Ashes of Abuse: PTSD

Every time I hear Cindi Lauper’s song, “Time After Time” on the radio, it is like a time machine, I am transported backwards in time.  It is late at night, racing down the highway, windshield wipers swooshing back and forth, sirens blaring and Cindi Lauper on the radio.  I was on one of my first ambulance runs and we were on our way to an accident at Hagen’s Hill.  Hagen’s Hill is a portion of road Arizona near where I grew up.  It was a treacherous curve, that had earned it’s own name because so many accidents occurred there. When we arrived on the scene, another ambulance was there taking care of one of the occupants of the semi that had crashed there. The other occupant was lying on the road completely covered with a sleeping bag…forever sleep.  As my eyes scanned over the scene taking it all in, a gust of wind ruffled the sleeping bag and for a moment I thought it seemed the dead body was going to rise.  Unfortunately he didn’t.  Both of the men from the truck were young, early 20’s.  So tragic.

That memory is imprinted into that song; I can’t separate them.  There are other songs that are imprinted with memories but none as vivid, or unwanted as that one. I am sure many of you reading this have songs that are imprinted with memories. What is fascinating to me about imprinting is that we don’t chose it.  We can’t pick a song and couple it with a memory.  Wouldn’t it be fun if we could?  Our own personal and private music videos. 

Imprinting can also occur in other ways.  I have a poor sense of smell, so I haven’t experienced this, but I’m told that for some people certain smells bring back memories.  If we could control that…oh the aroma therapy! 

I have a favorite imprinting story, something I read years ago on an e-mail loop.  A mom was sharing that she and her daughter had listened to a book on tape together.  They enjoyed the book so much that the mom decided to read the book later.  When she read the book, she could “hear” the narrator’s voice in her head.  This made her curious and she asked her daughter, “When you read books that I have previously read to you, do you hear my voice in your head?”

The daughter smiled and said, “oh yes.”

Survivors of abuse can experience a negative form of imprinting.  Well, I call it imprinting, but it is actually called Post Tramatic Stress, or Post Tramatic Stress Disorder.  PTSD has been brought to the public awareness, I believe, mostly by the experiences of soldiers.  I know that was my first experience with it.  One of my favorite high school teachers taught me history.  We spent a whole week on Vietnam.  He had been there and told us pretty vividly what it was like and the after affects.  I was profoundly touched by his experience.

A war veteran who is sensitive to loud noises knows why.  However survivors of abuse can sometimes be unaware of what the trigger was, or why it was a trigger. For example, an object, like a pair of scissors could be a trigger. If you were a survivor  you might see an object and inexplicably find yourself feeling short of breath, your hands shaking,  Your light, happy mood evaporating to a mist of depression. You are not aware of why you feel this way, but your body knows.

PTSD is caused by what is called body memory also called implicit memory. I am learning that there are basically two kinds of memories explicit and implicit. Explicit  is the conscious part of our memory and it reaches full maturity at about three years of age.  Implicit memory begins with birth.  Robin Grille, a psychologist, explains it this way:  “‘Implicit’ memory is available from birth or earlier, it is unconscious, and is encoded in emotional, sensory and visceral recall. In other words, what we don’t remember with our minds, we remember with our bodies, with our hearts and our ‘guts’ – with lasting implications for our thinking, feeling, and behaviour.”

Fortunately, not all implicit memories are painful ones like PTSD. Grille stated, “Just as we might not remember learning to walk, yet our legs and feet seem to play their parts perfectly, some of our most pivotal lessons in human relations were learnt at a time that our bodies, but not our minds, can remember. The greatest gift in these discoveries is the knowledge that every loving moment we share with our children, from the very beginning, will stay with them for life.”

Love is the best imprint of all.

References:  What Your Child Remembers — New discoveries about early memory and how it affects us By Robin Grille Source: Sydney’s Child, Volume 14, No 4 (May, 2003)

The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment by Babette Rothschild


  1. LeslieI know exactly what you mean about a song transporting you to a specific encounter of your life. You wrote it beautifully. And the way you ended your post was perfect. Thank you.Jim

  2. Leslie, your reference to What Your Child Remembers — New discoveries about early memory and how it affects us By Robin Grille was absolutely facinating and I will share it, it explains so much about why I would freak out about something my kids would do or say, when I couldn't explain my strong reaction! My hubby connects events to music very often, me not so much, but it does happen. Love your blog, I was wondering if you could email me, was just wondering why I don't see you on avow. I am not on too much either, much going on in my life. I my not read the email for a few days. Only if you feel like it.. Kim

  3. This is a beautiful piece, as they all are, and is so full of truth. Identifying and understanding our triggers is the first step to freeing us from their power.I thought it so lovely that when I logged on to your blog site today to wish you a happy birthday, the "random" quote was so perfectly fitting for the two most recent articles you had written. Isn't life truly beautiful? I'm pasting it below in case you the quote has been replaced before you have a chance to read my comment. :-)"Who is there who has not felt a sudden startled pang at reliving an old experience or feeling an old emotion?" Agatha Christie (1890-1976)

  4. Laguna Girl,You are so good to me! Yes the quote is perfect. Thanks for reposting it, because you are right it had changed before I saw your comment. You are the best@

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