The past is going to hit you out of nowhere.
Maybe we’re having a good day; maybe we’re not. But out of seemingly nowhere, out of the ETHER, a memory or a feeling or a belief will come at you and tackle you.
In that moment, the past seems right here, right now.
Sometimes it happens emotionally; but sometimes all of our senses are hijacked, and we can’t tell where we are, what’s going on, or who we are.
We’ve been triggered.
We’re reliving something from the past, in the present.
Part of what makes an emotional or sensory flashback so hard to explain to anyone else is that it seems so overwhelming, so engulfing.
How CAN anyone understand what it’s like to very suddenly be smothered by images or feelings that we KNOW aren’t here and now in the room with us…but absolutely FEEL like they are?
It sounds crazy.
It sounds pathetic.
And we don’t want to sound crazy or pathetic to the people around us, do we?
So we keep it to ourselves.
We learn to “function” through flashbacks.
Many people would never even know that we’re struggling with a flashback. They may see us continuing to smile, continuing to exist and function, and assume nothing’s wrong.
But something IS very, very wrong.
We’ve just learned to cover it up.
We’ve learned to keep smiling.
We’ve learned to keep going through the motions…even if the inside of our head is a blender at the moment.
Getting through flashbacks requires us to be grounded and self-compassionate— but it’s very hard to be either when your central nervous system is hijacked.
Getting through flashbacks often requires us to talk to ourselves in a calm, supportive way— but that’s really hard to do when you’re busy just trying to keep breathing.
We are not born knowing how to handle flashbacks.
We’re not taught how to handle flashbacks, because they’re not the kind of thing that kids (or adults!) should “have” to learn how to handle.
All of which means we’re frequently on our own.
Eventually flashbacks tend to abate and we tend to return to the here and now…but going through a flashback is very often as physically exhausting as any exercise you’ll ever do.
You need to know that it’s not all in your head. Flashbacks happen, and they suck.
You also need to know that we can learn to be there for ourselves when we have flashbacks.
We don’t just have to lose ourselves in the echoes of the past.
We don’t have to just drop below the waves and keep sinking.
There are skills and tools that we can learn to turn to when we become aware we’re getting sucked into an emotional or sensory flashback.
Ah, but that’s the thing, isn’t it? By the time we know it’s happening— it’s often too late.
Don’t sweat it. This is hard for everybody who experiences it.
We learn to recognize what’s happening .01% sooner than we did.
We learn to respond to ourselves with compassion and presence when we feel small and lost.
We learn to talk ourselves through flashbacks now, with the words and attentiveness we needed then.
We learned to come home to ourselves.