Wednesday, December 31, 2008

PTSD Healing: Moving Toward 2009

Only one day left in 2009 – one day remaining in this PTSD year in which you made no progress/some progress/tons of progress. No matter where you are on your PTSD healing timeline the new year offers the chance for a fresh, rejuvenating start.

Over the past few days we’ve taken a good look at the state of our PTSD, designed PTSD healing resolutions, and considered how to make those resolutions stick.

Tomorrow I’ll post 12 PTSD Healing New Year Resolutions for 2009 - all of which are reachable, all of which we'll explore in the upcoming months so that you inch closer and closer to freedom. But today we’ll take the day off from all this introspection and planning and leave the heavy thinking to my friend Brett Baughman (personal success coach, among other things).

An important way to prepare for change is to visualize the process, not just the old ‘if you can conceive it you can achieve it’, but an image of the entire process as a whole. One of the difficult things about achieving anything is the unexpected pitfalls and pitstops along the way. However, if we break down the process so we see where we are, and if we understand that each part of the process takes some time, then we have more focus, strength and patience.

Dr. Abraham Low, a mental health self-recovery guru, said, “If more of my patients had more patience I’d have less patients.”

So, let’s have some patience with ourselves and the healing process. In Brett’s experience of working with recovery he’s developed the following overview of the healing process, which he sees as containing these 3 simple steps:

Step #1 – We must be willing to let go of our trauma. Making a list of how negatively PTSD affects us helps us see why we should be willing to let it go, and then moves us toward the idea of giving up PTSD because we can quantitatively see the large picture of its impact.

Step #2 – We must focus on what we want. Redefining who we are plays a large role in healing PTSD. So, who are you? Not the PTSD you, but the real you lying dormant underneath? Outside of (and if it weren’t for) PTSD who do you want to be? Making a list of the things you would/could/want to do if PTSD did not exist is an excellent way to begin to see the real you waiting to be set free.

Step #3 – Recharge your therapy. It’s important that we work with people who know how to gently guide us where we need to go, rather than allow us to skirt the real issue(s) just because we’re too afraid or tired to go there. Make sure you’re working with a therapist qualified to understand the process of overcoming trauma. Make sure you’re working with someone strong enough to call you on your manipulations and diversions so you don’t waste time (or money!). If you’re looking for a new therapy adventure, find a therapist who works with Neurolinguistic Programming and its sister technique, Time Line Therapy (for a look at creator Tad James in action watch this fun(ny) video clip). Both of these techniques (in addition to hypnosis) are processes that work to reframe traumatic memories in the subconscious, retrain the brain, release negative emotions and define a new perspective – all of which allows us to plan, embody and create the future so we let go of the past.

It is possible to bridge the gap between PTSD and a joyful life – 2009 can be the year you move farther out onto the span…. Let’s cross it together.

(photo: hbomb1947)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

PTSD Healing: Gearing up for CHANGE

The best way to make a Big Change (like becoming PTSD-free) is to start with Small Change. For example, today I cut off my hair. It was, until a few minutes ago, down below my shoulder blades. Now, it’s just below my ears. It’s a small change in the overall Scheme of Me, but it sure creates a different look! (For those of you wondering, I am not a professional hair stylist. I’m just a chick with scissors, and curly hair, which helps when I make a mistake.) The impulsive way I decided to chop off my hair is very much the same impulsive way I healed my PTSD – I made the decision I would be free, and then hacked away at the problem until I finally found relief.

As you gear up to change your PTSD experience, what small changes can you make in other areas to support your ‘Time to Change’ perspective? What detail(s) about your external look can you change as a way to stimulate the internal change you seek? What schedule, habit or lifestyle changes can you put in place to kick off the Time to Change theme of 2009?

For example, think about what clothing you can eliminate and/or replace. What cologne to get rid of or try. What routine you can rearrange. One of my friends is about to pick up his study of Tae Kwon Do again. One of my dance friends just dyed her hair from brown to shocking blonde. A few months ago another one went from blonde to red. If we get in the spirit of change in these small ways our subconscious is geared to the change mindset, which encourages it in the right direction for the larger issues.

It’s time to psych yourself up for change. In addition to the actions you might try, take a look at this ‘Psych Yourself up for Success’ article, which talks about attitude adjustment for change. Interpret its ideas in terms of PTSD.

Doubt that you can change? Locate yourself on this Stages of Change outline by Dr. Linda Sapadin. If you’re not in the ‘Commitment to Change’ stage, ask yourself why. Do some soul searching today to figure out what’s holding you back. Start the Big Change by changing a negative belief from doubt to faith. You can do it. People change behaviors all the time. The only thing that’s different about us PTSDers is that we have to rout out experience and memory in order for the full change to become permanent. No sweat, no problem; piece of cake, we have a plan. We have support. But before any of that helps, we need to commit.

If you think maybe a little guided exercise would help shore up your focus, this ‘How To Change Your Behavior Patterns: Completing Your New Year's Resolutions’ article offers a great outline for understanding ourselves, our motivations and consequent behavior. Once we recognize all of this, change is easier to plan, implement and execute. We have to know ourselves – not just the pain but what’s behind it, what’s motivating all of our PTSD symptoms; not just the overall traumatic experience but how it’s impacting us on every minute, daily level.

OK, so my hair is short and bouncy and I’m ready for change in 2009. Being healed from PTSD doesn’t mean I’ve given up working to refocus, redefine and reclaim my life. It’s all a process. I have lots of lost time to make up! What are you waiting for???

(Photo: Staffelfuxhund Alex)

Monday, December 29, 2008


The history of new year resolutions goes like this: The tradition goes all the way back to 153 B.C. when Janus, a mythical king of early Rome, was placed at the head of the calendar. With two faces, Janus could look back on past events and forward to the future. Janus became the ancient symbol for resolutions and many Romans looked for forgiveness from their enemies and also exchanged gifts before the beginning of each year.

In 2009 we also have the unique ability to look backward and forward. The problem with most PTSD experiencers is that we don’t. We only look backward – and see the past reflected in any peek into the future. In the upcoming year this must CHANGE.

I know, I know: It’s difficult to make change on the conscious level, that’s why so many of us have vowed to change our PTSD ways and failed. Well, of course it’s difficult to change! Those thoughts about change occur in our conscious mind and here’s the rub: The conscious mind only represents 12% of our entire mind. The other 88% - the subconscious - is where our motivations are housed. The 88% runs the show; if we want to affect complete change we must access this 88% through various methods (for example, EMDR, NLP and hypnosis).

But that’s not what we’re talking about today. TODAY we’re focusing on the role the 12% plays. As in: it’s important to condition the 12% to change. That’s where resolutions come in. Don’t underrate their importance in helping us focus so that we achieve PTSD freedom. The memories need to be routed out at the subconscious level, but our thoughts and actions in the 12% also have a major impact.

So….. In support of your 2009 Healing PTSD Resolution(s) (because you’re crafting it/them, right?), a few tips today about how to make that/those resolutions stick. It all begins with our vow not to be a part of the Failed New Year Resolutions statistic that states 80% of all resolutions will be broken by January 31.

We will need to concentrate on ways to avoid falling into this trap….

1 - Be confident you will succeed. We cannot achieve anything if we don’t believe in ourselves. The tough thing about PTSD is that it robs us of a sense of our own strength, identity and power. OK, we all know that. It’s time to get past it.

