The odds of hitting your target go up dramatically when you aim at it. -Mal Pancoast
What does it actually mean to recover from PTSD? It means having peace in your heart and mind, where now there is some measure of pressured thinking and turmoil. It means noticing the beauty around you, where now you worry about danger around every corner. It means wrestling with the haunting memory until you win the fight. This could take years to accomplish.
As you figure out how to master that neuropsychological injury of trauma memory, four things get better a little at a time along the way.
First, trauma memory. That repetitive, sensory filled, haunting moment in time that got frozen in time. Without specific effort, trauma memory will replay indefinitely, through disturbing dreams and intrusive daytime flashbacks. Keeping silent about what happened is part of what keeps it going. Breaking that silence is a vital key to recovery from PTSD.
As you are able to open those memories by choice, recovery looks like this. You may find that nightmares become less intense. They start spacing apart, from a few times a week, to a few times a month, to a few times a year.
As you begin to choose the time and place to open trauma memory, daytime flashbacks or activations become opportunities to work that trauma memory out of your system. Like a knot in your back, that memory can be relieved. Also like a knot in your back, that memory can return. It takes practice, but over time, you can develop mastery over that memory. Nothing happens overnight, but this is how you know whether what you are doing is helping, or not.
Second, your ability to rest. We can only rest when we feel safe. Trauma memory leaks danger into every part of your world. This is not how we came into this world, fearing that the worst thing could happen at any moment. Before that trauma happened, you didn’t feel this way. The world seemed safe to you. You were not dumb then, and it is not dumb now to let yourself believe that safety is within your grasp. You have the power to create safety in your life by connecting with kind people and developing a meaningful way to spend your days.
Third, your ability to tolerate frustrations. When I listen to people talk about how trauma memory affects them, I’m reminded often of that scream meme genre. You know the one, where the meme starts peacefully and then suddenly comes the image and sound of someone screaming? People without trauma memory think that’s hysterical. People with trauma memory live with this every day, or many days in the week, or for periods when trauma memory is activated. Being on edge that something will activate a horrible memory contributes to low frustration tolerance, makes us predictably agitated. As you master that memory, you’ll be able to tolerate the noise of your kids, the annoying coworker, deadlines at work, chores at home, car repairs, and other ordinary stressors.
Fourth, your ability to connect with others. Other people are unpredictable. They can say or do something that upsets your precarious balance with your emotions. Avoiding people is not really a long term strategy. You think you’re moody around people? Try avoiding people. Moodiness gets worse that way. Finding a few of the right people, people who are accepting and nonjudgemental, is the key to reconnecting with your world.
It’ll be important to have someone around who wants you to unplug from PTSD and all its baggage. Because it is soooo important to find the right people to help you plan for recovery, here’s a little guideline we’ve put together on how to find your buddy back home.
Watch for our next blog about how to write about or talk about what happened in a way that could help loosen it’s hold.