symptoms of PTSD affects of PTSD at night nightmares disassociation avoidance

Living Through the Darkest Nights Alongside PTSD

The days might be long, or perhaps they’re not quite long enough. Sometimes dark and gloomy, and I walk robotically through the steps until I find tomorrow. Sometimes sunny and bright, and I wrap my hands around the possibilities like a hot cup of tea. Sometimes filled with too many jobs and running on too little sleep.

My life living alongside PTSD can be perfectly normal most days. School morning routines, showers, bus stops, lunch boxes, work rosters, piano practise, after school activities, grocery shopping. The routine could drown me. But it doesn’t, because the routine can also save me.

I look just like everyone else, like every other mother. Dropping my daughter off to her gymnastics class, helping my boys get changed after their swimming lessons, taking my youngest to borrow books from the library. I love being just like everyone else, it’s my little slice of normal, my chance to forget about what our normal actually is.

So the days alongside PTSD might be long, or boring, or monotonous. I don’t really mind.

But the nights.

It’s the nights that affect me the most.


Will tonight be a night of withdrawal?

Headphones in place, he retreats into the anonymous online world. Disengaging himself from reality, shutting out the world around him and the family around him for as many hours as it takes. Putting off any chance of sleep, he numbly searches the glaring screen for any movie promising thrill and suspense and horror. Anything that looks worse than what his world has become. Anything that might actually make him feel again.


Will tonight be a night of distraction?

We are his strength when the day has been too long. If we are silly enough, we can distract him from his thoughts for a time. Knowing this, he’ll hunt out the longest story books, he’ll do as many horse-rides between the bedrooms as they want, he’ll drag out bedtime for as long as he can. Family is his reason, for everything. And while the children whoop and laugh with the crazy bedtime mania, they thankfully don’t see what I see. They don’t see the strain on his face, or the tears he’s barely able to hold back. They don’t see how broken he really is.


Will tonight be a night of avoidance?

He’s coming home in ten minutes. He’s coming home in an hour. No, he’s not coming home at all. I work this out eventually, when there’s no headlights in the driveway, when a full plate of dinner goes cold on the kitchen bench, when the children go to bed with only my goodnight hug, and when his phone is continually unreachable. What do you do when your safest place still reminds you? Where can you possibly go to escape yourself? But whatever you’re running from will always be there, no matter how far you go. It’ll stay right there until you’re ready to face it.


Will tonight be a night of disassociation?

He is here, but only in body. He is moving, but only barely. He is seeing, but he doesn’t see us. The children soon tire of trying to get his attention, they give up on wondering what he might be looking at. They don’t understand how he can be sitting right next to them, but is completely unreachable. What’s wrong with Dad? But what can I possibly tell them? All we can do is keep moving through our motions, and eventually they catch his eye again. And they brightly exclaim, Dad’s back!


Will tonight be a night of self-medicating?

The flashbacks are too intense, the intrusions are too distressing, and the demons are too loud. He can’t think of anything except the quick relief of the cold drink washing away the pain. And one doesn’t do the trick, neither does two. They keep going down. And another and another, until the fog rolls in and the images finally cloud over in his mind. This is all that matters in this moment. Even a fleeting respite is still a respite.


Will tonight be a night of terror?

Sleep eventually comes for him, but only after the tablets have been washed down. They may close his eyes, but they don’t close his mind. And when the nightmares invade, there’s no escape. As the terror overwhelms him, I awake to his moans and cries, unable to fathom the horrors plaguing his mind. He may writhe and he may thrash, but he does not wake. This is my job, to end the torment whenever I can. The nightmare ends, but another lies in wait. Who will close their eyes first? And so the night repeats.


So give me all those perfectly normal days, when I still have the opportunity to pretend. Because when night falls, there’s never a chance to forget.



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  1. You nailed it perfectly. We all wonder what kind of afternoon it will be when my husband comes home from work. Has someone said something, did he see or hear a trigger, has heard more bad news about his fight against worker’s comp, etc

    • Thank you, Cathy. You’re right, everything can change in an instant and we are always on edge waiting for it.

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