Change Your Story, Change Your Life!
by Jenna Hughes
| PTSD: My Story Project #004
I feel so blessed to be a part of the PTSD: My Story Project, as the more we raise awareness and connect with others, the easier our days become. Be true to yourself and follow people like these guys to find your daily inspiration. Remember, you are not alone in it.
It is a never-ending battle living with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). I have unfortunately suffered from it most of my life. I can look back now and have a little chuckle to myself at all the people who thought I had a perfect life with the perfect family. But little did anyone know, I was living with an undiagnosed debilitating mental condition. Behind closed doors, it wasn’t so perfect, and I was out of control.
Read also ‘Your Story Does Not Define You by Emily Natani‘
I now know that my C-PTSD was triggered by several traumas. It all started in my childhood. I found my neighbor’s murdered body, experienced sexual abuse from a family friend and was held hostage inside an armed bank robbery… All by the age of ten. I come from a good family, from a good suburb, so I am proof that these types of incidents can happen to anyone, from any walk of life.
My parents love me. However, instead of taking me to a psychologist to ensure I was ok, they thought they were doing the right thing by sweeping it all under the carpet. They tried to protect me by not talking about it and not allowing me to process my trauma. As a family, we all understand now that this wasn’t the right way to handle it. I believe my parents had my best interests at heart with the resources and knowledge that were before them. I do not blame them for any of this, and they have been my biggest supporters throughout my journey.
During my teenage years, I was a handful. I went to multiple schools, I had issues with keeping friendships and always felt like ‘life’ was a constant up and down battle. My parents were always concerned about my behavior as there was nothing “going wrong” in my life, so why was I behaving this way? I self-harmed on several occasions, and the thoughts that would race through my head made me feel ‘weird’.
At 19 I graduated from the Police Academy. During my time as a Police Officer, I witnessed and attended disturbing scenes that you only see in movies. Murders, Fatal motor vehicle accidents, suicides, you name it, I saw it all by the age of 23. Seeing all of this at the time unknowingly triggered my childhood trauma and flared up my PTSD. The thoughts that would go through my head, the stupid decisions I would make, the mania that I was experiencing, I had no idea what was wrong with me or why I was acting that way.
Even though I appeared confident and beautiful, I had no self-worth and allowed men to use me. I hated not being in control of my head. I wouldn’t sleep. I was constantly on edge and was ruining the relationships I had with my family and friends due to frustration and anger.
For me, there was no safe place in the world, not even my home, and this only got worse. At 24 years old, I was sentenced to 12 months in a maximum-security prison for doing something stupid for love. I abused my power as a Police Officer and did a favour for a man, who I allowed to manipulate me. I had no idea that this would be the most damaging decision of my life.
For the first three months of my prison sentence, I was forced to live in segregation with no windows and only one hour of sunlight a day. This was not for punishment, this was because I was a Police Officer, and they couldn’t guarantee my safety anywhere else in the prison.
I lacked human interaction, and I began to hear voices and would talk to myself. Most of the guards were amazing, but there were certain ones who were on power trips and would ‘forget’ to give me my medication, ‘forget’ to turn the light switch off at night.
I was FINALLY moved down to the protective wing of the prison where I served a further nine months.
Although prison is a horrible place, I wanted to use my time there to make good of a crappy situation. I didn’t want to be remembered as the ‘bikini model turned police that fell in love with the wrong man’ that the media had me painted out to be. I didn’t want to be the person that resulted in drugs and alcohol to ease her pain and feel numb as this was all I had known. I started to journal my days and started to process my past. I read books and educated myself on mental health. I would spend my time listening to the stories of the other women and try to find the purpose as to why I was there. I truly believe that spending 12 months in prison allowed me to be so still within my mind that it forced me to become aware, to be vulnerable with myself, and begin the change I so desperately needed. I finally accepted that I had Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and that I wasn’t OK. I was this person as a result of multiple traumatic incidents and when I became aware of this, I felt so lucky that I was in prison rather than six feet in the ground.
I honestly thought when I left prison that the ‘black cloud’ I always thought was above my head had been lifted, that it was all over, and I had been punished enough. Little did I know that none of this happens without therapy and without seeking treatment. CPTSD will never just ‘go away’. It needs to be worked on every day. That fight or flight response will always be there as our brains have been wired differently.
I began therapy as soon as I left. I tried Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) and had fortnightly sessions with my psychologist. I was so blessed when I finally found a psychologist that didn’t want to ‘fix’ my CPTSD but believed that rather than focusing on curing the illness, she wanted to go deeper and actually process the trauma without re-traumatising me and teach me tools that would help me get through my days and start to heal. As soon as she said this, I truly resonated with it as I was so over trying to be ‘fixed’. I have always been told I am extremely complexed with my traumas. So hearing this was making me feel alienated and not understood.
I continued to work on myself, on my thoughts, on my triggers and for the first time in my life I felt SAFE to do so.
