heartbeat: Reversing Trauma
Hi All- I'm continuing on with the "heartbeat" series after a few weeks off. There was a reason for that. In mid-February, I was in a pretty serious rear-end car accident during a sudden hail storm. The experience, in short, really had me evaluating my own heartbeat, and it caused an internal shift that has helped me drive towards reversing trauma. I'm blessed to be here, and while I am healing mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically from the accident, I have definitely felt God's presence. I'm certain that God made me a Nascar driver in the key moments so I could be here to tell you about it, especially as someone who is living through and healing from severe PTSD. I was driving home from a simple errand. I remember getting in my car before heading home and the woman in the car next to me was pointing upward. I thought she was trying to get my attention, but she was just awed by the skies. So, I looked up, and they were getting more and more black. It was a nasty storm headed our way, and I was hopeful that I might get home before it let loose. Not to be.
I started out on my drive towards home, which wasn't far from where I was, maybe 10-15 minutes. I was just in the next town over. As I started out, it had not started raining yet, but when I was making taking the winding road back into town, a hail storm had started. It was light at first and then getting worse as I was driving into town. I wasn't sure if it was snow or hail, but based on the skies and the pea-sized snowballs hitting the windshield, it was a solid dose of near blinding hail. I began slowing down because it was getting worse and I could see the cars in front of me up ahead. I had just gotten two new All Weather tires only weeks before so I was surprised how well I felt on the road, but I was reminded quickly that I don't drive on this stuff much at all. I avoid driving on it as much as possible just for the good of humanity. So, I was extremely cautious. I would say only a few minutes after I slowed down, I heard a loud and sudden impact into the back of my car. I was immediately push forward into a skid into oncoming traffic that I steered out of and then I remember seeing my car seemingly racing toward the rocky embankment on the opposite side of the road. I immediately started to brace for the side impact while I was trying to steer back out of it, not knowing what was going to happen next. The next thing I know, I'm stopped on the side of the road and I had managed to avoid hitting anyone, being hit again, and my car didn't slam into the rocky embankment.
It was extremely quick, and when I stopped, I suddenly was in extreme panic and knew that I had some sort of concussion from the impact. I was in an immediate PTSD event, trying to call 911. I wasn't doing well with directions, but I knew I had to get someone out there. It was still hailing, but I'd seen the other driver pull around and stop in front of me. It was a teenage kid, and he didn't seem injured. The 911 operator was telling me to find out the address when I could only give estimated answers praying that they knew where I was. I tried to move over to the passenger side of my car to get out, scared that the hail storm wouldn't keep us all safe, but with no other choice to get out if we were going to get help. Thankfully the kid was calling his dad and could give an address to the 911 caller I had on the phone. I was extremely nervous about the PTSD reaction because I had just had an event one week prior. Even if you intellectually know you need to calm down, my body was still in sympathetic response mode, and it didn't know what to do other than be traumatized.
When the firefighters came and checked me, I had blood pressure of 160/100 and tachycardia. They told me it would calm down, but I was pretty messed up and scared, and they didn't want to take me to the hospital. Long story short, after my car was towed away, and the police were gentle with me and clearly labeled the kid at fault, they drove me home with blood pressure still high at 152/90, which is way too high for me. I knew my upper body from head to low back had felt the serious impact, and even the body shop manager later said it was clear that the kid had hit me going too fast. That night though was a tough one for me being alone. I called the crisis line to try to get a handle on my PTSD while being in shock. Instead, I ended up with such tightness in the chest that I thought I was having a heart attack so I had to call 911 again. The firefighters had to work with me again with blood pressure at 140/90. The only thing that would end up getting my blood pressure down was my PTSD vitamin protocol, which I took soon after they arrived while discussing again why they didn't want me to go to the hospital due to Covid-19. It turned out that this protocol saved me and brought my blood pressure down to 118/80, but my body was still in shock. After the firefighters left, I tried to sleep without much success.
