Saturday, January 31, 2009

PTSD Healing: Final thoughts on Healing Resolution No. 1

So, we’re at the end of our first month of the BRIDGE THE GAP healing process. How’s it going? Post a comment, shoot me an email; let me know how you’re doing.

I’m proud of you for taking these first steps and making it this far! You deserve a break this weekend. Kick back, relax. Congratulate yourself for learning how to:

1 - craft your healing intention

2 - define what you want

3 - make the commitment to heal

4 - banish doubt

5 - get in touch with your courage

6 – understand your fear

7 – boost your belief in healing

8 - support the healing process

With the completion of this month’s work you’ve formed a solid foundation on which to build the rest of your healing journey. When we begin to work on Healing PTSD Resolution No. 2 (on Monday), you’ll be cracking the statistic of that 89% of people who give up on their New Years resolutions by the end of January. You will be in the top 11% of people who get things done; an elite club indeed. So….

Bravo! Well done! I salute you. I applaud you. I honor you and your desire to heal. I support your decision to keep on truckin’ and leave the past in the dust – exactly where it belongs.

(photo: Scandblue)

Friday, January 30, 2009

PTSD Healing Resolution No. 1: Thinking From the End

A couple of times I’ve mentioned the importance of the subconscious in the healing mix, plus the fact that ‘imagination is stronger than knowledge’. One way to put these ideas into practice is to begin what Wayne Dyer calls (in his book THE POWER OF INTENTION) ‘thinking from the end’. He says,

I’ve used this power of imagination over my will in the production of all my life’s work… This thinking from the end causes me to behave as if all that I’d like to create is already here. My credo: Imagine myself to be and I shall be, and it’s an image I keep with me at all times.

Your imagination allows you the fabulous luxury of thinking from the end. There’s no stopping anyone who can think from the end. You create the means and surmount limitations in connection with your desires. In imagination, dwell on the end, fully confident that it’s there in the material world…

Think from the end: …. Assume within yourself the feeling of the wish being fulfilled, and keep this vision regardless of the obstacles that emerge.

Part of healing is retraining the brain to see ourselves as other than survivors; to see ourselves as healthy, well and PTSD-free. To encourage the subconscious mind to let go of the PTSD identity it has so lavishly developed (and to replace that image with the new, healed and healthy you) we must actively discover, determine and decide who that newly whole self will be. Here’s a simple exercise you can do to imagine, visualize and commit to your future, PTSD-free self:

Settle into a comfortable position either sitting up or lying down. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths in through your nose – hold them, and then slowly release through your mouth.

Let your mind drift and relax.

When your mind and body have settled, slowly begin imagining what you will look like and who you will be when you are PTSD-free. This means consider your hair, your eyes, your skin, your weight, your clothes and your smile. Imagine the sound of your laugh and the lightness in your voice. Imagine the friend, colleague, lover, and family member you will be when your energies are not sapped by memory. Think BIG! Who do you wish you would have become if trauma had not gotten in the way?

The healing journey you are on is your chance to start over. It is your chance to deliberately decide, create, and build the new YOU. The more specific you get in your imagination the more powerful this image will be in your subconscious mind.

Take all the time you need to deliberately draw the picture of the future you. When you finish this visualization and feel you can see it clearly, hold it in your mind’s eye for at least one long moment. Then, slowly let it recede. Allow yourself to become aware of the room around you, the sounds, the smells, and the presence of the outside world. When you are ready, open your eyes and resume your day.

Tip: It will help you crystallize this visualization to write it down. Take a few moments to write out a whole description, or jot some notes about the main characteristics. As you look this over, you might recognize ideas you would like to add. Note them, too, and focus on them in your next visualization session.

The beauty of this exercises is that it can be done at any time of day or night, as often as you want. When you get used to the process, you can do this during a train commute, an airline flight, or even waiting for a meeting in a practitioner’s office. After a week or two of very deliberate planning, you will have completely designed an image of your future self. While you can always use a short visualization session to update it, you can now move into a new phase of thinking from the end: putting it in your daily thoughts. While you’re walking around, doing the laundry, driving to class – any time you’ve got a few minutes to spare conjure the future you. Get familiar with him or her. Become friends. Welcome him or her into your imagination and allow the image to grow. You’re the artist here, sculpt your new yourself!

(photo: rnolan1087)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Healing PTSD: Putting the Subconscious to Work, Part 2

Last week I wrote about the importance of engaging the subconscious in the healing work we do. Today, I want to follow up that post with some tips from a trusted source.

Last weekend I was reading PERFECT ENOUGH, by Laura King. Laura always tells me, “Imagination is stronger than knowledge” and over the weekend I was thinking about how our imagination supports our healing intention.

Laura states in the book, “… if you fill your subconscious mind with positive things, you will soon manifest positive things around you. What you think and feel today becomes what you experience in life tomorrow.”

Which means, if we want to be healed and feel well and free we need to originate some experience of this in our subconscious mind. One of the ways I did this was through the pursuit of joy. It worked; the joy I felt infused my subconscious with the idea that life was not all bad, and gave me the courage to imagine that I could, one day, be PTSD-free, which gave me the necessary energy to plug away at healing until it was complete. And now here I am, PTSD-free with a great capacity for feeling joy, which I do on a weekly basis. This can be you, too – IF you get your subconscious on the right track.

These tips from Laura’s book should get you in the proper frame of mind and give you some ideas for harnessing the great subconscious power you possess:

What you put your energy on is what is created.

If your perception is that your life hasn’t been full of good things, tell yourself that your past may have been negative, but that time is long gone, and only good things come to you, in abundance.

…when you use your imagination, … you must have a clear idea of what you want, you don’t want to get bogged down in the minutiae of how you’ll get it.

File away your problem-solving skills and your willpower and simply imagine yourself, possessing vitality, focus, and good health.

Imagine yourself at your best and let your subconscious figure out the most effective way to make your best happen for you.

The subconscious and the conscious minds complement each other; they work together, each doing separate tasks. Your subconscious registers your feelings and impressions, and promptly passes them on to the conscious, at which time they register in your awareness.

The only thing the subconscious can do is agree with you; it was designed by nature to be your servant. If you say, “I’m fat and ugly”, your subconscious will produce exactly what you tell it to produce. It cannot say “No” to you.

(photo: arodasi)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Healing PTSD: Courage in the Face of Fear

Last week I wrote about the importance of courage in supporting your Healing Resolution #1: the intention to heal PTSD. Today, I want to look at the frequent precursor to courage: Fear.

The truth is, we’re all afraid. Healing takes a great amount of courage, but here’s the secret: it doesn’t take any more courage than what we already contain. We’re survivors, remember? That means we’ve already had the courage to withstand some life-threatening, life-altering thing. How do you think you did that? Courage, baby, courage!

The key during healing is to tap into that courage and use it again; to provide a pipeline for it to pump as much as you need every day. The pipeline, in this case, is commitment. The strength of our commitment to heal – and to use the power of our intention and the rest of the tools in the BRIDGE THE GAP process – is like a direct transmit from the source of our courage into our every day lives. I know this because I lived it. It happened like this:

For a long time my biggest fear was that my trauma would happen again. That some medical mystery would befall me and the entire medical community would be unable to help me. After that, I feared I wouldn’t survive the mystery the second time around.