If you believe in nothing about yourself all year, you must only believe this: You can heal PTSD. There are many of us who have done it. You are not alone and not unique. You can join those of us who have crossed the bridge to wellness.

You must commit to doing whatever you need to build confidence in yourself: design and/or write healing affirmations, design a healing mantra to repeat during times of stress or quiet relaxation, actively work to build your self confidence.

2 – Refine your resolution so it does not feel out of reach. I like this article by Dr. Donald E. Wetmore. Once you’ve crafted your resolution, consider these 4 tips to help refine it into something that is manageable.

3 – Be nice to yourself. Making change is difficult. There are 1,00o reasons why we don’t have the patience, strength, focus, drive, etc. to kick PTSD. But there are 1,000,000 why we should, can and do. Remind yourself it’s all a process. Don’t be in a rush. Be slow and methodical. Tackle one thing at a time. Prioritize the items on your lists and attack them one by one.

Most importantly of all, make sure you stick to a mindset that supports the Herculean effort you’re making. It’s all a matter of perspective, which you can support with these new year resolution tips.

(photo: Fredden)

Sunday, December 28, 2008


So, yesterday I talked about the idea of New Year Resolutions and how they can help focus us on our path to healing. And I referred to my resolution 2 years ago that got me where I am today.

But I’ll let you in on a secret: there was a big problem with my 2007 New Year Resolution: I didn’t know how to fulfill it. It was, after all, pretty vague. Just resolving that within the next year ‘I will be finished with this’ is not exactly a clear statement that puts you on a healing path to getting rid of PTSD.

Luckily, I stumbled into how to achieve my resolution when I danced, which led me to the decision to pursue joy. But your decision to become PTSD-free doesn’t have to (shouldn’t!) be so vague. In fact, according to, a web site geared toward helping define and achieve goals, the clearer your goal the better. This article entitled “Making New Year Resolutions Count” explains the 4-step process to creating the right goals, including this tip: “Give some thought to what you really want and why you want it. What direct benefits do you hope to receive? Identifying the "why" helps you avoid setting goals for the wrong reasons.”

That, ahem, directly supports my suggestion yesterday about the lists you can make about the present so you can see exactly how you want to change the future.

Need some professional help in crafting your resolution? Check out this article – at the end of the piece are links to an online counseling center that offer resolution advice, including a FREE ONLINE THERAPY forum and online counseling to help you set your goals.

Chafing at the idea of homework? Don’t know/want/understand how to craft a healing PTSD resolution? Don’t worry – on New Years Eve I’ll post a list of 12 healing PTSD resolutions for 2009. Then, each month during the new year we’ll address one intention through a series of posts that explore the resolution and offer proactive ways to initiate achieving it.

But don’t just rely on me to do all the work. As I’ve discussed several times, each of us must participate in our own healing; we must feed the desire to be well. That’s the only way healing will be achieved.

So, it’s Sunday, a good day to relax, reflect and reconsider how you will live the upcoming year. Get to it! Freedom is not far away.

(photo: dark and broody)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

How to Heal PTSD: A Guide for Healing in 2009

The countdown to 2009 IS ON! And the question is, What are you going to do to make 2009 a better PTSD year than 2008?

In 2009 I’ll be adding some weekly features to support you in this goal. They will include prescriptive and proactive healing measures. Designed to build throughout the year, these BRIDGE THE GAP tips, ideas, and activities will structure a healing process to supplement whatever you’re already doing. Whether you’re in therapy or out, on medication or off, you can implement this BRIDGE THE GAP process to further explore, examine and progress your path to wellness.

We can begin the process with a New Year Resolution, which can help focus your intention on healing. I know this from experience. Two years ago on New Years Eve 2007 I made a resolution that I was going to kick PTSD in the upcoming year. And I did it, which means you can, too. After more than 25 horrible PTSD years I decided to find a way to end all of the nightmares, insomnia, flashbacks, etc. ALL OF IT. I’d had enough. It took me the full year, but I achieved wellness just within the 2008 deadline.

We can't approach PTSD healing as if it can or must be done quickly. A full year is not a bad timeframe in which to consider shedding our PTSD identity and getting on with our lives as someone else. I got together with Holly, a colleague, this week to talk about PTSD support groups. We're about to start one in our local area. Holly is a family counseling therapist and made this interesting statement, "It's important for anyone healing from trauma not to see him or herself as a victim. You are not 'a victim of abuse'; you are 'dealing with the aftermath of abuse'. The difference is that the first label covers the whole person for a limitless time; the second applies to only a part of the person for a limited period of time." And now, it's time for that limited period to end. Healing can be a slow process, but it must be one that does progress. Over the next 4 days let's get focused.

To begin today, take some time to think about what you would like to change about your PTSD experience in 2009. Did I hear you say, Everything! Yeah, believe me, I know. But that’s not good enough. When we want to make a change, we need to be specific. We need to be clear in our intention. Remember I recently wrote about the importance of intention? Now is the time to make it count!

In order to make your intentions fully weighted, it helps to think in specifics. To really focus yourself toward PTSD healing, make some lists so that you are fully aware of PTSD and all its manifestations in your life – not just in the fog of coping with it, but in knowing, recognizing and understanding its impact.

For example, make a list of:

1. all your PTSD symptoms

2. all the reasons you hate PTSD

3. all the reasons you want to hold onto PTSD; all the benefits you see in keeping it

4. all the ways PTSD gets in the way of living a full, happy life

5. all the things you would/could do if PTSD was no longer a part of your life.

Really take some time to get these lists fleshed out. See if you can do a Top 5 or Top 10 outline for each. Tomorrow I’m going to post about designing New Year Resolutions; the more details we have to work with the easier crafting a reasonable Healing PTSD Resolution will be.

(photo: swiv)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Healing PTSD: Proof that EMDR Gets Results!

I recently became acquainted with Michael Burns and a documentary film he’s making, EMDR, that explores and examines the benefits and results of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Developed by Francine Shapiro EMDR has been proven to be a breakthrough therapy in treating anxiety, stress and trauma.

Now, EMDR, the film, brings all of the research, treatment and cure possibilities together in one documentary movie. Michael explained his interest in EMDR to me this way:

"I'm interested in this topic for many reasons, and have had EMDR myself. I was very skeptical before hand, dismissive even, until I tried it. I felt after that, that I wanted to make sure as many people knew about it as possible - it can't help everyone, but I believe it can end suffering for millions of us."

The film will be an in-depth narrative investigation into the treatment, and will include interviews with key personalities who facilitate EMDR training and treatment. Take a look at the clips on the EMDR movie site; they’re fascinating and would give anyone hope that – even if EMDR cannot completely cure your particular PTSD symptoms – it can do much to alleviate the severity of the symptoms and put you on a path to wellness.

In my own experience, at the beginning of my therapeutic address of PTSD we used EMDR. In conjunction with other cognitive behavioral techniques it did alleviate my symptoms so that I became stronger and therefore more able to wage the PTSD healing war. Ultimately, it was another therapy that got rid of my PTSD symptoms entirely, but I believe that EMDR helped me get on my way to healing.
The focus of the EMDR film will be on 3 or 4 stories it follows over a one month period of treatment. Do you want to be one of those stories? Perhaps you can! Michael says, "We need three things right now. 1) We need, for example, 9/11 survivors who are suffering from PTSD in some form to follow in the film. We are narrowing down the stories over the next month and want to settle on about 3 or 4. 2) We also need people to spread the word far and wide about this. 3) And of course, like every other film, we need funds to make the project. We have a site set up with some perks for all the donors at a certain level. The amount we need is nothing compared to a major motion picture, but to do this right we still need some."

