It's like stepping into some Noir-esque movie. It's shot in black and white - and all the starker for it. There's a mist swirling, diffusing and enhancing the white light that shines upon the opening of the alley. The car sits, motionless, at one end, lights on, ready to depart. I walk towards it, pull on the door handle and it opens to invite me to take my seat. Without a second thought I plant myself on the passenger side and I wait. It isn't long before the other door opens and my companion joins me. I look towards him but his Panama hat obscures his face in the diminished luminescence. There is a moment's grace before his right hand grabs the shoulders of my coat and pulls my to him. Then it comes. The first penetration as the knife sinks into my yielding torso. Another. Then another. Over and Over. I can see the blood covering everywhere until the heaviness descends upon my eyes. I reach to him but there is no strength left in me. The blade keeps flashing and it rapes my body again and again. There's nothing to feel now. My eyes close and whomever I was is no more.
If there is one thing I now know it's that the idea that if you die in your dreams you die in the waking world is pure fiction. Instead I found myself a living stereotype. I have my eyes open in panic waiting for another thrust of the knife but instead I find the familiarity of my bedroom. My wife is bolt upright with her hand on my shoulder. "You were shouting out again" she says simply before hugging me.
Another damn night of nightmares. Every. Single. Damn. Night. Weeks and weeks of them. Each one different. Every one of them the same - in that they all lead to my death at the hands of someone I either trust or whom seems familiar but are hidden in some way. I'm so tired by this point. I'm losing hope that they will cease any time soon and going slowly insane. Nights are filled with my murder. The days with anxiety attacks and the growing rolling snowball of depression.
Welcome, my friends to The Wonderful World of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, firing on all thrusters.
Fortunately, I'm along from those days now. It's still there, of course, and can be triggered by the most inane of things, sending me into a spiral of anxiety and panic. Yet those days of being dragged into a Danté-conceived level of Hell are, at least for now, behind me. Though as I type this I realise that they are not so far behind as one might hope. The heart is beating fast, fast, fast. The stomach whirls. The hands have just an edge of a shake to them. Yeah, if the Black Dog was Churchill's companion, mine is a wolf-pack to be heard prowling after me for the kill.
I have no desire to go into what caused my Complex PTSD, as my form is termed. Suffice to say the seeds were laid in childhood, watered through adolescence and tended to in my recent mid-life adulthood.
The thing that preoccupies me, currently, is how that affects my inner journey. For years I believed in, and extolled, the power of meditation. Particularly Zazen, the Zen form of sitting with awareness or Insight Meditation. Both, of course, from the Buddhist traditions. Virtually all such types will to a greater degree or another talk about just observing your thoughts. They're just thoughts. When powerful emotion sets in just observe it and let it steady itself, just like mud will quietly sink to the bottom of a class of water if the fluid is allowed to rest. To be fair, this is a rather superficial take on things, but that is largely how it is communicated and taught in any common mindfulness class.
Now you try telling someone with PTSD or other forms of anxiety disorder to (and you have to imaging this being said to you in one of those sincere 'spiritual' voices that now manage to piss me off) 'just watch the fear'. It isn't real. It's just a thought rising and falling....
My brain is neuro-atypical. It is no longer wired as a brain should be. The centres that trigger Fight, Flight or Freeze are much, much bigger than they should be. They are never truly shut off. In most 'normal' people an event that might raise an eyebrow might make me descend into panic and paranoia. Perhaps worse. It has been worse.
And there's not a thing you can do about it. Not one damn thing.
Well-meaning people will say, "just pull yourself together. You're all out of proportion". The Spiritual Teacher (Trademark) will tell you to watch the thought. It's just a thought.
Well, my loves, my well-intentioned comrades, I can't, OK? Even as the panic rages, my 'rational' brain, which I can access quite easily, is telling my panic-stricken body "look, it's ok. There's nothing to fear" - or words to that effect. More likely there will be a lot of expletives in there telling myself to "just will you (insert expletive of your choice) calm down will you?!?!". It matters not. The wolf pack is unleashed. It's upon its prey, devouring the tortured mind and wounded soul.
For someone for whom that journey into wakefulness is important, whatever that means, where the hell do I go from here if I cannot fit in the tidy schemes of self-help manuals and the directions of gurus? I'm not entirely sure. What I do know is that this is my humanity. Whilst I know - yes know - that this 'I am' is ultimately a fiction that can disintegrate in a heartbeat, it is, nonetheless, a tool of the lived experienced the universe is having through this sense of self. To that degree, it is very real, if somewhat vulnerable. A true illusion if you like. Any form of awakening must embrace that humanity otherwise it is a sham and nothing other than snake oil being touted as a curative. A spiritual bypass as some might term it. So, therefore, I must begin a journey that recognises who this sense of 'I am' is - with its forties-styled murder cases or the rush of adrenalin and panic that can so easily swamp my body. This is who 'I am' right now and if I'm going to be able to live that fictional perception into a more peaceful truth my first steps must be taken from here.