What if I don't do this right?
What if you do?
What if I can't get to sleep again?
What if you do?
What if he/she doesn't call?
What if they do?
What if I don't get this job, they don't like me, I don't get this done, have another nightmare, get triggered...
Forecasting a potential outcome is something that I got really good at in "managing" my post trauma response. I mean - it's one of the main characters in this play, right? Forecasting and planning ahead to avoid trigger situations in order to avoid the possibility of initiating another flashback, starting up the nightmares once they have finally stopped. The benchmark of the post trauma response.
But while this skill of avoiding the overwhelming sense of a loss of control was helpful to avoid the immediate sense of loss, fear, rage at the injustice of what we are experiencing at the time of the trauma situation - once we are beyond the long arm of that experience it becomes our nemesis.
By continuing to focus on avoiding triggers something else was happening - I was losing my life.
No- not the physical, biological me that clearly is present, but my LIFE.
I was missing the bright sunshine warming my face, the freshness of the spring rain. The coolness of the morning dew, the magnificent vastness of the night sky lit with millions of far away stars and planets that I was not daydreaming about because I was working so hard at staying safe and free of the pain of the past and thinking I was controlling my fears of the future.
I was missing the hugs and kisses of my children when they were small. Or the wet, sloppy kisses from my new puppy who didn't know what was bothering me, but knew only that I was not with her in the now.
I was missing the laughter, the joy, the excitement, the grief, the sadness, the sorrow.
I was missing my LIFE.
I was missing the full range of emotions everyday that makes life life.
The now, this moment - the only thing that truly exists. I was missing all of it.
I was so focused on managing and controlling my environment and everyone in it, anticipating what I would say or do next, keeping a watchful eye out to avoid any thought, any trigger of my senses that could cause me to experience an emotion - that I was in the end, avoiding all emotions.
Living in that place where my focus was on anticipating and avoiding anything from the next minute, hour, day, week or month that could "trigger" any emotion or stir up that feeling of helplessness and hopelessness that too often is the hallmark of trauma was preventing me from living my life in the now.
Living in that perpetual state of victimhood where I was over focused on controlling or avoiding sensitive situations was actually drawing out my distress and preventing me from entering the natural healing process following a serious loss.
It is a natural human response to shut down our emotions and go into "survival" mode when we are faced with a life threatening situation or to survive the daily struggles of growing up in an abusive or neglectful situation.
But as long as that continued to be my sole method of coping I was not able to move beyond surviving. I was unknowingly staying inside a prison to which the door would swing open at the precise time that I stopped holding it shut.
Knowledge is empowerment; information is the truth that set me free.
By learning about the symptoms of PTS that I was experiencing I became less afraid of them.
By learning how to not be afraid I was able to start learning and practicing new healthier ways of coping.
By learning new ways of coping I began to create the life I choose for myself and finally begin to put the past to rest.
By letting go of the bars of that prison door, the nightmare of living in a constant state of avoidance, I was able to push the door of that prison open and walk out.
I was able to begin to do the "hard work" of healing from trauma.
One step at a time I was beginning to break the chains that bound me to the past and find my freedom in today.
Hear more of my story on Blog Talk Radio with Michele Rosenthal of Heal My PTSD here.
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