Echoes: On Living With PTSD

Last Friday marked the nine year anniversary of the 10 seconds that altered my life forever: the shooting in which 4 of my friends were shot, two killed, and I was somehow spared.

Those 10 seconds were like the life of Christ to me: my history is divided between Before and After. The Before feels so distant, so alien. I can’t imagine a world in which violence is not so real, so close. I can’t imagine the ignorant comfort I once lived in, unaware that the world is pregnant with violence – a woman whose water may break at any moment.

I’ve come a long way in these 9 years. I no longer try to throw myself out my window in my sleep, believing that there is an invisible assailant in my room. I can now believe in a future, even in a world so fraught with terror and uncertainty. I no longer feel like a ghost, destined to die in that hallwaywho somehow thwarted fate, now drifting through life with no purpose waiting for another madman to come and finish the job. I no longer have nightmares from which I wake screaming.

Life has, more or less, normalized. The echoes grow fainter. I can go whole weeks, now, without thinking about the shooting, and I count that as a great victory. The shooting used to define every moment of my life, and I am relieved that video games and work stress and good books define it more, now. I have regained some of my creativity, and I consider that the greatest victory of all.

But then this time of year comes around, and I remember; remember is the wrong word. Remember implies a cerebral recollecting, but this is a remembering in my whole body. This is a conjuring up of the past. The membrane between myself and the past suddenly feels perilously thin. What is nine years ago suddenly feels like yesterday, an hour ago, this very moment. My body stores it all, like the chickenpox virus, and then manifests it again in an itching, painful rash.

Oddly, what I remember most is not the shooting itself, which blurs and falls into the underwaters of the subconscious, but the context. I remember being nineteen years old, hating myself for being gay, feeling lonely. I remember the snow on the YWAM base where I was stationed. I remember the feeling of the air, the quality of the light, the taste of the coffee I would drink every morning.

And I remember the after: the desolate feeling in the pit of my stomach that became my new normal. I remember the nightmares. I remember finding warm nooks where I tried to feel safe: my bed, reading Manga and playing video games.

The After, the new normal, was a world where I never felt safe, where terror would assail me without reason, where nightmares would plague me, where I felt like my mind was shattered. I couldn’t create, couldn’t imagine, couldn’t focus – not with the intensity that I used to. I still feel a bit crippled by the trauma, but I have learned to walk on the limp. Violence and creativity are great enemies – they are forever at war. Violence won in my late teens, accompanied by the self-denial and religious humiliation that marked those years.

Violence won the battle, but it didn’t win the war. When this time comes around, and the earth grows cold, the only thing I know to do is to sit still, remember, mourn. There is no escaping the echoes, and the only way through them is through.

As I sit here on a cold December day, remembering all the suffering I have known, I remember the suffering of the world. Our human capacity for suffering is incredible, and mine is but a drop in the ocean. I remember it, and I choose to feel compassion and presence. For me, spring always comes. For many, it doesn’t.

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