What are flashbacks? Have you experienced flashbacks of the alcoholic in your life?
Involuntary recurrent memory. It’s a psychological phenomenon in which an individual has a sudden, usually powerful, re-experiencing of a past experience or elements of a past experience. These experiences can be happy, sad, exciting, or any other emotion one can consider.
If you’ve lived with an alcoholic then you may have experienced flashbacks, negative and positive. It’s likely to be more negative for most of us, but sometimes you have nice memories of the past. I don’t seem to remember many.
Flashbacks can occur as part of something called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Not everyone in a home of alcoholism will experience this, but I wanted to cover that in this blog post too.
This post isn’t meant to trigger anyone, but I’m mindful that it might. Ensure you have good support around you, should you need to talk it through with them. I’m always here if you need me. Just email me email@example.com or click here.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events. NHS
Often associated with the military and those serving in wars, however it isn’t by any means limited to them. For those of you that have lived within a home of alcoholism you’ll probably relate. It can be a highly stressful, frightening and distressing environment. On top of that, there can be physical and mental abuse, including domestic abuse.
For me the mental torture , messages I received and being totally terrified of my Dad was worse than some of the physical abuse.
I remember wetting the bed as a child and going over and over in my head the experiences I’d had in the home.
After my fathers death just before my 21st birthday, I experienced nightmares about him for many years, also when my brother was killed on the railway and the drama that ensued after that from his then wife. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I have no doubt I experienced PTSD.
Sometimes it can be one traumatic event after another and it’s often just too much to process. Without the right support, or any support it can have a detrimental affect on your well-being.
People often think if they ignore it, that it’ll go away and never re-surface. But in most cases that doesn’t happen.
The flashbacks of the event, for me, of my brother dying and my alcoholic dad’s reaction to that played over and over in my mind. I had other traumatic events in my life and maybe you have too, the image above identifies common symptoms and the impact that can have on your life.
How can flashbacks affect you?
Flashbacks can come at any time, maybe something has triggered it, whether that’s a voice, something someone said or an action like touching your hand in a certain way. Maybe how someone acts towards you triggers a memory that causes you to go back to a point in time in the past.
Often you can relive the experience as it’s so intense, feeling like it’s taking place now when it isn’t. For me, I experienced hearing people have sex in my home, so as an adult whenever that happens it totally freaks me out and I feel just like I did back then. I’ve identified this as a trigger and I’ve learnt how to better manage my emotions around it.
How can I stop flashbacks?
If you have experienced flashbacks of the alcoholic in your life, they come unannounced. They feel like the trauma is happening right there, in the moment. It won’t necessarily be everything that happened, you’ll remember and get images of snippets. You may notice things like sounds, smells, sensations (pain) or emotions you felt at that time.
How long do flashbacks last?
A few seconds, minutes, hours or in some cases days.
How can you cope with flashbacks?
This needs professional help and support. There are things you can do to help yourself, but ideally working with someone that can offer professional guidance is ideal.
- In the moment, use your breath, it really helps to calm you and gives you something to focus on. Other than the flashback
- Grounding yourself to help you remember you are in the present and not in the past – putting your feet on the ground and imagining roots holding you firm on the floor is a common one
- Do something nice to comfort yourself, give yourself a hug, cuddle a teddy, whatever works for you
- You may want to create an affirmation that you keep on a piece of paper with you, so you can get it out and repeat it over and over. What you write has to come from you, a suggestion is “I’m safe and it’s 2019 (whatever the year is) and this isn’t happening to me know” or just “I’m safe”
- Notice the image you get in your head, then notice the size, see where it is in your minds eye, is there sound, smells, feelings etc? Then play about with it. Move the picture further away, reduce the size, turn down the noise, transform smells. Do whatever it is that will reduce the feeling you have in the moment. The more you do it, the easier and better you’ll get at it
I hope you’ve found this helpful, please do share with others because you just never know who is also suffering in silence. You may not think you know anyone, but would they tell you ? Did you or do you tell others?
If you need support I’m here for you, you can also request access to my secret Facebook group for families of alcoholics. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org with your facebook email so I can add you or click here.