Combat Veterans and Fireworks

33-1196545384The neighborhood where I live has its own Facebook page where people post announcements and searches for lost cats. Last year, about this time, a post appeared from a neighbor who said he was an Iraq War veteran. Fireworks triggered his PTSD, he said, so could we please refrain from shooting them off?

By the time I saw this request, many had already commented, saying thank you for your service and, no, of course they wouldn’t shoot off fireworks if it bothered him so much. I wasn’t planning on shooting off fireworks anyway, so I had no problem complying with his request, but I did want to write into the comment section and ask if he had competent mental health care. I was concerned he didn’t. Continue reading

Cleaning the Closet

Old Posts

We are certain to encounter the past.

We are confronted with it if we go back to the old homestead, step in through our childhood door, and walk into our early days. We face it if we unpack memories along with the ornaments for the Christmas tree. Either we choose to spend time the past, or it is guaranteed to call on us. Continue reading

The Road to Reconciliation: How to Re-Traumatize Yourself

First, a bad thing happens. Rape, murder, combat, abuse. You don’t have a lot of control over it. That’s the point. Something happens way, way out of your control. You barely make it. Now you’re left with the memories. That’s the trauma.

Second, the memories come up. You don’t have a lot of control over them, either. They come up when you come across something you associate with the trauma. A plastic bag on the highway that looks as if it may be an IED. A dark alley like where you witnessed the murder. A program on TV too similar to the incident. I knew someone who had a hard time every Saturday throughout her adulthood because, when she was a kid, her step-father would creep into her room Saturday nights. You find yourself caught up in the memory and start feeling as though it’s happening all over again. It’s like a trance you are in, a spell you are under.

You’ve learned to do things that’ll break the spell. You found a dramatic action will do it, the more outrageous, the better. It has to be extreme enough to compete and overpower that memory. You’ve got to drive fast, run hard, take a risk, get a good, stiff drink, or fuck the living daylights out of a stranger. You pick a fight, get some blow, or find a high, high place, hang your toes off, and flirt with death. Maybe, you don’t go quite that far. Maybe you just go over the incident, again and again. Maybe you feel everything you had been feeling. Maybe you reenlist and return to the war zone, find another abusive man, or return to the old one, one more time. Maybe you blame yourself for what was out of your control. Maybe you figure you deserved it.

Congratulations, you’ve just re-traumatized yourself.

It gets to be that the original trauma is nothing; it’s just the beginning. The bulk of the injury occurs over the years afterwards. If, for instance, you were raped while walking through your college campus, that, in itself, is an evil thing. But, if for years afterwards, every time it comes up in your mind, you feel terrible, then you are not only traumatized, but re-traumatized. If you can’t have sex with your husband because you feel the shame and the terror of that rape, then you are not only traumatized, but re-traumatized every time you try to have sex. If you cannot be reminded of it without getting blind drunk, driving recklessly, shoplifting, yelling at your kids, or doing something regrettable, just to break the spell, you are not only traumatized, but re-traumatized. If you watch Law and Order – SVU till you’re numb, go to the scene of the crime, confront the rapist, sleep with a hundred men just to get over it, but feel that terror all over again, you are not only traumatized, but re-traumatized. It gets to be that the original trauma is just a small part of the pain you feel.

If you go to a therapist to get treatment for PTSD and tell the story, only to fall again into that pit of terror, you are not only traumatized, but re-traumatized.

It seems as if you can never get past it. It seems that every effort to straighten out the mess only ensnares you more thoroughly. It seems as though people are right when they try to deny it ever happened and avoid anything associated with it.

However, you can get past it. PTSD is one of the most readily treatable conditions there are. Plenty of people get past it. ONE STEP AT A TIME.

The first step is not to tell your story. Don’t go into your therapist’s office and get into the whole thing all at once without first considering what will happen when you are done. Oh, you have to say a little bit about it, just so your therapist knows the issue is there, but don’t go into detail. Talk first about what happens when the issue comes up; how have you coped with it so far.

For example, many traumatized people will turn to alcohol and drugs as a way to cope with their trauma. But, if you’re going to need a stiff drink or to shoot up after leaving your therapist’s office, then nothing will be gained. You will only have succeeded in re-traumatizing yourself by adding one more drink you don’t need, one more relapse to the series of problems associated with this trauma.