These were my fearful thoughts on a conscious and subconscious level week after week after week for 25 years. And so, because like attracts like and you are what you think and you become what you dwell upon my body and mind worked together to simulate what I was thinking and make it a reality. For ten whole years I had mysterious medical ailments, issues and problems that no doctor could diagnose or treat and which threatened my life to the extent that my organs began to malfunction. Not an exact replica of my original trauma, but close enough so that my greatest fears came true: I was sick and unable to be made well by the top doctors in New York City.

And then something interesting happened. I was so rundown, exhausted and defeated by these medical problems and their impact that I developed a new fear: That I would live the rest of my life caught in this hellacious medical limbo. The new fear had an interesting effect: it flipped my old perspective on its head. Whereas I’d been afraid of what would happen that could go wrong, now all I thought about was what I wanted to go right. My thoughts shifted from fear of illness to fear of never having health or being happy, which left me constantly thinking about and imagining the future I wanted instead of the future I feared, which changed my focus of imagination away from what could harm me toward what would make my life better, which made me focus on my desire to be well, which became the focus of all my thoughts. The consequence of these perceptual shifts: After a while of this committed way of thinking, the path to healing revealed itself to me because:

Like does attract like.

We actually are what we think.

We do become what we dwell upon.

If we commit to the honor, repetition and dogma of trauma and PTSD we make a big mistake. Embracing PTSD because we don’t know what to do and/or it’s the only game in town that makes sense in the aftermath of trauma only sets us up for more and more suffering.

It’s OK, normal and even necessary to feel fear – what separates the heroes from the cowards is what we do in the face of that fear. We are all in this together. There are no cowards here, only people moving a little more slowly toward that day they will rise up and become their powerful selves.

Along the way, examine your fears. Today, make a list of the most prevalent fears you find yourself thinking about. Write them out so you can see them. And then, find a way to flip the perspective the way I did above. What positive thing that is completely opposite to that fear can you focus on? Write out these new thoughts and commit to them. Put them, post them, hang them, stick them where you can see them. Focus, people. Focus! It’s easier to think about the bad stuff, yes, but it’s so much more healthy, profitable and healing to commit to thinking about the good.

(photo: stuant 63)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Healing PTSD: Taking A Break

Sometimes you just do have to step away.

Sometimes PTSD has to no longer exist, even if only for a few hours or minutes. All this healing work can be draining and your mind and emotions need to be shored up with an experience outside the realm of PTSD.

I’ve written before about the power of music and the power of the communal experience to lift us out of our own isolation and bridge the gap between ourselves and the rest of the world. I was reminded of this last night when my parents, brother and I went to the BankAtlantic Center in Coral Springs, FL, to see the Eagles LONG ROAD OUT OF EDEN tour.

Let me just say, first, that this band can still rock in concert. Dressed in black suits with white Oxford shirts and black ties these guys played for three hours to a packed house. There was no opening band, only the Eagles playing everything from 1971 to today, including many of their own solo hits.

The very last song of the night was one of my personal favorites, ‘Desperado’, sung while the stage was mostly in black with no video component and a white spot on Henley. (Watch this clip from the recent NYC concert to hear the song and see the stage.)

I love this song anyway, but listening to it again and thinking of all our PTSD journeys, I think it should be one of the PTSD anthems. Doesn’t it describe our isolation, struggle and convoluted path? Doesn’t it describe how the years go by, and how we recede further and further from ourselves and those around us? Don't the final two lines offer hope for all of us who feel dissociated, detached and lost?

Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?
You been out ridin' fences for so long now
Oh, you're a hard one
I know that you got your reasons
These things that are pleasin' you
Can hurt you somehow

Don't you draw the queen of diamonds, boy
She'll beat you if she's able
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet

Now it seems to me, some fine things
Have been laid upon your table
But you only want the ones that you can't get

Desperado, oh, you ain't gettin' no younger
Your pain and your hunger, they're drivin' you home
And freedom, oh freedom, well, that's just some people talkin'
Your prison is walking through this world all alone

Don't your feet get cold in the winter time?
The sky won't snow and the sun won't shine
It's hard to tell the night time from the day
You're losin' all your highs and lows
Ain't it funny how the feeling goes away?

Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences, open the gate
It may be rainin', but there's a rainbow above you
You better let somebody love you, before it's too late

When we love ourselves,

and let others love us –

when we accept our right to the experience of love

and the joy it can bring,

as easily as we accept our traumas –

when we come down from the PTSD

fencepost and begin the long walk

back toward ourselves and a community,

that's when we begin to heal. If we don’t

make the effort to reconnect, then

we remain in our prisons, walking this world

traumatized and alone.

(photo: Buddha’s Ghost)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Healing PTSD: 5 Ways to Banish Doubt

We’re almost at the end of our month-long work to craft a healing intention, focus it, and find ways to support it. But no examination of this process would be complete without the mention of one of the main reasons your commitment could lack staying power. It has to do with a little thing called, DOUBT. Here are 5 ways to fight the foe....

1 – Be aware when doubt comes calling. In participating in and taking responsibility for our recovery it’s important to act on both the internal and external world. Healing begins and finds its source internally, so the majority of what we do lies in this realm – including hearing what we think. We spend a lot of time listening to friends, colleagues, family, etc. talk about what they think – how much time do you spend listening to your own thoughts? In PTSD we don’t listen so much as hear the constant white noise of fear and anxiety. But beneath that, there lie other ideas, especially when we begin to heal. Some of the most destructive thoughts are, “I can’t heal,” “Recovery won’t happen for me,” “I can’t do it,” etc. When you listen to the chatter in your head you become aware of all of the doubtful thoughts you carry around all day – and you can begin to eliminate them. When you hear these thoughts you must: a) stop the thought, cancel it, and replace it with a positive idea, b) deliberately shift your attention to something else.

2 – Develop a meditation practice. The more we are in tune with our inner peace the more grounded and full of faith in ourselves we become. Meditation does not have to be a lengthy process. A simple rejuvenating meditation like this one can be all you need to break the doubt continuum. Remember, 97% of what we do every day is from habit; if doubting has become a habit of yours you will need to replace it with a more positive habit. Meditation can do this by severing the doubtful thought and refocusing your mind on feelings of peace and control.

3 – Lather, rinse, repeat. The hair care industry has hit on a very simple (very Zen, really) method for cleansing: Slather yourself in the good stuff; wash it off; do it again. Healing is like this, too. You can’t craft your intention and then – that’s it. The intention must be used, often, to cleanse your mind. You took the time to work it out, design it and put it on paper. Now, carry it like a talisman and when you feel even the slightest creep of doubt do one of two things. A) Repeat your intention over and over until the doubt crawls back from whence it came. Do this silently to yourself, or, if you’re alone, say it out loud! Say it strongly with passion and conviction. Give it air. Let it breathe and come alive. My mother always tells me, “The mind knows only what you tell it” – so, tell it you intend to recover! B) If you’re on the go and need a quick fix, repeat the word “Intention” over and over. This will cue your subconscious and on its own it will make the connection between this single word and the intention you have built.

