Friday, February 27, 2009

PTSD Healing: The Value of Talking

We’re coming to the end of the second month of the BRIDGE THE GAP healing workshop. In January we explored the idea of creating the right intention for healing. In February we’ve been looking at the importance of learning to speak about our trauma. Today, take a breather from all the work you’ve been doing to heal and let it settle. Sometimes, it’s good to step away and let the ideas, thoughts, beliefs and expectations work their way into their proper places in our minds.

Yesterday, I spoke about PTSD to a group of survivors and caregivers at a local hospital. A large part of the discussion came to revolve around the idea of how survivors see themselves after their trauma. One cancer survivor said that he was having trouble reconciling how he saw himself (as weak) after his cancer struggle versus how his colleagues viewed him in recovery (as strong). This is another value of speaking: in addition to finding the words to express our trauma, we also begin to find words to express what we’re thinking and feeling about it. When we can tell people what we’re struggling with we can work through the ideas so that we begin to see things in a better, more healthy way. By the end of the discussion this man began to see how others might perceive his recovery as strong even though he himself knows that he had weak moments. Hopefully, as he goes through the next few days he'll revise his own opinion of himself and see the strength his recovery represents.

There’s a balance to be found in perceptions; talking helps us find it. Through talking we learn to reperceive events. This is incredibly helpful in healing, especially because so often our perceptions – muddled by emotion – are incorrect. I’ll give you another example:

There was a moment during my trauma when I felt myself leave my body. There was a tunnel ringed with white light. I was moving toward it. In the midst of all my pain it felt GOOD! I wanted to go there and get lost in it. This memory, both incredibly intense and also fuzzy around the edges, haunted me for years. I thought about it constantly, strove to find that peace again, and wished more than anything that I could have remained in that other place. I knew myself there, I recognized myself; back here in the normal world I did not recognize myself at all.

After my PTSD diagnosis I did a lot of research to understand what was happening to me post-trauma. In all of that research I came across the idea of dissociation. I didn’t fully understand the concept, so I found Holly, a trauma therapist, to sit down with. I interviewed her about dissociation. I grilled her for all of its meanings and implications. I learned that dissociation is what the psyche does to preserve itself when an experience threatens to overwhelm it. Ultimately, our discussion caused me to learn these very important things:

1 - Part of my PTSD was struggling with recurring dissociative states of depersonalization and derealization. I needed to address these things in order to heal.

2 - I’d been looking at that tunnel memory all wrong. It was not supposed to be life-defining; it was supposed to be life-preserving.

3 - Instead of wanting to get back to that out of body experience and live there, I should respect the intelligence of my psyche and appreciate how it worked to support me in a traumatic moment.

4 - I should honor that some deep part of me knew what needed to be done and when, but also understand dissociative states are not ones in which I am meant to live, nor are my memories supposed to define my future.

5 - I’d been chasing (and chased by) a memory that was supposed to be a brief moment in time, but my own thoughts and emotions had created it into The Meaning of Time.

6 - My lack of understanding was hindering my healing.

Geez, that’s a lot to learn just from talking about one thing! The fact is though, once this misperception was corrected my healing moved to a new place. Talking can do this: it can remove our inaccurate perceptions and correct our journey so that we can heal.

Just another reason to consider letting the words flow. You might actually heal when you do. Talking leads to understanding leads to healing. Now, wouldn’t that be worth talking about??

Have you experienced something similar to this, in your trauma or healing? Leave a comment or shoot me an email.

(photo: PhOtOnQuAntiQuE)


Anonymous said...

Wow how wonderful it is to be in the healing process. It just so happens that in my college studies this week we covered PTSD and depersonalization and disassociation in just a few days. (and I am working on the piece in my painting class about the fear involved with PTSD!- that is alot for one week!)
My favorite movie is "50 First Dates", and I not watched it for several years. I have watched it several times this week. I can relate very much to the character Drew Barrymore plays in this movie. (she ends up being an artist in residence or art therapist working with brain injury patients, if someone has not seen my favorite movie yet!)
So anyway, while I was bleeding to death while my son was being born, I did experience disassociation...I was off to the left of my experience. Being a nurse for so many yrs. I knew that my situation was critical...I knew everything they were saying about my condition so I simply "went away". I was terrified I would never even get the chance to even hold my son. I have been so emotionally numb for so long (except for "trigger's" of course).
So with all the "forces" coming at me this week (my abnormal psych class, my painting class, my favorite movie) the best description that I can give to you is "the scream" Lucy lets out upon discovering the details of her near death experience (when she is on the boat dock). It is something I have kept at bay for so long. Lucy screams "Why!". My answer is the same as yours Michelle, to help others who are going through surviving from a tramatic incident.

Michele Rosenthal said...

@ kelli ......

i couldn't have said it better myself.