(Trigger Warning - In this post I'm sharing about my experiences of flashbacks, including flashbacks of a car accident I was in. Please only read further if this will not cause you any flashbacks. I don't want to hurt anyone.)
My first introduction to flashbacks came a few years ago, after I was in a car crash on a country highway. I wasn't injured too badly (which was a miracle) but emotionally I was a mess. It was a long time before I could travel on country roads without flinching or crying, especially if the intersection we were approaching resembled the accident site. It was worse if I was a passenger, as I had been a passenger in the crash. Sometimes all it took was the bump of a car tyre hitting the curb to make me jump. And sometimes I could smell the accident - the rubber of the tyres, the smell of the air bag, etc. It was awful. And while I'm mostly ok these days, I do still struggle at times, especially when travelling on highways.
This year I'm having flashbacks of a different kind.
Flashbacks of leaving our daughter in our hospital room, of the nerve-wracking drive to the ultrasound where her death was confirmed, of having to tell family that our baby had died. Sometimes I remember the Saturday...day 3, when baby-blues normally set in. Curled up in a ball on our couch, crying the most I'd ever cried and thinking I must be going crazy, only for my midwife to remind me that day 3 is always the tough one, and that of course it was going to be tougher for me. I flashback to the agony of laying our baby girl into her coffin, and walking out of the room. Of feeling like I'm a failure because I didn't deliver a living baby.
Flashbacks. Flashbacks. Flashbacks.
Why is it that I rarely flashback to the better memories? Of seeing her for the first time, the two days we spent with her, or the hilarious moments during pregnancy when she made my belly into all sorts of crazy shapes? What about eating pizza with my husband and our pastor, a nice distraction during early labour? Or the ultrasounds when we could see her happily wriggling about? Why can't I remember THOSE moments?
Instead I hear a song that was of great comfort in that first week, and instead of being comforted I am confronted by flashbacks of raw grief and empty arms. I drive past the hospital going to and from work, and flashback to just how scary it was to drive there on the Monday not knowing if our baby was alive or not. I see newborns in their parents' arms and flashback to walking out of the hospital room and funeral home with oh-so-empty arms.
It's hard. So very hard.
I assume I'm not the only person who struggles with this. So if you also struggle, I want to offer you some encouragement - it is possible to get through the flashbacks.
A few months ago I was really struggling with guilt; I was feeling as though it was my fault she had died. And that is ridiculous. It's not. For me, every single test that was done came back saying her death was unexplained. But that didn't stop the guilty thoughts from creeping in. There's a verse in the Bible that I valued a lot at that time. In 2 Corinthians 10 it says that we are to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. When the guilty thoughts came in, I had to take them captive and make it obedient to Christ, which for me meant lining it up against what I knew to be true of the situation and God (He did not say it was my fault, nor did the tests). When I did that, I was able to move past the thoughts of guilt and not get stuck in them.
I think the same applies for the flashbacks. If I take them captive, I am not letting them control me. If I take them to Christ, I can trust Him to comfort me and replace them with better memories.
It's not just positive thinking. That relies on our own strength, and I know for sure that I do not have the strength for that. I'm as weak as can be. But my God is strong. And by taking my thoughts to Him, it is possible to overcome.