Unfortunately, my trauma journey didn’t end there. Even though I had been working on my triggers and processing my trauma, I never truly worked on the deep connection I had with myself. As a result, I continued to enter relationships with men who did not serve me and men who would discard me. I used to say I attracted these men. However, now I can confidently say that ‘they attracted me’. They were attracted to the woman that had low self-esteem, that didn’t love herself, that didn’t think she was worthy of love. We all know the type of men who are attracted to these types of women tend to have narcissistic and psychopathic tendencies, and I believe that is why we are ‘drawn’ to each other.
This was like nothing I had ever experienced. He would go from being so lovely and amazing to be so horrible and evil. As women, we all know that violence is wrong, and if someone hurts us, we should leave. I promise that once you have experienced this, you will understand how hard it is for people to leave. The term ‘Trauma bonding’ is real and something I so desperately wish I knew what this was. I was so addicted to him, to his nastiness, like he was my bad love drug. He would make me feel so small, so unworthy, yet I would be so desperate for his approval and his affection.
I lost my friends, I started to lose my family, and the gaslighting got so bad I started to question my sanity and what was real and what wasn’t. This man was so good at what he did. He had me believing that I had multiple personalities. That I would shake my head like a twitch; and by me shaking my head was me coming back to reality. He would explain that it was all my fault. That the reason that there were holes in the walls and the place was turned upside down, was because ‘my narcissistic personality came out’ and caused him to do so…
Finally, after 12 LONG months of being with this man, the violence got so physical that I honestly believed he was going to kill me. This was my turning point, and I finally left him for good. Over the coming days, I had a sick feeling that he had been tracking me. I searched my car and found a tracking device hidden in the floor of the boot of my car. I went to the police and I can now say this was the most powerful thing I did as he was found guilty and given a prison sentence for what he did to me.
Read also ‘Mindfulness and PTSD by Leigh Hurst’
The biggest lesson that I learned from being with this man is that if I want to change my relationship cycle, it has to start with me. I need to value myself. I need to love myself, believe in myself, and that I am worthy of love. I started to be vulnerable and admitted that I needed to change the story I told myself to heal. I started to do EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Therapy) and it has truly worked for me. I have begun changing that story. I have begun to work through my CPTSD in a way I had never done before. Different therapies work for different people, and this is the one that has given my life a whole new meaning.
The key is to educate yourself. There are so many resources out there, from blogs to YouTube videos, podcasts, Facebook groups, Instagram accounts, that can help you understand and get clarity around your mental health as well as finding a community of people who ‘get you’. Never suffer in silence because there is always someone out there, willing to listen and give you the support you deserve.
For me, I believe there is no cure for C/PTSD or no end date to the healing. However, there are things I can do to ensure that I never have to suffer again. I’m no longer at the mercy of my CPTSD, and I would not be here today had I not had the proper diagnosis and treatment. The most important thing to know is that it’s never too late to seek help and speak up about what you have been through. I once went to a Tony Robbins seminar and his words stuck with me… “change your story, change your life” This powerful phrase is now my mantra. I choose never to give up and stop believing that we can live a happy, fulfilled life living with CPTSD.
Jenna is 33 years old. She is currently studying for a diploma in Mental Health, intending to use her studies and life experiences to create change and support others on their healing journeys. Jenna’s passion is to raise awareness, change the stigma around trauma and give a voice to those who feel voiceless. You can check more of Jenna’s work on Instagram @living.life.with.ptsd.
Read some more real-life stories from trauma survivors here ‘PTSD: My Story Project‘Follow Journeyofsmiley on WordPress.com
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Share your experience
Do you have experience with PTSD, or do you take care of / live with someone who has? Would you like to share your story in a guest blog post?
I’m not an expert or a health professional, so the aim of this project isn’t to offer professional advice. Neither is it to pity those who experience PTSD. That’s not what I want. My aim is to raise awareness of PTSD. By sharing your story, you can inspire and empower others. You can highlight the methods that helped you. This way, you can encourage others to reach out for help.
And it may help you as well. Perhaps it’s something you feel like you’re not able to talk about within your closest circle and would like to connect with others in a similar situation. It’s nothing more than bearing an untold story inside you. The fact is that our society still lacks an understanding of mental health. Therefore, I’ve decided to share my story and invite others to join me in this project and write a blog post about their experience. By working together, we can help destigmatise mental health problems and promote wellbeing.
To be featured
If you would like to join in and share your story on my blog but don’t have the experience of writing a blog post, this isn’t a problem. You can still contact me, and I’d be happy to assist you with the writing. And you can use a pseudonym if you wish to stay anonymous. You can share as much of your story as you want in a way you feel comfortable with.
The only thing I ask is that you mention ‘PTSD: My story project’ in your post and briefly state why you have chosen to take part in it. You will be allowed to approve the post before publishing it, should it be edited.