Heal your PTSD
Dynamic Strategies That Work
By Michele Rosenthal
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC Copyright © 2015 Michele Rosenthal
All rights reserved.
YOU CAN HEAL
It's a generally accepted fact that the key to achieving anything is being able to visualize it. The reason for this has a lot to do with how the brain works: The more it knows, understands, and "sees" what you want, the more efficiently, effectively, and effortlessly it helps you create what you want. This is exactly why having a healing vision — both for how healing happens and how you can begin to create it — becomes so important in the PTSD recovery process.
Approach the following pages as your introduction to ideas that make recovery eminently possible, plus ways you can create, embody, and engage with a healing vision of your very own. The more you clarify and then learn to step into the world you want, the more success you will achieve in reducing PTSD symptoms and reclaiming a self and life you love.
How Healing Begins
Healing begins with hope.
At this moment you may question how possible it is to reach your healing objectives. There will (often) be moments of doubt — that's all right. There's still room for hope.
The good news is you don't have to know exactly how you're going to succeed in your quest. Having hope just means putting out there that you desire to achieve the outcome you seek.
In moments of doubt you can hold onto hope by saying to yourself, "I'm open to the idea it's possible for me to ..."
Having hope gains strength when you're clear about what you hope for. Today, outline what you hope for in terms of:
* your life
* who you are
* your recovery
* your relationships with others
* your experience in the world
* [your future
In your notebook, journal, or computer, complete this statement: "I hope ..."
* * *
If you're wondering whether or not it's possible to feel better, the answer is emphatically, Yes!
While friends and family may have advised you to "just get over it," you've probably encountered difficulty in doing so. There's a very scientific reason for why the "just get over it" recovery method doesn't work: Your behaviors are embedded in neural pathways in your brain, in the very biology of your nervous system. Literally, the traumatic experience has become a part of you, which means you can "just get over it" about as easily as you can get over infected tonsils.
Like your tonsils, healing after trauma means tending to what's wrong. In this case, that involves rewiring and retraining your brain. Since your brain rewires and retrains itself all the time, it's very adept at utilizing these skills. Your role in recovery is to specifically apply these skills in areas related to trauma. Essentially, you are your brain's guide through the maze of trauma recovery. Your mission is to (1) identify what your brain needs in order to rewire the trauma pathways and then (2) develop a protocol for creating the retraining that will achieve the desired results.
If you were going to teach your brain something new about post-trauma life, what would it be? What kind of repetitive experience could you develop that would offer your brain opportunities to learn that idea?
* * *
Bringing yourself to a place of peaceful healing means repairing the bridges that were blown up in yourself and your world when trauma occurred.
In his song "In Repair," John Mayer croons, "So much to do to set my heart right. ..." (If you don't know that song, go listen to it or watch the video; it's a great recovery anthem.) This sentiment so aptly describes where a great deal of the pain comes from in the PTSD experience.
In the post-trauma identity crisis that accompanies PTSD, you question how to define yourself, wonder what's true and what's false, and lack a sense of what's right for you — these are heart and/or soul wounds. One way to answer the questions and refill that sense of rightfulness is to engage in repair of the things that feel most devastated.
What are those things for you? Take some time to sit in a quiet space, peer into your heart, and see what's most damaged — what most needs to be repaired. Fixing those things will bridge you to the next phase of healing.
Then choose a recovery anthem and play it daily. Tweet the song title and/or lyrics to @ChangeYouChoose, #healmyptsd.
* * *
Healing requires recalibration, which is the careful process of bringing things back into scale, a place of neutrality.
PTSD living happens in a place of extreme: anxiety, panic, depression, loneliness, grief, loss, sadness, despair, and [insert your ideas here]. It's a little like living on the edge of an abyss feeling that any moment you'll teeter into open space.
Successful coping and healing bring you back from the edge of the abyss and get your feet onto more firm ground from where you can see into the chasm but have removed the danger of falling into it.
The success of recalibration relies on getting things back into a state of equilibrium. If you were going to feel more neutral in one area of your life or coping today, what would you have to do?
* * *
Healing is about re-creating who you are and rebuilding your life.
The modus operandi (M.O.) of every survivor is to create an environment and sensation of being safe and in control. You're working very hard at doing that — which is why you're feeling such an enormous amount of stress.