If you’re interested in participating in the film, or donating funds you can contact Michael through the EMDR movie site, or through his email address: info (at) michaelburns (dot) com.

As the playwright Tennessee Williams used to sign his letters, En avant! As in (for us) onward (toward healing)!

(photo: poly_mnia)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

PTSD & Holiday Stress: How To Avoid A Meltdown

Back around Thanksgiving I interviewed Dr. Marianna Lead about her Top 5 stress relief tips. This month I decided to go to the source: In all of the online support groups in which I participate, I asked my fellow PTSDers what their favorite methods were. Here are their Top 5 answers:

I have a visualization that I do of a "safe place" from when I was a kid. I go to the big canopy trees in the woods, look up and see them blowing around with blue sky and sunshine behind them. It calms me. I usually cry, but ultimately I feel saner after.

I make up my mind … that I want to feel calm and relatively content for the holidays, and then I do nothing that would make that difficult. (It's kind of like that Lynn Grabhorn book, Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting. It works.) I've cut way back on Christmas frenzy, and no one has complained. The important stuff still gets done and everybody, including me, has good memories.

I don't make commitments to others that I don't want to just to please them. Nowhere is it set in stone that I HAVE to visit so and so...I can do what I want and others will have to cope with my healthy it or not.

I cut back on what I do for others. I used to make candy, cookies and treats for holiday trays that I would prepare and give to friends & coworkers. This year I haven't done any of it.

The hard part for me will be visiting my parents. That is always hard because they hold Christmas up to be this massive event that has to be "perfect" and trust me dysfunction can't be turned into perfection over night ... so needless to say they're always disappointed. I'm over trying to make their holiday perfect. I'm not going to be responsible for their happiness anymore, it's not my problem. This year I worked on creating a "shield," with the help of my therapist, that will help me deflect the pain, hurt and sorrow that they "gift" to me each year.

And because it's the season of giving: two bonus ideas. The first is something I’ve never tried, but I think the idea – to remove ourselves from stressful situations, even if just for a few minutes – is one that can help us regain control over ourselves, regardless of what’s going on around us…

I usually go into the bathroom (the smaller the room the better) and sit until the feeling passes. I've even done this while driving. I'll pull off the road near the nearest restaurant or something and go into a bathroom stall. I don't know why it works for me, but it does.

And the second, a tried and true favorite -- whether you live in the country or the city:

Long walks.

What tips would you add? Let me know what works for you...

(photo: julianabreeze;epmd)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

PTSD Healing, Part 3: Healing Comes After SPLAT!

Tomorrow I’ll add to my list of PTSD and holiday stress tips with some fresh ideas, but today I want to wrap up this whole concept of the ebb and flow of healing….

First, let’s just admit we all have days we feel done in and want to give up. Over 25 years of my own PTSD struggle there were certainly days I wanted to end it all – days I couldn’t imagine healing or being well, days I couldn’t imagine having the strength to beat this thing; days I didn’t even want to try to beat it; days it would have been so much easier to give in. But we make the choice to go on. We make the choice to struggle one more day because we do not know when that breakthrough will come.

From the other side I can tell you, it will come, but not necessarily when you expect it. There were many days after my EMDR, TFT, EFT and TAT treatments when I thought for sure things were turning around – and then they got worse just when I expected things to get better. So, we can’t predict the path, we only can commit to staying on it.

My mother has always counseled me that courage is a choice. There were times I didn’t think I was strong enough to make that choice – but making the choice to choose is also a choice. If we are always choosing to be proactive we will eventually find relief. Healing PTSD is a battle won in inches. Sometimes the steps are small, but even the smallest step leads to healing. If we have the strength to wake up in the morning, then we have the strength to choose to choose; we have the strength to choose how this day will go. We have the strength to choose, Will today beat us, or will we beat it? Will we summon up some courage, or admit defeat?

I refuse to believe you cannot find the strength to choose, or change your perspective, or participate in your own healing. It isn’t possible. You’re here, aren’t you, looking for answers and seeking support? There is a strong part of you trying to find its way out of the dark. That is the part that should be listened to, that is the voice that should be fed and inspired and nurtured; that is the self that is choosing – every day – to make its way toward wellness. It is this striving self that rises up from our hearts and asks to be heard; this voice that struggles to drown out the other that only imagines we will fail.

Traditionally, this is the time of year people have hope and believe in the possibility of great things. It is the time of year for miracles. Make this holiday season work for you. Make it be the beginning of your own PTSD healing miracle. Next week I’m going to put up a list of PTSD new year resolutions. Start thinking about what yours will be.... Use the spirit of the holidays to infuse your own mind with the possibilities for the upcoming year. You never know when success is about to come, as this fun parable proves:

Award winning cartoonist, Jules Feiffer, once presented a sketch that captures well the spirit of people striving for success. The cartoon begins with a man encountering a guru sitting at a fork in the road:
“Which way is success?” the man asks. The stoic sage points down the path to his left.

The man, thrilled at the prospect of easy success, rushes off in the appropriate direction. From the distance comes a loud SPLAT!

The man reappears. He is bruised and tattered. Again he asks the guru, “Which way is success?”

Once again the wise man says nothing. He simply points down the path to his left.

The man quickly races down the path a second time. From the distance comes a much louder SPLAT!

The man returns crawling on his hands and knees. He is bloody and beaten.

He yells at the guru, “Twice I have asked you about the path to success. Both times I followed your directions and both times all I have gotten is splatted!”

He screams at the top of his lungs, “No more pointing, talk to me!”

The wise man calmly replies, “Success is that way. It is just a little past SPLAT.”
(photo: setch)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

PTSD Healing, Part 2: Getting Over Self Doubt

Continuing from the idea of yesterday’s post that we cannot just lie down and accept PTSD…

It’s June, 2006. I've been trying to self-recover PTSD for about 8 months. Before that, I’ve been trying to recover (from some undiagnosed, how-is-it-possible-no-one-noticed-the-PTSD-signs mental ailment) with therapeutic help for about 5 years. Anyway, the point is, I thought I was moving in the right direction. I thought I was dealing with things head on and making progress and seeing what was wrong, working to understand the source and untangling the crossed wires. I thought I was on the road to wellness.

And then all of a sudden I wasn’t.

It happened just like that. I was in the side yard of my parents’ house throwing a ball for Baylee. He raced up and down the yard, diving in and out of the bushes, having a high old time and loving life. June is beautiful in Florida; my mood should have been as sunny and vibrant as the weather and as elated as Baylee pouncing on the ball. But the nightmares were getting more and more violent and the insomnia getting more and more gripping and there, in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon all of a sudden my mother comes out to chat and I am sobbing and wailing, “I can’t do this! It’s too hard! I’ll never be free!!”

To which my mother replies, in her calm, sage voice, “Yes, you can. And yes, you will.”

I hate when she says that. It leaves all the burden on me. It doesn’t allow me to melt into a pool of butter and just accept what’s come down. And what does she know, anyway? How can my mother possibly understand what it’s like to live with PTSD? How can she even begin to fathom the struggle – to cope and/or to heal? How can she know the hell that is my foggy head?

