PTSD Grenades and Water Balloons


All of us are in a different state of healing. We have all experienced trauma in some form or another.  I can only speak to what I have experienced and what I am learning about how trauma affects me.  I am not a medical professional and so I have a lot left to learn about PTSD. This is merely my very basic understanding. 

The best explanation I have found that makes sense is if you look at a lion and gazelle in nature.  The gazelle is grazing in the grass and catches a scent or hears the grass.  It becomes alert, and looks around for the perceived danger.  If the danger is verified it quickly springs away to safety and when safe again shakes off the excess energy, resetting the central nervous system (CNS).  If danger is not detected and flight response is not necessary it does the CNS reset. 

PTSD is a condition that for the most part is limited to humans.  For various reasons we as a species shut down the CNS reset leaving our bodies unable to finish the trauma cycle. Whatever our experience is something is stopping us from completing what we need to release the trapped energy.

All of us have experienced the fight or flight to one degree or another.  The adrenaline that makes our hearts race and our muscles tighten, ready for action.  For some of us when we experience trauma, either by witnessing it, being victimized or both of these coinciding with a traumatic brain injury, the imprint of the chemicals that flood our body to prepare us for self preservation, the muscle memory and the chemical memory never leaves us.  We flounder between a flat, numb affect and extreme reactions to everyday stimuli.  The way it presents for each of us varies but the most notable is reliving our traumas over and over again.  It is not just remembering what took place and being troubled.  It is RELIVING every sensation.  A war veteran may feel the splatter of his friend being shot.  A victim of abuse may feel the pulsating fear and the perpetrator on them all over again.

 Anything can be a trigger for us.  It could be a certain body type we recognize, a smell, a taste or even just the timber of an almost familiar voice.  Whatever the trauma was they are experiencing it over and over again.  It’s not just images. Our bodies are continuously being flooded with those same hormones and chemicals as they did that first time.  Imagine if you will a lifetime of gripping the release of a grenade.  Someone else pulled the pin but you have to grip it and not let go for your entire life.  Don’t release your grip or you’ll die.  Your arm will weaken under the strain. You may try to adjust your grip but you can never just let go.  This is called hypervigillance and it is exhausting.  It wears on our loved ones and it wears on us. 

Anger, depression, bitterness, feelings of inadequacy, pain, and so many more are all tag a longs.  We are often labeled narcissistic because we are so obsessed with detecting danger to ourselves and our loved ones that it seems as if we lack empathy for others.  This is actually the opposite of what we are. We can become so tuned in to others that the very littlest conflict in another’s life brings us back to what we have lived.  Plus the physical effects of never being able to relax.  Things like fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and other phantom illnesses and pains are all very common. In a nutshell, our pain is real.  Emotional and physical pain is a daily part of our lives. 

Some people with PTSD are able to disassociate so well from their trauma that they are actually able to carry out a surface existence that to an on looker is perfectly normal.  For awhile this may work for them.  You can pretend to be ok but eventually and gradually the trauma demands being dealt with.  When the result of trauma is PTSD the effects of reliving that trauma and constantly being immersed in the chemicals takes its toll on our ability to function.


After years of being told to “get over it”, being over medicated, misdiagnosed, labeled a victim, I am only now trying and succeeding in putting the shards of memories back together to make a whole window to look through.  The goal is not to re traumatize but to understand who I am and maybe one day understand my own reactions to stimuli so I can correct my own thinking and one day have a more productive full life. I have to complete the CNS response to my experiences so they no longer have the punch of reliving them.  The process requires strength and determination and there are many times I question my ability to do it.  Every time, I start to think oh I got this, I’m fine, look at me I’m all better I get handed another grenade and some asshole pulls the pin.

I do not pretend to understand the events that make us who we are.  I have spent years trying to answer the question why.   No one can ever give a complete enough response that rings true to our brokenness.  In searching for the answer I always found more pain and destruction. 

My life has been an exercise in endurance and strength.  It has been a repetitive example of what not to do.  In the process I have managed to inflict as much pain as was inflicted and at times it all seemed too much to bear.  I have had many moments of weakness and I am no longer trying to answer that bottomless chasm of a question.  I am hoping that by writing my story I will be able to look at the events of my life without them triggering a fight or flight response.

One of the tools I use to complete the CNS response is guided imagery.  With trauma after trauma and medication on top of medication the events of my life have been shattered into a million pieces and cast to the farthest recesses of my mind.  During one of my meditative sessions I walked to the deepest depths of my heart.  The landscape of my soul was one of a ravaged war torn civilization.  As I walked through the deepest chamber, that was dark and cold, I see buildings in various stages of collapse, bodies cast limply from broken windows and fires burning from the ashes of some long hidden event.  The fallen buildings represent the facade I had created to the world around me, the false persona of strength and confidence.  The bodies crushed in the rubble and glass, represent the relationships my destruction had stomped across, the pain I left in the wake of my supposed self discovery.  The fires were the actual traumatic events that weakened the buildings I had built. The bodies the buildings crushed are the relationships that have been destroyed.  Each one of these fires needs to be looked at closely, each one needs to be familiar.  I need to know what happened in my life.  I need to smother each of the fires instead of feeding it with fear and self loathing.  As I extinguish each of the fires with a blanket I can then clean out the rubble and limbs and create an environment where I can start to rebuild, with joy and happiness. 

