Monday, March 23, 2009

PTSD Healing: Reaching Out To Family & Friends

Let’s think, for a moment, about what it’s like for those people who struggle to live, love, cope with and manage during our PTSD journey. I’ve written before about how difficult my PTSD experience was for my parents and brother. I was not nice. I was disconnected and removed. I was teary and depressed. I was furious and raging. I was starving myself in an effort to feel safe.

I was debilitated by extreme physical symptoms of psychological stress. I was in out and of doctor offices and hospitals for tests that led to erroneous and frightening diagnoses of maladies that we discovered later were purely caused by PTSD.

I was surviving but not thriving. I had lived through my trauma but was not even close to living a life that celebrated my survival. Instead, I descended down a black staircase and forced those who cared about me to watch me self-destruct.

Is this fair to those who stand by us? Is this the right way to honor those who don’t abandon us in our darkest hour? Is this the way to respect our own strength to survive, and the role our loved ones and friends are playing in helping us to get back on track?

If you had asked me this at the time I would have snarled, “This isn’t about them!”, or I would have dissolved in sobs about how I just couldn’t handle worrying about my family when I could barely hold myself together.

But we do need to think about them. They are the ones who did not have to survive trauma and whom we are now making slog through the muck anyway. We are traumatizing them with our behavior, and mostly they take it and defer to our pain and continue to walk the path with us despite how we treat them.

Survivors aren’t the only victims of trauma. Sure, we’re the main victims, but trauma is a big pond and the ripples are pretty strong.

In developing your ability to reach out this month, begin to think of those around you, and how your behavior impacts them. I never did this and I really should have because: If we think outside our own head for a moment and figure out how to better communicate with those who surround us, our healing can progress faster and our relationships can be maintained better. We want these people to stick around. We want to have friends and family when we are healed. We’d better think about that every once in a while.

It’s time, in your healing process, to begin reaching out to family and friends. To bridge the gap between themselves and you and your PTSD experience. One good way to do this is to explain to them what you feel and how you struggle.

The PTSD organization, Carrot of Hope, asked me to write an article that reaches out to friends and family of PTSDers. In response to their request I wrote ‘What I Wish My Family Had Known’ an article from the PTSD perspective that explains to those without PTSD what our internal struggle is and how they can help. In order to open the conversation with your friends and family, read this article together and relate your own experiences to my Top 10 things every family should understand about living with someone with PTSD.


Make your own list of the top 5 things you wish your family understood about your PTSD experience and behavior. Choose one or two or even three people to explain this to. Reaching out means finding clarity and sharing it with those around us. The more we do this the more we heal. The more others understand us the more they can give us the room and support to move toward wellness. The more we reach out the more we pave the way to ease the struggle within.

(Photo: Andrew Orange)

1 comment:

Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW said...

Lovely! I am always amazed at how when I go through a major life event the people who "show up" are not the ones who I thoght would. Part of staying connected and feeling balanced is being able to think about our support system and how to give back, even when we are feeling empty.