She can’t, but it turns out, she didn’t have to. I think it’s probably almost better that she didn’t/couldn’t because the last thing we needed was two people agreeing on my breakdown. It was important we still had at least one person who believed I could recover.

That day I didn’t appreciate her support in any meaningful way. I just kept saying over and over, “What am I going to do if this is what my life always is?”

And she said the appropriate things and tried to comfort and soothe me and that’s just the way that day went. And the next day. And the next day. And the day after that because sometimes the road to healing takes a detour and you end up driving around and around the same geographic area desperately looking for the turn that gets you back to the main road.

It took me a couple of months. I thought about it all the time, but I flat out quit trying to heal. I allowed myself to get lost in my own confusion and despair and I sat in it like a child who won’t get out of the tub – the water is dirty but that’s still where I wanted to splash around.

Let me just say, I think those times are necessary. Out of confusion comes clarity. Out of misunderstanding comes education. When we question, when we feel we fail is when we’re close to making a giant step forward.

This push me/pull me aspect of healing is all a normal part of the wellness process. If healing was handed to us it would not be ours; we would not own it in the end. The struggle to heal is part of us owning ourselves, of overcoming the trauma and the out of control nature of the subconscious, and finally in that victory knowing we have won.

There seems to be a rash of the “I can’t do it!” virus going around these days. I don’t know, maybe it’s the holiday season just gets us down and interrupts the fragile wiring. Yesterday a woman wrote to me, “the C-PTSD seems to have taken over and be robbing me of myself…. the C-PTSD is beating me.” And over the weekend a man responded to my idea that we can focus our angry energy toward healing by saying, “You're lucky you can do that… A person can only fight for so long and you get tired and want to give up.”

With those thoughts how can we heal? And the sad part is: those thoughts make us believe we are right, healing is not an option, and then we don’t realize it is our own perspective that closes the door on wellness.

Our thoughts affect our emotions, but our behavior can affect our thoughts. If we allow ourselves to completely give up we will begin to believe we cannot heal. If we allow ourselves to think we are defeated we will feel that to be so and -- that will become our truth. But the real truth is: PTSD is not some foreign entity; it is ours. We provide a home for it, we are the genesis of it. PTSD is nothing more than the subconscious mind out of control. Which means, there are methods of reigning it in, even on the days this does not seem possible.

The trick is to keep trying. If one therapy does not work, we must try another. We cannot expect things to change over night. Once I began my PTSD healing it took 3 years for me to work out all the kinks. There were several times I was confused and overwhelmed and despondent, but that's the way this goes!

It would be nice if healing came of its own accord and all we had to do was initiate and then sit back and wait. Unfortunately, the ultimate healing is hard fought for and a little skittish, but it can be done. We cannot lose hope and we can’t ever stop reaching toward freedom. We must continue to believe and make the effort until….

(photo: Mind Meld)

Monday, December 22, 2008

PTSD Healing: Don’t Give Up the Fight!

My friend’s son is dying. The Boy is 24 years old. He was born with a defect: He only has half a heart. But The Boy is all about heart. He is fun and loving and endeavors to live and experience every day to the fullest even though he knows time is ticking.

And now, the clock is winding down. This past week the heart has begun to fail. The body is shutting down. Several doctors concur there is nothing to be done.

My friend is an Argentine tango dancer. We all went to a milonga Saturday night. I hugged my friend hello and discovered he is hoarse. “I had an argument with God,” he said, “And She won.”

Normally a jolly, joking soul, my friend was subdued, his eyes red-rimmed and hollow as he works to accept that this is the last holiday season he will have with his boy. My friend is an ex-Marine. He’s a tough guy. He’s all about what he can do, what he can effect, what he can save. He’s not used to accepting there’s nothing to be done. He’s strong, but this will test him to the edge.

How many of us look at our PTSD situation and just accept it? How many of us feel the depression and say, “There’s nothing to be done.”? How many of us struggle half-heartedly because we don’t really believe we’ll find relief? How many of us are actually right about any of this?

The answer is: Zero. Thousands of people recover from complicated mental illnesses every year. Why shouldn’t we be part of that number?

I found an interesting resource last week: National Empowerment Center. Their entire perspective is that we can heal mental illness, and that we can do it ourselves. How do they know? The staff has all healed from various mental disorders, including schizophrenia. On page 3 in a recovery guide posted on the site there is this sentence: “Recovery research tells us that, given the right combination of attitudes and supports, people can fully recover from mental illness.” Now, that’s what I like to hear! And that’s what I believe.

How can we accept PTSD when others have not accepted schizophrenia, BP, DID and a host of other complicated situations? The answer is, we cannot. We do not have a terminal condition. We were not born with only ½ a heart. Every day we must struggle and fight to heal; we must be working toward reaching out, finding support, entering a therapy, believing, trying again until we get it right. Until we find the perfect combination of support, therapy and our own strength that brings us to that aha! moment, and then everything changes.

After 26 awful PTSD years my own aha! moment came on a very dark day, when I was nightmare depressed, insomnia sleep deprived and so hyper-emotional I cried on a dime. And then something in me finally cracked and I thought, I can’t live like this anymore. This was not a suicidal idea; rather, it was the idea that I could spend the years fighting and losing and accepting that this was the way my life would go. So, I chose to fight another way. Instead of fighting against PTSD, I decided to fight for my own healing. I decided to use that fighting energy to seek joy, and everything changed.

When we believe, we move toward that gleaming oasis of healing and then one day life takes on a whole new meaning. We do not have the luxury of accepting PTSD when my friend must accept his son’s imminent death. My friend has no choice. We do. Choice is a gift. We must use it with all our heart.

(photo: dadadreams)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

PTSD & Anger, Part 6: How To Heal

I love this fable. I don't know where it comes from, I don't know who to credit, but I love the symbolism and imagery and how it sums up our PTSD struggle in really simple terms.

*Two Wolves*

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said:

"My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute, and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied: "The one you feed."

Go feed your good wolf today -- the stronger we make him/her, the sooner we leave PTSD behind.

(Photo: Laenulfean)

Friday, December 19, 2008

PTSD & Anger, Part 5: How To Make Anger Work For You

So, it's been a good week. I've learned a lot about anger I didn't know. More importantly, I've thought a lot about my own anger so that I understand how it hindered me, and also how it helped me to heal. When we can see ourselves, recognize what's going wrong and understand why, then we can find the path to changing behavior and moving forward. Not a bad way to make some daily progress!

Today’s post I’m going to turn over to the voice of Kellie Greene, rape survivor and now activist and founder of Speaking Out About Rape (SOAR). Kellie has been National Spokesperson for the Pfizer/YWCA "Moving Past Trauma PTSD Community Outreach Program". In 1999, she founded SOAR, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the rights of victims of sexual assault. SOAR is committed to raising awareness about rape and its consequences, including PTSD. Kellie also coauthored Florida's "Sexual Predator Prosecution Act of 2000". The law mandates consecutive sentences, rather than simultaneous sentences, for any repeat sexual offenders. In addition, Kellie helped pass Florida legislation that prohibits hospitals from charging rape victims for forensic teams. As a result of her efforts, Kellie earned the Survivor Activist Award from the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence.

What I find so inspiring about Kellie is that she went through all of the phases of trauma – shock, grief, anger, healing – and came out swinging. Kellie’s ultimate reaction to a brutal attack shows just how we can survive and then define a new self that is more powerful and bigger and better than ever.

