I’ll tell you a little secret: For a long time, even while I felt controlled, manipulated and devastated by my extreme PTSD symptoms, I wouldn’t have given them up, not for anything in the world. Here are a few reasons why I loved my PTSD:
#1 PTSD made me feel safe.
a) The illnesses, emergencies, depression, symptoms, anxieties, all of it made me feel as if I was involved, as if I was connected to the moment and myself, even if it was in a negative way. I existed so dissociated from everyone and everything that the minor traumas that kept occurring bridged the gap between me and everyone else.
b) The symptoms made me feel awake and aware. If I was already always feeling in danger that meant I was paying attention. No new trauma could rise up and surprise me. If I was constantly feeling threatened then I would not be caught off guard when a new, cataclysmic trauma presented itself.
c) The symptoms made me feel powerful. In the moment of my original trauma, I had been completely powerless, and in the wake of PTSD symptoms I was powerless again. But in my management of those symptoms, I regained some sort of power. I could decide or not decide to pursue a treatment, a therapy, a practioner. (I’ll get back to this idea of power in another post because I believe that as trauma survivors it is critically important to regain a sense of our own power.)
d) The symptoms made me feel stoic. I was constantly suffering and enduring, as I had throughout my original truama. The continued extension of that act guaranteed that I was keeping up my strength and my ability to endure again. If another major trauma occurred I would be ready. I would not have gotten soft, I would be primed like an athlete for an event.
#2 PTSD gave me an identity.
a) After the original trauma I lost a sense of myself. I split into selves (I’m not talking personalities here, just sensibilities). Where there had been one united entity, now there were three, a self for each phase: Before, During, After. Each self had strong opinions and experiences and wanted to run the show. I was completely at the mercy of the motivations of them all as they fought for control, which only made me dissociate more, which only made me feel even more lost. Galvanized by PTSD symptoms, however, I could muster a single, overarching identity: patient; trauma survivor; PTSD sufferer, take your pick. I could choose to be someone instead of a plethora of people all at once.
b) The original trauma so decimated the real me that I became someone else. I was a new person. That original self, the one who had not suffered, was dead (or so I thought). This new identity, Survivor, was very much alive and living a life that celebrated not survival of the truama, but survival of every moment afterward. I no longer saw myself as a regular person, but a ‘special’ person. In her book, Faith, Sharon Salzberg writes that “sometimes… I secretly build a monument to [my distress], as though I am really very special in [it].” Ring a bell? That was me, and I’d be damned if I was going to give it up. If I had suffered this life-altering trauma, it damn well better be good for something.
#3 PTSD reinforced how I had come to see the world and my experience of it.
a) Every minute holds the potential for trauma. Oh, yes, it does, especially when you’ve got a bad case of PTSD!
b) The original trauma stunned me and changed my entire outlook on life. Afterward, I made some startling life decisions (i.e, about my purpose, philosophy, religion) and set about living accordingly.
I decided the world was not a safe place and I must guard against it in every minute.
I decided it was not possible to enjoy life because that was distracting. How could I prepare for another trauma – how could I be sure I would be ready to survive again – if I was off having a good time? I couldn’t, so better make sure my focus was on trauma all the time. It was not OK to be OK. How nice of my debilitating PTSD symptoms to comply!
So there I was with many reasons why, for all that I railed against it, on another level PTSD was really working for me. It was not until I took a really good look at who I was, what my identity had evolved to be, that I recognized the fact that it was not at all whom I wanted to be. I did not want to only be a survivor. There is so much more to me than that! I did not want to be a PTSD sufferer. I can be so much bigger than that!
At the nadir of my PTSD struggle I sat myself down and looked at who I was Before, During and After, and then I decided that I wanted to be someone else Now. This is what brought me to the pursuit of joy, which gave me the courage to bridge the gap between who I had become as a result of my trauma, and who I really wanted to be. I wanted to be well. I wanted to be healed. I wanted to cured and PTSD-free. I wanted to be happy and adventuresome and unafraid. There were so many ways that PTSD was preventing me from becoming a post-trauma person. My Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was really Prevalent-Traumatic Stress Disorder and it was time for it to end.
I decided to pursue joy to eliminate the dark psychological stasis in which I lived. The resulting flood of joy gave me the courage to imagine a life that was both trauma and PTSD-free. The more joy I felt, the more close and attainable that new life felt. Joy gave me the courage, too, to feel I would survive if I left my trauma behind. I would be able to define a new identity for myself, even if I let go of what had defined me up until then. I would be able to carve out a new philosophy, purpose, etc. even if I released my grip on what had formed me up until then.
The constant experience of joy brought me to a place in myself where I was ready, truly ready, to bridge the gap between trauma and a happy life. And that’s when I discovered I didn’t know how to make that final leap. If I wasn’t so entrenched in this trauma life, I might have been able to do it myself. If the PTSD habit hadn’t spent so many years digging its way deeper and deeper into my pysche the joy alone might have formed a new joy habit that freed me. Indeed, I almost did achieve the conversion on my own. But then I hit a wall, and that’s where hypnotherapy came in.
I meant to post more about hypno today (I will tomorrow), but it seemed important to note one thing: We can only be healed if we want to be. Before hypno is approached as a panacea, it is important for us to do the internal work that smoothes the land in which hypno is going to work. We must accept that we have suffered, and commit to moving beyond it. We must love who we were Before, celebrate who we were During, and respect who we became After. We must want to choose who we can become Now.
The degree of success of any hypno experience relies on the strength with which we want to be free. I wanted it desperately. Do you?
(Photo acknowldgement on Flickr.)