Here's the big secret: Focusing on staying safe and being in control through rigid coping mechanisms doesn't create recovery. Healing is all about reversing the process in which you've come to live: learning to feel safe even when you don't have the ultimate control, and learning to be in control even when you don't feel safe.
Consider this new M.O.: You have choices to make. Decide what changes you want to experience. Then take an action to attempt achieving it. After that, let loose all of your planning. Stay in the moment and respond to what you experience.
In the avoidance perspective of post-trauma life, your motivation is to move away. You avoid threat by skirting it. However, you can't go into your future by stepping back or to the side. The future, since it exists in front of you, can be fully entered only by moving straight toward it. What is right in front of you on the road to recovery? What does that require you to do? Record your responses in your notebook, journal, or computer.
* * *
Healing means making better choices and taking more effective actions over a long period of time.
If you do this, eventually you will have installed in yourself an entirely new system for operating in the world. The foundation for this new system is the thoughts, beliefs, choices, and actions that emerge from your deeply connected sense of self. Cultivating the strong, confident, connected, and capable you is like honing the keel of a boat: It gives you balance and a way to choose and control your direction.
In the end, post-traumatic stress disorder recovery isn't just about being able to face the past; it's also about being able to connect to the present and envision a future. That begins with a connection to yourself.
Pause for a moment and notice how disconnected from yourself you feel. Do you feel disconnected from your mind, body, creativity, skills, or pleasures? In what way does that show up?
In your notebook, journal, or computer, create a two-column chart. In the column on the left, list all the ways you feel disconnected. Next, imagine that by the end of this year, these connections will have been restored. In the column on the right, fill in what will have to happen for you to feel reconnected in those areas.
* * *
Making choices and taking actions — sometimes before you even believe in the possibilities of the outcome — will naturally evolve your confidence and perceptions.
The tendency is to think you have to feel the truth of your healing possibilities before you can move toward them. So false!
Possibility exists for you in every moment, regardless of whether or not you feel its presence. All you need in order to inch ahead is to be able to do any or all of the following:
1. Hope that things can change
2. Imagine a different way of living
3. Wish a better life exists for you
4. Want your circumstances to transform
5. Embrace the idea, "It can happen for me."
The truth of who you are and what your life is really about constantly changes. Pick one of the preceding options and carry it with you today. See how much you can incorporate it into your thought process.
* * *
Today you are your trauma self, but your post-trauma self waits to be discovered.
A key feature of PTSD is powerlessness. For example, you feel powerless:
* in the midst of your trauma
* in the midst of your mind after trauma
* over psychological symptoms
* over physical symptoms
* in controlling the healing process
* about finding help in the healing process
* about who you've become despite who you used to be
In healing, you will learn to take back the power trauma stole from you. How do you do this? A (powerful) first step can be found in constructing your post-trauma identity:
Your post-trauma identity redefines you as someone for whom trauma occurred in the past but who is no longer negatively driven by trauma in the present. That full identity will include personality traits, dreams, and a vision for living a future that is full of meaningful and productive experiences.
It's okay if all of this seems foreign and/or unattainable right now. Today, open your mind to the possibility that someday you will shift into a post-trauma identity whose foundation is one of power, strength, homeostasis, and "I can handle it!" thinking.
* * *
Losing what you did due to trauma is very meaningful. That loss demands attention and deserves it.
Over the course of life, you lose many things ... from house keys to favorite sweaters to books, CDs, and scraps of paper with important information. You don't, however, keenly feel the loss or become blindingly infuriated by it. While you may have a momentary pang of regret, the loss of these types of things doesn't usually cause you to cry, feel physically ill, fall into a bout of despair, or become enraged.
How are those losses different from trauma? Those elements didn't define you; losing them didn't challenge your view of yourself, others, or the world.
Losing what you have because of trauma, however, does all of those things.
Loss deserves recognition. Mourning that loss is a necessary component of healing.
What have you lost due to trauma? Make a list of everything you can think of and then put a star next to the losses that most bother you. Address these areas to begin your mourning process.
* * *
Plan. Commit. Act. Heal.
You are a powerful being. Every day you endure symptoms that would drive another person insane. Still, you look for relief. You move through your days doing the best you can.
More and more often you are able to make a difference for yourself when you practice what it means to make a choice and take an action. The survivors who heal PTSD are the ones who find ways to sustain this process for as long as it takes and despite every unexpected outcome or perceived setback.