Here are a few excerpts from our interview, ones I found particularly interesting as they showed Kellie's psychological process in the aftermath of trauma, and then how she constructed a new, post-trauma identity that led her to healing and a new life.

What were your initial reactions to trauma?

I had all of the usual symptoms: nightmares, insomnia, flashbacks. This is all the brain’s way of processing what’s happened to you. Kind of like back in the days when we had vinyl records and you would get a scratch on it and the needle would get stuck and it wouldn’t come out of it and it would just keep playing that one word over and over again. When you get PTSD that’s kind of like what it is: you can’t move past the thought of the trauma. So even though within 6 weeks I had started therapy after 6 months I realized I wasn’t moving forward. I was stuck in the sense that I started to isolate myself from friends and family because it was easier to be alone because I was tired of hearing myself talk about the trauma over and over again. I was afraid to go outside, and afraid to be out in the dark. Just making simple decisions was difficult. It all started to prohibit me from functioning on a daily basis.

On another level though, my initial reaction to the trauma was that I was determined not to let the rapist ruin my life or change who I was. I was adamant about getting back to my daily routine. Not appearing to be frightened. Not giving him control and power beyond the 45 minutes of my life he had taken during the attack. But in doing that I didn’t accept at the beginning that I had changed. I was ignorant to the fact that something that impactful couldn’t not change my life, either good or bad. I had this sense that I had to appear strong because I wanted to bet it. But you have to validate that you have changed, and unless you incorporate both the strength and the change I think it takes a little bit longer to get to where we are today.

What did you do to cope with all of this, to bring yourself to such a place of proactive strength?

In the beginning I was a mess. It was very difficult for my mother and boyfriend to be around me. They had to walk on eggshells. And I became very manipulative. I used ‘victim’ to my advantage. Any time something wasn’t going my way I would say, ‘I was raped.’ I would play that victim role and then everyone was forced to give in. I could even do that with counselors until I found the right counselor that would call me on it and I was stuck in a room and had to sit there to the end. It was my mom and my boyfriend who got me into the counseling and it was the best thing that they did because I was so out of control with wanting to be in control that I was out of control.

What made you decide to go into counseling?

My boyfriend actually had to track me down and take me there, and he did that for the first 2-3 months because otherwise I wouldn’t go. I was really frightened of counseling. I thought it meant I was weak. I thought I was better than this, I wasn’t going to let it affect me, I could deal with it until I thought if I had to go to counseling and ask for help it meant I wasn’t beating it, which was the wrong way of looking at it. Plus, I’m such a perfectionist. I don’t want to fail. I want to excel at everything I do and I didn’t want to fail at counseling. So, all of those things were really making it difficult for me to let go and say that I needed help to help me process what was going on in my head to actually start making sense of it.

I went through a handful of therapists before I began working with one who was calling me on the manipulation and was forcing me to talk about why I was actually there. Once I was working with her I started getting a little better, but then I reached that plateau where I wasn’t and that’s when things got really difficult and I knew that I needed more help and it was 6 months after the attack. I’d been working with this counselor for 3 months and I felt myself getting worse and worse with flashbacks and nightmares, not being able to make decisions – simple decisions, like in the morning not being able to figure out what to wear. It kept snowballing and everything was getting worse and I thought I was going crazy because I’d never heard or read about anyone being raped experiencing those types of problems, like also, crying all the time, or trying to read – at that point I couldn’t even get past one page. Maybe ½ an hour had gone by and I’d read 2 paragraphs, but I hadn’t understood what I’d just read. So, I thought I was going crazy, losing my mind. I didn’t tell anybody because I was really afraid of that. About six months afterward I was in the shower and broke through in these terrible, terrible sobs. I sat on the bottom of the tub in the fetal position rocking back and forth.

Finally I found a counselor and he read back to me from a book everything that I told him and he said. “You have PTSD”; he gave it a name. And he said, “This is what we’re going to do…” And at that point I could just let out this exhale. I had some hope because, one: I’m not alone. It’s in a book. Other people have had it, too, and they’ve studied it. And obviously there’s some sort of treatment for it because it’s in the book. And he laid out the treatment with me and I worked with him for about 6 months and I was able to recover from the PTSD pretty quickly and then go back to the rape crisis counselor and begin working on the aftereffects of the rape. All in all I was in counseling for about 3 years.

What in your PTSD process worked for you?

He got me to look at everything in a different way. To really examine everything that had happened in a different way. To get out of that mindset that I wasn’t going to let it change me to… One of the greatest things he said to me was that we all change. Every day we are changed by things we come in contact with. And to say that we don’t change kind of cuts us short of evolving as people. So, once I realized that it was okay to change, that it was okay that this affected me, that it didn’t necessarily have to affect who I was going to become, or who I was going to be in a negative way, I was able to look at it and say, ‘Yeah, that was a bad thing that happened, but it’s okay that it’s changed me because I can decide how it’s going to change me now. I am the one who has control over whether or not I’m going to let it control me for the rest of my life.”

Mostly we did talk therapy. The breathing exercises were great because they would keep my mind focused on breathing and not on what I was remembering, so it really quieted the mind for me so that I could actually work the counseling. And then he also said I was discovering some really great things about myself, because I had discovered that I was able to get up and speak in front of groups, which was always something I had feared. That I had a voice, and that I was pretty powerful with that voice and making positive changes for others and I should celebrate that, and I should embrace the counseling experience because I could go in and examine everything about my life from the beginning to where I was at that point, and it was an opportunity for me to keep pieces that I really liked, discard the ones I don’t like, and work on the ones that I could improve. So, it was an opportunity and once he presented it to me as an opportunity, then it was a little bit easier to swallow, as opposed to the rapist forced me into counseling.

When did you get to the point that you realized you could channel your anger into something positive?

That was from the very beginning. I owe that to my mom because my mom realized at the very beginning that if I were to fall into self-pity I would never have gotten out of it, or it would have taken a long, long time to get out of it. So, she wanted to keep me mad, as ticked off at the rapist as she possibly could. And that’s what she did! Whenever she would hear me feeling sorry for myself she would say, “Do you think the rapist is sitting around feeling sorry for you right now?” And I answered, ‘Hell no! Why should I? He’s probably not even thinking about me!” So, by helping me stay angry I was able to find different channels for that anger. One of them was I joined the Raped Abused and Incest National Center, which is RAIN. I joined their speakers bureau and started doing presentations for universities. I worked with the Attorney General in the state of Florida in passing new legislation. I also worked with the Attorney General in training law enforcement in dealing with victims of sexual crime.

Did the outreach help lessen your feelings of anger, or help you deal with them better?

As time went on I lost the anger toward the rapist because I started to be thankful for the direction that my life had gone in. Before the rape I really didn’t have any goals in life, I didn’t really have any direction. I was happy, I loved my life and I was living it very well and I was doing very well, but I didn’t really have a sense of purpose and I would say within 6 months to a year after the rape I knew what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to educate the world about the aftermath of rape. Of what it’s really like. It’s not like in the movies, it’s not like in the soap operas… And that was what I wanted to do. So, I just started to channel all of that anger, that energy that I had from the anger into making this the reality and I honestly think that it was my chosen path and that it was my true chosen path because I remained true to it. I try not to question the direction I’m going in now because somehow these opportunities, these amazing opportunities keep presenting themselves to me, so I know that I’m on the right path and I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and that this is my purpose in life. And I wouldn’t go back and change anything that happened in my life, including the rape, because it’s brought me to who I am and what I’m doing today and I love both.