I woke up at 3am and didn't get back to sleep again, and I wouldn't eat much for the next day. I spent time at the urgent care where the doctor had me driven by ambulance to the ER to make sure I didn't have a heart attack. Then I was driven home only to have to walk to pick up my bike from the urgent care because that was the way I had gotten there. I was thankful for everyone's help along the way along but equally surprised at how much SSRI's were being pushed in my direction due to PTSD, which I declined. As I observed my body sort through the adrenalin surges and the sympathetic nervous system mayhem for the next couple weeks, I began to understand more of what God was doing. I was a mess at the accident site. Vulnerable, alone, neglected, and felt abandoned deep inside. I knew that it wasn't right to be alone, and I realized how many times I'd been alone inside these traumatic events. I was completely vulnerable, and yet at the same time, I realized how strong God had made me to navigate that accident without harming myself any further or harming anyone else. I can't imagine how I would feel if I had not had control over my car and I hurt someone else. God's enhanced me in that sudden impact to stay alert and navigate because my life had depended on it. I truly believe those All Weather tires had saved my life. I'm not clear that I could have navigated the icy road with the impact without them and I'm so glad that I didn't give up in being strongly connected to life. God MOVED in me. Yet, just as quickly as that moment passed, I was back in my trauma self that was overwhelmed, broken, scared, and alone. Both had hit me at once. Strength and extreme vulnerability.
I knew that was both, strong and vulnerable, but the accident not only impacted me, it pushed me. It pushed even more old trauma to the surface along with the physical shock my body experienced. I had crazy dreams, yet some of mental trauma was releasing. I think it's simply because the present trauma was now sitting on the old trauma, and my body really only had capacity to deal with what was most present. In some way, the new trauma was shutting down some of the older trauma that my body wouldn't let go of with the rape. Or, I was just so raw at this point that I only had the capacity to deal with the fact that my body was experiencing some stress hyperglycemia and hormone imbalances due to physiology of the accident. My body was also acidic and in inflammation, so it was important that I do whatever I could to prevent an active PTSD event. My nervous system was a wreck.
So, I had to learn even more about slowing down and setting boundaries. I'd been diagnosed with a concussion, whiplash, and chest inflammation from the seatbelt impact. I wasn't able focus. I had constant headaches, I couldn't work much or for long periods. I had dizzy spells. So, I just had to be careful. I was just so glad to hear that my heart was good and that an echocardiogram also showed that heart function was stable. I had life. I just needed to sort out what was next in my healing. My car was totaled, I was beat up, but I was here. It's a few weeks later, and I've rebounded more, seeing life from a different perspective. I was alone that night as I was often in these scary events, and I revisited how much I needed to recommit to changing this outcome in my life. I needed to punch back at trauma and show it the strength that God had instilled in me.
When I showed up to physical therapy this week, and my physical therapist talked to me about the physiology of my trauma shell in my upper body, I was able to put into better understanding what my frozen autonomic nervous system had caused in my body due to the accident. I was guarded before, but my upper body had tightened up into a ball of sorts keeping my autonomic nervous system constant activated, my breath shallow, and my pain relief minimized. I had unconsciously but a barrier up to not only protect my heart but to shield my body from any more harm. I didn't want anyone near me that didn't understand and my body would not release until I could trust the person trying to help me. Thankfully, my physical therapist was trained in how to release the autonomic nervous system in my physical responses so that I could calm down inside and start the rebuilding and strengthening process that would start to heal my body. Just as I put myself in a car and drove only days after accident to shut down any further PTSD that was ravaging my life, I wanted to make sure my physical body would not continue to hold onto this trauma for years to come. I had learned the hard way that by staying silent and not turning in the man who raped me years ago that I had invited trauma to take over my life rather than release it and win the fight. Now, I was presented with this situation where I could surrender into pain for the rest of my life, or fight that, and make every effort to heal. I no longer wanted this trauma self. I love my vulnerability because it helps me connect, yet my trauma self/shell was no longer serving me. This trauma self/shell had become a monster to me, and it taught me to be afraid of life. I didn't want to live that way, and I knew this year was important for healing if I wanted to overcome the years of trauma from the years before.
I couldn't stay stuck. Yet, I couldn't push like a crazy woman to get unstuck. I just had to be committed to break the cycle and release any ability to sabotage the wonderful future ahead. I don't feel connected to the current politics of the times, because God has me in something much deeper and enriching for my own transformation. With every heartbeat, God is working on me, getting out of the way the forces that would cause harm, and bringing me closer to the forces that are part of my healing and thriving. I couldn't stay stuck. I'm working hard during this time to heal in the right ways, to thrive in the ways that are correct and stable. God's power is with me, in me, and in my life as a source of protection as I develop my power to trust. I must get on with it. The heartbeat says so. We must let ourselves move forward in times of trauma and commit to the healing of it. There's a bright future ahead. It's time to commit to it. Thank you heartbeat. You've taught me quite a bit. I'm glad we're hanging out together.
Until next time, Jennifer