We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog post for a special report. That’s because I was in Clearwater for the past 24 hours, and it FREAKED ME OUT.
I mean, it shouldn’t have, right? Tom and I were just driving over to Clearwater from Lakeland, to attend the wedding of our dear friends Beverly and Matt which was being held on Clearwater Beach. It couldn’t have been a more lovely occasion.
Except for one thing: We were headed to CLEARWATER. The home of the Flag Service Organization, where I spent the last four years of my Sea Org experience until I escaped.
I prepared myself. I knew we had to drive past downtown Clearwater to get to the beach. I wasn’t going to have any reaction whatsoever. How wrong I was.
As we drove over the Causeway Bridge, I started to feel a bit queasy. It was the first time I’d driven over that bridge since I’d escaped.
Everything was so familiar: The shops along Gulf to Bay Boulevard, although some had changed. The Super Target where I’d eagerly shopped on my rare days off. The street names. Each of them brought back a memory, some good, mostly bad.
I tried to ignore the feelings I was having. But when we got closer to Fort Harrison Avenue, everything started to spin. Then I saw it: The city-block-sized “Super Power” Building. It came upon me all at once, and I felt as if I were being crushed under its weight.
You see, I was the Director of Promotion and Marketing when I was in the Sea Org at Flag, and my office was right across the street from that building. I watched it being constructed, over the course of years, from the ground up. To me, it represents the crushing power of Scientology and how they extracted millions of dollars from Scientologists all over the world in order to get it built.
I started breathing heavily. I felt suddenly trapped. I told Tom to turn off the podcast we were listening to, because I felt like my head was going to explode. It was the most horrible feeling, one that I didn’t think I’d have to re-experience.
I thought I was past all that.
I mean, I had moved on, right? It had been 12 years since I’d escaped from that hellish place. I’d rebuilt my life, with the love and support of so many people. I was even taking a low dose of anti-anxiety medication. I hadn’t had nightmares in months. And yet… there it was…a full-blown meltdown.
I felt so bad for Tom, who had to drive with me going through this. But he never wavered, he just kept on driving, repeating these words like a mantra: “We’ll be out of here soon, honey.” I’m so thankful for him.
Once we actually got to the beach, things had calmed down quite a bit. We got to the hotel and the frustration of sitting in a long line of cars waiting for the valet sort of snapped me out of my fog—so there you go, a positive thing came from a traffic jam!
When we got to the hotel room, I relaxed and thanked Tom for being so understanding. He looked at me like he always does when I thank him for something I don’t need to thank him for: sort of a sideways glance as if to say, “Really, honey? I mean, we are partners in all this, right?”
I had a wonderful time at the wedding, but I thought a LOT about what I’d experienced driving in. On the way home, I did some more internet searches around the psychological effects of being in a cult. The same thing came up over and over again: PTSD. That’s something I’ve known about, but for some reason, I’ve refused to think it had anything to do with my experience. Then I started looking into it further.
I had definitely read in the past about PTSD and its effects on people who’d been through traumatic experiences. I’d seen the news reports, read the stories of those in the military who now suffer with PTSD. I never really considered it for myself, however. I mean, I hadn’t been in the military. I hadn’t been through a traumatic experience like they would have gone through.
There was also a bit of a feeling of not being “worthy” of having PTSD, like my experience wasn’t traumatic enough and I shouldn’t put myself in the same group as others who have had truly horrific experiences. I felt a bit like I didn’t suffer as much as they did, so I didn’t deserve to be treated for PTSD.
But after this weekend’s experience, I started thinking differently. I googled “PTSD after cults” and found a ton of information on this. It’s called Complex PTSD or C-PTSD.
While PTSD can come after a traumatic event, like an explosion, car crash, earthquake, assault, and the like, C-PTSD comes after long-term trauma or abuse where there’s no possibility (either real or imagined) of escape. Check.
Here are some of the symptoms:
• Reliving the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares. Check. I had nightmares every night for years. Currently they come every now and then, but not too often.
• Avoiding situations that remind them of the trauma. Check. I mean, I hadn’t been back to Clearwater in 12 years!
• Dizziness or nausea when remembering the trauma. Check. See above.
• Hyperarousal, i.e. being in a continual state of high alert. Check. Not as much now, thank goodness, but this comes and goes. I often feel on edge and am always highly aware of my surroundings.
• A loss of trust in self or others. Check. Mostly lack of trust in myself. Not so much others.
• Being startled by loud noises, Checkaroonie. I used to jump every time a cell phone would vibrate, because it reminded me of the beeper I’d have on my body at all times, which would go off day and night. It was never good when the beeper went off.
There are quite a few more symptoms, too many to list here. So hey, I guess I may have some PTSD situation going on. Clearly, it’s not for me to determine. I’ll find a professional to help me through it, and I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.
For now, I feel better just knowing that there’s something going on that can be dealt with.
We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog post…