How to Cope
Yesterday I wrote about some difficult memories and went to very dark places. I am often asked about how I can talk about these things and still function in my life. Today I will talk about what works for me.*
- Know which era you are really in. One of the effects of PTSD is flashbacks, flashbacks can be triggered at random. Something as simple as a scent can take you back to a place you didn’t want to go. Try not to slip all the way back, focus on where you are now. There are different levels to this depending on how high your levels of anxiety are rising. I start by doing a quick mental inventory of where I am: What year is it? What day is it? What was I doing before I got triggered? How old am I now? What do I have on my person that will help keep me safe? ( cell phone, keys to a car I can get in and drive away). Once I am oriented to the right era I often run a mini gratitude list. ( grateful for Nick, healthy happy kids, a new book to read, scented candles flickering). Focusing on what my life is now and the comforts that I enjoy help keep me grounded. After I finished writing yesterday I felt for lack of a better term ” yucky”. First I got up and reminded myself about why I am doing this. Then I put on my tea kettle and fetched a beautiful teacup with morning glories on it that I love. While the water was boiling I texted my husband and was honest about how I was currently feeling: ” The house is a mess and feel like something bad is going to happen to me because of it, it’s making me very anxious”. My husband knows the history behind this and understands. His response “we all had a busy week and we will all clean up the house tomorrow together, no one is going to beat you because your room is messy”. It seems kind of silly, but these are real ways in which trauma can linger in your life. With yummy tea in hand, I went to the family room and sat with my youngest two children and did a round robin of gratitude. ” I’m grateful for cozy nights playing broad games with you guys by the fire”. ” I’m grateful for my relationships”. “I’m grateful for hot fries”. I was able to transition from the past to the present and not have that cloud of darkness hanging over my afternoon family activities. I even went to bed with the house still a mess.
- Gratitude List. This is probably the tool I use the most. As a little girl, I didn’t really have dreams or aspirations for myself. I was in survival mode and had no idea what was next. If someone had told me at 8 years old that this is what my life would be like I probably couldn’t have even pictured it. Focusing on what your blessings and things that bring you joy keep you moving forward to a healthy place. Shifting your thoughts will shift your mood and that will shift your actions which shows in your life. I list everything that makes me happy, interests me, brings me joy or peace.
- Get some exercise. A walk while focusing on your blessings can do wonders for your mood. Yoga is great because it makes you focus on your breathing and the sensations in your body. Bikes rides, rollerblading. whatever brings you joy and will release all these free good for you happy chemical reactions in your brain. I find nature a very efficient healer and mood booster.
- Be creative. Draw, color, paint, make something. I feel that kitchen time can fall into this category as well. I love to make yummy treats for my friends and family. I often have little helpers and as my children have grown its wonderful quality time with them. If I am alone I will often listen to an audiobook while I am creating something.
- Write about it. Some times when you take the time to sit down and organize your thoughts it helps to process them. I have on occasion come across an old notebook that I wrote my thoughts in long ago. Often what they are is evidence of how far I have come. This fills me with hope to keep going and that things will continue to get better than I can even imagine.
- Make plans. Check that you are still moving forward in your life. Is there a friend that you haven’t seen in a while? Make a plan to meet for coffee or a movie. Plan to go to a place that you have been meaning to go but haven’t been able to squeeze it in. For me, this reminds me that I have so many wonderful people that enrich my life when I spend time with them. It also reminds me that I have some control over my life. I say how I spend my time, who I spend it with and that I am actively creating a life I want. For survivors of abuse, it is often a struggle to feel like you have control over your body, mind, safety, life etc.
- Accept the pain. Sometimes the pain is just too much, respect that and don’t push yourself. If you broke your foot, you wouldn’t just keep walking on it and get angry at your foot for staying broken. I am serval years into recovery so this happens less often. If I am triggered and feeling too much emotional pain I will cancel my day if possible and lay on the sofa and watch old episodes of bewitched. No Shame. If it goes on longer than a day I begin examining if I need outside help.
A note about seeking professional help: If you feel stuck, keep having nightmares and intrusive thoughts you probably need help processing. Start by talking with a trusted friend. Then move on to finding a therapist if you are still stuck. Therapy is not two years of laying on someone’s couch analyzing your life. There are many different types of therapy, music therapy, art therapy, play therapy ( when there are no words). Talk therapies such as CBT, DBT, Psychotherapy, EMDR and sometimes medication is necessary. There are also support groups with people going through similar issues that you are. I will go in depth about this more in a later post.
*if you are currently still being abused and not in recovery these tools are not going to help much. Help is available, you can heal, you can have a life beyond what you imagine. But first, you have to start the healing process.
My ultimate list of things that help me the most: Wrap my husband around me, snuggle up with my kids and just marvel at how amazing they are, Bake yummy treats, play board games with the family, watch a feel-good movie or my childhood cartoons( or bewitched!), look at pictures with my family and reflect on all the love and happiness in the life we have built, make a gratitude list, help someone else get to a place of peace and healing, make plans to meet a friend, go out with Nick, hike, work in my garden, take a moment to really reflect on how loved and blessed I am! I lived I survived and I have broken the cycle.