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Chapter 7

Proud to call myself an onion...

 

As I mentioned in the last chapter, you really need to work with a trauma-informed therapist so that you heal and don’t experience more pain along your journey. PTSD, in and of itself, is a huge struggle. When you're stuck in an "incorrect" treatment modality, you won't reach your goals. Unfortunately, this is something that's more common than you might think.

 

When you're talking to a professional who doesn't have trauma training, you may do well for a while, but eventually you'll grow worse. This is because when you spend a lot of time talking about trauma, you can be retraumatized. It's why it's vital for you to work with the right PTSD professional - the most highly qualified person whom you can find in this regard.

 

Unfortunately, this isn’t something that I initially knew about. Therefore, when my pastor at that time suggested a therapist to me who was also a member of our church, I immediately booked an appointment with him without hesitation. After all, she wouldn’t steer me wrong, and I don’t believe that she knowingly did so. However, as I look back on it now, I can see that this wasn’t the right therapist for me - long before I ever decided to look for another therapist.

 

You see, this therapist made several comments that didn’t help with my healing. The one that sticks out to me the most was when he told me that I’m like an onion with many layers. This isn’t something that you’d ever expect to hear from your therapist, and at that time I took it offensively because I definitely wasn’t ready to hear it then. However, now that I look back on this comment, I do understand what was meant by it…

 

Years ago I’d been diagnosed with CPTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). This is different from PTSD because it’s caused by ongoing trauma which lasts for months or years. For instance, in my case it resulted from experiencing prolonged child abuse and domestic violence. With it I experience some symptoms of PTSD along with some additional symptoms. In my case, those additional symptoms include finding it difficult to control my emotions and being distrustful of the world. It also meant that I really was an onion: I had layers of deep abuse buried within me.

 

In reality, I knew that I’d had PTSD for around 16 years. I’d originally been diagnosed when I left Charles. At that time the doctors only said that it was because of the domestic abuse he perpetrated, but that’s because I didn’t realize my parents were also abusive. Many people were surprised to hear that I had this diagnosis because in the past it was only believed that people who went through a war had it. Unfortunately, this isn’t true and anyone who’s undergone a trauma may develop it.

 

There are several ways that PTSD interrupts your life, including:

  • Intrusive thoughts

  • Nightmares

  • Avoidance

  • Memory loss

  • Negative thoughts

  • Self-isolation and distancing

  • Anger and irritability

  • Loss of interest

  • Hyperarousal

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Insomnia

  • Flashbacks

  • Difficult beliefs and feelings

  • Casting blame

  • Difficulty feeling positive emotions

  • Exaggerated startle response

  • Engaging in harmful behaviors

 

Additionally, CPTSD also affects a person in several ways, including:

  • Flashbacks (re-experiencing the traumatic event).

  • Avoidance and detachment from people, events and environmental triggers of the trauma.

  • Excessive attention to the possibility of danger (hypervigilance).

  • Frequent negative thoughts and emotions.

  • Excessive reactivity to negative emotional stimuli with anger and aggressive behavior (affective dysregulation).

  • A negative sense of self involving persistent feelings of shame, guilt, failure and worthlessness.

  • Severe difficulty in forming and maintaining meaningful relationships.

 

Shortly before this time I’d started volunteering a lot of time at the local homeless shelter where I met some people that I thought were my friends, but were more just acquaintances. While they did show me friendship and care while I was there, this ended as soon as I was unable to volunteer there anymore due to my physical limitations.

 

During this time I also bought a car and started attending church again. This in and of itself was a whole ordeal because my parents were controlling my life so much. At first I tried to hide the car but then my therapist convinced me that I needed to tell my parents that I had it. Upon doing so they were immediately angry. This time because they were no longer able to control me.

 

As an interesting aside, this is also when our country went into lockdown from COVID.

 

So, yes, in fact, I am an onion and I’m actually quite proud of it now that I understand what it means: PTSD doesn’t define me but it does have an impact on my life. Even with it I’m able to live a great life as a strong person. Like an onion’s layers I also have many interests, dreams and goals. I am the author of my life and it’s up to me to choose to thrive.

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