You are capable of handling tough things with strength and resilience.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being "I accept that completely!"), where do you rate your response to that idea? What would it take for you to move up one notch? How can you create a situation that encourages that to happen?
* * *
Be responsible and accountable.
What makes you feel responsible for executing the recovery you're attempting?
If you've ever tried to hold yourself accountable, you know how tough it can be. Different parts of you start having a conversation:
The part that wants you to follow through starts sounding like a cross parent, and the part that doesn't feel like doing the work sounds like a whiny child. As it does in real life, this kind of conversation can go around and around until you're both exhausted and nothing gets done.
Being held accountable finds real strength in its external origin. To an outside person less swayed by your whiny child part, you cannot fuss about what you do or don't want to do; you can follow through only because that's what is expected. If this scenario sounds more like a sergeant than a buddy, that's okay. If a buddy would let you get away with months of inertia, then it's a sergeant you need on your team!
Consider all the people you know whom you trust. Who wants you to succeed in your mission for healing? Make a list. From this list, choose one (or more) person(s) to whom you can confide your tasks and objectives and who will hold you accountable for getting them done following the schedule of choices and actions you devise.
* * *
Healing requires you to give up control.
In an attempt to reclaim control after trauma, you have built a world in which you control as much as possible. While that's sensible, strong, and wise, you have also built yourself the prison in which you now live — a place where the more you expend your energy on control, the more controlled you are by your own brain, mind, and body.
At this point it isn't trauma that controls you: You — and your belief system (embedded in both your conscious and subconscious psychological and neurobiological processes) — control you. To feel better, you will be required to release all of the controlling behaviors you have implemented.
Make a list of the (obsessive and compulsive) controlling behaviors you employ on any given day. (If you can't identify them, ask your friends, family, or colleagues; they will happily tell you what they've noticed!) Choose one behavior that you feel comfortable working with and imagine what it would take to gradually lessen and then release it. Write out the steps you imagine. Prioritize them and make an implementation plan.
* * *
Healing happens when you value who you are.
PTSD begins as a reactionary instinct to trauma but continues because your body and mind perpetuate the survival mode cycle. The more you allow PTSD to continue, the more it builds on itself.
But you do have a choice. If you value yourself enough to believe you deserve to be well, then you can begin moving forward.
Today, ask yourself the following questions:
* Do I deserve to be free of PTSD symptoms?
* Do I deserve to live a joyful, productive, fulfilling life?
* Do I deserve to have peace of mind?
* Do I deserve to have comforting, supportive, loving, and satisfying relationships?
* Do I deserve to have a successful career?
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being "I am completely worthy!"), rate how worthy you feel of healing.
What would have to happen to increase that number up one notch on the scale? How can you do that? Who can help? Follow this process repeatedly until you reach the 8 to 10 range.
* * *
Initially, healing can make PTSD symptoms worse.
You're overwhelmed by how difficult, scary, and out of control your mind, emotions, and the coping and recovery process feel. Sometimes you might even be afraid to let go of your survivor persona and coping techniques. As much as PTSD symptoms make your life miserable, they have become familiar: In the framework of post-traumatic stress symptoms, you recognize yourself and this feels safe.
Healing, however, challenges you to let go of all that. Naturally, the unfamiliar is threatening and uncomfortable. To continue moving forward, you must develop a strong reserve of courage.
In your approach toward healing, you must discover in yourself a sense of adventure and an attitude of fearlessness.
In what one area of recovery do you feel the most fear? If you were going to become fearless in that space, what would have to happen? How could you create one small step toward that outcome? Who can help?
* * *
Lots of surprises happen throughout the trek to healing.
You'll surprise yourself with strength, courage, and fortitude. Your brain will surprise you with how it begins to function in new ways. Your emotions will surprise you with how they become more appropriate in the moment. Your mind will surprise you in how it learns to focus, synthesize, and integrate.
Look for the surprises, and then let them lead you forward into new territory. Where you are today may feel as if it has many questions. However, all of who you are today holds the answers.
When you look back at how you've managed since your trauma(s), what surprises you about yourself? What skills or attitudes does this highlight about you? How can you use them in your healing process? (Continues...)
Excerpted from Heal your PTSD by Michele Rosenthal. Copyright © 2015 Michele Rosenthal. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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