Expedition 8: Combating Post-Traumatic Avoidance

Avoidance (uh-void-ns)

Using behaviours to try to avoid or escape particular thoughts or feelings.

 While meditating I realized that AVOIDANCE has been one of my major coping tools throughout my journey back to health post-accident. It has also been my worst ENEMY in reclaiming the things I’ve lost.

I’ve been occupying myself with mundane activities to avoid confronting my traumatic emotions. I am TERRIFIED that my broken brain will convince me to do something irrational if I confront things on my own. Until I get the proper support team in place to help me confront my emotions I’ve been using AVOIDANCE to cope. I occupy my time with being there for my friends, making sure I maintain my work relationships even though I am off on a leave and of course attempting to be present at home to take care of my house and family. These behaviours define how I use AVOIDANCE as a lame ass attempt to CONTROL my emotions so they don’t overtake me.

I’ll make it easier for those who have never suffered with PTSD or ANXIETY.

Let’s say I am sitting in a vehicle with you and you abruptly stop at a red light…

I will do two things become terrified and then yell or become silent.

  1. The fact that I am terrified is a part of the PTSD which has left me with the idea that at any time something bad can happen, especially in a car at a red light.
  2. The yelling or silence is my way to AVOID dealing with the real emotion which is FEAR.

Even though I am safe and nothing happened I will leave this situation spending hours, days, possibly weeks analyzing what could have gone wrong. Knowing this FEAR is irrational I’m left feeling SHAME about the fact I can’t CONTROL my mind.

Those are my feelings but on a physiological level I am also suffering. I will grab for the “holy shit handle” or anything within arm’s reach, start to sweat, my heart will pound. I will become nauseous and until I am able to take a few deep breaths or am out of the car I am a complete wreck. These physiological reactions are exhausting and often leave me tired, as my FEAR takes over I choose to isolate and be alone. This tightens the grip of the ANXIETY which eventually spirals into a bout of DEPRESSION which can last anywhere from hours to a week.

My psychotherapist for driver rehab keeps saying “you are having normal reactions to abnormal situations” what does that even mean?

I’m finding it hard to believe that I am still startled by these things so long after the accident and quite frankly I want it to just go away. I knew at some point the therapist would be taking me back to the scene of the ACCIDENT. I would often discuss my daily challenges with him trying to reconcile some of my emotions surrounding my diagnosis. A few weeks ago I realized this too was an AVOIDANCE tactic I was using to post pone having to be at that intersection.

It was August 2ndWe were having one of the in car sessions and he was talking away as he does when I’m driving, “deep breaths, drop your shoulders, breathe, you are safe” suddenly I realized we were on Wilson Street heading east towards Victoria Avenue. This meant that more than likely he was leading me to the scene of the accident and sure enough it happened “turn left on Victoria” he uttered.

The rest of it played out in slow motion with no sound and I was now heading North towards that intersection…Victoria and Cannon

I recall whispering “I don’t want to stop at the red light”. He didn’t hear me so I had to repeat myself as I slowed the vehicle to a crawl hoping the light would turn green. With tears streaming down my face from behind my sunglasses, I heard a scared little girl voice repeat louder “I don’t want to stop at the red light”. Once we arrived back at the office we went back inside. He had me do a short breathing meditation to calm me before I left feeling POWERLESS and SCARED.

That POWERLESS feeling put me in bed for an entire week I felt defeated even though I had faced a major FEAR. I was truly upset that he had betrayed my TRUST. Why didn’t he tell me we would be doing that, so I wasn’t so SCARED? It took me until today on my way to my next therapy session with him to realize why he didn’t tell me. If he did I would have AVOIDED, the situation.

Today on my way to my therapy I took the same route he took me on so that I could face him and tell him I took my power back. I didn’t want to blame him for challenging me or calling me out and forcing me to face this head on. But I had to prove I could do this on my own on my terms. Not be tricked into it!

As I approached the intersection I decided I would park my vehicle. I got out and walked towards the intersection with tears in my eyes I stopped to take in the traffic but still avoided getting to close. As I turned and walked back to my car I heard the sirens of an oncoming ambulance just like the morning of the accident. It took my breath away for a moment. Then I realized that sound shouldn’t SCARE me anymore that was the sound of help. That sound, that intersection is no longer a threat to me. I was able to conquer not only one but two FEARS that have haunted me for 362 days.

“It seems sometimes as if one were powerless to do anymore from within to overcome troubles, and that help must come from without”.

-Arthur Christopher (A.C.) Benson

I told the psychotherapist how I felt about our previous session and shared with him my success to regain my power as I traveled to this session. While he claimed that he wasn’t tricking me we both know the location has been revealed multiple times and is surely written in my file. He then said “well let’s get in the car and do it again” I could have talked my way out of it but I can’t keep AVOIDING these situations with such jarring emotions behind them. Plus, every time I’m at intersection I will take back a small piece of power on my path to recovery.

To be honest I don’t know if I will come out of this a stronger person, a wiser person or a completely different person but I do know there are many things I risk losing throughout this process which breaks my heart. The one thing I do know is that if I continue to AVOID my emotions they will CONTROL my actions and I cannot allow this to continue since it makes me feel POWERLESS.

So today I will make myself this simple promise…

I will no longer allow myself to feel POWERLESS in my recovery!



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