Phases of PTSD Healing, Part 2: Stumbling & Moving Forward
Wednesday, December 10th, 2008 • Uncategorized •
Phase #4: Stumbling & Moving Forward – I went to a group salsa class for a few lessons and did well, so when John (whom I met in my very first group Argentine tango class) asked me to go salsa dancing, I thought I was prepared. We went to a fabulous Latin club in West Palm Beach. It was a large space with a sunken dance floor. We got out on the floor and I immediately discovered… I couldn’t dance at all! In group classes they slow the tempo of the music; in Latin clubs it’s a whole new ball game. I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn’t hear the beat. I couldn’t follow the rhythm. I had to concentrate. I had to watch other people dance so I could learn from their style and expertise.
Tango was even more difficult. Of all the dances it is the most complicated to learn. Unlike other dances, tango lacks a set pattern of steps. This makes following and learning more difficult, as does the complexity of the footwork in general. There were many nights in class that my brain went into overload and I left the dance studio with a wicked headache and a strong sense of the futility of what I was trying to do.
With both of these dances I had several moments when I thought I can’t do this! and I’ll never be good at this! But I wanted to be able to dance both dances well, so I made the commitment to learn. I quit the salsa class and John and I went to Latin clubs 2 – 3 nights a week. I watched. I tried. I stumbled. I watched some more. I tried again. Eventually I got the rhythm and figured out the steps, timing, and embellishments.
We continued going to tango class and I would come home and practice the special tango walk and other footwork. We went to weekly milongas (tango dance parties) so we could practice. Comfort came slowly. My capability developed a tiny bit at a time. My technique slowly evolved.
Healing PTSD became like this, too. I began researching my trauma and writing out my memories and thought I was prepared to do the work. I thought if I could handle looking at photos of my illness and learning statistics and other trauma information, I was making positive progress. I thought if I could write out what I remembered that proved I was stronger the trauma.
I began doing all of this and felt like I was in control. But then my memories and nightmares increased in frequency and intensity, the insomnia raged, my emotions swung like a pendulum; I became more depressed than ever. I couldn’t think about anything except my trauma twenty-four hours a day.
For weeks, every PTSD symptom grew worse until I’d break down, renounce the struggle, wail I can’t do this!, put away the research, turn off the computer and walk away – for a day, or a week before the old desire was back; before the determination to be healed needled me until I sat down in the middle of it all again for as long as I could stand it before the next breakdown.
This process repeated itself over and over, but each time I made forward progress. Each time before the breakdown there was a surge in knowledge, understanding, education and empowerment. I went from not being able to think about my illness to being able to look at pictures of others afflicted by it. I went from not being able to speak about my trauma to developing a vocabulary for it and the ability to discuss it out loud.
As humans we should be used to this sort of method. As infants we learn to walk, stumble, fall and get up again, competely determined to master this skill. As adults it’s a mental experience and so, much more difficult. But we’re wired for this, we know how it goes and that there will be struggles and pitfalls and injuries. The thing is, we also know: One day, we’ll be able to run.