, and what kind of person, might have still owned a spare key. It seemed to me that anyone could have entered unnoticed during the evening (before the doors were bolted) and hid until after my parents had gone to sleep before making their terrifying presence known.
Over the years, the stress and its strange effects became increasingly worse, and would be accompanied at times with flashes of strange images, of me being somewhere outdoors in the middle of the night amidst a group of people doing strange things. These would last only a couple of seconds and fill me with utter dread. Nothing was making sense to me, and it made even less sense to anyone to whom I tried to talk. I was always being told to “shut up about such things otherwise everyone would think [I was] mad”. But the escalating stress inevitably came to a head a few years ago with me keeling over with violent chest pains. Paramedics witnessed some abnormal readings from their monitors so I was taken into hospital where, thankfully, a doctor advised that I had not suffered a heart attack that time, but I was due one immanently if I did not sort the stress out. Feeling I had no option at this point, I took advice and consulted with a psychotherapist experienced in complex trauma.
The first session was full of revelations, including the possibility that my stress might be due to PTSD and that none of it was at all random. Everything apparently erupts as a result of a trigger of sorts. It took three months to identify the mass of triggers and trauma reactions, and so confirming there was indeed something very big that I had buried in my past, but which had no intention of going away. I found in therapy, someone who actually wanted to hear what had happened to me. The therapist made me feel safe and protected for the first time in my life, which had the effect of allowing me to confront my past head on. Apparently it is up to each person to decide how much detail they are willing or able to “dig up” but I wanted to understand all that had happened to me. With the help of EMDR treatment I plunged in deep, to rapidly unravel the truth of those bad times and heal the distress. (EMDR is an abbreviation of Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing: a form of trauma- focused psychotherapy that is recommended by NICE for the treatment of PTSD- www.emdrassociation.org.uk)
I began allowing myself to recall the true purpose of the bedroom intruder, in drugging me and carrying me out of the house in the dead of night under my parents’ noses. It is difficult to know why my parents let this happen. It could be that they were both trauma victims themselves and so dissociated and cut off from the traumatic events happening to their children. Alternatively, at least one of them might have been complicit in the event. I also recalled meeting a man, once away from the immediate vicinity of the house. I always used to get triggered whenever I stood near the exact spot where the man used to abduct me. He was my abductor-guardian for the night, who resumed responsibility over my “wellbeing” (e.g. to ensure that I did not acquire any physical wounds during my abuse that might have raised suspicions the following day). These abductor-guardians did not abuse the children they abducted, but instead exchanged them with other abusers once at the event. It was just one of many ways by which they covered their tracks.
Then there were those strange flashes of images that were now understood as flashbacks. Most of them began lengthening in duration to reveal outdoor locations, and especially being near to some woods (that was another trigger identified, which helped me to connect my trauma symptoms with actual memory). Once the logistics of those night events had been established, I was then able to find the courage to confront the really bad stuff, which came flooding out like a poison river through my body. That was a really desperate time, and of such detail that most survivors of this “not uncommon” crime steer clear from remembering in full, but some of us have to go there don’t we? Some of us have to learn the truth of what really happened at those events, other than a group of adults playing stupid scare games with the abducted children (often the only publicised element of this crime), which in fact were deliberate acts of traumatising the children in order to screw up their minds, confusing them so they would be unable to give evidence regarding the more serious abuses that then took place.
I for one have now recalled the whole agenda that was played out during each event upon a small group of abducted children, by a group who made half-hearted attempts at aligning themselves with some grotesque religious beliefs, but who were obviously there for the sex and terror being dealt out to the children in equal measure. This included, each time, all of us being made to watch the sadistic and humiliating rape of another child, and of all of us being abused during an orgy that saw several adults abusing and raping each child simultaneously. I clearly recall hearing them sobbing so desperately. It still makes my skin crawl. Again, this links directly to another previously undiagnosed medical symptom of feeling constant pressure over my skin, which is in fact just another traumatic body memory dating from those experiences. The “religious” parts of the event that I had witnessed are far too sickening to describe here. Each event ended by us having to swallow more pills, whereupon I would lose consciousness and never be too sure that I would wake again.
In the face of all this horror, I find it ironic that many abusers deliberately traumatise their victims in an attempt to make them forget, and yet it has been the trauma symptoms that have successfully lit my way, like streetlights along a darkened road, right back to the very events that I was supposed to forget, which I now remember as fresh as the day they happened. They have now been recorded in detail in police databases awaiting further action.
Life is very different for me these days, following the EMDR treatment. There had been a number of moods and idiosyncrasies I had not particularly enjoyed living with but had come to accept were here to stay, but even they had come to the fore during my treatment, and have since been cleared. Psychotherapy has removed a significant amount of pain from these memories, and I am now feeling stronger, fitter and braver as a result, and have been more able to start something nearer a normal life from that point on. The memories will always be accompanying me though, wherever I go from here, because EMDR does not remove the memories but makes them easier to live with. I do not regret unearthing these memories, despite their intensity, as I find it easier to live with them than to suffer the PTSD without them.
I have been relentless in my search for the identity of these people, but have too many contenders that I cannot reduce in number. What I do know is that this group was so intelligent, sophisticated and creative in its operations that it resembled a secret society more closely than just a group of abusive thugs. This was a society of clever and resourceful individuals, all of whom could have been in professional employment. I have sometimes wondered at the utter refusal of police to go anywhere near investigating this crime. It has never been properly explained to me why this should be. The rural setting of these events was estate parkland, as typically seen surrounding large country houses.
I hope my account as described here might persuade other survivors who remember similar acts, or similar severity of abuse, to now come forward and maintain this momentum of survivors unearthing the truth of what has taken place in our society. It is the only coming forward and telling of accounts today that is going to lead to a much safer environment for our children of tomorrow to thrive in."
Footnote from Jessica Woolliscroft (EMDR Europe Accredited Consultant)
PTSD can only be diagnosed by a Psychiatrist, and so a formal diagnosis of PTSD for medico-legal reasons can be difficult to secure. Many people do not meet the formal criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD but they still suffer terribly from a generalised trauma response. There are certain symptoms that can indicate to other psychological practitioners the likely presence of a trauma response, and such symptoms are amenable to the right treatment. Indicators to look for include:
- the experiencing of a life threatening or horrific event;
- very high levels of physiological arousal;
- unwanted reexperiencing of traumatic memories often called ‘flashbacks’ which can be visual, emotional, auditory, kinaesthetic and olfactory
- and a tendency to avoid reminders of the traumatic event, either by consciously avoiding places and/or people or by psychologically dissociating or ‘blanking off’ from experience, emotions or the body.
EMDR is a trauma-focused psychotherapy with a strong evidence base for the treatment of PTSD and it is increasingly being used to treat other trauma related conditions such as anxiety, panic, obsessional-compulsive behaviour, and phobias. There are now studies indicating its effectiveness at treating depression, especially where it is the result of untreated childhood trauma. For more information about research into EMDR and a list of accredited EMDR practitioners in your area please go to www.emdrassociation.org.uk.
Please see the Hope Street Therapists list for those who work with EMDR and Dissociation