Unstuck in Time

My title is a reference to my favourite author Kurt Vonnegut, who often writes about characters who become “unstuck in time”; they find themselves flung from one time in their life to another, in no particular order, pattern and for no obvious reason. This has resonated for me in adult life. Now, I’m not claiming that I have become temporally detached from my timeline like Vonnegut’s characters, but it can feel like it sometimes. I’ll try to explain.

There was this moment in my life that was so powerful that I sometimes feel I’m physically right back in it. I was quite young, a teenager of maybe 13 or 14, and I’m in my bedroom. My Dad, who is an alcoholic, is sitting on my desk chair in my room. There are tears streaming down my face as I desperately plead with him to leave us, he’s causing us pain with his abusive behaviour and we’re not coping. I tell him that I’m suicidal, that my therapist is concerned about me. He looks back at me with his glazed, puffy eyes, his expression completely unchanged, and tells me that maybe I should leave, maybe I’m the one causing the pain. I can’t argue with him, I’m too upset and now I’m terrified because my father is telling me I should leave my home.

He gets up as he’s left fish cooking in the kitchen. He always cooked fish when he was drunk, even though he knows I have a fish allergy and the smell makes me feel sick. He says he’s coming back. As he walks away down the hall, I’m panicking. I’m scared. I don’t know what to say to him. Is he going to tell me to go? He doesn’t even care that I am suicidal and I don’t know how to speak to him if he doesn’t care. I think about running down the hall and out the front door, but there isn’t time. Instead, I squeeze myself inside my clothes cupboard, making sure the door is completely shut. The clothes cover my face and I have to hold my legs tightly so that I don’t move the cupboard door. I hold my breath as I hear him come back into the room and hear him mumbling under his breath. If he finds me, what do I say to him? He’ll see me cowering inside a cupboard. It’s pathetic.

At that moment, I hear the front door open. It’s my Mum. My Dad walks down the hall and says something to her. My Mum sounds panicked and starts calling my name and as she approaches my room, I leap out of the cupboard into her arms.

This is a moment of time that I keep finding myself in. Sometimes I will be back inside the cupboard when I feel unsafe or threatened, sometimes the sound of a floorboard or a key in a lock, or the feeling of clothing will send me back in there. Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be a reason.

This isn’t the only moment I find myself bouncing around in, there are others too; each with their own unique emotional footprints. While I am a sci-fi fan, I can’t pretend that this form of time travel is one that I enjoy, but neither did Vonnegut’s characters. Vonnegut often related his “unstuck in time” narrative style to post-traumatic stress induced by his experiences in the second world war and that makes a lot of sense to me. You find yourself drawn to other times and places as soon as you experience an emotion or sensation that relates to them.

I wanted to share this as it is not something I have shared openly before and writing this has felt liberating for me. Maybe someone else who is unstuck in time will read this and feel less alone. Time travel can really suck sometimes.


One of the greatest gifts a parent can give to a child is the feeling of security, it’s one of those things that you don’t realize you have if you’ve always had it, but when they fail to give that to you? The hole remains like a well, that connects with other low moments, and generates its own power to make us feel worse.

You were a brave teenager, to say those words to him, to admit you were suicidal. You had more words than I did. My hope for you is to see the power you had while hiding in that cupboard - you faced the bully, you challenged him, you called out his wrongdoing. You then protected yourself as best as you could, with whatever resources you had on hand. You protected yourself after standing up for yourself.

It must be disconcerting to find yourself in that space when something happens now, but you are stronger and wiser now, you have better resources, you are surrounded by many who appreciate and respect you here. My hope for you is to see the cupboard, yes, trauma will send you back there, but always remember the security of jumping into your mother’s arms. You never have to stay alone in that cupboard anymore. Thank you for the courage in posting this. You inspire me, friend.


What you’re describing really does sound like PTSD. As Sita indicated, it was incredibly brave of you to tell your dad what he really needed to hear, even if he didn’t take it to heart. At some point, your words will come back to him, if they haven’t already. My dad was an alcoholic and he did walk out. I was allowed to go hungry while he drank up the money. Anyway, he never stopped drinking, but shortly before passing away, he did apologize for abandoning me.

Any number of things can trigger such memories and emotions, as both the trauma and associated details, such as what was happening in the environment, can trigger the episodes. It can be certain smells, weather conditions, music, movies or TV shows, or people who exhibit similar behaviors, etc. In my case, some things that I read reminded me of my past.

That was then. This is now. You have learned to survive. More than that, you have become a good person.

Thanks for posting this. It really is a story of heroism.



Hey Hun, Thank you so much for sharing that, that took a lot didnt it? I really hope that is has helped a little? its funny because its certainly made me think about a few things.
Your memories are so detailed that i could have been there its extraordinary.
What really breaks my heart strangley was the part about the fish, because that was the bit where it was the norm how it is just what he always does, gets drunk and cooks something that makes you feel sick. Everything you wrote was just awful and so wrong but the normality of the coming home and cooking fish saddens me for you as it just makes it exactly that, “part of the routine” and thats just not right.
by the way you may notice I waffle when I respond sometimes :innocent: sorry about that.

You dont mention if you have ever really seen anyone about what happened? do you think it would help to?

@dr_hogarth this is one of my replies that i do where i dont even know if i have made any sense but i just want to respond because the person means a great deal to me and i feel passionately about what they have written so in advance i hope it makes a little sense but please know I am really proud of you and thankfull for you and more than anything I am grateful to call you my friend. xxx


Hi Lisa :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

It did help me to just sit and write out the memory. I hope it would feel like I was emptying it out of my head and into the keyboard. It hasn’t quite had that effect, which isn’t surprising, but it did feel cathartic.

I have spoken to a lot of therapists about my Dad. It think mostly what I’ve learnt from them is that I have to accept that my past will always be a part of who I am. I think I do accept it and I do accept to an extent that I will be “haunted” by these memories. I have Autism, which means my threshold for trauma and hence PTSD is quite low, so having these very vivid flashbacks is something I live with. My approach has been to try and be more analytical about them; asking “why am I back in the cupboard in response to this?”. It’s helped me better understand how and why I react to things that stress me. It’s not a full solution, but it’s a start at least!


Thank you so much for your words. They really touched me. Above all though, I am so sorry about what you went through. I hope that you were able to feel some sort of peace with your Dad before he passed.

Thank you again for your kindness. :heart:


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