Healing PTSD is a process. In my life trauma was buried deep, but its effects overwhelming and sent me to jail. Before I began my journey to recovery, I spent most of my life ill-equipped, undiagnosed, and absolutely oblivious of the trauma calling all of the shots in my life. For as long as I can remember, I was full of crippling anxiety and enslaved to fear. Like children of alcoholics, I turned to substances to numb my pain.
I grew up in a small town, outside of Atlanta, Georgia. My birth mother was an addict and absent from my life by the time I turned 2 years old. My father took me on his own and eventually met my stepmother. I was 5 years old when I was molested by a family member. I vividly remember talking with the school guidance counselor and eventually my family. To no avail, my painful confessions fell amongst deaf ears. My innocence was recklessly taken from me that day. If the adults in my life weren’t going to address the trauma I disclosed, then obviously it wasn’t worth discussing - or perhaps it was my fault all along.
I remember feeling inadequate from a very young age. I had deep-rooted trust issues that were eventually validated by my toxic relationship with my bi-polar stepmother. Somedays she was spontaneous and fun. Other days, I couldn’t breathe without some form of criticism spouting out of her mouth. The unpredictable environment and intermittent love, within my household, cultivated my fears of rejection, abandonment, and my desperate need to please. I was always on edge and I became the poster child of codependency. I felt like the “Walking Dead” - unable to be present, repeating traumatic behaviors, total dissociation, and emotionally dead. It wasn’t long before I found that drugs and alcohol never required much more than participation out of me. For the first time in my life, the racing thoughts, nightmares, panic attacks, and vulnerability escaped me. I was able to achieve a permanent state of dissociation through my addiction.
Trauma caused my substance use
Years passed, my disease progressed, and I couldn’t drink, swallow, or indulge in enough substances to numb my pain. Legal consequences caught up to me and grace met me in the form of utter desperation as I was detoxing on a cold jail cell floor. I was left with the option of accepting help or die by way of chemical suicide. I had a son, and at the time, he saved me. I didn’t love myself enough to embark on the journey to recovery but I did love him enough to give sobriety and healing a real shot. I will never forget the “Complex PTSD” diagnosis I received in treatment. Initially, I scoffed at the idea that I had any issue surpassing my self propelled substance abuse disorder.
Sobriety began my healing PTSD
A few months into my sobriety, I realized that drugs/alcohol were not my problem - they had been my solution. The more I was educated on CPTSD, the more glaring my disorder became. All of the symptoms of CPTSD, that I exhibited, had been seemingly necessary for my survival. I soon learned that without drugs and alcohol, I was still miserable. As therapy continued, I realized that the only way I could ever experience true freedom and happiness was to walk through my fear and face old traumas head-on. I will have 3 years sober this month and I live a life beyond my wildest dreams thanks to accepting the suggestions given by other people struggling with CPTSD. My sobriety - my life - has been absolutely revolutionized by implementing these practices into my life.
4 Tips For Healing PTSD That Worked For Me
Perception is everything. Studies have shown a direct correlation with gratitude and overall mental wellbeing. Specifically, a 2006 study found that Vietnam War Veterans cultivating higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of PTSD. Trauma causes fear and gratitude cultivates happiness and peace. I continue to write out a gratitude list every day - the same way I have since I first got sober. Reflecting upon my day, I write out a gratitude list and send it over, via group text, to the most important women in my life. I’ve noticed the immediate perception shift that happens when I’m reading through the multitude of gratitude lists. When I fill my head with positive thoughts, there is little room for my intrusive traumatic memories of the past. Over time, cultivating gratitude has become a habit in which I notice and appreciate the good things in life rather than obsessing over painful memories.
2. Practice Mindfulness Meditation
We feel the most alive when we are radically present in the moment. For many of us - struggling with PTSD - we spend much of our lives not noticing those moments in our lives. I once heard someone say “I live my life forward and understand it backward.” This concept resonates with me. I have always lived in anxiety about the future and looking back into the past, trying to access how I wish I would’ve done things differently. The internal chatter many of us face is intrusive and disruptive to any attempt at practice mindfulness. The beauty of trauma education and the byproduct of practical application is learning new healthy coping skills. I remember sitting in sessions and experiencing total depersonalization. I would tell my therapist exactly how I was feeling, at that moment, and immediately she would walk me through exercising healthy coping skills. I learned how to ground myself when I felt like I was dissociating and losing touch with the world around me. We would start by bringing awareness to my breath, then my feet, which would shift my focus entirely. Mindful Meditation has enhanced my sobriety and continues to mitigate the symptoms of my CPTSD.
3.Connect With Nature
The Japanese expression Shinrin-yoku is a term that means "taking in the forest atmosphere" or "forest bathing." This has become a cornerstone in preventative healthcare and healing in Japanese culture. Many scientific studies have proven the innumerable amount of benefits spending time in the forest has on your overall emotional state. In early recovery, I found myself waking up with the sun and basking in the warmth along with the smell of fresh salty air. Starting my day, with nature, reminded me of how small I am in this vast world and cultivated a deep appreciation for the beautiful new world around me. When I continue to take time to be present in the moment, I find that my anxieties seem to subside. Whether it’s venturing to your local park and indulging in the texture of the freshly cut grass or simply going for a walk on the beach - the best way to soothe a troubled heart and messy head is by connecting with nature.
4. Participate in Trauma Therapy
Desperate for relief, I began weekly sessions of trauma therapy. I was finally able to divulge the deepest, darkest painful secrets of my past. I began to trust again. I was offered a totally different perspective and upon taking action I was able to relinquish myself of playing the victim. The truth is, underneath all of the drugs and alcohol, was a scared little girl that never felt good enough. While treating my addiction, I was forced to take a look at the physical, mental, and spiritual maladies that beseeched me. A major part of my transformation in trauma therapy came from exploring my history with trauma. As we began looking at the current traumatic experiences I was facing, it was revealed to me that each instance was directly connected to an unhealed traumatic experience from my childhood. It was cathartic in nature - a spiritual experience of sorts. My unhealthy, toxic survival strategies were no longer serving me and it was suggested I begin to start the work on healing the childhood trauma that plagued me. The more my therapist walked through the ‘minefield’ of my memories with me, the more I was able to understand why I responded the way I do. This catapulted me into the driver’s seat of my own life. I encourage anyone struggling with any form of PTSD - or anyone who has experienced any trauma - to seek out trauma therapy. My recovery was absolutely revolutionized through this process.