Movin' on with Nellie: DV followed by PTSD reposts and reposits memories

The other day, someone asked me what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is.  The American Psychiatric Association gives a lengthy definition.  Briefly, having recurring nightmares or daymares of the trauma or being super alert (called hypervigilant) are a few of the mind’s leftovers of trauma. Soldiers from WWI or WWII might have heard it as “shell shock.”  The public has met soldiers returning from Vietnam, Afghan or Iraq with PSTD. Survivors of auto accidents, live shooter attacks, sexual abuse or domestic violence (DV) can also cause PTSD. Sometimes a sound, an odor, a song, a location or a person can send someone with PTSD into the trauma causing anxiety, depression, anger and inability to think clearly.

In my instance, PTSD means my then-drunken ex-husband battered me and attempted to kill me.  Within a month of our marriage, he kicked my shin making a bump and bruise the size of a ping-pong ball.  Another time, he threw a hammer at me causing a base-ball-sized hematoma on my hip. Additionally, he slammed my head against the wall and beat my stomach with a hairbrush and then an unopened Coca-Cola can. Aiming a loaded shotgun at me while I nursed was another.  A pastor responding to a crisis faced a loaded pistol in my ex’s hand. The last one was the most severe as he also caused deep injury to my C5-6 vertebrae. Doctors said to me, “He broke your neck.” 

My son, a toddler in diapers, was balanced on my left hip. The three of us had been outside talking already on the walkway; but he was threatening to take our son and leave the state.  He was sounding more and more agitated and unstable. Moving inside, I slowly closed the door.  As I reached for the dead bolt, he busted through.  “I just want to talk,” he cried over and over. He shoved me back onto the stair treads (three steps from the door). Still begging, “I just want to talk”, he slammed my head and neck against the edges, pushing harder and harder. One hand covered my mouth and nose and the other choked my neck as he forced my neck and head into the stair.

An angel whispered in my mind, “Don’t fight back; he will stop.” As predicted, my estranged husband stilled and stood up. Muttering “Let’s go outside to talk,” I slammed the door and dead bolted the lock the instant he crossed the threshold.  Trembling and crying, I called my attorney; but there was nothing he could do.

Shortly, I heard a knock at the door, and it was a police officer asking about Wayne because his father reported me as abusing the baby.  Trying to turn the onus on me and not him, he lied to the officer that I mistreated my son.  The officer examined Wayne. He did not find any evidence of neglect—nor bruising or scratches.  Although I recounted the attack, the officer didn’t file a report.  Back then, ignoring domestic violence was standard.

Twelve years later, long-lasting pain on my right side, arm, leg and neck brought me to several doctors for answers.  Finally, I met the surgeon Joseph Kennedy who found severe damage to my C5-6 vertebrae, herniated and bulging disks encroaching into the cord. He said, “The solution is surgery for this 12-year old injury. It has deteriorated and will cut the spinal cord if not corrected.”  This injury, now 26 years post-surgery, has once again flared; an MRI shows the issues again; and the emotional trauma is on a reel in my head.  Sadly, PTSD reposts and reposits traumatic memories.

NOTE:  I continue to share my story to let anyone dealing with PTSD or domestic violence know that resources are available. If you need help, please reach out to behavioral health or Tu Casa (24-Hour Hotline:  719.589.2465) a safe place for survivors and soon-to-be survivors. 

—Nelda Curtiss is a former substance-prevention media specialist, journalist, and retired college professor who enjoys writing and fine arts. Contact her at [email protected]