Friday, March 27, 2009

PTSD Healing: Why Every PTSDer Needs To Make Some New Friends

Congratulations! Today you are officially ¼ through the year long BRIDGE THE GAP healing workshop, which means you are three months closer to achieving your goal for healing PTSD. We are all individual in our healing paths, so you may have 3 months or 3 more years to go on your journey to becoming PTSD-free, but by using the BTG workshop to supplement your other therapeutic activities you are giving your healing journey a self-empowered foundation. Very cool. And also, very effective.

Part of healing means taking back the power that trauma and PTSD have stripped from us. No one can do this; we must do it for ourselves. The BTG series of posts is designed to help you construct a post-trauma identity that will confidently and with renewed strength and courage support your healing process.

This month we’ve been focused on Healing Resolution #3: I WILL REACH OUT.

This included:

1 – Learning to let your voice be heard

2 – Joining the survivor crowd

3 – How to choose a good online support group

4 – The 5Ws of reaching out

5 – Establishing emotional boundaries

6 – How to find a good offline support group

7 – How to reach out to family and friends

8 – The benefits of participating in a group activity

There is one more aspect of reaching out I’d like to cover before we leave this topic: The value of making new friends outside of the survivor community.

When I first began to construct my post-trauma identity I decided to pursue my joy of dance. I joined a local studio and went to classes every night of the week. At the studio I was My New Self. I did not speak about PTSD, trauma or my struggle to heal. I acted as I wanted and hoped to become. No one who met me knew anything about my past at all. To the other dancers I was just a woman who wanted to learn salsa, Argentine tango, West Coast swing, etc. People related to me only in the present moment, as if I was just another ‘normal’ person on the dance floor as if that were true, that’s exactly who I was. We learn things by repetition; we can relearn who we are this way, too. Every night in class I practiced dance steps and also: how to develop a self that had no PTSD strings attached. I was in the moment, of the moment, loving the moment.

This break from my PTSD identity was enormously liberating. I could be whomever I chose. I wasn’t a survivor, I was a dancer. I wasn’t struggling with PTSD, I was learning to cha-cha. I took these classes (and the socializing I did before, during and after them) as time to focus on the woman I wanted to become: a friendly, outgoing, in-the-moment person who was not constantly focused on my past.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I became that woman overnight. Nor does it mean that my past no longer existed. But by engaging in an activity that allowed me to feel joy and that distracted me from my pain – and one that allowed me to be perceived by others as something other than ‘survivor’ – I was able to take a short break every night from the overwhelming PTSD experience. This was good for me. I think it would be good for you, too. We focus on our pain a lot; we need to balance that with something other positive activity.

I hear you thinking I’ve lost my mind, grumbling that I don’t know your PTSD experience or I wouldn’t suggest this.

But that would be an incorrect assumption.

I do know. I was the biggest fan of ‘Leave me alone!’, ‘I don’t want to see anybody!’, and ‘I don’t want to talk to anyone!’ Unfortunately, these aren’t really healing attitudes.

It’s time to begin to break out of the PTSD mold. Inside of it we are not the most social animals, but we can develop that sort of behavior. It doesn’t have to be instinctual. We can condition ourselves to develop this sort of healing action. The benefits are too immense for us to overlook how getting outside of our PTSD selves:

1 – gives us a much-needed break from the rhetoric in our own heads

2 – allows us to discover what it feels like to be taken for face value

3 – puts us around other people whose energy is not struggling oriented

4 – reminds and shows us that we have not lost the ability to interact (even though PTSD can make us feel it is impossible and even though the first couple of interactions may not go perfectly)

5 – in the best case scenario puts us in contact with people whose presence is uplifting, energizing and inspirational (i.e. the dance community is full of people laughing, smiling and having a good time. Being around this – even on days my PTSD symptoms made me feel like crawling under the bed – it was impossible for it not to rub off on me in some way.)

We deserve to be happy, unhaunted, evolving, adventurous and experimenting people. It’s been 2 years since I entered the dance community. Since then I’ve constructed my post-trauma identity around the experience of joy, made some terrific friends, fallen in love with my dance partner, and become such an accomplished dancer I'm regularly asked to teach, perform and compete (which means I have a new marketable skill - always a plus in this economy! You never know where experimental healing can take you). Getting outside of my own head opened up a whole new world, one I could never have expected when, deep into my PTSD experience, I entered the studio for the first time.

Reaching out and making new friends can be like a breath of fresh air for PTSD healing. Get out there and breathe deeply. Who knows, you might just get a joy/normal/relaxation contact high. Now, wouldn’t that be nice?


Make a list of 5 things you like to do. Play tennis? Like to quilt? Want to hone your drawing skills? Like to take photographs? Think about things you like to do that bring you a sense of pleasure and/or accomplishment.

Examine the list – which activity do you most want to do today?

Pick up the phone book, get online, look at your local paper: Where can you go to do this activity?

Make a plan to go to one thing at least one time in the next one week. Healing is about small steps, but we can travel great distances that way.

What outside-the-range of PTSD activities do you think allow PTSDers to get out of their heads for a little while? Leave a comment or shoot me an email.

(Photo: P Kinski)


Anonymous said...

I've done this many times and have found it very helpful.

With a new group of people you can choose who you are and choose what aspects of yourself to manifest and takes away some excuses that you can use.

I recently received a party invite from one of my new friends. I considered that to be a minor achievement in rebuilding my life.

Michele Rosenthal said...

@Anonymous -- Minor? I think that's major!! It proves to us that we can evolve and our situation can change; we are not doomed to be PTSD isolated forever.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I love hearing about others who are on the healing path and making progress. And I love, also, the confirmation that I'm not the only one who thinks healing is possible and rebuilding our lives is within our control.

There is hope. The more we all share our experiences on the positive side the more we can learn and heal.

Anonymous said...

It's sort of building mental fitness. Over time, slowly drawing in resources that we *can* use to be and not just to survive.

Yoga and kick boxing have been great for me. Empowering and balancing. Core stuff when it comes to PTSD, no?

Michele Rosenthal said...

@CatKid - Great ideas! I loved pilates for building strength and a new trust in my body. And of course, now I dance, dance, dance.... keeps the mind/body conenction very strong and is also a great workout!

You're so right, too, about how we draw in things over a period of time, slowly building a new, post-trauma identity little by little until we are no longer building but being.

LadyLeslie said...

I LOVE this blog post. I almost cried.

I joined a belly dancing class with my friend. She, her husband, and my husband had to twist my arm, beg, plead, and rationalize with me until I finally agreed to go . . .

And I feel so GOOD about it. I feel so GOOD to be physical, release endorphins, exist outside my home, outside the position of motherhood, away from all my worries.

It feels so GOOD to be doing something fun, because you just CAN'T feel helpless when you're grooving to the music, smiling, and laughing.

I threw myself into teaching and advocacy as well, and I really enjoy these things that have acted as my lifeline when all else seemed to be crumbling.

Thanks for writing this. I needed to see this today, and there's a belly dancing class waiting for me tonight! ^__^

Michele Rosenthal said...

@LadyLeslie - I write for people like you!! If you've read the 'dance' label you know how much dancing and music has meant in my recovery. I still do dance 4 nights a week -- NOTHING is as wonderful as a dance high!

I hope to hear more from you... and, perhaps, a guest post about the healing properties/experience of learning to belly dance???