Therefore, the first step is to take a look at the ways you have been re-traumatized, not traumatized, and get control over that. Let’s be sure what your reaction will be to dealing with the trauma before we try to deal with it.

The second step is to tell your story, but maybe no second step will be necessary. It may never be essential that you go over the original injury. It’s not like you’re going to change what happened, anyway; and it’s not like you were responsible. What you want to change is how you respond to the triggers. That’s something you can change. In the case of the woman raped on her college campus, she probably wants to be able to watch Law and Order without freaking out. She wants to be able to have sex with her husband, be free of nightmares, and see her daughter off to college. She doesn’t want to have the need for all those crazy, dangerous, unhealthy behaviors that she used to turn to in order to break the spell. Really, all the important stuff is in step one. It’s essential to end the re-traumatization.

By the time you get to step two, you may want to tell your story, anyway; if only because now you can. You are no longer silenced. You can speak out, testify, warn others, and join with those who’ve had the same experience. You no longer have to be alone with the secret because there is no longer the risk of re-traumatization.

If you take step two and tell your story, then tell it in a place, at a time, and with a person who can contain it. You’ll want to be able to leave the room in better shape than when you walked in. You let some feelings out as you tell the story; you may not be able to contain them within you, but we want to keep them contained in the room.

When you are done telling the story, the story is told. You, at last, may have been able to fit the pieces together in a way you haven’t been able to fit them before. You couldn’t complete the story because you were getting re-traumatized. The hurt would start all over again, so you had to drop it. This left it unfinished and scattered in pieces all over. When you end the re-traumatization, it becomes a story and not just fragments, jagged pieces of memory that don’t seem to fit together.

Step three? Step three is up to you. Step three is living your life as you want to live it. Something awful still happened. You still have a memory, but it doesn’t matter as much. You no longer are getting re-traumatized, you no longer have to bear a secret, unless you chose to, and the story is complete. You’ve reached the end of trauma. Soon comes personal peace and maybe, if the offender is willing and able, reconciliation.

How to Re-Traumatize Yourself

First, a bad thing happens. Rape, murder, combat, abuse. You don’t have a lot of control over it. That’s the point. Something happens way, way out of your control. You barely make it. Now you’re left with the memories. That’s the trauma.

Second, the memories come up. You don’t have a lot of control over them, either. They come up when you come across something you associate with the trauma. A plastic bag on the highway that looks as if it may be an IED. A dark alley like where you witnessed the murder. A program on TV too similar to the incident. I knew someone who had a hard time every Saturday throughout her adulthood because, when she was a kid, her step-father would creep into her room Saturday nights. You find yourself caught up in the memory and start feeling as though it was happening all over again. It’s like a trance you are in, a spell you are under.

You’ve learned to do things that’ll break the spell. You found a dramatic action will do it, the more outrageous, the better. It has to be extreme enough to compete and overpower that memory. You’ve got to drive fast, run hard, take a risk, get a good, stiff drink, or fuck the living daylights out of a stranger. You pick a fight, get some blow, or find a high, high place, hang your toes off, and flirt with death. Maybe, you don’t go quite that far. Maybe you just go over the incident, again and again. Maybe you feel everything you had been feeling. Maybe you reenlist and return to the war zone, find another abusive man, or return to the old one, one more time. Maybe you blame yourself for what was out of your control. Maybe you figure you deserved it.

Congratulations, you’ve just re-traumatized yourself.

It gets to be that the original trauma is nothing; it’s just the beginning. The bulk of the injury occurs over the years afterwards. If, for instance, you were raped while walking through your college campus, that, in itself, is an evil thing. But, if for years afterwards, every time it comes up in your mind, you feel terrible, then you are not only traumatized, but re-traumatized. If you can’t have sex with your husband because you feel the shame and the terror of that rape, then you are not only traumatized, but re-traumatized every time you try to have sex. If you cannot be reminded of it without getting blind drunk, driving recklessly, shoplifting, yelling at your kids or doing something regrettable, just to break the spell, you are not only traumatized, but re-traumatized. If you watch Law and Order – SVU, go to the scene of the crime, confront the rapist, sleep with a hundred men just to get over it, but feel that terror all over again, you are not only traumatized, but re-traumatized. It gets to be that the original trauma is just a small part of the pain you feel.

If you go to a therapist to get treatment for PTSD and tell the story, only to fall again into that pit of terror, you are not only traumatized, but re-traumatized.