4 – Put your feet on the floor! Don’t be surprised to realize that doubt is anxiety in another form. That good ole ego voice (whose power is threatened by your healing) will whisper doubt night and day in an attempt to maintain its supremacy; even more so when you make any kind of progress. Don’t let it win! Instead, when you feel anxiety or doubt try this: Sit on the edge of a straight-backed chair. Straighten up your back so that it is upright and straight-spined. Place both feet on the floor parallel to each other and approximately a comfortable foot apart. Now, place your hands, palm down, on each knee. That’s it! It’s that simple. This posture grounds your inner self in a position of strength and power. And the beauty of this exercise: it can be done in a crowd of people, in the middle of a meeting, in a doctor’s office, at the family dinner table – no one will notice; it is silent, and completely private. You can hold the pose as long as it takes for the anxiety/doubt to subside. My trauma therapist taught me this and while I was skeptical at first I began to use it and found that, hey, he was right: it helps!

5 – When you doubt, shout it out. Last week I talked about the benefit of having a partner along the healing process. Here’s a perfect example of when that buddy can be helpful. Like other infectious things, doubt can’t survive in the outside world. Get it out of yourself. Telling your healing partner/coach/buddy about the doubt you feel brings it out of the dark and into the light where you can see how small it is, how powerless it is; how much bigger and more powerful you are. And also, in through conversation you can hear another voice – that of a trusted friend – assure you that this doubt does not belong on your road to recovery.

Wayne Dyer says this on the topic: “By banishing doubt and trusting your intuitive feelings, you clear a space for the power of intention…”

Meaning: When you banish doubt you clear the space for the POWER OF YOU, which is inherent, supreme and limitless. You just have to, er, have the opposite of doubt: FAITH – in yourself, in the healing process; in the ultimate ability you harbor to become PTSD-free.

(photo: Linz photograpy)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Healing PTSD: Putting the Subconscious to Work, Part 1

It’s been a busy week here in the BRIDGE THE GAP healing workshop. We’ve been assessing the role of commitment in the healing process and the importance of having courage to support our commitment. If you haven’t had time to work through the exercises this week, you still have today and tomorrow before we move on to the final week of executing PTSD Healing Resolution No. 1: I will create a powerful healing intention.

In the meantime, a little recap about what we know about the subconscious and how we can use it during this year of healing so that it helps us instead of hinders us.

Today, a few things to remember:

1- The subconscious is the warehouse for storing all of our memories.

2 - The subconscious is the origination of all our emotions.

3 - As the largest part of our mind (88%), the subconscious provides the motivational source for everything we do, feel and perceive.

4 - What lies buried in the deep dark of the subconscious mind is the root of our PTSD.

5 - The imprint of traumatic experience hibernates in the subconscious, quietly directing our subconscious mind to behave in ways that are meant to protect us from imagined danger.

6 - The subconscious mind’s response to the fear generated by the imprint of trauma is the crux of all our PTSD problems.

7 - The power of the subconscious mind is limitless.

Why does all of this matter? Because the culmination of this gathering of facts is this one most important thing: What we think about is what we create. And that's on both conscious and subconscious levels. Beginning at the origin: what’s housed in our subconscious – what we focus on and are driven by – is what we bring into our lives.

A little story to illustrate this point: My own traumatic experience was medically based – I was given a medication to which I had a rare and severe allergic reaction. No one on the medical staff of a major New York City hospital had ever seen the illness with which I was admitted. There was no treatment protocol, no expert to consult, no one to guide my parents and I through the ordeal. Forever afterward one of my biggest fears was that this situation would repeat itself; that I would have some strange medical problem for which no one could find a cure or help me with a solution and which would threaten my well-being and my life.

For years I lived with this fear daily, thought about it often and worried about it constantly. It became such a priority that…. Voila! As my PTSD grew in size and proportion, my subconscious worked overtime to create what I was thinking about until, 16 years after the original trauma a trigger sent me into an insane spiral in which I was, again, presenting with physical problems for which no doctor could find a cure or diagnosis. My greatest fear had come alive because (through the power of my mind) I had, unwittingly, willed it into existence.

How am I so sure of that? Because when I was finally diagnosed with PTSD and began to heal it, suddenly all of the medical issues evaporated. While none of the 50 doctors I consulted could help me with my symptoms, suddenly when I began to heal my mind my liver, intestines and stomach all spontaneously healed, too. Imagine that. Coincidence? I don’t think so. The years I lived in fear brought on more and more reflections of that fear until I was completely debilitated by it.

Conversely, when I began to live in determined hope of wellness and PTSD healing, more and more healing came to me in several ways and from several sources. We are the creators of our own destiny, not just in life, but in the world of PTSD, too.

What are you thinking about that is creating negative experiences in your life? Become aware of these thoughts. Write out your fears. Make a list so that you can see what is swirling around your mind. Many thoughts can be as flimsy as the Wicked Witch of the West: stand up to them with a bucket of water and they shrink in size. For each stated fear write a sentence that is the antithesis of it. And then repeat this sentence to yourself every time you hear your fear thoughts or feel your fear emotions. Get in this habit. Repeat the antithetical statements with conviction and authority. Carry them with you. Say them out loud. The healing process includes a rigorous effort at retraining your brain. It starts now. You are the ring master. Crack that whip!

In the coming week I’ll delve into this idea further with a post that gives some tips on how to use our subconscious, and some tricks on how to keep it in line. In the meantime, what tips, tricks or testimony have you discovered about harnessing the power of the subconscious?

(photo: *caramimi*)

Friday, January 23, 2009

PTSD Healing: 6 Ways to Solidify Your Commitment to Heal

It’s one thing to walk around thinking you want to heal, and telling yourself and your loved ones that you do. But it’s another thing entirely to commit to what it takes to be healed. In order to support your healing intention you must make the commitment to act. In order to support that commitment it helps to have some structure in place. Today, 6 things you can do to solidify your commitment:

1 – Carefully define your healing goal. I really do love Nick Best’s ‘Believe You Will Succeed’ outline for achieving a goal. If you haven’t taken a look at it yet, find some time to work it through. Healing is just like any other goal: it helps to have a definitive plan. Also, it’s important to assess what would get in the way of that plan – and then get rid of those things! Nick’s outline is a step-by-step guide to planning your entire healing journey, both in terms of your time and your mind.

2 – Create a timeline. Let’s be serious, healing isn’t something that happens over night. After struggling to heal for so long, I finally gave myself one last year: By my 40th birthday I wanted to be free of this stuff. (I made it, just under the wire!) Choose a timeframe that works for you. Give yourself a lot of room – but not too much! One or two years of the really hard, deep work should set you up for great results. Choose a big event, or some quiet date to work toward. Get your subconscious into the game by developing the idea that you will be PTSD-free by that point. When we begin to imagine we begin to heal. If we see the end and know where we’re going, that helps us chart our course and our minds shape the idea of success.

3 – Prioritize your healing process. The whole idea of healing can seem overwhelming. Don’t let yourself get distracted by this! Break down the phases so that the journey is manageable. Make a list of the top five healing acts you want to try, and then approach them one by one. My list looked like this: a) educate myself about PTSD, b) develop the ability to tell the story, c) reach out to other survivors, d) construct my post-trauma identity, e) find a hypnotherapist.

4 – Set a schedule. When you know your ultimate timeframe it’s easier to break down time into increments, and from there to break down the healing process into manageable chunks. We can’t do everything all at once, so set yourself a schedule that will guide your way. Give yourself a task each month, each week, or even each day. Developing a healing habit is important; setting a schedule ensures you find time for all aspects of this important journey.

