Thursday, March 19, 2009

Meandering Michele's Mind: Have You Ever Taken A PTSD Vacation?

I’m on my way to Miami on business. Just saying that makes me stop, take a look around and breathe an elated sigh of relief. Miami!

I lived the first ½ of my life in New York, and ½ of that in New York City itself. And then one day – I just needed to get the hell out. I was so physically debilitated by PTSD, and so psychologically haunted by living just a mile south of where my trauma occurred that something in me snapped. And just like that I threw away the life I had built and went from Manhattan to a small beach town in South Florida.

I didn’t cross the Mason-Dixon line alone. I convinced my parents and brother to come with me, so the move wasn’t taking me to a place of complete isolation, but still, it was a big step; one I thought would get rid of the parasites (those pesky unintegrated memories) once and for all.

Unfortunately, you don’t shed your past across state lines. Like your shadow, it follows you everywhere and after the initial high of thinking I had escaped I came crashing back to a very sandy reality: I was a survivor. PTSD was me. Relocation and the resulting temporary lifting of PTSD symptoms evolved into everything coming back full force.

The benefit of moving, though, was that I had a whole new state, city, town – beach! – to distract and support me during healing. Things got worse (much, much worse) before they got better, but being in a new environment allowed me to heal without being constantly triggered. The new location gave me a sense of adventure that was invigorating and allowed me to focus on the business of living a new life while I tried to get the old one to slip away. The new location made me feel like I could begin again; I could construct a new identity – a post-trauma identity – that was just waiting for me to conjure and design it.

It took 3 years, but I did finally construct that new identity and ultimately heal from PTSD. And now, I’m off to Miami for some business on South Beach, and then a little nightlife. Salsa, anyone?

Today, what’s meandering through my mind is the question of how many of you have used relocation to progress PTSD healing, and how well it worked.

Please share your experience/experiment with me and the other readers. If we all chip in what we’ve learned more people will heal faster!

(Photo: kleerteam)


Marj aka Thriver said...

I had a similar experience with moving to Colorado 10 years ago. Things got worse before they got better, but at least I was not longer in the state where my abuse occurred and I felt less triggered and afraid. The awesome natural beauty of my new home state is also quite healing!

Have a great trip!

Michele Rosenthal said...

@Marj - I feel the same way about the natural beauty of Florida! I live 10 minutes from the beach and am on it every day. I think there's something very grounding and soothing about interacting with nature (well, we all know that!) and for healing that can be a really helpful practice. If it's just a part of where you live, even better b/c then you don't have to try to find it or schedule the time.