For the past year and seven months since I’ve begun having regular flashbacks, I have been hell-bent on being heard, asking questions, and demanding answers. I went into therapy with “A” for the specific purpose of diving headlong into my past, willing myself to come through on the other side as a survivor. A continued to ask me to slow down, but listened and allowed me to process my past at the pace I deemed necessary, and the more I processed, the more trauma-focused I became. I couldn’t purge it fast enough; it was nice to be heard and validated. It was nice to feel safe.
A year later, I came through on the other side, and had quit seeing A for a month or two. Through a series of events over the past few months, not only did my PTSD symptoms return, they seemed to double in force. I returned to A, who stated my symptoms were beyond her expertise, and she recommended I be evaluated for some sort of intensive outpatient program. I jumped around to several therapists until I found a therapist who specializes in trauma, and who is a Christian.
I do not know exactly why my symptoms have slowed drastically since this change in therapists, and it is probably for several reasons. However, her technique is vastly different that even I have been trained in (including her asking so many questions I do not have the ability to think long enough to shut down in session). I have been seeing her weekly for over a month, and we have not delved into my past at all. She uses metaphors with me. The first one was of me running a marathon, and that me falling prey to my symptoms was like me veering off-course. She said her goal is to help me process the trauma while I stay on course, without me spiraling into what I had before. She also likened this process as me walking into the woods; if I look ahead at all the woods, I’d be terrified and overwhelmed. Our goal is to process one tree at a time, and though it is hard to walk into the woods, she would give me the tools to conquer just one tree at at time.
Finally, last session she told me I was ready to begin the slow process of approaching a tree. She recommended several books, including the two I chose, “On The Threshold of Hope” by Diane Langberg, and Not Marked by Mary DeMuth (I chose this one because Mary is writing from the perspective of a survivor and her husband is writing from the perspective of husband of survivor; I want my husband to be able to come alongside as best he can). “C” told me to read in very small increments, and if I started to feel any anxiety at all, I was to close the books immediately and distract myself. Not only would this build my tolerance and strengthen my ability to control symptoms, it would give me a sense of choice and control that I had lost in my trauma.
I am trying to take one page at a time, just as I am trying to take one day at a time. I have been fairly level, but extremely sensitive to triggers. However, if I can remove and isolate myself immediately, usually I can calm down again and will be fine the rest of the day. This is nearly impossible with a husband who is basically home this summer and two young kids. I am having more good days than bad, and my bad moments are not always lasting a day. I am feeling things that I have not felt in a while, like light anxiety (versus panic attack anxiety) and light sadness (versus the level of shame that drives my self-harm).
Slowly but surely, I am moving forward. When I have a full bad day, I am discouraged because I tasted freedom and it tasted like the best chocolate cake I have ever had. I would like to eat this chocolate cake every single day, and enjoy every taste in my mouth. After having chocolate cake, a bad day tastes like spoiled food that has been dumped into the trash. Even a bite of trash after chocolate cake drives me to self-harm more quickly than usual. My goal is to learn to sit with the trash in my mouth until the bad taste passes. I heard once that instead of self-harm, sit in a chair and grip it as hard as you can and force yourself to just sit. But that doesn’t work for me. Running helps immensely. Running hurts much worse than any self-harm I inflict, and it is healthy and shuts off my racing thoughts. My goal is to stop self-harming, but my first memory of self-harm was when I was about 4 years old. That is 24 years of bad coping to deal with. And slowly but surely, as I conquer one tree at a time, my desire to self-harm will diminish. When I make it through to the end of the forest, I know the shame and desire to harm myself will fade because the roots will be gone.
One tree at a time.
Photo Credit: http://picslava.com/chocolate-cake/