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)

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