5 – Buddy up! As PTSD experiencers we’ve been isolated long enough. For your healing journey, get a partner to support you along your quest. This can be anyone, but it should be someone you feel you can trust, and who will honestly help you maintain your commitment. (Mine was my mother because she was endlessly supportive, unfailingly resourceful, empathetic, compassionate and never got frustrated or angry no matter how many times I banged my head against the wall!) Tell this partner your plan. Share with them the timeline, your priorities, and the schedule. It helps to be able to talk these things out. Things sound differently in the spoken word than in our mind, and hearing things aloud can bring us to new thoughts, ideas and understanding. Plus, your buddy may have helpful ideas. Knowing that someone is standing beside us and expects us to follow through with our plans gives us even more motivation to do so.

6 – Reward yourself. Remember when you were a kid and you were given a gold star for good behavior or a good math or spelling test? Newsflash: Your grown up self likes to be rewarded, too. For every step in your healing process, reward yourself for the achievement. Make a list of some things you want to do for yourself. This may be as simple as a day alone, away from your responsibilities. Or, it can be the purchase of some item you’ve been putting off. Healing is tough work; when we reach milestones we should give ourselves something special. When we know we’re working toward a gratification, we’re more committed and motivated to succeed.

One more thought, just for good measure: Give yourself some room. While it’s important to plan, commit, act, and follow through, it’s also important not to become militant, rigid, obsessed or fanatical. Healing should be a return to grace, a recapturing of living life in flow and ease. If we force the healing process into a narrow chute and try to stuff ourselves through it there’s no way we can achieve the ultimate goal. There will be pitfalls and setbacks. Don’t beat yourself up over them! The surest way to kill your commitment is to feel abused by it. Healing is like the ebb and flow of the tide; it has a rhythm. Know that you’re on the path to wellness and have faith in yourself that you will get there.

(photo: Isaac B2)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Healing PTSD: Get Creative

From time to time I like to highlight the voices of PARASITES OF THE MIND readers. I am not the only one who has healed, nor am I the only one who took matters into my own hands. This is the story of J.J. who suffered greatly at the end of a romantic relationship – and then, got herself up and over the PTSD hump:

I had been stalked; I had found terrible things in my house and started to be terrified to return home or (once there) afraid to leave. I found myself immobilized one day, sort of "frozen" in place! I couldn't/ wouldn't get up. I was literally frozen with fear.I called a local psych hospital and told them I was coming in!

I packed a small bag, called my kid and asked her to come check on the pets. Somehow I drove there and was admitted.I was fortunate that after just a couple of days of intense therapy and SLEEP (I had not slept in days) my head cleared and some of the worst fear lifted. I felt "safe" for the first time in weeks and hadn't even realized how terrified I was in my own bed! I continued in therapy for a while.

Every once in a while I have what I call a "flashback," and something in my surroundings frightens me-- a direct result of those traumatic experiences. I am able to recognize that and move on. If I had the resources I may have moved away after that experience, but I did what I could do: I re-decorated much of my house and removed every trace of the perpetrator, with an exception or two (I had loved the guy until he went nuts! I kept one item and some photos...)

I removed everything BLUE from my house; it's a rare day when I'll even buy blue tissues if I can find white! Dr. Jekyll (or is it Mr. Hyde who was the beast?) had BLUE furniture, blue curtains, etc... When he left, I trashed the things he had destroyed (he broke up furniture in his rage). I re-painted my favorite room and changed the entire feeling of the house. It helped me heal!

I encourage everyone who has gone through Hell and returned to tell about it to undergo whatever therapy works for them, and to practice positive thinking and acts of "kindness" to their own SELF every day. If we wait for the world (or the doctor, or the boss, or the kids) to help us, we waste time that could be enjoyed. I can honestly say I'm happy most days, even as I'm unemployed, or don't feel well, etc. I'm happy in my own skin and I wish that for everyone!!!

Inspiring, no? J.J. should motivate all of us to muster up that courage we own to 1) take charge of the situation, 2) get some help, 3) identify proactive steps to set our lives on a new course. It’s such a little thing, to paint a room, but our minds take cues from our environment. Whatever we can do through what we hear, see, smell, touch and taste provides a definite support to how our mind mulls experience and then decides how to categorize a moment and move beyond it.

(photo: pbrigitte)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Healing PTSD: Courage, Baby, Courage

Getting back to Mark Twain, let’s take a look at the role of courage in the commitment mix. It’s easier to remain committed when we feel strongly supported in our actions by a deep resolve within.

But where does that resolve come from? Sometimes our introduction to our own courage comes from an external source, like it did for me. But in our healing journey we can’t depend on anything outside of ourselves to support us or to give us “a quality of spirit that enables [us] to face danger or pain without showing fear”. If we have an external source of courage, that’s great. But lacking that, we must create our own source.

Take a minute to think about where your courage comes from. We all have it, that quiet reserve of strength that, like the good set of china, we keep tucked away for a special occasion. Well, kids, healing PTSD is that special occasion. It’s time to dust off that courage, take it out, set it on the table, polish it up and prepare to allow its beautiful presence to infuse your ordinary day with extraordinary beauty.

If you can’t pinpoint the source of your courage – no problem! Map its source right now. Think back to times in your life when you felt courageous. What made you feel the swell of courage then? Make a list of elements, characteristics, traits, actions, and emotions surrounding that memory. Set a timer for 5 minutes. List as many qualities as you can until the time runs out. Then, read over the list. Which examples do you value most? Congratulations! These are all part of you. We hold an endless reservoir of courage in ourselves. It does not get used up. If you accessed courage once, you can do it again. Take a long look at the list you just made; this is who you are. That you don’t feel this way in the moment is irrelevant. This is your potential. You were this once; you can be again. Walk around today reminding yourself of the things on the list. Say to yourself, ‘I am ____________”. In this BRIDGE THE GAP rediscovery process it’s important for you to recognize the strength you do inherently possess. And then to begin to exude it. Life’s daily challenges give us plenty of opportunities to flex the muscle of the qualities that support, enhance or signal the presence of courage. Find them in each day. Practice your connection to your courage. Make locating and utilizing it as simple as a habit and it will support you in all the things you set your mind to do.

Don’t have any memories that showcase your courageous self? No sweat. Take a look around. Who do you know (or know of) that exhibits courage? Think of real life stories of those around you; think of characters in books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen. Think of celebrities, journalists, people in the public eye. Choose a figure who embodies courage as you perceive it. Now, take some time to make a list of the courageous qualities that person exhibits. What are they? When you clearly see what qualities you admire you can begin to adopt them yourself. Each day you will bump into opportunities to develop a quiet strength, an outspoken energy, a dogged pursuit of what’s right despite the cost to yourself – whatever makes up the definition of courage to you. Look for these chances to call up your courage from within. When we get in the habit of connecting with this part of ourselves on a small scale it’s easier to engage it during those times we really need it, like, say, turning our back on the past and bravely marching into an uncharted future.

To give you added inspiration – words of courage from sources who know something about it:

Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you're scared to death. ~Harold Wilson

Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says... I'll try again tomorrow. ~Mary Anne Radmacher-Hershey

Courage is simply the willingness to be afraid and act anyway. ~Robert Anthony

Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to dig a little to find it. ~Tori Amos

Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. ~Winston Churchill

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Courage is not defined by those who fought and did not fall, but by those who fought, fell and rose again. ~Anonymous

Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing. ~Anonymous

True courage is not the absence of fear -- but the willingness to proceed in spite of it. ~Anonymous

(photo: elvy)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Healing PTSD: How Self-respect Affects Healing

I get a lot of mail from PTSDers who refer to themselves as ‘broken’, and who claim that for them ‘it’s not possible to heal’. But check out the poll I’ve got going on the sidebar: So far, 73% of voters do believe it’s possible to heal PTSD, 13% aren’t sure but hope it’s possible, and another 6% remain dubious – which is not entirely pessimistic, which is good. (Where do you stand? Add your vote to the poll!)

