I was revising the About Me page of my blog recently, the page where I tell you guys that I’ve mostly recovered from PTSD.
It occurred to me that if I shared a little more about that, it might be very, very useful to someone. PTSD is becoming more common, unfortunately.
What I’m coming to understand now is that it’s not so much what you specifically do to recover, although some ways of healing work better than others.
The bottom line is that you have to want to heal in order to heal. And nothing outside of you can get that wanting for you. It has to come from within, that desire to heal. You begin intending to heal, and healing begins to show up, and from then on, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. It may be one step forward, 9/10th of a step back, but the spiral has begun.
Others can influence you to expand in that direction, though. For instance, believing it’s possible to heal. Some traumatized people are not in an environment where they hear that message. Sometimes everyone else has been traumatized, and no one has any resources to help. Some people have erected internal defenses that protect them from really hearing that message because suffering has become such a part of their identity that giving it up might leave a frightening void. Who would you be without your story? How can you intend to heal if you don’t believe it’s possible?
Sometimes just knowing that another person has done it can make it possible for you. I can just encourage you to know that it’s possible to recover, to explore and discover, and use joy and expansion as navigation tools. Use your brain, too.
What would it take for you to believe that recovering from trauma is possible for you?
Honeys, so this is the thing about healing from trauma or loss: At some point, you realize that you’ve given enough of your life to suffering about that past event, and you’re still alive and likely have a good number of years left. What do you want for yourself? What do you really want?
You can ask yourself these key questions:
- Who would I be if that hadn’t happened to me? For sure, I’d be a lesser person if I had not suffered. At the same time, I grieve because it took me so long to get over it, to even know that I had PTSD and that I even could get over it. I cannot get those lost years of my life back, which makes my life now so much more meaningful. In the years I have left, I intend to make up for the lost time and be as happy and alive and myself as I can be. And, it is worthwhile to imagine your life if you hadn’t been sidetracked by trauma. What would you have gone on to do? I imagine that if I had really had the courage and confidence to develop my skills when I was a young woman, I might have gone to New York and worked in publishing and writing. So…guess what? I’ve worked in publishing and writing not in New York, and blogging was unimaginable back then. In some strange way, experiencing trauma did not derail my life as completely as I thought.
- What gifts has your suffering brought? Although everyone’s story of suffering is different from mine, I do have a clue about how hard life can be, and it gives me a lot of compassion for people’s suffering, from war, famine, natural disaster, genocide, the many cruelties and tragedies that we all know exist and that some of us have experienced up close and personal — and the way these terrible events can influence beliefs about oneself, one’s fellow humans, and life in general, beliefs that can perpetuate the suffering, sometimes for generations.
- How has your suffering shaped you? Knowing that one of the worst things that can happen — if you haven’t read About me, the brutal murder of my young sister when I was a child myself at a time when no one knew anything about PTSD — has already happened has helped me to have more courage. I spent years waiting for the other shoe to drop, and then one day I realized it probably never would. And…if it does, guess what? I have experience with trauma and now know so much better how to move through and beyond it.
- If you choose not to have PTSD, where do you go from there? I recall a day after I had been diagnosed with PTSD, when I realized I didn’t like having it one bit. I actually was pretty clueless about it then. It was like being diagnosed with any incurable condition. I remember thinking to myself in a very surly manner that I want to beat the shit out of PTSD with a baseball bat. I didn’t ask for this, and I don’t want it! The mainstream psychiatric thinking (i.e., Judith Herman, DSM) back then, a mere 10 years ago, was that PTSD was incurable. Once you have it, you always do. Well, a lot has changed — notably, the work of Peter Levine and David Berceli showing that trauma resides in the body and can be released, and brain wave researchers finding signature brain wave patterns for PTSD that can be changed with brainwave optimization. I had to accept that the PTSD was in me, not outside of me, and if I were going to beat the shit out of it, I’d have to beat myself up! And I didn’t want to beat myself up in any way any more — which left me with this option: I’d need to somehow become sane and healthy. I gave up focusing on anyone but myself. I stopped blaming (including myself), and I put my heart and mind and body and spirit into examining and changing and updating my identity and map of reality. Not that that’s ever done and fixed. Now, I’m not immune to trauma. No truly alive person could be because being truly alive means being vulnerable. But I believe I could move through it now and not become stuck there, which is what PTSD is. Stuckness. Developing flexibility is the antidote.
- What unknown joys await you? Yeah, I know. If you’ve experienced trauma, you may not be able to imagine them now, but they do lie waiting for you to want to experience them. You can just make a space for them now, and sooner or later, they will show up — maybe in your dreams at first, and then in your waking life. For me now, many of my joys are about relating to other people and connecting with them and loving them as deeply and unconditionally as I am able, being appreciated and recognized and accepted for who I am, and being able to use my gifts and talents to be of service in this world.
Serendipitously, a friend just emailed me this Native American quote:
Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.
These are just some thoughts I wanted to share with you guys today. I imagine I will have more thoughts on this topic, so please stay tuned. And of course, your feedback and comments are welcome.
What if the human species became really good at recovering from trauma and even preventing it when possible? What kind of world might we live in?
Nice post, MaryAnn. Thanks.
Yes, I’ve been pondering some of these questions myself and I am planning to write a post myself on the gifts of trauma. Hard to believe, but there are gifts.
Thank you for you wise and compassionate words.
Angela, I would love to read what you have to say about the gifts of trauma. I’m subscribing to your blog.