2am this morning.
I’m taking deep breaths and have my hand over my mouth. A long established, cataleptic practice. Additionally my eyes, temples and the space in between my eyes really hurt. I subconsciously begin to rub those areas with the hand that comes off my mouth. In just writing this my forehead, temples and eyes hurt.
It hasn’t been that long since these small acts were even noticed and now provide the insight as to what is happening to me. Chakra wise it’s the voice and wisdom body inside that are in pain.
I thought back to one evening about a year ago on my therapist’s couch. When I described ‘The Scream’, she (with empathy and almost automatically said) – it’s because you had no voice. Instantly tears sprung to my eyes. With that sudden understanding of what was unknown, obvious and finally understood – my throat hurt. It made sense! It was obvious to her, but new to me. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband. But somehow relaying it not long after over the phone while he was waiting for his son to finish hockey practice late at night while sitting at Starbucks and catching up on work himself, it got lost in translation and I couldn’t quite explain it. It lost it’s potency and I lost the motivation to meditate on it and explore it further.
The Scream. It was inevitable.
The scream I speak of took place in mid-February 1994 just days before my 18thbirthday outside of the Patchogue courthouse on Long Island. The previous summer on July 9th was the first time the police were involved in the Domestic Violence and child abuse that had been taking place at home since I was born, resulting in the February court date. I wanted justice. I wanted to see something happen, but nothing had. Since I was still a minor for a few more days, the law allowed my parents to move the case to Family court – which was at the time slightly more serious than a bad joke, and my father walked away without even as much as an anger management course or proverbial slap on the wrist.
I didn’t know what was going on that day. As I was leaving with my parents in what seemed like minutes after we had gotten there, I asked my mother what was going on. She just ushered me outside. Once out in the bright sun on that brisk February day I asked again. No answer. I stopped and got louder- “What is going on?!”
A few passerby’s looked our way. My mother must have felt compelled to answer due to the attention we were drawing. She pulled me aside as my father continued to walk to the car.
Mom: Nothing is happening.
Me: What do you mean nothing?
Me: What does that mean?
Mom: It means we are going home.
Me: What about dad? Classes, probation? What happened in court?
Mom: Nothing. We moved the case to family court and he is able to go home.
Me: I thought that classes and probation were the minimum, what about the restraining order?
Mom: That was if we left it in criminal court. We moved it to family court.
Me: I thought that was my decision.
Mom: It’s not, you are a minor.
With that she continued to walk to the car. I reluctantly followed.
With each step I grew more and more aware of what just happened. More confused. More enraged.
When we got to the car I stood there behind it. I didn’t want to get it. It was bright, sunny and cool out. The car seemed like the box I was proverbially stuck in my whole life – hot, stuffy, enclosed. I was mad at them. I didn’t want to get in. I was confused. I was angry. I wanted justice for what has happened to me.
I stood there.
My parents got out and asked me what I was doing. I didn’t know.
They were urging me to get in.
I didn’t want to. I couldn’t even speak.
The more they urged me; the more trapped, confused and angry I felt. I felt stuck to the ground beneath my feet. Literally and metaphorically.
“Esterina – get in the car”
No? What do you mean no?
I don’t want to.
Get in the car.
They both started to approach me when I let out a scream. A scream I didn’t know I had in me.
They halted their approach and watched me, panicked.
“Esterina – get in the car”.
I screamed again. And again. I screamed at the top of my lungs, like I never screamed before. A scream that seemed almost inhuman.
They stood frozen and watched me like I was a wild animal. That is what I felt like – a crazed wild animal. I continued to scream, and scream, and scream for what seemed like minutes.
They watched in awe and horror.
When I stopped, I realized I felt better. I had to go home. I had to find a way out of my life and house. It was a few more months until high school graduation. I had no idea what I was going to do; but I had to get in the car, go home and figure it out.
It felt so good to scream. So good, I was able to get in the car I didn’t want to be in. I didn’t want to be in their company, but what choice did I have? I got in the car and we went home. My mother spoke of this scream a few times to others, but never me. It was never mentioned again, but I never forgot it.