For the 25 years I suffered before I received my PTSD diagnosis I, too, felt damaged and off kilter in some irreconcilable way. But then I was told what was wrong with me, and knowledge is power. With a name to my condition it became not me, but a thing in and of itself. I am not PTSD; I am experiencing PTSD. These are two totally different things!

With PTSD as a separate entity it is something I choose to allow or disallow in my life. PTSD isn’t an incurable disease (and let me remind you that people cure mental and physical ailments through the power of their mind all the time, so why can’t we choose to heal this ailment with – that’s right: the power of our mind?). PTSD begins as a reactionary instinct to trauma, but it continues because we believe in it, and because then we believe we have no other choice. But the more we allow PTSD to continue, the more it builds upon itself as this Mel Schwarz Power of the Mind video explains.

But we do have a choice. If we use our internal resources in conjunction with our external supports we can emerge from this crazy PTSD labyrinth. We can’t do this, however, if we don’t value ourselves enough to believe we deserve to be well.

There’s one little issue we should probably examine while you work on the idea of focusing your healing intention and that is: Self-respect. Do you think you deserve to be PTSD-free?

These extracts from Wayne Dyer’s THE POWER OF INTENTION will give you some things to mull under the heading, How self-respect affects healing:

1 - “If you don’t believe that you’re worthy of fulfilling your intentions…. Then you’re creating an obstacle that will inhibit the flow of creative energy into your… life.”

2 - “If your thoughts reflect a pessimistic view of the world, then that’s actually how you feel about yourself. If your thoughts reflect an optimistic view of the world, then that’s how your feel about your life. Whatever attitude you have about the world in general is a good indicator of the respect you have for your abilities to intend into this world what you desire.”

3 - “… without high esteem for yourself, you shut down the entire process of intention.”

4 - “… your entire world view is based on how much respect you have for yourself.”

Today, ask yourself the following questions:

Do I believe I’m worthy of being PTSD-free?

Do I believe I deserve to live a joyful, productive, fulfilling life?

Do I believe I ought to have peace of mind?

Do I believe I am valuable enough to not live haunted by the past?

Do I believe my happiness, contentment, success and good fortune is as well earned as everyone else?

If the answers to any of these questions are “No,” then you have some work to do. Why don’t you believe these things? Why is your self-respect at such a low level? How we’re raised can do this. What we experience can do this. Trauma, too, can strip us of all belief in our own deservedness. In fact, in a perverse way trauma can make us believe we deserve the bad instead of the good. If this is happening to you, you need to address it – quickly! Start thinking about how your self-respect interacts with your healing. We'll explore this idea together in a future post.

In the meantime, if you have suggestions for how people can improve their self-respect, leave a comment. How would you encourage others to heal this aspect of their journey?

(photo: Loulair Harton)

Monday, January 19, 2009

PTSD Healing Resolution #1: Are You Committed?

Mark Twain said, "Courage is resistance to and mastery of fear – not the absence of it."

How are you feeling these days? Are you afraid? Well, of course you are, at least a little. You’re about to radically change your life – for the better! Even if we’re looking at a bright new future there’s always that little twinge of the unknown, that small flip of doubt that we’re safe in what we know and unsure of what we don’t know and maybe things are better that way. (Really? Are you really still thinking that? Do you truly want to spend the rest of your life mired in PTSD muck?? I didn’t think so.)

In order to move forward we have to take the strength of our healing intention and build it into reality. This takes commitment, which is the theme of the BRIDGE THE GAP posts this week.

First, let’s assess the level of your commitment. The way I see it there are four categories of commitment:

False commitment: This is the first phase in which we think about what needs to be done and we are overwhelmed. We say, "Yes, I want to heal!", but what we really mean is, "Yes, that’s a nice idea!" We don’t actually intend to do the necessary work.

Half-hearted commitment: A better phase on the commitment continuum, to be sure, but not a lot gets done here. We make the appointments, we show up for the therapies, but all along we’re saying to everyone, "Heal me!" We don’t take the responsibility on ourselves.

Whole-hearted commitment: Now we’re moving up on the commitment food chain! We’re doing the research to find the right therapy, therapist, group, and program. We’re studying up on what’s happening to us PTSD-wise so that we understand where the problems germinate and what affects them. We're taking control instead of constantly being controlled. Whoopee!

True commitment: Hallelujah! At this level we're devoting our deepest selves to the healing process. We are saying, "I want to be healed!" In addition to understanding the value of participating in the work that’s done without, we’re also deeply engaged in the work that’s done within and we're doing it every day.

Where do you fall in the commitment continuum? Take some time today to think about how deeply your desire to be well goes. What will you do to achieve it? Will you chase down that new therapist? Will you read one more book about trauma and PTSD and how to heal? Will you totally dismantle your PTSD self and reconstruct a new and improved, post-trauma identity that allows you to get on with living the life you were meant to be living?

Be honest in your appraisal of which commitment phase you’re in. And then, make a list of what things you will have to do to move to the next phase. Don’t try to leapfrog phases. The best healing comes organically when we progress through a series of moves that build on each other. Trauma severed us from a logical progression of change; healing is built one natural piece at a time so that the change becomes who we are, not a splintered effect of who we could be.

(photo: Koog Family)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Healing PTSD: 4 Ways to Support the Healing Process

Ever since we moved to Florida I get sick much more often and the colds last much longer than when we lived in New York City. I’m not sure why this is, except that it can be 80 degrees outside and 60 degrees inside most establishments, so your own thermostat is constantly being jerked around and sometimes, the transition just isn’t smooth.

The upside of these little colds is that they force me to slow down and give me more time to read. Last weekend was one of those weekends when I pulled the chaise lounge on my balcony into the sun and just tried to recuperate. While I did that, I read Wayne Dyer’s book, THE POWER OF INTENTION. I’ve referenced Dyer before, but it’s been piecemeal. My own introduction to him has been through his PBS lectures. He’s a dynamic speaker, but this is the first time I’ve ever sat down with him for more than a few minutes.

I decided to read THE POWER OF INTENTION to see if Dyer had any insights that would apply to how PTSDers need to access this internal source of healing. Lo and behold, he did! Today, reduced from all of Dyer’s ideas, a brief outline on the top four ways to support the healing process:

1 – Become indifferent to doubt. I’ve written about 4 ways to boost belief in your ability to heal . Here’s the crux of why it matters: Dyer says, “When doubt is banished… anything is possible. We all… use our thoughts to create the world we choose. If you doubt your ability to create the life you intend, then you’re refusing the power of intention.” The strength of our intention to heal is the foundation for our success. We cannot allow any cracks. (Later next week I’ll write more on this.)

2 – Remain confident that through reliance on your imagination your assumptions will materialize. According to Dyer, “… if we focus on what’s ugly, we attract more ugliness into our thoughts, and then into our emotions, and ultimately into our lives.” But if we use our imagination to focus on positive, healing and supportive thoughts – if we use our imagination to conjure the new person we wish to become – then we bring these things into our world. If the power of intention is the driving force of healing, the power of imagination is the fuel for that force. Give yourself permission to imagine the new you. Get into the habit of daydreaming. Let your imagination run wild!