(Photo: Glenn Loos-Austin)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

PTSD & Anger, Part 4: The Psychology of Anger

In my own experience I've found two dominant sides to the psychology of anger coin: Fear, and motivation.

First, I have to apologize to my mother. I do apologize to my mother, often now that I’m healed, for all of the abuse she absorbed during my PTSD years. She is an amazing, strong and wonderful woman; if it weren’t for her love, patience and understanding we would have stopped speaking 20 years ago because there were many days, weeks, months I couldn’t be around her without snickering, snarling and sneering.

If you’ve scrolled down and viewed the ‘Faces of Joy’ you’ve seen that my mother looks eminently fun, happy and approachable. But that’s not how I saw her when I was PTSD suffering. Instead, she was the villain and I the victim of her ‘Let’s get you some help’ anthem. She saw me struggling and wanted to talk – all the time. She saw me hurting and wanted to reach out – endlessly. She was tireless in her desire to find some way to lead me to peace. And for that I hated her. For that altruistic goal I unleashed upon her all my fury.

Why? Because the pain in which I lived was intense, and I only wanted to be left alone in it. I did not want to share, explore or study it. I was afraid doing any of those things would tip the delicate balance I had constructed and everything would fall to pieces. I was afraid going into those dark places, ideas and moments would suck me in and I’d be lost forever. I was afraid I’d be overwhelmed by the pain and the memories. I was afraid the process of healing would make me weak. I was afraid the trauma would win if I lifted it up and exposed it to light. (I was wrong about each of these things, by the way.) In order to insulate and preserve myself, I lashed out at anyone who tried to get into the trenches and help me. Most often, that was Mom.

When we research the psychology of anger, however, this behavior becomes completely understandable. Our good friend Dr. Harry Mills in his article ‘Psychology of Anger’explains that one of the functions of anger (after its use to respond to perceived pain) is as a substitute emotion. He writes, “By this we mean that sometimes people make themselves angry so that they don't have to feel pain. People change their feelings of pain into anger because it feels better to be angry than it does to be in pain. This changing of pain into anger may be done consciously or unconsciously.”

Perfect. Because of course, I didn’t sit down one day and decide to be angry at Eileen. But all of her wanting to help and suggestions of things to do threatened the security of how I felt I was coping, and so, rather than become vulnerable, I became enraged. It makes so much sense when Mills explains, “Being angry rather than simply in pain has a number of advantages, primarily among them distraction…Part of the transmutation of pain into anger involves an attention shift – from self-focus to other-focus. Anger thus temporarily protects people from having to recognize and deal with their painful real feelings; you get to worry about getting back at the people you're angry with instead. Making yourself angry can help you to hide the reality that you find a situation frightening or that you feel vulnerable.” Ahhhh, Yes.

The flip side of this negative anger perspective, however, is quite positive. In his article ‘Motivational Effects of AngerMills writes, “On the positive side, anger creates a sense of power and control in a situation where prior to anger these positive, motivating feelings did not exist.” Bingo! That’s exactly how we can use the anger we feel. That is, ultimately, how I used my anger.

Two years ago I was so sick of myself, my memories, my PTSD, my trauma – EVERYTHING. I got angry at all of that, instead of the usual suspects. I got angry my life was passing by in this horrible fog of pain. I got angry the trauma was winning. And so I took all of that angry energy and unleashed it on the trauma and PTSD themselves. I took all of that ferocious focus and channeled it into a vengeful pursuit of joy, and healing. We all know how powerful anger feels; imagine using it to create a new future instead of to lash out at the past or destroy the present.

I’m not the only one who used my anger to good effect. Tomorrow I’ll introduce you to another survivor, Kellie Greene, founder of Speaking Out About Rape (SOAR). Kellie has a strong and dynamic perspective. In our interview earlier this week we discussed anger and its uses, and also, the importance of self-perception. I’ll leave you with this one idea, which includes not only Kellie’s self-empowering thought process, but also a very good reason not to let the negative side of anger – its supposed protecting us from vulnerability – to be our guiding light:

I prefer to be called a victim and not a survivor because it all has to do with when you say it. ‘I am a survivor’ means you’re still there, you haven’t moved on. But to say ‘I was a victim’, past tense, you’ve moved on from it. There’s nothing wrong with being a victim and I think we shouldn’t be so ashamed to say, ‘I was a victim’, because in the cases of violent crimes, criminals are looking for the most vulnerable opportunity and there are people who have been through extensive self-defense training that are victimized as well. Criminals are looking for the opportunity to prey on someone who is vulnerable and you can’t live life without being vulnerable. You miss out on a lot of joy, a lot of happiness, relationships. You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable, there’s nothing wrong with that.

(Photo: dem vadda sen john)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

PTSD & Anger, Part 3: The Physiological Side of Anger

Yesterday, a man wrote me how much he enjoys the blog, even though anger is not his problem, even though he's only depressed. So let’s pause for a moment to remember: Depression is anger turned inward. And since anger can be a positive survival mechanism, let’s not be so quick to dismiss it or want to deny we feel it. Yesterday’s post made the point that anger can be helpful to survivors, so come with me over the next couple of days. Building on the first anger post I’m going someplace we all can go, regardless of how your anger manifests itself.

Today I want to continue the exploration of anger in physiological terms and here’s why: Anger has many physical effects, so if we don’t find a way to deal, diffuse and direct it we’re only adding to the problems we already have. Let’s begin with more from Dr. Harry Mills who writes in his article ‘Physiology of Anger’, “Like other emotions, anger is experienced in our bodies as well as in our minds. In fact, there is a complex series of physiological (body) events that occurs as we become angry.”

In her excellent and informative article on the physiology of anger Christina Boerma builds on Mills’ statement with an important reminder when she writes, “Anger hurts the angry person more than the object of its anger.” How does it do that, you ask? Let me count the ways in this partial list of how anger physically manifests:

1 - Muscles that are needed to fight or flee become very tight, causing an “uptight” feeling.

2 - Chemicals known as catecholamines are released causing us to experience a burst of energy (which causes a sugar deficiency, so that an angry person may “shake from anger”).

3 - Heart rate accelerates: Because of our anger, the usual (average) heart rate of 80 climbs to 180 beats per minute.

4 - Blood pressure rises: An average blood pressure of 120 over 80 suddenly soars to 220 over 130, sometimes even higher.

5 - As the body prepares for survival, it safeguards itself against injury and bleeding. Likewise, an angry person's body releases chemicals to coagulate (clot) the blood, creating a situation that's potentially dangerous. Although there is no physical injury, the clot is formed, which can travel through the blood vessels to the brain or heart.

6 - Rate of breathing increases to get more oxygen into the body.

7 - Increased blood flow enters our limbs and extremities.

8 - Attention narrows.

9 - Hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline) are released which trigger a lasting state of arousal.