The July 9, 1993 incident happened when I was 17. Until that day, me and my family pretended that our home was like any other and that violence and abuse wasn’t a part of it. Once the cops were called by my youngest brother that day (it was his 13thbirthday) the cat was out of the bag, and it was a little easier to tell my then friends and boyfriend what happened. I showed them the bruises. I didn’t have the voice to talk about the past, but only to say this has happened before. The first time you talk about it is the hardest. That was the last bite the beaver took of the dam before the leak started. It would be years though before the dam actually flooded.
That particular day I had an argument with my father. He was annoyed about how long I was dating my boyfriend and didn’t have a ring. I tried to explain that I didn’t want to get married, that I didn’t even finish high school yet. He got angry and couldn’t fathom that I was dating someone I didn’t want to marry. I said I wanted to finish school and have a career first. Then the hitting started. It’s about as far as I care to explain, but it’s the story of how most of these incidences went.
The truth was I didn’t want to marry early. I didn’t want to depend on anyone to support me as my mother felt she needed my father’s support. She hadn’t finished high school and was embarrassed by that her whole life. I didn’t something more for myself. I wanted independence and an education. Through words, deeds and actions; my mother has communicated numerous times that she wouldn’t be with my father if it wasn’t for us 3 kids. I grew up feeling like a burden. Very unwanted. Very unloved. There were no kisses, hugs or I love yous in my home. I didn’t even know that was a thing people did. It was for TV if anything.
Not long after “The Scream” I decided to join the Coast Guard and set an enlistment date of August 9th. It was the perfect solution for getting out, supporting myself, learning a trade and obtaining money for college. A true ticket out of my house.
Against my own intentions, just 3 years later I was already married and pregnant with my first child. At 23 I had my second child. Scared of turning out like my mother, I made it a point to not settle and was determined to obtain a degree to and have the ability to take care of myself. I did finish my required 4 years of active military time. I put in another 4 years of Reserve time. I did go back to school and had a BS in Business by the time I was 24. At 25 my then husband and I bought our first home. At 29 I had an MBA and a very decent full-time job in the government. At 32 we bought the larger home in the nicer suburbs with the good school system. At 34 I was divorcing. There was no violence in my home, but I realized I married a man that had the same maladaptive habits as my father. I was unable to see how badly he treated our children because it was so much better than the way I grew up. In our home there were kisses, hugs and I love yous. I thought it was how it should be. It was later I would realize that it wasn’t so healthy either.
From the time I left home until I divorced I felt very healthy mentally. Once the stability of a home and two biological parents were out of the picture, I felt like I started to unravel. The scream was still in me. Unbeknownst to me.
The years from 34 on were kind of a rebirth and kind of a mental hell. I love my now husband, but joining two families that came from two different backgrounds with children that still went to two different homes with other parents and family members who could not possibly be any different from one other was a recipe for turbulence. My now husband and I had different ideas on what our newly formed family would look like, how we’d spend our weekends, evenings and summers, how much time we’d spend as a blended family together and apart. What our holidays would look like. All things that were my little to only down-time, and things I had previously very much looked forward to. His ex was far more mean & manipulative than mine, and had a very strong opinion about how we spend time with his kids; which pretty much dictated how we lived, how we spent our money, and everything we did. He didn’t want to fight with her or disappoint anyone and in turn succumbed to the belief that this is what divorced life looks like.
I disagreed. I felt like I had little to no voice on how I wanted to spend my time with my own husband, children and blended family. I started to lose the voice I had gained in controlling my own life as an adult. I felt trapped.
After a few years “The Scream” came back. I can’t even remember the first time I screamed again like I had in the parking lot of the Patchogue courthouse. Probably in my car. It was a place I screamed a lot. I would be driving home from work and singing loudly to music thinking I was happy, when I’d get an overwhelming feeling of being trapped. Usually due to traffic, but it rubbed on the nerves of feeling trapped in my life. Feeling voiceless. Feeling that I had no control and had to live as someone else dictated. I’d think about the evening ahead. Evenings busy with making dinners, kid activities in different towns all over the state. Things that I didn’t plan but we had to do. Things I was too tired to do at the end of a long day. Things that took time away from unwinding and spending quality time with anyone in my life – even my own children.