3 – Reconnect to intention. Dyer writes, “When life appears to be working against you, when your luck is down, when the supposedly wrong people show up, or when you slip up and return to old, self-defeating habits, recognize the signs that you’re out of harmony with intention.” This whole month we’ve been working with the idea of intention as a way to kickstart the healing process. Dyer describes seven faces of intention and says the utilization of each aspect deepens and further supports the power of it. Those seven faces are: creativity, kindness, love, beauty, expansion, unlimited abundance, receptivity.

4 – Imagination is your new strategy. Dyer teaches, “Act as if anything you desire is already here. Believe … all that you seek you’ve already received, that it exists… and know you shall have your desires filled.” In the midst of PTSD it’s hard, so very hard, to imagine we will ever be whole and happy and well again. But look around you. There are people who heal every day, not only from PTSD but from much more horrible mental and physical illnesses. If they can do it, so can you. Practice the daily exercise of imagining the end result of every step of the healing process. Dyer calls this ‘thinking from the end’, an exercise I’ll elaborate on next week.

Sometimes, we all just need to take an hour (or two or three or ten!) to pause, to stop the busyness and make a space in which to think. This has been a busy BRIDGE THE GAP week. There’s a lot of work to do. Find a patch of sun somewhere. Pull a chair into it. Give yourself the space to work through this week’s exercises. Give yourself the gift of imagining who you will be when you have banished PTSD forever.

(photo: Will Fuller)

Friday, January 16, 2009

PTSD Healing Resolution #1: Defining What We Want, Part Three

The desire to be well is fueled by the desire to be free, which grows when there are reasons to be free. When we recognize there are things we could do if it weren’t for the fact that PTSD is getting in our way, then suddenly we have a choice: In the immortal words of Shakespeare's Hamlet, ‘To be or not to be PTSD-free.’

Our goal this week has been a 3-tiered process to set ourselves on the ‘to be’ path toward freedom:

1. Seeing what we desire to be rid of helps us focus on what we don’t want, which helps motivate change.

2. It’s also good to take a look at what we do desire. Becoming aware of what we want helps us recognize that we have a self who thinks of other things besides coping.

3. Today it’s time to turn the focus on that self. Who is it? To put it in Shakespearean terms again: ‘To be or not to be….. whom?”
Letting go of PTSD can be uncomfortable and scary. I mean, after all, by now PTSD has become a second self, an outer shell that keeps you safe. But you can’t be free if you don’t let go of that self. You’ve put on a costume and now the party’s over. It’s time to take it off.

Knowing what you want to change about yourself, and knowing what you want to do if you did make that change, leaves you only with one last component: knowing who you would like to be when your PTSD self steps aside.

Get out that paper and pen again. (You might want to consider investing in a notebook so you can keep all of your BRIDGE THE GAP work in one place.)

The purpose of the exercise today is to begin defining who you want to be without PTSD. At the top of a piece of paper write 'I want to be ….' Fill in the blank. You have free reign to choose anything! Think of yourself in all aspects, including professional and personal realms. Consider who you are in relation to friends, lovers, family, colleagues and of course: yourself.

For example,

I want to be an empathetic doctor.
I want to be more compassionate.
I want to be someone other people come to for advice.
I want to be more involved in my children’s lives.
I want to be a more caring partner.

[There’s a whole You to map out here, so take your time. You might want to break this exercise into categories. Go through the writing steps once just focusing on ‘family’ (‘I want to be a family member who….’, again just focusing on ‘friends’ (‘I want to be a friend who….’); focusing on work (‘I want to be a colleague who…’); on ‘lovers’ (‘I want to be a partner who…’); focusing on yourself (‘I want to be someone who….’).]

You know the drill by now:

Don’t try to think big or small, just think about the unended sentence at the top of the page. Sit still and let that inner voice work its way up through your center until the words come out. Who do you want to be? Who have you always wanted to be but been afraid to become? Who would you choose to be if PTSD wasn’t holding you back?

Set a timer for 5 minutes and write everything that comes to mind. Don't worry about or check spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc. Do not edit your thoughts for brilliance or stupidity. Remember, there is no right or wrong here; there is only your voice on the page. When the 5 minutes is up, take a highlighter and read through what you’ve written; highlight the qualities that seem most important. This can be all or just a few.

Now, put those individually highlighted things into a Desire List so you can easily see them. Set the timer again – this time for 2 minutes – and take the first thing on the list; finish this sentence: ‘I want to be _____ because….’ If you finish before the timer goes off, keep writing about anything that comes to mind. The important thing is to keep writing. As you do, new thoughts about the original sentence will come to you. When they do, allow yourself to switch topics in mid-stream and get back to the original question.

When the 2 minutes is up set the timer again, take the next item on your Desire List and repeat the process. You don’t have to do this all in one sitting. This can be done over a series of days. The point is to continue with this exercise until you’ve written about each thing so thoroughly you know exactly why you want what you want.

Coping with PTSD can leave us very confused, and with little time to think about the type of person we want to emulate, the type of persona we want to present to the world; the type of individual we would most value, respect and be excited by becoming. That journey begins today. Who would you like to be a year from now? Imagine that person in Technicolor – notice the details of the face, the clothes, the career, the family, friends and lovers. Imagine PTSD falling away and the real you stepping out onto the stage.

I leave you with the full Shakespeare quote from Hamlet, in which the title character considers what to do in the wake of his own traumas (the highlight is mine):

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

(photo: Tabi Kat)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tetris: A Possible PTSD Vaccine?

You’ve been doing a lot of good, healing BRIDGE THE GAP work lately. So, today is a game day, literally. What do you think of this?

A recent study out of Oxford University suggests that playing Tetris shortly after experiencing trauma may help prevent PTSD-related flashbacks.

According to a summary article by Jennifer Copley for

In a recent study, researchers had healthy male and female volunteers watch a traumatic film, which included images of horrible injuries and deaths from numerous sources, such as anti-drunk-driving advertisements. Thirty minutes later, the experimental group played the video game Tetris for 10 minutes while a control group sat quietly, doing nothing. Over the following week, subjects kept a diary of flashback experiences.

The two groups scored similarly on measures of mood and trait anxiety prior to the study, and after watching the film, participants in both groups suffered a deterioration in mood, indicating that they had been psychologically affected by the experience. However, over the next seven days, the Tetris group suffered far fewer flashbacks. They also scored significantly lower on the Impact of Events Scale, which measures trauma symptoms, but scored as highly as the control group on a test of memory recognition, indicating that they had not forgotten the film.They could recall elements of the film by choice, but were not subjected to as many involuntary traumatic sensory experiences.

Tetris May Interfere with Aspects of Memory Formation

Prior research suggests that there are two channels through which memories are formed:

· Sensory, which records perceptual experiences
· Conceptual, which creates meaning from those experiences

There is a short window of opportunity directly after events have occurred during which the brain’s attempts to store memories are subject to interference. This window lasts for approximately six hours after an event. Playing Tetris, with its brightly coloured moving shapes, may disrupt some aspects of memory retention by interfering with the sensory channel without robbing individuals of the ability to derive meaning from their experiences.

