Sunday, March 24, 2013

Post Traumatic Stress Recovery - Phase 1


Phase 1 - The assessment phase. This is to prepare us for what is to come in phase 2, and how to deal with it. Some may not be ready to move on to phase 2 of the program, because they still haven't completely grasped the "tools" they will need to handle the intense emotions that will arise in phase 2. So the last couple of days, Saturday and Sunday included, have been oriented toward understanding and creating "safety" and familiarizing ourselves with some of the terminology which will be used throughout the remaining seven weeks. 


Safety, all my life, has meant if I'm not being physically assaulted, but it's much more than that and integral part of PTSD recovery. Most of us who suffered some form of abuse, especially as children, have a pretty low standard for safety, I've come to realize, as it's much more subtle than my definition would imply. Safety is the cornerstone to recovery because without it, there is no trust, no opening up, no trying to connect with feelings that have long since been buried. First and foremost, we each sign an agreement that we will never divulge the names of other patients or even share their experiences anonymously with anyone, so everything you read here are my feelings, experiences, and reactions and mine alone.

Secondly, we are taught how to keep ourselves "safe" which is easier said then done, because of the trauma, we never learned what our own needs were or how to identify our feelings because they were repressed. All control was taken from us, even something as simple as being allowed to feel your feel feelings was not permitted. Whenever we feel uncomfortable, uneasy, agitated, threatened, and not prepared to deal with feelings in an open and confident manner, we are encouraged to take steps to regain our sense of security and control whether that means breathing or grounding techniques, holding a safety object such as a photo or for some, a crucifix, or even if it means excusing ourselves from the situation altogether until we can stabilize our feelings then returning; we must always feel that we are in control, and we can make our own choices, something our trauma did not allow us to do and that was terrifying. Whenever a trauma survivor's sense of control is being compromised or threatened, even after the trauma, they undergo a re-enactment of the trauma and feel the same feelings they felt then, and this is only one of the ways we re-enact our trauma.


We live what we learn and experience. We re-enact our traumas every day in our occupations, relationships, circumstances, feelings, reactions and on and on by playing one of the three roles in the victim trauma triangle; victim, rescuer or care-giver, or abuser.  Trauma survivors seem to have chaos follow them wherever they go, because that is what they consider "safe" or familiar. I've always jokingly said "if there isn't any chaos in my life then I will create some", I had no idea how profoundly true that was. For example, if you were a care-giver during your trauma, which I was, I took care of my three younger siblings much of the time, I attempted to protect my mother from being beaten by my father, and I saved her life once too, then you are likely to re-enact that role throughout your life. As a trauma survivor, you might have also chosen an occupation where you provide for others such as a doctor, day care provider, teacher, nurse, police officer, to name a few or you might constantly be trying to solve others' problems in your personal and intimate relationships while giving very little attention to your own problems. You might look for people to rescue, or if in the victim role, you might be looking for someone to rescue you. You constantly look for "your knight in shining armour" only to find he's a mere imperfect mortal. You might feel a great amount of self pity and inability to change anything in your life, because of your trauma and your victim role. Finally, you can play the abuser as well, yes, you the victim can be the abuser by causing self harm, by not attending to your own needs, or by taking your deep seated and justified anger out on someone who doesn't deserve it. We can fluctuate between all three of these roles everyday not even knowing that our subconscious mind is re-enacting our trauma and not understand why our relationships are so unstable. Why? Because that is what we know best, that is what we ironically consider "safe", familiar, and finally somehow we think by playing those roles out over and over again, we can change the outcome. This time things will be different. They never will be until we come to understand what is really happening in our everyday lives and choose differently.

Triggers, re-enactments, and flashbacks are all aspects of post traumatic stress disorder. We are being taught how to identify when those are happening, so that we can be aware and respond to the present and not to the past. Ironically, these things, along with dissociation are so habitual that not only are they almost an every day occurrence, but we aren't even aware, for the most part, they are happening, and that is what we are being taught, how to recognize them. One trigger for more is when a man become aggressive or angry, my heart starts racing, my chest becomes tight, I have shortness of breath, and I have this overwhelming fear that something bad is going to happen because that what happened with my Dad. I am not responding to the present I am responding to the past and being aware of that will have me have better control of my emotions.

Phase one will end on Tuesday for some of us, and we will continue on to phase two where we will go into group therapy and start digging up some of these feelings and how they affect us in our present lives. Not sure I'm looking forward to that....


  1. Thank you Lisa, the clarity of your thoughts is so much food for thought as we see the angst in the eyes of those around us, but have not had the vision to understand. There is so much to learn from in order to make sense of any antecedent events or triggers that occur along the path to restoration.

    1. Thank you again for your support, Will. Yes, understanding is the key to eradicating the stigma and building the connections that both sufferers and family members need to cope.



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