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)

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