Because Tetris is an interactive game, players are fully engaged with the new visuospatial elements, leaving fewer cognitive resources available to deal with other sensory information. The idea that certain visuospatial tasks compete for limited cognitive resources is supported by the fact that Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a treatment for PTSD in which patients make rapid eye movements while experiencing traumatic imagery in their minds, is has proven effective in reducing the vividness of PTSD flashbacks.

Not all distractions will prevent or diminish PTSD flashbacks. Prior research has found that counting backwards or engaging in verbal tasks while watching traumatic material can actually increase the incidence of flashbacks. This indicates that distraction alone is not sufficient to lower the incidence of traumatic flashbacks; rather, it requires specific types of visuospatial distraction.

My question for all of you is this: Given what we real survivors know of traumatic experiences, do you think this study has any validity? For example, do you think in the 6 hours after your trauma you would have found it appropriate to begin playing a video game? Do you think you could have even focused well enough to play Tetris?

I’m having trouble believing in the promise of this ‘cognitive vaccine’ (as some are already calling this theory). It is one thing to watch a disturbing movie, and quite another to play the lead role in that movie. I’m not sure this experiment takes into account the extreme subconscious imprinting that goes on when one experiences trauma. Those safe, secure participants watching the film did not experience the terrifying psychological or somatic effects of being violated, rendered powerless or feeling life-threatened. If they were not part of the study, or not encouraged to document their thoughts about the movies for the following week, would these participants have even had thoughts about the movie in the days afterward?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts….

Is this Tetris study coming close enough to appropriating the traumatic experience for its findings to be relevant? If you do not experience even the smallest life-threatening or powerless feeling, can your response to someone else’s trauma matter in the realm of fact or healing?

(photo: Propagandalf)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

PTSD Healing Resolution #1: Defining What We Want, Part Two

Well, were you surprised by all the things you desire about PTSD? Funny, isn’t it, how you can feel emotionally flatlined, but when given a chance to let some emotion bubble up you actually have a lot to say? I was surprised by this myself. When I received my PTSD diagnosis and finally began to understand what had been wrong with me all those years; when things finally began to make sense and I could target what I wanted to change about my life, I began to feel separate from PTSD. Whereas I’d been living as its captor, I suddenly began to feel it more as a condition and less of who I truly was. This little bit of space between us allowed me to see PTSD in its individual components the way we might see any competitor – and so I began thinking of it as such, and about why I wanted to beat it and from there, what I would do so that would be so and all of this want and why brought out a slow trickle of manageable emotions like a small army to support my quest for healing.

I’ve talked about desire before - as in, the desire to be well and the importance of our participation in that. Today though, I’m going to continue evolving that term (because the nuances of words, like we do, also change over time): I want to deepen this idea of desire to apply to what drives us every day outside of PTSD. In fact, today I want to forget about PTSD entirely. I don’t care about it. It’s not important. In constructing a post-trauma identity - which is the whole point of the BRIDGE THE GAP healing process - PTSD takes a backseat to YOU.

Beneath the PTSD symptoms, the real, untraumatized you has desires. You’re wrong if you think he or she doesn’t. The roar of PTSD is just so much louder than the voice of your inner self that if you don’t make the effort to listen you don’t get to hear the real you. When you wrote out your list of PTSD desires you began to listen to and woo your real voice. Let’s keep that up. PTSD plunges us into a deep internal silence. Part of healing is learning to make some noise.

I’ll give you a short example: Deep in PTSD, I graduated college and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have and couldn’t sustain any single motivation, desire or focus. I bounced around to a different job pretty much every year for 15 years. After I began trauma therapy (but before my PTSD diagnosis), the symptoms lessened enough for me to be a little more focused. I decided to take some time off from career hopping to investigate what I really wanted to do. It took six months of waiting for my inner voice to speak up and speak clearly, but when the answer came, I listened to it. I have been a writer since I was seven years old. The voice wanted to go back to school for an MFA in Poetry. And what did the voice want to do after that? It didn’t know, but I listened to it. I went back to school, and it’s amazing: when we do what we really want things begin to fall into place. Going back to school led me to fall into a teaching job, which led me into a university teaching career that I stuck with for four whole years before I moved out of New York City.

Desire to heal is strengthened by our desire to do something – what is that for you? Here’s your BRIDGE THE GAP exercise for today:

Get out that pen and paper again. At the top of the page write, ‘What I really want to do is…’ This can be career, family, lifestyle, sport --- anything.

For example:

I want to learn to kite surf.
I want to travel to the Galapagos Islands.
I want to take a cooking class.
I want to try golf.
I want to see the sunrise.
I want to become a third degree black belt.

Don’t try to think big or small, just think. Sit still and let that inner voice work its way up through your center until the words come out. What do you want? What have you always wanted but been afraid to try? What have you recently realized you desire in your life? I want, I want, I want… When was the last time your gave yourself permission to use those words? Life is about experiences. What experiences do you wish for?

Set a timer for 5 minutes and write everything that comes to mind. Don't worry about or check spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc. Do not edit your thoughts for brilliance or stupidity. Remember, there is no right or wrong here; there is only your voice on the page. When the 5 minutes is up, take a highlighter and read through what you’ve written; highlight the desires that seem most important. This can be all or just a few.

Now, put those individually highlighted things into a list so you can easily see them. Set the timer again and take the first thing on the list; finish this sentence: ‘I want to _____ because….’ If you finish before the timer goes off, keep writing about anything that comes to mind. It can be what to buy at the grocery store or what CD albums you want to buy. The important thing is to keep writing. As you do, new thoughts about the original sentence will come to you. When they do, allow yourself to switch topics in mid-stream and get back to the original question.

When the 5 minutes is up set the timer again, take the next item on your desire list and repeat the process. You don’t have to do this all in one sitting. This can be done over a series of days. The point is to continue with this exercise until you’ve written about each thing so thoroughly you know exactly why you want what you want.

When you’ve completed this task, sit back, congratulate yourself and treat yourself to a reward. Go buy one of those CD albums. Forget about the groceries; take yourself out for a meal. It’s time to celebrate! You’ve just begun the inner dialogue that’s going to lay the foundation for your entire post-trauma identity.

(photo: Oh My Rachael)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Healing PTSD: The Power of Imagination

So, I have a new friend, A.D. He’s a runner and lives in the town next to me. He’s also a Vet and the sibling of a suicide. Suffice it to say, he has some experience with intrusive memories, disturbing emotions and anxiety. But from what I can tell, he’s a pretty together guy. He’s self-aware, holds a job and every day strives to better his internal perspective. I asked him how he does it. His answer: positive guided imagery. To which I replied, Tell me more!

How did you discover positive guided imagery?

I have been using positive imagery for many years. I was first introduced to it by Ed Lee and author, Agnes Sanford. Her books are about healing, and seeing the light in ourselves and others.
What is positive imagery?

Positive imagery is seeing yourself healthy and whole. I believe what we see ourselves as is what we become. We define our own reality, or we accept the reality handed to us. With positive imagery one sees himself moving through the negativity to a more positive perspective. it is like the scene in dune where he passes through the clouds picturing the outcome. From that I learned to imagine positivity ei healing, getting that job, winning that love. Now it does not always happen, but I can accept who I am and feel better by positive thoughts.

What is the process you use for your positive imagery practice?

The process is to quiet yourself first. I use some meditation books, like Days of Healing Days of Joy; Believing In Myself; My Daily Bread; The Prophet. All these set the tone to picture myself positively. From there I imagine myself in a positive light. I see myself happy and wholly healed. I imagine myself taking the steps it takes to get to that point for we cannot be idle; we must plan to reach that goal. You need to set time aside to regroup and plan ahead.

