It was a snowy evening in March when I had my first what some would call a “flashback” or episode of what later would be diagnosed at PTSD. Colorado gets its heaviest snow in March, so Ryan and I were hoping for a cancellation from our classes the next day. We spent the evening doing homework by my fireplace in my old creaky apartment with pizza and soda cans scattered around us. The snow was heavily falling outside the bay windows that looked over the courtyard. The wind was howling so loud you could hear it in the pipes. The apartment only had old steam heaters that made you feel like you had traveled back in time to the 1920’s.
Being the procrastinators we were, we gambled on the fact of a school closure the next day and did not finish our homework. We popped in a movie instead and decided on an eerie film to match the weather outside. Ryan and I both enjoyed being scared. We were watching the first Paranormal Activity and started making some jokes because we realized my steam heaters made the same noise the “entity” did in the film when its presence came around. Ryan kept trying to scare me by jolting me during a silent moment, each time being completely unsuccessful. Apparently being scared is an aphrodisiac though because we made love twice back to back for a couple hours after the movie before falling asleep.
We were cuddled into each other as the winter storm still howled its dominance outside. He pulled me into his arms, hugging me from behind so tightly it felt like we were molded into one person. I heard him fall fast asleep after that, I felt the muscles in his arms slowly release as he relaxed into a very deep content sleep. I watched the snow through my window for a short while before drifting to sleep too.
Sometime in the night, I am not sure how long after that I woke slightly from a bad dream I was having. I was alone on my side of the bed which was unusual because Ryan was a huge bed hog and always had to be touching me in some way as he slept. He had rolled over to the other side of the mattress. I went to go snuggle into his back and reach my arm around him. I blinked my eyes a little and through my grogginess I saw a man standing at the edge of my bed watching me! As soon as I saw the man, a giant spider fell from my ceiling onto my blanket in from me! I screamed a loud shrill and sat up grabbing a pillow for protection. (Why a pillow? I don’t know, I clearly was not thinking straight, that pillow would be no protection for me)
My scream woke up Ryan and in one swift ninja move he was on his feet with the lights on and was immediately in a stance that looked like he was ready to kick some ass. Wow I was impressed, it took him one second to stand up and be ready to protect me. “What, what is it?” His eyes wide as can be. In the light I was apprehended, there was no man there. There was not enough time for him to of left the room, besides he would have had to walk by Ryan to leave. What the fuck. What the fuck!
Ok so there was no man, but what about the spider! I jumped out of the bed and started scanning the comforter, but I didn’t see the spider either. That spider was huge, basically the size of Texas! It would be incredibly easy to find.
“What Shannon, what is it! Are you ok?” Ryan asked again. I started crying. Why was I crying? The confusion, the fear, it could have been a number of things, but I just started crying. Ryan rushed over to me and took me into his arms, “What is wrong Shannon, what happened?” Through my sobs I said with a forceful and worried tone “Ryan there was a man standing in the room! And then a huge spider fell onto the bed from the ceiling!”
“A man? Are you certain?” He said very concerned as he turned around and pushed me behind him in a protective motion. “Well, I thought I saw a man, at the end of the bed but he was gone as soon as you turned on the light” He still didn’t turn around, he kept his arm strong and flexed pushing me behind him and his gaze was searching the room. I held onto his bicep with one of my hands, very thankful he was there. “Ok, well I am going to go check just in case, are you alright staying right here?” I knew if I moved even an inch it would make him mad when he was worried like this. He needed to be able to control my safety as much as possible. He grabbed an old softball bat from my closet and headed out of my bedroom to the living room and kitchen. I heard him walking around and checking the doors and windows. My apartment was very small, so the search didn’t take long.
“No one is here, and no doors or locks appear to be unlocked or tampered with, maybe you were just dreaming babe” he said as he put the bat back in my closet. “What about the spider on the bed?” He walked over to the bed and started rummaging through the pillows and blankets. “There is no spider babe, and if there was he is long gone.”
“Could you check a little more and check under the bed?” I pleaded, man I sound like a 7 year old I thought. Ryan smiled and rolled his eyes as he continued his thorough check throughout my bed. “There is nothing here” He crawled back into my bed. I still stood there, feeling better but still kind of concerned about my hallucinations, maybe I really was still asleep and dreaming. He patted the pillow next to him, “Come on beautiful, get in here and go back to sleep.” I laid back down in my bed and he once again took me into his arms, his front pressing firmly against my back. “Everything is ok I won’t let anything happen to you, get some sleep” he whispered gently into my ear as he hugged me a little tighter.
As predicted, the next morning we woke up to emails saying classes would be cancelled that day. Knowing classes were cancelled after our alarms went off at 7am, we relished by falling back asleep until 10am. In college in Colorado a snow day means a day of drinking. In Golden, there is the Coors Brewery factory. They offer free tours every day, however to the college students in town they offer what they call a “short tour”. This is where you don’t have to tour the factory, you just get your wristband and head straight to the lounge area for your 3 free beers. We woke up happy about a snow day filled with freedom from any responsibilities. Our first item on the agenda was to meet all our friends at the Coors Brewery Factory for the short tour at 11am. Ryan had a 4 wheel drive, so we were good, plus it was only a couple minutes from my apartment. After getting ready, we headed to the brewery on an empty stomach ready to consume beer for our breakfast. (I know super classy, right). After that it was junk food and playing drinking games at Ryan’s house with all our friends. We barbecued outside in the snow, and spent the whole day having fun.
Looking back on these days now I realized that someone who had deeper trauma issues going on, that this type of lifestyle was only magnifying my symptoms. During that day I was fine; I was happy, you never would have thought I was anything more than a normal college girl having fun with her friends on a snow day. But there is something that happens biologically to your body when you are consistently feeding it that much depressants. The symptoms may not appear in the moment but after a while, someone with trauma becomes fulfilled with it. So even though they are trying to escape it by using substances, they are in fact doing the opposite. They are opening the wound even larger making it impossible to heal.
While everything seemed peaceful and joyous on the outside during Ryan and I’s happy periods, underneath my surface things were getting worst.