Monday, February 23, 2009

PTSD Healing: Prepare To Speak Part 1

In his book Youth and Identity Erik Erikson states, “… the ‘I’ is all-conscious… we are truly conscious only insofar as we can say I and mean it.” Can you say ‘I’ and mean it??

In order to survive the aftermath of my trauma, ‘I’ was a word that conjured too much fear and confusion for me to say. What slowly emerged as my post-trauma self was a girl who denied everything, beginning with the need or right to speak and extending to everything that might have been good or pleasurable. Joy was denied. And happiness. Religion. Trust. Faith. Medicine. Love. I believed in nothing, not peace or gladness. Neither glory nor pride. Everything became suspect. Everything became a potential trap into which I might fall and the result would be an overwhelming blight of emotion, an empty vortex of disillusionment, a catastrophic event.

Nothing seemed safe, so I never achieved a major step of the healing process: I didn’t “acknowledge the harm … [of] experience and discharge … feelings of grief, anger and despair.” Fear ruled me, and regardless of how often my mother offered to talk (which she did since the day of my hospital release) regardless of how often she suggested I might feel better if I did, I raged in anger at the idea until she, too, fell silent. And so, rather than move through denial and depression and anger toward a new understanding of myself, over the years I sank deeper into a definition against rather than of the new 'I'. Plus, I sank deeper into an internal silence until finally, there was no voice at all.

I was 13 when my trauma occurred. I was 17 when I first spoke about it. In the intervening 4 years I couldn’t come anywhere near the subject.

And then something broke inside of me and what gushed out one impromptu day was something I don’t even remember. All I remember was that my mother and I were out to lunch and the next thing I knew I was sobbing and she was holding my hand and it was the first time I admitted to myself that I was struggling with the past.

It would be another 20 years before I realized I could be healed; before I made the choice to become healed and do whatever it takes to make that be so.

What I do vividly remember from that day with my mother, as we lunched at a local diner and then drove to New York City for the afternoon, was the huge feeling of release. The feeling that I was no longer carrying around a secret – from myself and everyone else. It would be years before I spoke about it again, but I still remember the tremendous feeling of a weight being lifted. And also, my surprise that it could be lifted just by my attempting to talk.

For the past 3 weeks we’ve been building up to the moment that you share your trauma with someone else. Over the weekend, I posted the voices of other survivors who are finding the words. Now, it’s your turn.


Your mission this week is to determine one family member, friend, or professional practitioner with whom to share your story. Make a list of the possible candidates in each area.

Carry the list with you; refer to it during the day. If you do not immediately know whom you wish to open up to, let your inner voice guide the way. When you randomly look at the list you will feel a reaction to the names on it. Which name has a positive reaction associated with it?

[Note: If you have already accomplished this step of speaking to family, friend and practitioner, your focus should be on whom you will tell the secrets you still keep. I went through years of therapy without admitting to my therapist what the real driving force was behind my PTSD. I talked about the horror of my illness, but I didn’t mention my continual flashbacks about leaving my body or how those flashbacks were driving the day to day life I was trying to lead. When I finally did tell him this, it brought me to a new level of healing. We cannot fully heal if we keep secrets. Now’s the time for you to get comfortable with the idea of letting out the last bits of information you’ve kept to yourself.]

Some points to think about:

1- The goal is not to go around telling our suffering to unspecified people who may or may not want to hear it. The plan is to reach out appropriately by developing the ability to have a dialogue with a support network: specifically chosen family, friends and practitioners.

2- Anyone to whom we tell the story should be in the position to have chosen to hear it and indicate how much detail he/she desires to know. Be up front about the nature of what you wish to share.

3 - In choosing to whom you will talk, consider the qualities that person possesses. For example, is he/she kind, empathetic, compassionate, respectful, understanding, supportive? You do not need to share with someone who does not have the characteristics to understand the courage it takes to do what you’re doing, and the conscience to know what the right response will be.

4 – Do not feel shy about your right to speak. One of the effects of PTSD is our detachment from the world. This is a major impediment to healing. If we are suffering without support, then telling the story is not a self-indulgence; it is a necessity. Healing cannot occur if we are all alone with our thoughts.

(photo:Elephant Soap)

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