Mental Health

October 13, 2020

Trauma, Flashbacks & How I Work Through It

I'm WillowjakMama!

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. Now it's my favourite place to be.

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October brings Hallowe’en. Hallowe’en brings with it skeletons, witches, vampires, and every ghost and ghoul that one can think of. For some, this invokes fear. When I think of fear, I don’t think of Hallowe’en.

Fear takes me to another place. 

It takes me to a tightened chest. I am certain that I am having a heart attack.  My mouth is dry. I’m hyper vigilant. My stomach is tense and I know that I am not far off from vomiting. My hands are ice cold but sweating. My heart is racing. My heart will literally pound out of my chest. I cannot catch my breath. The harder I try to breathe, the more difficult it becomes. I am going to die. Everything becomes darker. Everything slows down. I need to run, but I can’t. I am frozen in this moment, in this moment of fear. I’m losing control – I know I am. And then… nothing.

What in that moment caused my fear? This was my reality, time and time again.  Nothing caused my fear. – Well nothing that you would see. 

There is no snake. There is no spider. There is no gun. There is no threat that you can see. For many years, this was my reality. 


They are as real as the moments, years before, that they are reliving. They are hardwired with the same intense emotions. I would be transported back to another time and another place. They were uncontrollable.  A smell, a word, a person, a situation could bring them on without notice. 

I would be transported back to a time years before.  I would be 8.  I would be 10. I would be 22. I would be transported to another time and another place where something painful happened and it would be happening again. 

I would be filled with fear – uncontrollable, overwhelming fear.

I am so relieved to be years removed from flashbacks but it didn’t happen without a lot of work. The work was aided with medications, but the real work was me talking, my therapist listening, and me reliving it again and again, working through the pain, the trauma, and ultimately regaining control in a time when I experienced helplessness. It took work. It took tears. It took anger. It took confronting betrayal. It took feeling overcome by panic, fear, and absolute desperation for things to be different. It took coming face to face with myself in those moments. It took me examining things I didn’t want to admit. It took talking about events that made me feel dirty, worthless, disposable, dispensable, and bad. It came with shame. It came with wanting it all to end. It came with struggle. It came with people who loved me when I couldn’t. It came with people who saw my value when I didn’t. It came with people who believed in me and my potential when I just wanted it all to end.

Dr. G. would remind me that there was only one way to the place of healing and wholeness. The only way was to go through it he would tell me time and time again. But I didn’t want to have to go through it. There was no avoiding it he would tell me over and over again. He would remind me that it would be different this time because I wasn’t alone in it. He would remind me I was strong and resilient. He would remind me that it hadn’t defeated me to this point and it wouldn’t! There were many days when I didn’t believe him but now that I am well on the other side, he was so right!!!!

What got me through those scariest of moments as I relived painful past events?

  1. Breathing and placing my bare feet on the ground/floor.  To this day I prefer to be barefoot. I dislike wearing shoes. With my feet bare, I feel better rooted, grounded in the present, in the moment. 
  2. Have phone numbers for supports close by. I had a sheet of paper folded up and in my wallet. It had crisis line numbers on it. It had my minister’s phone number, my therapist’s phone number, my family doctor’s phone number on it. On that piece of paper were the phone numbers of all of my supports. Perspective has given me the opportunity to see just how much support I had. If you had asked me back then I would have told you that I was very alone. I was anything but and the same is true for you. There is someone who cares.  
  3. Commit to talk therapy. I feared telling my therapist everything for the longest time because I was sure he would desert me when he heard about my life. I knew he would despise me as much as I despised myself.  Was I ever mistaken. He actually liked me and thought I was pretty awesome! Who knew?!  
  4. Know that your past does not have power over you. I needed to realize that, as someone who had been sexually abused, I was not what happened to me and neither are you. We deserve to choose wholeness and healing. We deserve to feel self-love. We deserve to live without the fear that flashbacks bring.  

If you are reading this and this type of fear is not your reality, nor has it been your reality, offer a prayer of gratitude. After the prayer of gratitude, if you are able, commit to being a voice for the many children, women and men who are walking with painful presents and pasts. Advocate for more psychiatrists who are invested in talk therapy.  I needed talk therapy, assisted by medication, from someone who was skilled. Medication alone would have meant that my journey would have been one of repeated hospitalizations with no real healing.  We need more therapists and they need to be covered by OHIP. I spent 23 years in therapy. For the first 15 years or so I went weekly for an hour and a half.  The next decade or so was weekly for an hour. In addition, I was blessed with family doctors who also spent time with me. I had ministers and a lawyer who also spent time with me. I would spend the rest of my life paying for this had I had to pay. 

What happened to me was not my fault! It is not your fault! Yet, we are the ones that must put our broken lives, our shattered souls, back together.  I was not going to let THEM destroy my life for all time.  I was going to take control. And I did. You can too.

Please! If there is nothing more that you can do, advocate for more mental health supports in our communities. People’s lives depend on them. The health of our families depends on it. The health of our communities depends on it. Our future depends on it.

Rev. Michelle

Rev. Michelle Brotherton

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  1. Michelle Devine says:

    I had read your post Michelle and immediately sent a message to Stacey.

    Though I read it feeling really sick about the treatment you were subjected to, I left the post (tears in my eyes) so empowered. If I was in your congregation and you were the minister in my church, I would feel absolutely honoured to be lead by you!!! What better way to be encouraged and guided–than by someone like yourself! To know you have lived “through” and worked “through” the unimaginable pain and STILL find love, compassion and grace in this world is so inspiring. Though I have not trekked the path you have, know that your worlds are touching and I will continue to watch for your posts. Thank you for being so vulnerable with us, the readers!!!!

  2. Rev. Michelle Brotherton says:

    Michelle thank you for your comment. I am blessed to know that our worlds have touched. I want to offer hope to others at this place in my journey. Many offered me hope along the way. We are all in this together!

Hi, I'm Stacey.
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My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. We chat about themes that are often ignored and voices that aren't often given a chance at the mic. Now it's my favourite place to be. 

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