What meditation books would you suggest?

Believing in Myself and Days of healing Day of Joy, by Ernie Larsen and Carol Larsen Hagarly. Plus, My Daily Bread. But any meditation book can set the tone. It is important to find one that inspires you. There are many to choose from. They can most likely be found in the self-help section of bookstore.

What helpful tips would you give anyone who wants to try the practice?

I would tell anyone who wanted to try this to just “Do it!”. Long before Nike had that phrase a wise monk gave me that advice when I was whining about my life. "You want to know if it is right, then just do it." If you want to picture yourself positively or in another light: DO IT. Make your own reality. I am no guru or mystic (although I would like to be); just someone who loves life and wants to make it better. The joy is in the journey NOT the destination.

A.D.’s practice and thoughts are a great approach to changing the way we think and feel. According to, guided imagery has become so respected that it is now an alternative medicine technique “in which patients use their imagination to visualize improved health, or to "attack" a disease, such as a tumor. Some studies indicate that positive thinking can have an effect on disease outcome, so this technique is now utilized as 'complimentary medicine' in some oncology centers and other medical facilities.”

So, I’m thinking….. If positive imagery can help cure cancer, imagine what it can do for PTSD which is, in a certain aspect, repetitive negative imagery. If we replace bad images with good this will help support the subtle shifts we need to make away from trauma and towards a better, more joyful life.

For more info on healing guided imagery, check out:
This is an article from the world-renowned Mayo Clinic supporting the positive effects of guided imagery.
This site even has a free stress buster download.
Here you can find articles, plus a few exercises.
Here’s documentation that guided imagery can also be very helpful for healing and easing health issues.

YouTube, of course, has several links in the results of a guided imagery search.

For general relaxation for stress relief:

I really love these Grant Barrett guides:

End of Day

Dream Journey

Healing Circle of White Light

In the Morning

Health Body & Mind

Finally, if you're feeling a bit undereducated in the 'how' of imagining, here's a three-tiered approach to refining your skills:

Develop Ability to Visualize, Part 1

Develop Ability to Visualize, Part 2

Develop Ability to Visualize, Part 3

(photo: 3abbas)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Healing PTSD, Resolution #1: Defining What We Want, Part One

So, now that your face is warmed up and you’ve spent some time forging the first small attempt to physically reconnect with your untraumatized self, let’s talk about the crux of who that self is.

It is not possible to survive trauma and remain unchanged – we all know that. But the truth is, we’re all changing all the time anyway. Trauma just makes us notice it in a bigger, more calamitous way. But think back for a minute. Are you exactly the same person you were at age 5? Age 25? Age (fill in the appropriate number)? The answer is, NO. We are always evolving in subtle ways, sometimes so imperceptibly we don’t even notice, but the truth is, while there is a core self, there’s also an evolutionary self. Our inner life is sort of like the solar system: there’s a constant sun, and then planets that revolve around it. In PTSD our solar system has been swallowed by a Black Hole, but somewhere in another galaxy the sun still exists and our goal is to get back into orbit around it.

Deepak Chopra explains it this way:

“I” never goes. Only “I am this or that” goes. Ultimately, enlightenment is for you to always be grounded in "I," but the limited, "I am this or that," goes.

You had a sense of "I" when you were a baby. You had a sense of "I" when you were a teenager. You have a sense of "I" now. You'll have a sense of "I" when you are an old person. But, in each of these cases that sense of "I" will be identifying itself with a different person. The baby's not the person you're in now. You have a different body, different ego, different personality, different thoughts, and a different way of looking at the world.

The problem with trauma is the shock. Rather than changing gradually from a child to a teen, we change in an instant from powerful to powerless. Over the course of any trauma, lasting one day or over several years, we can all think of at least one moment in which we felt ourselves violated and so immediately altered for the worse.

But we are mutable beings, with free will – we do not have to remain stuck in this altered, sad, horrible state. We can choose to alter again, this time for the better. The question is, How? While the answer and the path vary for each of us, the core for all of us is the same:

In order to revamp ourselves, we need to get back to basics, to know ourselves again. But not our traumatized selves. We know those all too well! Instead, we need to pull aside the curtain of PTSD and see who’s huddling behind there. What is his or her desire? Knowing who we are has a lot to do with knowing what we want. Which has a lot to do with healing and moving on to live a joyful, productive life.

Desire is defined as:

To want strongly; the feeling that accompanies an unsatisfied state; hope: expect and wish; an inclination; a natural state of longing.

You have those feelings over a lot of things. This week, as part of the BRIDGE THE GAP healing process we’re going to focus on reclaiming your desire.

First, we turn our attention to what those desires are in the PTSD state.

Today, let’s flex your desire muscle by getting a clear picture of all of the PTSD desires you have. We all walk around with this summary wish: I want not to feel this way. But let’s flesh that out a little.

Make a list of what you want that is PTSD related. For example:

I want the past to let me go.
I want the nightmares to stop.
I want the flashbacks to end.
I want to sleep through the night.
I want to not be so anxious.

I know I haven’t tapped out your daily PTSD-related desires. Add 10 more ‘wants’ to this list. And then keep going! I used to teach creativity and writing. One of my favorite exercises with my students was to give them a prompt and a time limit and then let them just free flow their ideas. The first things that come out are at the top of your consciousness, but the really interesting things surface when you’ve tapped the easy stuff and then keep on going.

When you have some time today, sit down with paper and pen. At the top of the page write, ‘PTSD things I want to be rid of’. Then set a timer for 5 minutes and write all of the PTSD symptoms and experiences and thoughts you want to end, be rid of and eliminate. Don't worry about or check spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc. Do not edit your thoughts for brilliance or stupidity. There is no right or wrong here; there is only your voice on the page.

When the 5 minutes is up, take a highlighter and read through what you’ve written; highlight the desires that seem most important. This can be all or just a few.

Now, set the timer again and finish this sentence: ‘I want to be rid of these things because….’

It’s not only important to know what we want, but why we want it. Understanding ourselves deepens and supports our intentions, which helps us focus so they can be achieved.

We spend so much time silently suffering, suppressing our desires, tamping down our personalities just so we can cope. Today, let your personality stretch itself a little, give it some exercise. Freeing ourselves from PTSD means freeing ourselves from everything about it. Give those suppressions a voice. I can hear them; they’re calling you.

(photo: tyla’75)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

For Victims of Sexual Violence

While you're busy exercising your face, here's something else to smile about today: A great healing opportunity for victims of sexual violence.

You all remember my interview with rape and PTSD survivor, Kellie Greene, right? Well, I recently received an email about her advocacy group, Speaking Out About Rape (SOAR) .... I thought it might interest those of you who are dealing with the aftermath of sexual violence.

Hi Everyone,

SOAR® would like to extend an invitation to you for the upcoming SOAR SPA® (Something Positive Afterward®) retreat in Orlando, April 22 - 26, 2009.

SOAR SPA is a retreat for survivors of sexual violence designed to enhance the healing process by rejuvenating the mind, body, and spirit.

The program was featured in the April 2007 issue of SELF Magazine.

We hope you'll join us!

Blue skies,
Kellie Greene, Founder/Director
Speaking Out About Rape, Inc. (SOAR)
817-A Virginia Drive Orlando, FL 32803

To view SOARSPA info click here.