Every new thing that popped up on our calendar and every new expense that arrived without my consent or knowledge would feel like a little dagger. It was small at first, hardly noticeable – but over time it would bother me more and more. I’d express my frustration to my husband in the little time we had together and were able to talk without anyone else hearing. Those rare times were in bed, on vacations or on the days our kids were with their other parent and we didn’t have an event of theirs to go to. So it seemed like I was always frustrated. It seemed like all we talked about was how I was frustrated. We couldn’t even get past this to have a conversation about taking control of our lives because the whole conversation would be focused on how I am and shouldn’t always be upset. It went on like this. And the longer it went on, the longer I felt unheard and the more and more the scream inside tried to break free.
It would come out often. I’d scream and just lose my mind. In my car, in my house with no one home, at home with people home, late at night while arguing with my husband. For the life of me I couldn’t relate it to anything in my past. Hindsight is so very 20/20. I can’t believe no one else around me was able to help me relate this. We were all in our own worlds trying to get through every single day and all the things that needed to be done, who had time to think about rest, mental health or self-care?
Rest. Self-Care. These are things that are SO necessary; but I was taught, and for certain my husband’s ex felt that downtime is for the lazy. We should be busy at every moment doing something productive. Even though our home was full of non-stop activities, if something was unscheduled for one of my step-kids for a New York minute, she’d step in to make sure they had something to do. Something of course that would require my husband’s time, which meant it was my time because he wasn’t around to help me with the house(s), dinner, shopping, pets, other kids, etc.
Downtime is necessary. And I didn’t have it. And it sent me into crisis mode.
Something about turning 40 initiated a stream of events. It was like the next piece of the dam that I had built as a child to protect myself snapped. Not broken and flooded yet, but enough to cause some damage.
It’s no coincidence that this breakdown took place over just a few months. A period where I began physical therapy for my back, started yoga teacher training, and hit my knee under a table at workat work, which required other physical manipulations. Unless you are immersed in the world of mental health and or energy work, it could be hard to understand why I don’t find this to be a coincidence. The trapped emotions were being knocked on and broken up so to speak through these activities.
Suddenly, I almost couldn’t bear being in the car and commuting to work. I couldn’t face days of going to work and killing time there when there was so much to do at home. I couldn’t stand another minute of not having time for myself to meditate or go deeper into the practices I was studying. I couldn’t stand having a life with little to no meaningful human connections and being an un-humanized vessel of money and transportation.
The scream would come more often. I’d get hot. I’d lose control of my bladder. One day in the summer the following year right before I checked myself into an IOP, I broke into boils on my chest. Every time after a few minutes I’d think about something related to childhood and it was make the screaming and subsequent crying that would inevitably take place for a long time after feel almost like a release. I was embarrassed to tell anyone this. I thought it was rather melodramatic. I had no idea it was all PTSD.
Then one evening last summer on July 11th, 25 years and 2 days after that incident when I was 17, I had a really bad evening. It was following a few days of step-children drama, an accusation about something I didn’t do. It followed a few too many drinks at a charity event, and then an argument with my husband about the kids. The scream came out again. It was a hot summer night. Every window was open, and as usual after a few minutes it had nothing to do with the present. I was screaming and crying for the past. I was unbearably hot and had no bladder control so I stripped down, got in the bathtub and screamed. I was screaming HELP. I was screaming about the help I wanted and needed as a child, the help I wanted then mentally. The help I wanted in needing to feel heard and understood and not like a burden of someone who is just not happy with the wonderful life I was being told I have and should be grateful for.
I was an adult feeling like a child. I now know and understand that my husband represented my mother. The gatekeeper between me and my father who didn’t want to shake anything up and upset him – so turned a blind eye and pretended that nothing was wrong. The mother who told me that I have a nice life and home and I should be happy. The mother that made me feel like a burden because I was alive and the reason she had to be in this unhappy marriage with this abusive man.
My husband was the gatekeeper between our uncontrolled time and his ex and kids. He couldn’t understand that with a nice life why I wasn’t happy. I felt like a burden that I wasn’t happy and tried to use our free to time to discuss things he didn’t want to address – because it would shake things up and upset someone else.
It’s now so obvious.
