Thursday, June 23, 2011

Healing, Part 2 - Therapy

After the assault I walked around for a couple of years totally unaware of life. I affectionately refer to this time as my black hole years. I thought I would be ‘cured’ when I was finally able to move to a new location. But that didn’t help. I was still suffering from debilitating flashbacks and extreme anxiety. I don’t remember when I met my current therapist, but it was shortly after I made the move. And I remember that she came to see me and very gently said that she specialized in trauma and that she might be able to help me.

That started the first wave of therapy. At that point, all I knew is that I had lost myself and was no longer “normal”. And that made sense to me. I didn’t think that a person could experience that much violence or witness their loved one so heinously tortured without it having some kind of psychological impact. I understood that. What I needed was to find a way to live with it better.

My therapist taught me skills to help me identify my triggers before they tripped me and to cope with the anxiety. Things such as muscle relaxation and deep breathing and concentration on some small object and mental repetition exercises. She also helped me conquer some of the avoidance problems I was having (at that point I was afraid to go out anywhere) and much of the sexual dysfunction. These sessions addressed a significant part of my problem and I stopped therapy thinking that I now had the skills to live a normal life again.

And I did have long periods of time where anxiety and other symptoms were low level background noise. There were always the surprises and things that would trip me up. Nightmares and flashbacks would return and exhaustion and anxiety would send me diving under my covers for days. I would occasionally return to short term therapy to help me get through it.  But generally, I thought I had things under control.

Until I met a person who just pushed every anxiety button. Even after I explained why her words troubled me, she just kept at it. Every symptom came back with a vengeance. And I realized that 1.) I was not as well as I pretended to be, and 2.) I never wanted anyone to have that kind of power over me again. And so back to therapy I went.

This time my therapist talked to me in terms of battling PTSD.  I never realized I had that. I had only heard of that term in relationship to combat veterans. And it all started to make sense in a way it never had before. So I agreed to a very intense program of immersion therapy, which I have talked a lot about here. Going over and over the details of that day. By exposing myself to those horrors, I was finding the words to express my pain, sense of loss, chaos, disorientation, and humiliation. Unfortunately, I was once again plagued by nightmares and physical flashbacks. And trying to write about it (yes, these posts are my therapy homework.) As hard and grueling as it was, it still wasn’t getting to the very core of what my subconscious was protecting me from. So my therapist suggested hypnotherapy. The thought of it terrified me and it took months to convince me to try it. And then quite a few test runs to ease into it.

I will write another post about that experience, but I finally looked the devil in the eye, and although I temporarily crumbled, I did get back up. And that was my victory. I have now stopped the intense therapy although I still have some “mop up” work to do. And I went to a group therapy session which I thought I would hate, but I am going to continue for a little while.  Mostly because I have this overwhelming sense that I have something very important to learn from a young disabled veteran there.

I have learned that recovering from PTSD happens slowly, in increments, and often with setbacks. For me, it has taken decades and many different strategies. I keep thinking that I wish I had tried the exposure and hypnotherapy long ago, but I realize that I probably wasn’t ready for it then and it would not have been successful. Every step builds on something else until the day you realize that, in fact, you are no longer in deep pain.

I have learned a lot about PTSD. Some people say you can be cured. Others say that it can only be managed. I tend to lean towards the latter view. At least for me. Living with PTSD is a challenge and something I know I can't do alone. I have surrounded myself with a great therapist, family, and friends who I trust and who love me. I have many people I can reach out to when the triggers are too challenging or a situation too overwhelming. Many whom I have met by writing this blog. Yes, you! And I have learned I'm not as strong as I want to be, butI can be much stronger than I ever imagined, as long as I continue to reach out.

I have read about people who say they are completely PTSD symptom free. I am not sure I believe that is possible for me. I may never defeat PTSD butI will live with it. And I am healing. I know that. And I am very hopeful.


  1. I may never defeat PTSD but I will live with it. And I am healing. I know that. And I am very hopeful. will LIVE with it. Your commitment to living--not just existing--is such a beautiful thing to see, 8th Day!

    I am so thankful that there are people like your therapist in the world.

    And I am also thankful that you are surrounded by people who love and support you.

    Mostly I am thankful for your presence, and your honesty, here. You have done the hard work and taken the risk to share your challenges and triumphs with us. Bless you for that!

    While I have never had to deal with the kind of trauma you have experienced, I am watching my child go through some really tough emotional times right now--and it helps to know that therapy and a loving, supportive family DO make a difference in the long-run. So you have given ME hope...

    I continue to pray for your healing, my friend. And that all your hopes will be fulfilled--in ways and to depths you cannot yet imagine.


  2. For those of us who have been with you before, during and after, we have always seen your strength and your beauty.

    Keep reaching out. We will always be here.

  3. Your post-traumatic stress disordered self is not truly who you are. Your joyful self is your pure, untramatized self and a commitment to joyful living woos that self back into the forefront of who you are.”

    How amazing and powerful you are!

  4. Therapy truly is a journey, like life. I hope to be where you are someday. Thank you for telling me to never give up.

  5. Thank you for commenting on my blog and leading me back to yours. I have only been reading your blog for a week or so, and each time I feel profoundly moved. This post has me in tears. May you continue to live, love, reach out, and hope. Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. You are very STRONG indeed and I have learned so much by reading about your journey here. You've taught me so much about gratitude and walking through the fire and standing strong on the other side.

    Surviving and thriving.

    Sending you love and light.

  7. 8dp, I commented earlier but something must have gone wonky because it's not here...

    I never wanted anyone to have that kind of power over me again. That is a fantastic motivator to get to a better place.

    although I temporarily crumbled, I did get back up. And that was my victory. That is your victory every day. This is true strength and, yes, courage. It takes both to get back up and keep going. We know this, we live it.

    PTSD is insidious and flares up unexpectedly. You need a bunch of tools to continue living with and through PTSD. I've learned that it has layers like a wound with a scab. Sometimes it is covered over and sometimes it is raw and exposed. It can be surprising when the scab gets ripped off and you feel as vulnerable as before. Except that you are not as vulnerable as before because now you have those survival skills.

    I'm so glad that you have shared this journey with us. I am in awe of your perseverance and determination. You are much stronger than you realize; you, with your core of iron, are an amazing woman.