My body starts to tense up as I toss and turn in a semi-dreamlike state which is drawing me into a darkness that I have no control to fight off and instantly I am back there again.
The faces, with their every small detail and expression; the voices so clear I am convinced they are beside me, taunting yet again. The sweaty, stale scent of the room with the bed placed under the window and the walls covered with hockey posters and shelves with trophies and various awards. There are clothes strewn across the blue carpeted floor as one would expect of a teenage boys room. An old acoustic guitar rests against the wall at the foot of the bed and the natural wood markings of its body keep my eyes focused. I imagine walking over to pick it up, strum a few chords to see if it has been kept in tune.
The bedroom light went off and the door closed tight, leaving only a glow from the hallway under the door just enough to prevent total darkness. My eyes were so heavy and as the seconds passed, I was losing focus and I found even the shadows blurry. My body tingled in a strange way, almost like the “pins and needles” one experiences when their foot “falls asleep” and although I still had some feeling, I felt so heavy, as if my body was actually sinking into the bed, and one by one, each limb became almost impossible to move. I try desperately to speak, to utter any noise at all yet no sound came out, my mouth unable to open enough to even form a word. My mind is foggy but in an innate state of terror and the thoughts of what I believed to be impending race at the speed of sound.
Fight or flight is kicking in rapidly and my heart feels as if it beat any faster it would explode. I find it hard to get a deep breath as my breathing has become somewhat labored. The adrenaline is surging through my body, I can feel my core temperature rise and I am willing myself to move…to budge just an inch, to be able to lift a hand or kick a foot in defense, or make even the slightest noise that maybe someone would here, but instead I lay in a semi-conscious state of paralysis.
Time stood still. Every minute seemed like an hour of eternal hell. I could hear them the whole time as they talked about who would go first and were they sure “he” had put enough in my drink. They high fived and tagged in and out as one would see in a tag team wrestling match. My mind is screaming stop, screaming for help until it just shuts down completely, in a state of inexplicable numbness. I cannot fight, nor can I flight, I can only focus my mind on one thing, which happened to be that old acoustic guitar. My body although immobile is still sensing the pain of the vile acts that are being committed, while my mind drifts away to a place where the sun shines brightly, the sounds of the ocean float in the background and it is just me and that guitar creating our own melody.
The rest of the events do not need to be detailed, but as with everything, this too eventually ends. My blurry eyes scan the room for a clock, as I have no idea if I have been there for ten minutes or hours, when I catch the red glow of the digital clock on the dresser to barely make out that it was precisely midnight. My right side seems to be able to move a bit, but certainly not enough to even roll myself off the bed. My head is foggy and pounding and my eyes yet to come to a clear focus. The struggle to move exhausts me and I find my eyes closing and my mind uncontrollably drifting away.
I can’t recall the exact time but it is just before 5a.m. when I wake, feeling groggy, disoriented, nauseous and sore. I stumble around in the dark, my hands grazing across the wall blindly feeling for a light switch in an attempt to find my bearings. The brightness of the light blinds me and I feel a surge of blood rush to my pounding head, as I scan the floor for my pants. The pain is excruciating as I pull them on and I notice my shirt is torn, so I grab a sweatshirt I see lying on the floor and cover myself up. The blood is a slow trickle and I estimate that I can make it home before it soaks through. The house is dark and quiet and the smell of booze and vomit wafts through my nose as I make my way down the stairs and towards the door where I notice people sleeping on couches, chairs and the floor tiptoe across the hardwood floor hoping that a creak will not wake anyone.
To this day, I am not sure how I got home, or when. I do remember lying in bed pretending to have the flu for the next few days and taking at least 50 showers but still being unable to get rid of the feeling of being dirty. It is on the fifth day when I realize I need to seek medical attention as nothing seems to be healing as I had expected. Through the onslaught of questions by the medical staff, followed by the police I remained silent… “I’m sorry, I don’t remember what happened”, “I’m sorry, I am not sure where I was or who I was with”. The grilling finally ends, and I am released and free to go home, where I would spend the next month digging a hole in my brain deep enough to bury this memory for life. Over the years I would have random flashbacks of this event which I would then convince myself was mixed confusion with the abuse I suffered as a child. For so long the memories flashed in and out like a rerun of a bad TV show but they carried with them no emotional attachment.
Fast forward to the present, and after multiple rounds of therapy, I finally found someone who would introduce me to the concept of body memories. The mind has a remarkable way of self-protection from traumatic memories, but we tend to forget that the body itself has its own sense of memory. I noticed this not long ago when these memories began to surface again through my dreams. Now, not only would I have the lingering effects of the flashback but my body felt stuck in a place between fight and flight; muscles uncontrollably tense, anxiety and heartbeat racing, phantom pains and a sickening feeling in my chest and stomach. My mind may realize I am presently safe and not in harm’s way but my body is stuck back in the moment of trauma. A temporary distraction for the mind may be possible but that provides no reprise for the body. The relaxation techniques, the mindfulness and self-care have yet to stop the body memories, which for me can last anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days.
I am trying to cope with them the best I know how, but often that just means riding out the wave knowing that sometime soon it will lose its force and flow back out with the tides.