Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Phases of Healing PTSD, Part 1: Desire & Commitment

When you attempt to do anything, or learn something new, there's usually a plan. You have an idea of where to begin and what steps you'll need to take to follow through. You appreciate and accept there'll be a process, a learning curve, a period of time to develop the situation or new skill. You know you'll be out of your element sometimes, and out of your depth. Because you desire the outcome of this situation or the development of this skill you don't mind these things, you know they come with the territory.

I think we have to approach PTSD healing like that, too. We have to really desire it, and we have to know that there will be phases of it. I’ve been thinking more about the similarities between learning to dance and PTSD. Actually, the processes (and you could substitute learning any activity here) have similar phases. When I started writing about this topic I realized I have a lot to say; this is going to take more than one day...

So, here it is today, the first 3 things on the list of Michele's 6-Phase Outline of PTSD Healing:

Phase #1: Discovering the Desire – All of a sudden there comes a day you discover you really, really want to do this thing. In regard to dancing, this night caught me by surprise. I was miserable, deep into a dark and shaky PTSD depression – and then I found myself on a dance floor full of joy and I was shocked it was possible to feel that way. I decided I wanted to feel that way more often; I decided to make dancing a weekly event.

Likewise, the idea to heal my PTSD came out of the blue. I had just moved from Manhattan to South FL and was really enjoying the beach and the idea that just crossing state lines could eradicate memories of my trauma (OK, so I was naïve!) when I read THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, by Joan Didion. This simple memoir of a woman’s struggle with grief inspired me: through a series of chapters that alternated between a research oriented approach and an exploration of her grief-inducing memories, she made a peace with it all. I thought, Maybe I could do that... So, I started researching my trauma, and then PTSD, and then I started writing it all out, as if it could be transferred and then contained by 8 ½ x 11 inch margins. I developed a plan; I saw an end goal.

Phase #2: Finding the Way – I had no idea how or where to learn dance. I showed up at a dance studio near my house and just dove in without a clue.

I did pretty much the same thing about learning about my trauma and PTSD. I didn’t know much about either. I dove into the research and a whole world of understanding opened up. When we have the desire we find the way. The path shows itself to us when we begin to imagine the path exists.

Phase #3: Committing to the Path – My first dance lesson was a huge revelation. While I’ve always been an avid and comfortable freestyle dancer, partner dancing is something else entirely. I wasn’t used to following a lead. I wasn’t used to being hemmed in in my physical expression. I wasn’t used to having to coordinate my body and mind (which PTSD made very, very difficult). I wasn’t used to being held in the arms of a stranger. I could go on and on. There were many things about learning to partner dance that made me uncomfortable and pushed me beyond that zone in which we live where all things are reliable and known. But I wanted to learn, so I pushed those things to the side and barreled ahead.

I did the same thing with my trauma and PTSD research. It was horrible to read about the facts of my illness and disturbing to read about PTSD. But I had the idea that demystifying it all would allow it to become something of which I was no longer so afraid. Despite the discomfort I pressed on.

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