It seems as if you can never get past it. It seems that every effort to straighten out the mess only ensnares you more thoroughly. It seems as though people are right when they try to deny it ever happened and avoid anything associated with it.

However, you can get past it. PTSD is one of the most readily treatable conditions there are. Plenty of people get past it. ONE – STEP – AT – A – TIME.

The first step is not to tell your story. Don’t go into your therapist’s office and get into the whole thing all at once without first considering what will happen when you are done. Oh, you have to say a little bit about it, just so your therapist knows the issue is there, but don’t go into detail. Talk first about what happens when the issue comes up; how have you coped with it so far.

For example, many traumatized people will turn to alcohol and drugs as a way to cope with their trauma. But, if you’re going to need a stiff drink or to shoot up after leaving your therapist’s office, then nothing will be gained. You will only have succeeded in re-traumatizing yourself by adding one more drink you don’t need, one more relapse to the series of problems associated with this trauma.

Therefore, the first step is to take a look at the ways you have been re-traumatized, not traumatized, and get control over that. Let’s be sure what your reaction will be to dealing with the trauma before we try to deal with it.

The second step is to tell your story, but maybe no second step will be necessary. It may never be essential that you go over the original injury. It’s not like you’re going to change what happened, anyway; and it’s not like you were responsible. What you want to change is how you respond to the triggers. That’s something you can change. In the case of the woman raped on her college campus, she probably wants to be able to watch Law and Order without freaking out. She wants to be able to have sex with her husband, be free of nightmares, visit her old college, and see her daughter off to college. She doesn’t want to have the need for all those crazy, dangerous, unhealthy behaviors that she used to turn to in order to break the spell. Really, all the important stuff is in step one. It’s essential to end the re-traumatization.

By the time you get to step two, you may want to tell your story, anyway; if only because now you can. You are no longer silenced. You can speak out, testify, warn others, and join with those who’ve had the same experience. You no longer have to be alone with the secret because there is no longer the risk of re-traumatization.

If you take step two and tell your story, then tell it in a place, at a time, and with a person who can contain it. You’ll want to be able to leave the room in better shape than when you walked in. You let some feelings out as you tell the story; you may not be able to contain them within you, but we want to keep them contained in the room.

When you are done telling the story, the story is told. You, at last, may have been able to fit the pieces together in a way you haven’t been able to fit them before. You couldn’t complete the story because you were getting re-traumatized. The hurt would start all over again, so you had to drop it. This left it unfinished and scattered in pieces all over. When you end the re-traumatization, it becomes a story and not just fragments, jagged pieces of memory that poke you all over.

Step three? Step three is up to you. Step three is living your life as you want to live it. Something awful still happened. You still have a memory, but it doesn’t matter as much. You no longer are getting re-traumatized, you no longer have to bear a secret, unless you chose to, and the story is complete. You’ve reached the end of trauma.

The Shrink’s Links: Sam Baker

Bringing you the best of mental health every week.

cat on computer
This week’s shrink’s link is to a musician:

Sam Baker

Baker was in a train in Peru when a terrorist’s bomb blew it up. What followed was years of recovery. If you have experienced trauma  and don’t have the words to describe your pain, he might.

 

 

Grounding

So, you’re anxious. It happens. There are basically two things to do with anxiety. You can face it or avoid it. Avoiding it is often the sensible thing to do if it’s a thing you are not likely to encounter very often; like snakes, for instance. I’m afraid of snakes. If I got a job as a snake charmer, I would have to do something about it; otherwise, I just avoid them.

Now, if I did become a snake charmer, I would have to face my anxiety. I wouldn’t just go and grab the first snake I found and say, go ahead bite me, I dare you. No, that freaks me out just to write about it. A better method would be face my fear systematically, little by little, in circumstances in which I was likely to be successful. And, and this is most important, I would keep myself grounded.

When you are grounded, you are most alert, yet calm and in control. You can get grounded before you step into a difficult situation and it will help you keep your wits about you. If you’re already in a difficult situation, you can ground then, too. If you just left the hard situation and your nerves are still jangled, ground and you will begin to settle down. You can ground anytime, anyplace, anywhere, and no one has to know. Grounding puts healthy distance between you and negative feelings.