A few days after this incident last summer, where again – exactly 25 years and 2 days later cops were called for the first time, I had the epiphany of my current situation and how the characters in my present life represented my past. Once that happened the dam really broke for good. I had a few really long, hard months of understanding this and learning about PTSD and the brain. How my lower brain – the one that takes over in times of crisis (the instinct to run and not contemplate when being chased by a lion) cannot see the actual people, but responds to the emotions it interprets to be dangerous and floods the body with fight or flight hormones. When I couldn’t physically fight I’d scream. And scream. And scream….
It’s why I put my hand on my mouth when I’m anxious.
That wasn’t my last scream. I was now aware of how dangerous they were. Neighbors don’t understand. They hear help and screaming and call cops. They should! So my screams became muffled. Or I’d get in the car and drive to a remote place. I’d scream until I felt like I was able to ‘get it out of me’. I can’t explain the release I feel afterward. It’s cathartic. Even in the throws of crying and screaming, it’s better than not, and I feel like I’m purging all that is bad inside of me, despite it looking very differently to an outsider.
I had a lot more ‘safe’ screaming last summer. Nights I couldn’t sleep I’d get up and write or read about PTSD and allow myself for the first time in my life to think about what happened, and finally begin to process it.
I’m not proud of screaming. I’m not proud of how I’ve acted and argued or fought before I actually got to a place of where the scream came. I’m not proud of the self-destructive and relationship-destructive behaviors that took place. My body was in fight-or-flight mode. I actually did feel a shift of losing control at a certain point. I always knew the moment, but I was truly helpless to stop the flood as my lower brain took over. I can relate to the term “faulty alarm system”. It is really what it is. Not a true emergency, but something internally so close; that it sets off the alarm and subsequent actions. The propensity of the reaction to the situation doesn’t match. That is PTSD.
I haven’t screamed in many many months now. Once I understood what happens to the body, what my triggers were and how to get somewhere safe it was game changer.
This is a blog I’m not even sure I will post. It doesn’t wrap up nicely. It doesn’t tie back to some sort of theme. It just is. I woke up, had my hand on my mouth, my temples and third eye hurt… I remembered that it was because it was tied to feeling voiceless. I remembered the scream that first day when I was 18 and felt it was inevitable. That day and always, until I felt I have a voice.
The below is from an email I wrote to my family in the middle of the night last summer. Oddly between the evening of Aug 6thand Aug 7th– the anniversary of my mom’s passing. She died around midnight on 8/6/06 but wasn’t pronounced by Hospice until they got there until after midnight, which is what her death certificate says. Strangely it links to someone else who wrote about “The Scream”. Just learning and knowing I’m not alone has helped me to feel human and not alone.
I hope I’m not bugging you all with some of these emails. I just had the strangest, but maybe good night and wanted to share with someone.
I woke up as usual in the middle of the night with a overwhelming sadness. I started to cry about things I was remembering. The more I thought, the more I cried. Gabby wasn’t home (she is a college kid often out in the middle of the night). No one else was up for at least two floors and I really, really cried.
I had a assortment of stronger than usual memories. I remembered different places where I felt the most mix of emotions – like extreme excitement and profound anger at being hit at the same time, such as how happy and angry I was when we went to Disney; or bought a new (used) car. I was seeing details of things like I was still living at home. Dented walls, my mirror in my room with the pictures of my friends tucked around the frame. I even remember the exact pictures of who they were of. I remember my ballet slippers hanging off the brass bed, my curling iron on the dresser… It was like I was there, the level of detail was so great.
It was mostly my room that made me sad. I was thinking about how I would lock the door, but that really didn’t do any good. My father broke the knob and lock many times. I was thinking that if he tried to come in I should have just gone out the window, but at the time that never crossed my mind. I wondered why… Because I wouldn’t know where to go… For years I had no vehicle. The neighbors would have sent me back. I had no money or change to make a phone call at a payphone. Unless I grabbed mommy’s phonebook in the dining room I wouldn’t have even known anyone but my friend’s numbers to call. And what would I have told them? How was I going to get past him to get the phonebook and out the door? I was so brainwashed to believe that I should keep this quiet that it would have been a horror to tell someone far away that I didn’t have their number like grandma or aunt Fran. I felt the repercussions of telling anyone would have been worse than just enduring it. It was to perturbing to even imagine telling any friends. My room that I was remembering was like a jail cell. I felt unbelievably hopeless and trapped.
