You are reading this today because you survived your trauma. What that shows is that you have found strategies for adapting to the nightmares, the triggers, the fearful vigilance, the self-blaming and self-doubt. Some typical adaptions include:
- Victim advocacy
- Working, more working, extra working
- Connecting with pets
- Connecting to care givers
All of these strategies work for people in the short run. However, some of the ways that people adapt are solutions that create an added burden to your life.
Hiding in your bed feels good, and is an important step toward your healing. The first stage of healing, after all, is finding safety, and that bedroom may be the safest place you have. However, six months in your bed is likely not going to help you heal further, and can even exacerbate your injury by preventing the brain from healing distorted links. You know those links that act as triggers. The smell of a rose, and your whole body is flooded with terror. That kind of link in your brain will heal when there are more calm moments than panic ones. Alone with your stories is more likely to create the opposite – more vigilance than calm. In your bed on your own can keep the trauma story alive in your mind and in your body, and that constant fight-or-flight state prevents you from healing.
Similarly, numbing substances like alcohol, drugs, food do help you to find peace for a little while. However, in the words of a returning veteran, “Eventually there just wasn’t enough whiskey to stop the memories and the silent scream that rang in my head.” All of us create our own healing journey, and every single adaption has a life affirming reason for becoming part of your day. The wisdom is knowing when that adaption helps, and when it hurts.
Altering your own brain chemistry through addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, sex, or spending does create an island of peace, but it cannot provide the sustainable peace that you look for – and eventually it doesn’t work any more. This is the point where adaption hurts. If you notice that your use of any adaptive strategy isn’t working the way it used to, and you increase the use, it might be a good time to turn to a different strategy. Talk with your counselor to see what stage of the healing process you’re in, and what alternate strategies might serve you now.
Some of them also work in the long run and integrate well into your post-trauma lifestyle. These might include victim advocacy or connecting with pets and loved ones. It may include medications (while your brain heals from its own distortions caused by your trauma). It may include working as in working toward a goal, rather than working to exhaustion in order to be able to sleep. When you consider what adaption strategies you are using, can you imagine them part of your post-healed life? If you think of working in victim advocacy for another 5 or 10 years, does that energize you? If not, maybe it isn’t your best choice. If so, move toward that role with tenderness for yourself, and with the support of someone who can notice if hearing more victim stories is OK for you in that moment.
Your being alive today is a testament to your ability to create adaptive strategies. As you heal in your own time, consider those adaptive strategies, and choose the best ones for you today.