The other tool I use is a therapist who specializes in somatic experiencing.  I have a tendency to get stuck in the narrative of my experiences and so my therapist helps me to focus on just the physical aspect of what I am experiencing and envision a different outcome so my body can complete the CNS reset.  Somatic experiencing doesn’t change my history by magically making it not exist.  It simply lets my system complete what it was unable to complete during the experience.


Looking back on all those grenades I was juggling I realize how unproductive it all is.  Some of the grenades were duds. The pins were pulled and the threat was real enough but they just never went off.  Then there were the ones I was convinced were real, they felt real enough but in the end, they turned out to be water balloons.  I kick myself for all the missed water fights, all the laughter and fun I missed out on because I was locked in that grip just trying not to get blown up.  Sometimes a water balloon is just a water balloon.  Just as Don Quixote was tilting at windmills I was tilting at water balloons. 


The Bishop **Trigger Warning**


“During a visit to Utah, I went to a friend’s small party. A 20-year-old guy I had never met was paying me a lot of attention and offered to show me how to do “stuff.” (I was 16.) I had no idea what I was doing, and thought we had had sex, but later found out that I was wrong. He only fondled me. I didn’t understand that wasn’t sex.”

“Back home, I told a guy what had happened. He told some people and made fun of me. One of the people he told was a girl I went to church with. 

“The following Thursday was a Young Women’s presentation called New Beginnings. Afterward, the bishop called me into his office and said, “You understand that as bishop heavenly father talks to me?” I said yes. “You understand that if you lie to me I will know because heavenly father will tell me?” I said yes. “Are you worthy to attend the temple?” I said I’m only 16, I’m not old enough to go to the temple. He seemed angry. He was sitting behind his big wooden desk with his hands clasped on top and with each answer his knuckles turned white. 

“He said, “You are 16 so you know right from wrong. You know there are things girls shouldn’t be doing. You know your chastity is the most precious thing you have and should be protected above anything else. Our prophets have taught you this. If you have sinned and your chastity is no longer pristine the only way to be forgiven is to tell me as your bishop.” 

“He paused as if waiting for me to speak. I was so scared. I was in shock. I couldn’t speak and all I wanted to do was run. His face was turning red and I could see he was tensed. Then suddenly there was a knock on the door. I guessed it was someone not realizing he was busy. He continued to stare at me and said, “I’m trying to give you a chance here.” I was so confused and so many things were going through my mind. How could this be happening? How could he know? God must hate me for not protecting my birthright and now I was never going to go to the temple because I was forever unworthy. 

“Then there was another knock on the door. Normally he would have gotten up and poked his head out to send the disturber away but he didn’t. He said, “Answer the door.” Still confused, I got my shaking legs under me and opened the door. Standing there was the girl from my school. I suddenly realized what was going on. He invited her in and I sat back down. He said, “Now do you have anything to say?” I looked at him then back at her and then back at him. The look on my face must have been something to remember because under his mask of flatness he seemed to be enjoying my torture. 

“He continued to sit with his hands clasped on top of the desk. I said, “I don’t understand.” He looked to the girl who seemed to want to hug me or something and all I wanted to do was run. He said, “Kim (not her real name), please tell her what you told me.

“Kim then proceeded to tell the rumors she had heard. But it was as if she had been trusted with a secret truth. As she spoke, I looked back to the bishop and it was clear he was accepting every detail as hard evidence. I realized nothing I was going to say was going to matter. She clearly thought she was doing me a favor and he was enjoying watching me squirm and all I wanted was for it to be over. I waited for her to finish and leave. She didn’t. He said, “So now do you have anything to say?“ I still waited a second for her to leave. Why wasn’t she leaving? This was private. Bishop interviews aren’t supposed to have spectators …or narcs for that matter. 

“Fine. Before I could realize what I was doing, or the implications of it, I told him it was all true. Every word. Most of it WASN’T. Most had been embellished for laughs at school by the boy. I just wanted out of there. I couldn’t breathe and none of this felt right. Confessing was supposed to feel better wasn’t it? Not this! He then instructed me that Kim was being a good friend, and I was not to tell anyone about her involvement. He told her she could go. When she got up she stood in front of me and put her arms out for a hug. I let her and as she hugged me she said, “There now. It will all be better for you now.”

“As she left I went to follow her, hoping it was over. The bishop said, “We aren’t finished. Sit down.” I contemplated running, but knew I had nowhere to go. This was the bishop. A man of God. My parents had sustained him just as every other member of our ward had. I had no one to go to. I sat down. He seemed calmer now. More in control. I wasn’t.

