Monday, December 8, 2008

PTSD Healing – Take A Moment of Gratitude

Something very exciting happened this weekend: I danced well with many different men. Before you completely give up on me and wonder why this is remarkable - and what this has to do with PTSD - let me explain:

I began dancing salsa and Argentine Tango (classic salon style and Nuevo tango) a little more than a year and a half ago. I did it as a concerted effort to pursue joy, which was part of a larger effort to deliberately construct my post-trauma identity, which was part of my desire to heal my PTSD. As many of you know, this dance experiment worked in spades.

What made learning to partner dance incredibly difficult though, is this small problem I have: I don’t like being touched by strangers. I have trouble trusting. I don’t like getting close. This makes partner dancing particularly tough. With John it’s different. My connection with him is unique and he’s become my partner both on and off the dance floor. This has been a good thing, although it has spoiled me. Instead of learning to dance with a variety of men and many different leads, I’ve become extremely comfortable with John and one or two friends. Otherwise, I stay away from strangers, which in the world of social dancing is pretty limiting and ridiculous. But dancing with strangers was out of my comfort zone. I was tentative, unsure, anxious, and afraid I wouldn’t be able to follow an unknown lead.

Over the past few months, however, as my dancing expertise continues to define itself, something has shifted in me. The anxieties I’ve felt began to wane until, this Friday night we went to our favorite Latin club and I danced with several men besides John – and I was able to match my salsa style to theirs and follow the leads that were clear and improvise for those that weren’t. We went to a milonga on Saturday night and I danced with many men and the same thing happened so that by the end of the weekend I was basking in the realization of how far I’ve come. That 1 ½ years ago I could not salsa or tango at all, and now I am completely proficient. And I thought:

It’s just like healing PTSD. Three years ago, when I first began my quest to be healed I was very sick. It seemed impossible to imagine I would ever be well. That I could ever be healed. But then I did some research. I educated myself. I decided on a plan of attack. I developed a process, stuck to it, went waaaaayy outside my comfort zone and found relief.

And now here I am, taking a moment to feel gratitude for the fact that it is possible to find liberation; for the hard work I did during the times I thought it was all useless; for the things I tried that didn’t work; for the things that worked but not too well; for the things I stumbled on that brought me one step closer to a life that’s now PTSD-free.

We’re all on the same healing path and as we move forward through the days it’s important to remember that healing is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. We have to go out of our PTSD comfort zone. This takes dedication and commitment. Some days we fail; we don’t hear the rhythm of healing or put together the right sequence of steps. Some days we make great progress and execute a move that a month ago seemed impossible. And then, some day down the line we look back and see how far we’ve come. We take small steps and eventually something shifts.

Don’t forget to feel gratitude for the fact you’re on the path. You’ve come this far. We all survived our traumas, and now every day we survive PTSD, too. We’re pretty strong. We’re fighters. We’re survivors in the best possible way. Don’t forget to appreciate yourself in the struggle.

Don’t forget to applaud yourself for being here, reaching out, looking for answers, trying to heal. Despite how difficult PTSD makes each day, what can you be proud of doing? Make a list. Honor yourself, even if the list begins with, “Today I got out of bed.”

And then: Reward yourself! Give yourself a treat. All the tough days can't be without their upsides. Last night I splurged. For the first time, I bought a real dance skirt when John and I were at Gold Coast Ballroom. Something a pro would wear. I figured I deserved it: To overcome PTSD and become a good dancer I've worked so hard!

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