As I cried I had such a mix of emotions. Like why? I must have done something in a previous life and this is karma. That actually made me feel better, as it made sense and I was paying my dues.
I also couldn’t help but wonder if I was being dramatic. If it wasn’t as bad as I thought.
Some of these thoughts soothed me as I stopped crying and tried to fall back to sleep.
I couldn’t fall back to sleep so I googled “delayed onset PTSD in adults of child abuse”. Many things quickly came up, but my favorite (very long) was the this one – http://www.naasca.org/2011-Articles/081411-PTSDinAdultSurvivors.htm
There were two things I like about this article. First it is a complete description of my journey, as it describes completely how I’ve felt from a child up until now, and explains why now; after such a delayed period this would come up. The second thing is the poem at the bottom written by a survivor called “The Scream”.
I’ve screamed “The Scream” the first time days before I was 18 in front of the courthouse with my parents when they dropped the only charges we ever had from that famous 7/9 day without my consent, as I was still a minor for a few more days and the laws were quite different back then. They were scared of my scream. They couldn’t get me in the car. They genuinely looked panicked. They told at least Mario about it. I scared myself. I didn’t know it was in me. It felt freeing to scream. After a few minutes and watching their panic, I fell silent and just got in the stinking car – feeling unbelievably trapped. No one talking about a thing. Like what just happened never happened. I was so numb I was not even thinking about how I was going to get out of this jail I was living in.
Up until a few years ago ‘the scream’ was a distant memory. Now it happens often enough. I get triggered and I cannot stop screaming. I remember telling my therapist about it a few months ago, with slight concern. She just looked sympathetically at me and said you are using your voice to get it out, because you felt voiceless for so long. “The Scream” is what prompted the call to the cops on 7/11.
After I read a few articles I felt more normal again, remembering I am having a human reaction to a human experience. I still couldn’t fall back to sleep, so I tried some yoga nidra which has been helpful as of late. When I got to the part about visioning a safe place, I quickly scanned my memory for one and only could remember theapartment on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. It wasn’t a safe place at all.
Again, I was FLOODED with minute details about the outside & inside. The hallway and two flights up. I was remembering or not remembering that the lock on the front door didn’t work for a while before we moved. I couldn’t remember if that was real or just a dream that I’ve had so many times. If it was a dream, what did it symbolize? Not feeling safe, locks not working? I cried again for a long time. Same mix of emotions like it’s my fault or I’m over exagerating it. But I remembered the article and how the only way to move through it is to experience the thoughts and feelings again. So I let them through to pass. Letting the memories and details just flood me. After reading the article I embraced what was happening, as it’s the only way to let it go.
The article is very long as I said, but here is a clip from the end after explaining how one would have gotten to this point
“Survivors attempt to flee from feelings about having been abused, from normal reactions to an abnormal situation. Because that situation was life-threatening in thepast, some survivors mistakenly believe that to experience those feelings today would also be life-threatening, would bring on an emotional breakdown, a falling apart akin to death. They do not understand that the breakdown has already happened, when their feelings were preempted by shame.
A survivor can afford to look that “death” squarely in the face when he has people who will stand by him, as well as the insight and power he did not have as a child. When it is finally safe enough, the survivor will remember the memories and feel the feelings about the trauma. Such a “thawing out” is a second chance, an emotional reincarnation. Still…the first sensations that have been repressed or avoided all of one’s life can feel like a tidal wave.
When he is ready, the thoughts and feelings return. In response to what has been uncovered, he often feels great anger at the betrayal itself and the injustice and randomness of the violence.
Underneath that anger is a terror and helplessness that is more difficult to experience than the anger. (“Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remember. Maybe I’m just exaggerating.”) This can go on for a long time, but with the help of others, the survivor will eventually accept that the trauma was as bad as he knows it was.
Profound sadness follows. This compassionate acceptance of “poor me” and the mourning of the losses that the trauma created eventually lead to resolution.
When the losses engendered by trauma are fully mourned, the trauma loses its power over the survivor. Instead of the emotional breakdown they feared…survivors experience an emotional breakthrough! Completing the grieving process means divorcing the trauma from one’s sense of identity and self-worth.”
If you enjoyed my writing, consider leaving a comment, sharing with others, or following my blog