The problem with all of this, as Dr. Mills points out is that:

"If anger has a physiological preparation phase during which our resources are mobilized for a fight, it also has a wind-down phase as well. We start to relax back towards our resting state when the target of our anger is no longer accessible or an immediate threat. However, it is difficult to relax from an angry state. The adrenaline-caused arousal that occurs during anger lasts a very long time (many hours, sometimes days), and lowers our anger threshold, making it easier for us to get angry again later on. Though we do calm down, it takes a very long time for us to return to our resting state. During this slow cool-down period we are more likely to get very angry in response to minor irritations that normally would not bother us…. High levels of arousal (such as are present when we are angry) significantly decrease your ability to concentrate."

Which means, the naturally hyperaroused, hypervigilant, brain fog state in which we already exist is only exacerbated by anger. We need to consider this. We need to see ourselves. We need to make a change.

Our bodies are already stressed, tensed and on edge any normal day. Why make it worse by not controlling our anger? It is, after all, an emotion that is within our capability to focus, modulate and contain. There are tons of anger management techniques. We can also begin easing anger's effects by learning simple relaxation techniques. Which, come to think of it, wouldn't be bad for any of us, even when we're not angry -- even when we're only depressed.

(Photo: Eva8*)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

PTSD & Anger, Part 2: Why Are We So Angry?

( First off, let me say for those of you who have not scrolled down and found the picture of me, this picture here is NOT me!)

Getting to today's topic: This idea of anger has captivated my attention. Mostly, because I lived with it for so long and never thought twice about it. In my world… well, that’s the state I was so often in; it seemed normal to be frustrated and angry -- when I couldn’t control my environment, when others got in my head space, when someone would say, for example, “Can’t you just let go of the past?” To which I would reply (often inside my head but sometimes very outloud), "Um… NO!"

Feeling isolated in my symptoms and experience only made me more irritable. Anger became a general daily sensation.

And now I’m no longer angry and I’m amazed by what a different world it is when I’m not feeling like a combination of The Grinch, The Wicked Witch of the West and Darth Vader every day.

This morning I started looking around for anger info to better understand why it’s such a common PTSD symptom. You might find the reasons, and how anger functions on our behalf, pretty interesting:

What is Anger?

Well, we have to begin somewhere; may as well start with the source. In this great article by Harry Mills, Ph.D. he explains that

Anger is a basic human emotion that is experienced by all people. Typically triggered by an emotional hurt, anger is usually experienced as an unpleasant feeling that occurs when we think we have been injured, mistreated, opposed in our long-held views, or when we are faced with obstacles that keep us from attaining personal goals…. At its roots, anger is a signal to you that something in your environment isn’t right. It captures your attention and motivates you to take action to correct that wrong thing.

So this can potentially be a good thing! After trauma we are sensing something’s wrong and we should be motivated to take a corrective action. Unfortunately, the psychological unraveling after trauma gets in the way. We are overwhelmed, and so we don’t immediately take positive steps. But I mean, really, how could we when you consider the role of anger in trauma…:

Anger & Trauma

Initially, anger is a really useful tool for us. Theories suggest that high levels of anger are actually related to a natural survival instinct. Take heart, depending on how we use it and how we perceive it anger could be viewed as a healthy emotion: We survive and are bolstered in our efforts by this driving internal force. (Remember this for later: We have a healthy, instinctive driving internal source for survival.)

This great 'Anger and Trauma' article offers this explanation of the role of anger in trauma:

Anger is usually a central feature of a survivor's response to trauma because it is a core component of the survival response in humans. Anger helps people cope with life's adversities by providing us with increased energy to persist in the face of obstacles. However, uncontrolled anger can lead to a continued sense of being out of control of oneself and can create multiple problems in the personal lives of those who suffer from PTSD.

(This article also offers a guide to finding relief, so you may want to take some time reading through the entire page.)

Adding to the mix in explaining the post-trauma emotional environment, take a look at this article about ‘Common Reactions to Trauma’ on the National Center for PTSD web site.

As in everything with PTSD, anger is another one of those coping/survival mechanisms that gets out of control. What began as something to help us cope and keep us safe outlives its usefulness, but we’re so far gone emotionally we don’t stop to consider what’s happening or how we can stop it.

Or, as I did, the aberration of who we are becomes so familiar and recognizable – and who we were before trauma becomes so far away and unfamiliar – we don’t even realize we’re living in an altered state. We accept this is who we are now. After my trauma I knew I had been changed and I accepted that. But that was wrong! Yes, of course, we are changed, but those effects do not have to mean negatively and dysfunctionally forever. We can be changed in good ways: we can have experienced something that taught us things about ourselves those who don’t suffer never know. Things like 1) our large capacity for inner strength, 2) our survival tools, 3) our deep reserve of will, 4) our incredible amount of courage, 5) our ability to face fear and transcend.

When we get lost in anger we fail to appreciate our survival. We see only the bad that happened to us, and we lose sight of the fact that WE ARE SURVIVORS, and surviving means more than just struggling through the trauma and the aftermath. Literally, surviving means we ‘outlive’ an event. But in feeding our anger what part of us lives? Not all the good, the possible, the amazing. In feeding anger we keep the trauma alive, which means the trauma wins. Now that’s something to be angry about!

(Photo: Jeneyepher)

Monday, December 15, 2008

PTSD & Anger, Part 1: When We Hate Happy People

There’s been a big debate in one of the PTSD online support groups in which I participate. It all started around the Thanksgiving holiday. It began like this: S. asked,

Has anyone been through this? I mean, seeing everyone happier than ever (of course, it doesn't mean they are) while you are struggling at ground zero.
I've been through minor but several traumatic life events which accumulated to a greater sum and my coping mechanisms failed after the last event. It's been now more than a year and my soul is still not at rest.

It just seems to me like everyone around me is achieving everything they want and ask for contrary to me who lost almost everything. Is this jealousy normal? It is extremely painful and instead of concentrating on myself I examine other's lives and can't take myself out of it. And seeing people happy makes me misarable and leaves me with the unanswerable question, "Why?" I believe maybe it is a way of keeping myself out of the original problems, I don't know.

There ensued a lot of agreement from the group that, yes, they do feel jealous of people who do not have PTSD, and they are angry at others for not suffering, and angry for the things others have achieved and angry for… the list went on and on and on. The discussion became heated as people vented their frustration in increasingly vehement @$&%! terms.

And it got me thinking, what if everyone took that angry energy and used it for something positive? What if, instead of railing against those ‘happy’ people (or, as I used to do, the unfairness of fate), we harnassed that energy and used it for our own good? When we manifest pure anger all we do is drain ourselves of good energy, literally.

I started researching this whole idea of anger and found an interesting article by Kathy Wilson. Entitled, ‘Anger: The Greatest Motivator of All’ she talks about ways to channel angry energy. Actually, what she says is,

When you experience the emotion of anger, you create one of the most extremely powerful energies that we humans have been given to work with.

Although powerful, the energy of anger isn't bad or good. It simply exists as energy. What you choose to do with it determines if it's bad or good. As with any energy, you can choose to use it in harmful ways or in beneficial ways.

This idea perfectly illustrates the point I made in the group, which was this:

What about looking at the whole topic another way? Instead of being angry, how about thinking about how much we deserve to be as happy as they are? How about getting angry that we aren't happy and deciding to fight as hard as we need to in order to achieve a happier, healthier life?
I used to be angry at my own PTSD suffering. I used to be angry my trauma happened in the first place; no one shielded me from harm; no one could stop the horrific event from continuing over a period of weeks.

