Graded Exposure...

Recovery from domestic violence and meth addiction was, for me, very much an inside job. Coming back from such a dark place was incredibly hard, especially those first few months. I felt like I had been to the dark side and no one could possibly understand what I had been through. I had belonged to a hidden world kept secret from everyone, and to step outside of that felt alien to me. I felt disconnected and disjointed and the sense of displacement was huge.

Learning how to put my pieces back together again to try and fit back in to a normal healthy life had it's challenges. One of the biggest ones was how to face and deal with the triggers that were everywhere. Every place or thing seemed to have a memory attached to it and learning how to cope with a constantly running stream of thoughts going around and around in my head was (and still is some days) exhausting. This is the reality of living with C-PTSD. You are hypersensitive to threats; everything around you is seen as a possible threat, so you have to be highly vigilant at all times. Jumping at the slightest of things, even when you know that logically there is no reason to, like the phone ringing or a moving car. You become frightened by things that never bothered you before and it leads to an intense feeling of anxiety. You feel the need to isolate yourself as quickly as possible, making it much easier to just stay home where you feel safe.

The problem is, to be able to function in society again, you have to learn ways to cope. Even now, 16 months after leaving, I am still learning new ways to do this everyday.

Graded exposure is one of the ways I have reintroduced places and things into my life that are triggering. It takes time and it takes an enormous amount of patience and trust in myself, but it works. Graded exposure is the slow introduction of exposure to triggers so that you can eventually aim to control your fear. At first, facing my fears was incredibly distressing, emotionally and physically, but by continuing the exposure in manageable steps, it helps to build new memories to replace the old ones. Mindfulness techniques such as self-soothing, grounding and breathing exercises are invaluable in helping to bring me back to the present moment during this process.

You have to do what is manageable for you, and it is never the same for everyone. One thing I have learnt is that if I try to do too much too soon I become hyper-aroused, the fight/ flight/ freeze response kicks in, and then everything just shuts down, leaving me exhausted with no motivation to do anything. So I have learnt it's about baby steps, one foot in front of the other and one day or moment at a time.

Trauma after domestic violence doesn't just go away, but there are valuable ways that can help you to cope and recover some feeling of wholeness again.

Artwork is my own

'Graded Exposure'