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Trauma Vignette


This would have been three... three-and-a-half years ago now.

It was a normal day, I picked my kids up from daycare, was on my way home. It was November so it had already started getting dark early. The roads were a little bit slick.

On a particularly curvy stretch of road, I remember I came around a corner and by the time I saw them it was too late.

A silver SUV was skidding broadside, in the middle of the road. I could see people inside, scared. Two adults, two kids. A family.

I slammed on my brakes but it didn't do much.

We were pretty banged up but we were all wearing our seatbelts. I could tell immediately the situation in the other car was bad.

So what do you do? I had to make sure that my kids were okay. I mean, we were shaken up, but I was also thinking about this other family.

I'm not a paramedic, I'm a comm guy. But I remembered ABC: airway, breathing, circulation.

I was approaching the vehicle, and the lady inside started to  come to. The others were dazed or unconscious.

I'm working to get these people out, stop bleeding, things like that. But that kid.

He wasn't wearing a seatbelt. And he was thrown through the window on to the road. There was nothing that I could have done for that kid but... he could have been the same age as my boy.

So, fast forward two, three months later, and I can't get this image out of my head. This poor little boy's face. I never really remembered my dreams before but this face was in my dreams every single night. Every night.

I had to stop driving that route home from work because every time I came around that bend, I started sweating, shaking, my heart was pounding, like, I was afraid I couldn't control the vehicle.

I have never had anything happen to me like this before. Obviously nothing like that accident but then this. This repeating, haunting image.

My sleep was bad, I was short with people for no reason. And when I would come home, it was almost like I would try and stop my kids from going out or playing with their friends.

Later I realized that this boy's death must have given me a total fear of loss of my own family. And my irrational way of protecting them was to suffocate them. I became someone that I didn't want to be, and I didn't know how to be normal anymore.

And I feel like this story isn't your typical story. I mean, I know different types of trauma affect people differently, but, the way this altered my life was unexpected. Shattering actually.

Combined with this new fear of loss was my guilt for what had happened. I began thinking I could have done something... should have done more. Again, I know now it's irrational, because the crash was out of my control. But it was tearing me apart.

I started to think that I was going crazy, like I wasn't ever gonna be the same again. I even got a prescription for anxiety meds -- which sort of worked -- but never really addressed the heart of the problem. 

It wasn't until I started talking about all of this with my chaplain that things started to get back to normal. The couple of talks we had were helpful, but ultimately he encouraged me to see a psychologist.

I never thought I'd see myself doing that, but I knew something had to give.

I ended up doing a combination of what's called Exposure Therapy and Cognitive Processing Therapy.

Over time, I would expose myself to certain triggers that would cause my heart to race or have all these negative thoughts.

I had already talked about a little bit the accident with my chaplain, so the psychologist thought I was at the right point to really dig in to the details. I'd talk about it during my sessions, and listen back to the recordings of those sessions at home.

From week to week, I felt my perspective shifting... in a good way. Over time, I was able to go back and drive that stretch of road. First during the day, and then at night once I was more comfortable.

I would just say that if you feel different, or off, you need to reflect on what might be able to help you deal with whatever it is that's eating at you. Ignoring it doesn't work. It didn't work for me, and it only made me withdraw from the people I love.