Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Importance of Joy In Healing Trauma & PTSD

There I was, about to turn 40 and the thought of living the second half of my life unhinged by what happened before my life had even really begun was more depressing than the depression in which I generally lived. So, I decided to finally haul myself out it: I decided to pursue joy. I decided to dance at least once a week, and then I decided to learn to partner dance. One year later, here's what I've discovered:

1. The role of joy in eradicating trauma is paramount to moving forward. Trauma causes a break in the narrative of our life's story; joy heals it. That is, how we perceive ourselves, how we envision the present, plan for the future and participate in the world.

2. After trauma it's easy to separate into a slew of selves (the Before self; the During self; the After self). Where there had previously been one united entity now there are several trying to inhabit a single space. A sort of gridlock occurs as they all jostle for position to protect us and move us forward. It becomes critically important to find a way to unite all of these selves into a single, strong force; a Now self. Joy can do that.

3. We must discover a throughline, some way to reconnect with that former part of ourselves who has not suffered. Otherwise, we will suffer every minute of every day. Joy is the key to that throughline.

Don't panic - the point is not to recall some distant pleasure. For myself, I don't remember much before my trauma. Bits and pieces, yes, but a vision of my whole, happy self, absolutely not. If you asked me to name one thing that brought me joy before my illness I could not name it.

But it isn't necessary to remember a pre-trauma joy. The point, actually, is not to spend any more time ferreting through the past. Today, it is only necessary to use some joy (any joy!) to woo that original self who wishes to be trauma-free. That self is from the past, but we have little ability to access him or her. How could we? The break in the narrative is vast and wide.

However, we can use the present day experience of joy to stimulate a reconnection with that past undistorted self. The important factor is not the source of the joy, but the feeling of it. You cannot be high on joy and also in the midst of a dark depression. The two cannot coexist in the same moment. Try a little taste of joy, and then fall back into the dark. And then another small taste of joy, and return to the sadness. The joy will linger, it will call to you, you will want more. This is the beginning of healing. That untraumatized self is waiting, curled up, asleep in the depths of the subconscious, waiting for joy to filter down like a song and woo it back to life.

The goal is to use the experience of joy to foster the dominant return of the self that has not suffered. Joy engages that part of ourselves that remains trauma-free because joy engenders pleasure, hope and an environment of peace, love and freedom.

Although it may not feel possible, that unscarred self does still exist. Joy, in its alchemy of purity, provides a bridge for that original self to cross over the gap in the narrative. Joy is the elixir of the self. In its ability to transform, joy is a powerful voodoo magic of the soul.

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