The Difference Between Pain & Fear

Last week I wrote to you about being in the fire of domestic violence and how critical it is to leave. What I didn’t write to you about is the condition my perpetrator gave to me: C-PTSD. Maybe I have written about it in the past but it’s been so long since I’ve routinely written. Please, forgive me if I have! 

In writing to you about losing myself and my mind to domestic violence it was the C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) that took over my nervous system and the emotional abuse that kept me questioning my reality. I didn’t know the difference between pain and fear. I could barely hear my own voice let alone know if this hurt or if I should be afraid.

In my experience with abuse and the divorce that followed, the answer was yes to making both pain and fear feel like one and the same. After the abuse, learning to differentiate the two has been part of the foundation that has helped me heal. I’d like to share what I’ve lived through and learned from.

In the fall of 2020, I asked for a break from my marriage when I realized I could no longer hear myself. Each day was filled with nervous anticipation of what would come next in my home. Would I be safe? Would my children be safe?

At this time I could no longer hear loud noises without jumping and feeling pain in my ears. I could not ask for anything I needed from my ex-husband without being verbally attacked and abused. I was even experiencing panic attacks to the point where I would become immobile at least once a week. I was fearful to speak, fearful to move, fearful of noises, and desperate for a different life for my children. I’m going to be honest and say I didn’t care about myself at that time. I wish I had left for me, but I left it all for my children.

Getting Help for Ongoing Abuse & Violence

At the time I was referred to a trauma specialist and within a week in her office, she explained that I was experiencing domestic violence and believed I had developed C-PTSD because of the abuse. I was later diagnosed with this condition. In my condition, the Vagus nerve that runs through the entire body is damaged. In abuse, the central nervous system is overloaded for so long that it starts misfiring. My condition was severe enough, because of the depth of my abuse, that my nervous system didn’t know the difference between toy cars rolling on the floor and an actual attack. My mind knew I was safe and my body did not. The fear and pain were combined in my body and I had to work really hard to separate the two.

In treatment, my trauma therapist helped me to sort out my experience with domestic violence and how to leave the cycle. Yes, I was physically out of the situation, but my children were not (and, as of this blog being published, they still aren’t) and at the time my mind wasn’t out either. I was not myself and constantly responding to the hooks of my perpetrator. As I sorted out my mind, I also worked (and still work) with an acupuncturist to heal my Vagus nerve. I also worked with a psychiatrist for my anxiety attacks. As I navigated, and continue to navigate, my son’s experience with domestic violence I put one foot in front of the other to heal the pain from my own abuse. 

In this healing, I was finally able to see the difference between pain and fear. Pain was what my body, heart, and mind felt when I was hurting. Fear was a signal from my body and mind that pain may be on it’s way. Fear kept me blind for a very long time; that is the intention of all perpetrators. Because if you are afraid you are trapped.

Sorting Out Pain & Fear

It has taken me over a year to be able to see my own experiences and label them. Is this fear? Is there really something to be afraid of? Is this pain? How can you heal it? I would like to tell you I’m further along than this, but I’m not. While I am out of the abuse, I am still divorcing, and still worried about my children. I’m also not sure if the C-PTSD ever really goes away. On any given day an email can come or my children have an experience that alerts me to their own fear and pain. It’s not all of the time yet, as their mother, I will never stop worrying, I will never stop watching, and I will never stop fighting for them.

I do know that in being able to clear my mind and calm down my nervous system my strength is returning. Just being able to hold space for my own pain and label my fear is huge personal growth. Now I am able to see what is a real threat and what was simply a guise to trap me. This is how I am rebuilding my personal life into one where pain and fear are no longer a daily experience. 

Sometimes just knowing the words of what you are experiencing and getting a little education about your own experience is all you need to save your own life. I’m forever grateful to my therapist-life saver. I am also forever grateful that I am a woman willing to learn and heal. I would like to meet and get to know more women like me. A sisterhood of survivors, a sisterhood of the brave.