On a bad day, I could add to my already deep depression with a powerful dose of anger and then -- watch out! I was really a sight to behold. That depressive anger I usually turned inward came out with a ferocity that flayed anyone around me. I feel sorry for the people I directed it at, particularly my family.

But two years ago this new year's eve I decided to take that angry energy and use it in a positive way: I decided to pursue joy and ... it worked! All of that antsy angry energy spilled onto the dance floor and out of me. I became more peaceful, more tolerant; less angry, more... well... happy.

Being jealous of others is useless. Being angry at them is a total waste of time and energy - time and energy that we really need to be channeling toward healing. Using that energy on ourselves can bring relief, so we shouldn't so easily give it away. Don't you agree?
(Photo: Amir el Mayordomo)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Phases of Healing PTSD, Part 5: The Power of Intention

One more thought in this healing PTSD series. In order to learn any new skill – in order do anything, to achieve anything – we start with an intention. We want something, we have the desire for it and commit to having, getting, finding that thing which we desire.

Healing PTSD follows the same path. My challenge to you today is to rate your intention. Is it strong or weak, wild or mild?

In my own history, there were many years I actively sought relief from the symptoms, but I had no specific healing intention. Or rather, my intention was for someone else to heal me, some doctor, therapist, practitioner – whoever! – it was up to them to make me well. I had nothing to do with it. I presented myself in their offices and let them do their thing. Needless to say, my healing was minimal and my journey long.

However, when I finally determined that I WOULD BE HEALED – well then, everything changed. Within a year I made incredible progress and was living a much better life. I am not unique. You can do this, too. My healing did not begin until I actually took on the intention myself. Have you?

Recently I wrote an article for In 'Ideas for Healing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder' I make the point that the crux of healing is what we do for ourselves. Which means, intention is everything.

This weekend, think about how strong your intention is to be well. On a score of 1 to 10 (10 being the strongest) would you say that your intention to heal is Wild or Mild? If it’s wild – meaning you will do whatever it takes to be well, including facing your fears and traumas, learning your truths, reclaiming your self – then you’re ready to achieve wellness and following a proactive path will lead you there.

But if you rate lower than, say, a 10 on the scale of healing intention, you’ve got some work to do! Before you can be well you must WANT to be well with all the power of your bruised and battered soul. You, my friends, must ask yourself why you don’t rate a 10 on the intention scale. What is holding you back? I had a list of a few things that got in my way. If they resonate with you let me know. And then - begin to move beyond them! The biggest hurdle in any achievement is recognizing what’s holding us back. Once we remove those obstacles (by recognizing and then letting them go) we are ready to move forward on our intentions.

For a little inspiration let’s turn to the father of the power of intention, Wayne Dyer. This video should get you fired up. In it, Dyer defines intention as “no matter what gets in the way I intend to make [this] happen”. Sounds like just the attitude we need to heal! Dyer references intention as a pitbull with a tire. I like that image. We have to have that kind of tenacity to heal PTSD. This post-trauma disorder is as strong, durable and flexible as a tire. WE have to be as ruthless, relentless and ­­­­­­­­­­­robust as a pitbull in order to flay this thing to pieces.

I drained my bank account and my emotional reserves chasing cures before I focused my intention. There’s no need for us all to keep making the same mistakes. Today, turn your thoughts toward clearly focusing your intention on healing PTSD. In his video, Dyer says, “You are able to heal yourself.” That’s a powerful statement. It should give us all much hope, but also, much guidance on our path to wellness.

We need to develop a powerful, fiery healing circle of intention both without and within. Dyer says intention is something we connect to. Well then, today’s the day for you to reach out and connect to a source that’s just there, in the air, an energy hovering near you, waiting for you to reach out and connect to it.

Watch this Dyer video. You may not have time to view it in its entirety today, but if you only watch the first 10 minutes it will give you plenty to think about for the rest of the weekend.

And then, as the Nike slogan goes, Just do it. Focus your intention. Take all of the angst and pain and sadness and anger and desperation and funnel it into this one, simple intention. Create that burning desire to heal. Decide nothing can stop you. Your mantra for the rest of the weekend and in all the upcoming days should be, I want to be healed. I want to be healed! Come on, let me hear you chant a few times.

Healing is within our reach, but we do have to stretch for it. Begin today. A new year is approaching. If you have the desire, 2009 can be your year to become PTSD-free.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Phases of Healing PTSD, Part 4:The Achievement

So this is it, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Today’s the day we consider that PTSD can be – like the event that began it in the first place – a thing of the past.

This week began with my feeling gratitude for how far I’ve come in my PTSD healing.
And then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. All week I’ve been writing about the parallel between learning a new physical skill (i.e. dance), and learning a new mental skill (i.e. PTSD healing). We’re all just apprentices and there are phases to our education.

And then one day we graduate. We become not the apprentice but the expert. This can happen for you, my fellow PTSDers. One day, we will all be healed and enjoying:

Phase #6: The Final Achievement – It’s been 1 ½ years since I began dancing. 1 ½ years since John and I first stepped into a Latin club where I was a complete salsa failure; since we went to Argentine tango dance parties and all I could do was walk to the cross .

But that’s not how it is anymore! Now, everywhere we go John and I are regularly asked where we teach, perform and compete. Which means, it’s official: I can DANCE.

It’s been almost 4 years since I sat myself down and decided to do whatever it takes to heal. 4 years since I dove head first into my memories, and trauma and PTSD research. 4 years since I descended into a worse hell than I ever imagined existed (and what I knew and imagined before was pretty gruesome already).

What happened 4 years ago that made me take the plunge? There was a day in February 2005 when I had a complete breakdown on the jogging path that goes up the shore of the East River in Manhattan. And as I stood there in sub-freezing temperatures and cried and sobbed all of my PTSD grief and frustration, the dominant thought that emerged was one of fear. I am so afraid! was the echoing thought in my head.

I came to the realization - was hit hard by a startling discovery - that the crux of my post-traumatic stress and related behavior stemmed from this one fact: I WAS AFRAID. So very, very afraid. Afraid the trauma would happen again. Afraid I would suffer again. Afraid no one would be able to help me or save me or prevent the event again. Afraid the next time I wouldn't survive. Afraid that in the present I would completely disintegrate both mentally and physically. The list was long and the emotion sharp. Fear was such an ingrained habit for me that I had literally lived with it and thought it was normal because it had become my natural state.

And then I thought, I can't live like this anymore. It was this moment that began my healing odyssey. The recognition of the germ of all my PTSD suffering brought with it a certain relief: I knew what needed to be addressed. I knew I had to deal with that echoing thought - my fear - if I was ever going to be free.

And so I did. I went back into therapy for 6 months and then set off on my own path. After the initial black abyss I tumbled into, slowly I began to heal, little by little, small step by small step until one day I emerged from the dark into a small pool of light. Over time that small pool of light has grown progressively larger.

I think an important aspect of my healing came from the proactive path of it; the fact that I engaged in it, steered it, willed it. Healing is not bestowed upon us. We must demand it. We must accept nothing less. In our traumas we are powerless, but in choosing to heal and following through we become powerful.

The healing process itself can be just the act we need to put the demons to rest. In giving us back a sense of our own power it returns to us something that was taken away. Namely, a sense of self that trauma so rapidly destroys. We cannot wait for healing to be given to us. We must actively seek it, and not only by seeking out practitioners, but by drawing up our own strength and implementing it.

(Photo credit: Basilly)