No, grounding is not the same as relaxing, being cool, or mellowing out. It’s not a form of meditation. It’s getting a grip on the obvious, that’s all. The general idea is to get out of your head, at least the part of your head that’s like a broken record. It’s a little like breaking a spell.

If you know how to ground, you don’t need that stiff drink, or that pill, or that cigarette, reefer, or that bag of dope. If you know how to ground, you can go anywhere, do anything, and deal with anyone, within reason.

Here’s a few general tips on grounding:

  • If you get a chance, rate your anxiety on a 10 point scale, both before and after you ground.
  • This is not the time to get in touch with your feelings. Keep your eyes open, turn on the lights, and look around you.
  • No blowing off steam or venting. The idea is to step away from negative feelings, not work them up to a lather.
  • Stay neutral. Don’t make judgments, good or bad. If the walls are green, don’t say they’re puke green, just say they’re green. Don’t say that snake is fearsome, it’s just a snake.
  • Practice grounding as often as possible, even when you don’t need it, till it becomes automatic.
  • Start grounding early, before things get really bad, but later is better than never.
  • When a method of grounding works, it works in less than a minute. If the method you try at first doesn’t work that quickly, move on and try another method right away. Continue until it works.

How to Ground- Mental Methods

  • Describe your environment in detail using neutral words. “The walls are blue, there are five red chairs, there’s fifteen photos on the wall….” Note objects, sounds, textures, colors, smells, shapes, numbers, and temperature.
  • Play a categories game with yourself. Name all the vegetables you can think of, breeds of dogs, states that begin with the letter N, baseball teams, rock anthems, presidents, impressionist artists, etc.
  • Describe an everyday activity in detail, like a dish you cook, your bedtime routine, how to run a bath, etc.
  • Imagine skating away from your suffering, changing the channel to a better show, picking a new book off the shelf, building a fence between you and pain.
  • Declare yourself. “My name is ____. The date is ____, it is not ____. I am located ____, not at ____, etc.
  • Read something, saying every word to yourself. Read each word backwards, letter by letter.
  • Count to ten. Say the alphabet forwards or backwards. Start at 100, subtract by 7, and continue.
  • Repeat a favorite saying
  • Pray.
  • If a thought is giving you pain, repeat it over and over as fast as you can. For example: “I’m a terrible mother,” will become,”imaterriblemotherimaterriblemotherimaterriblemotherimaterriblemotherimaterriblemotherimaterriblemotherimaterriblemother…” Notice how the meaning disappears and only the sound is left? Try saying the sentence very slowly, like half speed. Create a song out of the sentence. Say it in a Donald Duck voice.
  • Think of the pain as something external. If it were an animal, what would it be? What color, what sound would it make?
  • Instead of having the thought, “I’m a terrible mother,” for example, change it to, “I’m having a thought that I’m a terrible mother.”

How to Ground- Physical Grounding

  • Fill a bowl or pitcher with ice water and stick your hand in until it hurts.
  • Clench your fists as tightly as you can and then release.
  • Touch objects around you and notice their temperature, texture, and weight.
  • Grind your heels into the floor, literally grounding them.
  • Jump up and down; do pushups.
  • Keep a grounding object in your pocket, a rock, a key fob, a special coin, and feel it.
  • Keep a rubber band on your wrist and snap it. Pinch yourself.
  • Notice something that you sense that you haven’t noticed. The sound of traffic outside, the feel of your toes in your socks, the feel of your elbows on the chair arms, etc.
  • Stretch
  • Walk half as fast as you usually do, noticing every footstep.
  • Eat just a spoonful of something noticing the smell, the texture, the flavor.
  • Focus on your breathing, notice every inhale and exhale. Repeat a meaningful word (Peace, Love, etc) or short prayer with every exhale.
  • Sometimes all you need to do is get up and go to a different room.

How to Ground- Self Soothing

  • Say something nice to yourself. “You can do this. You are good. You’ll get through it.”
  • Think of your favorite things.
  • Sing
  • Picture people you care about.
  • Remember a safe place. Describe a place that is very soothing to you. (A path in the woods, a mountain, a beach, a room.) Describe everything about that place.
  • Say affirmations. “Every day in every way, I can get better and better.”
  • Plan a small treat for yourself: a dinner, a bath, a piece of candy.
  • Plan something to look forward to.
  • Hug yourself

Notice what works for you, create new methods. If you have any to share, please add them in the comments section.