“He spoke. “For now, I’m not going to involve your parents because I suspect there is more that you need to admit to, and until I have it all, I’m not ready to break their hearts about their precious daughter. The things you have done are comparable to murder in the lord’s eyes, and until you address it all with me you cannot serve others. You would be robbing them of the blessings. You will be released as Laurel president, you cannot take sacrament, and you cannot offer prayers. You and I will need to meet each Sunday after church. I can only assume that you masturbate.” At this, his lip curled a little as if disgusted. “So that needs to stop and if you do I need to know, as well as any other sins you continue to commit.”

“It was all so matter of fact. There was no kindness in him. He almost seemed to be relishing my pain. Everything I had been told about confiding my sins to the bishop was so wrong. There was no love there. No patience and understanding. This man of God believed me ruined. I couldn’t know how much worse it would get.

“Over the next 6 months I had to meet with him and tell the story over and over. Every Sunday after meetings I was always the last one to be seen. I had to sit next to his office door as members of the ward came and went. Some would ask why I was sitting there. Others wouldn’t look at me. On more than one occasion the bishops hands left the clasped position on his desk and were in his lap. I could see that he was moving his arm back and forth. Sometimes the motion would speed up. 

“On one occasion he had me sit in the chair to the side of his desk. He had me repeat the story yet another time and when I got to the part where the guy fondled me, he said he didn’t understand what I meant. I said he touched me under my underwear. I don’t want to remember this next part. I don’t want to carry it. He said I was being evasive and that repentance requires specifics. His right arm was on his desk and his left on the arm of his chair. I didn’t understand what he wanted from me but I felt sick. 

“He said, “If you don’t know what to call it, point to where he touched you.” I remember feeling like I might suffocate and starting to shake. I remember crying as I pointed to my pubic area. He moved his hand to his lap, to his crotch. I could see what he was doing all those times. Caressing himself. I was mortified and I couldn’t do anything to make it stop. I wanted to run but my legs wouldn’t work. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t and I couldn’t make a sound. 

“He acted like nothing was wrong. He simply responded to me pointing at myself. He shook his head and said, “I’m sorry but that’s not enough.” How could it possibly get worse? “I need you to mimic what he did.” Without touching myself I moved my hand up and down over the area. Silently I was praying this was enough — that he wouldn’t need more. His hand moved more aggressively and then suddenly he stopped. 

“He said nothing about what he had done. He continued to speak while he was touching himself, none of which I heard, and when I realized he was still speaking, he was saying that chastity was something precious and I should treat it as such. He said he was trying to decide if he was going to excommunicate me. I was blown away by this. I had done everything asked of me for six months. I cooperated with every instruction no matter how disgusting it made me feel. He said he was going to have to fast and pray and hopefully he could let me know next week, but the Lord could not be rushed.

“Over those six months my parents noticed I wasn’t taking sacrament, and that I was refusing to say prayers. They often asked why and I told them what I was instructed to say, that I was working on something with the bishop and I would tell them when he instructed me to. As time went they grew less and less satisfied with this answer. 

“The day the bishop touched himself I must have been visibly upset. Those months I had clearly sunk into a depression and was sleeping and crying a lot — but that day I think my parents finally grasped how wrong things were. After church they came to my room and begged me to tell them what was going on. I started to try the same lame put off, but I couldn’t. I told them what I had done, or what I thought I had done. She explained that I hadn’t had sex. It was fondling. She was still pretty upset but they were both more upset at the bishop for how he handled it. They didn’t know about all the ick. Just that he had Kim in the room initially, and that he didn’t correct my confusion about my “sin.” 

“The following Sunday my father protected me for the first and only time in my life. He marched with me into the bishop’s office and angrily set him straight. My father demanded that my disfellowship end immediately and that it be removed from my record. The bishop tried to argue that I had transgressed. My dad said he knew all of that and that I had more than repented. 

“The bishop caved — I think out of fear that the rest of his behavior was on the verge of coming out. I know the disfellowship wasn’t removed from my record, as my friend’s father was the ward clerk and warned my friend to stay away from me because I would corrupt them. 

“I have carried all this with me for so long. I carried the weight of the bishop’s words and the questions he asked me. The humiliation he put me through. He remained as bishop for a number of years after that. Long enough to excommunicate my older brother and to continue to make me feel small every chance he got. 

“After my best friend committed suicide, the bishop came to me and told me my friend was now in hell. My life spiraled out of control from there. Other memories of other abuses came back and depression and what I now know is PTSD set in. I am now 37 and finally working through it all. I officially left the church in 2009 after 3 suicide attempts and years of self destructive behavior. I am much happier these days but am still fighting the beliefs I was taught about my worth. 

“I battle anxiety attacks, social anxiety, flashbacks, severe depression, and hyper-vigilance, among many other symptoms. I am disabled as I have an exaggerated startle response which when triggered has sent me into full flashbacks at work. I am progressing towards some semblance of “normalcy” with the help of an amazing therapist.”