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Friend’s new car triggers traumatic memory

DEAR AMY: I have a strange problem with a friend who just purchased a car. This friend is fairly new to my life. She is the closest friend I currently have in a new city where my family just purchased a home.

I like this woman very much and don’t want to offend her — however I just learned that the car she purchased is the exact make, model and color that is owned by someone with whom I have a very painful past, related to the death of my infant son.

I suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder and PTSD related to the traumatic death of my son, and this car is a very real trigger for me for some extremely painful memories — memories, in fact, that were part of the reason why we moved to this new city.

I want to be excited for my friend because she is ecstatic about her car, but I’m afraid that I won’t be able to ride in it or park near her at school pickup or do any of the things I used to do with her.

I don’t want to tell her and make this new exciting purchase depressing for her, but I can’t imagine that my aversion won’t become obvious. I’ve worked hard for years to get over the emotional triggers involved in my son’s death, and I don’t want to get back to another dark place where things start falling apart for me emotionally.

Should I tell her, or should I keep quiet and pretend to be excited for her and her new big purchase?

– Struggling

DEAR STRUGGLING: Keeping quiet and pretending this problem doesn’t exist won’t work because internalizing your reaction won’t help you to work through it. I assume your goal is to decrease your stress reaction over time, and the way to do this is to be honest with your new friend about this very unfortunate coincidence, while not blaming her for any of her choices.

Continue to avoid this visual trigger, but be open to the idea that your goal would be to adjust to it over time.

Definitely talk this through with a therapist in your new city who has experience treating PTSD.

DEAR AMY: I’m responding to the question from “Confused in Colorado,” who refused to be around her guy’s ex-wife at family events. She sounds like a self-centered, spoiled brat.

There are things one does for the people one loves — which sometimes one doesn’t “feel” like doing. Your advice was right on — nod hello, smile and engage with others.

– Been There

DEAR BEEN THERE: Thank you. I hope she’s paying attention.

Contact Amy Dickinson via email at askamy@tribune.com or follow her on Twitter @askingamy.

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