Share your story.
Talk about it.
It will reduce the hold it has on you.
On and on it goes, with everybody poking at you to unburden yourself of your trauma. Some are doing it because there is a genuine desire to help, exposing you to the details of your trauma by retelling it does over time and with repetition, reduce the power it has over your body and mind. Some do it because they are nosy bastards and want the details to get a vicarious rush from it all: aka, trauma whores. Others are peers who know that by walking with you and keeping you going, talking, that you will gradually get through the darkness into the light.
Exposure therapy is the cusp of the argument to share your trauma story. Expose you to it as often as we can and slowly, bit by bit, it will be reduced in magnitude and more distant. So goes the theory. It doesn’t always work that way and there is risk to it.
What are the risks of sharing your story?
- telling the story sends you back to that dark place, leaves you incapable of functioning and triggers a major psychotic episode requiring medical intervention (no, I’m not exaggerating, this is a significant risk to a PTSD newbie).
- telling your story triggers the crap out of the person listening and they end up in a major psychotic episode requiring medical intervention (yup, this has happened and it ain’t pretty)
- telling the story to the wrong person leaves you feeling pathetic, small and weak (they point out how “small” your trauma is in comparison to… got to love the invisible trauma stick some people believe they carry around with them)
- telling the story to the wrong person leaves you beholden to them, they make you feel like a victim over and over and over again, they use your trauma to manipulate and control you (this is because you do not have solid boundaries and we in this state are prime targets for narcissists and those with undiagnosed psychiatric personality disorders like sociopaths, borderline personality disorder, etc)
- telling the story to the wrong person leaves you feeling isolated and alone (they reject you and are disgusted by the story, or react in a way that is the very opposite of quiet acceptance)
Not really surprising then that sharing your trauma is a big deal, now is it?
As most of you know having started out on TWITTER with #PTSDChat and now that the team is running it independently (I still support and am involved but not the lead, as far better humans than I are managing it) I’ve moved to a closer, tighter group offering support on FB called Life After PTSD. We had a “growing” moment in the group when one of my friends shared his trauma on a day I’d put my phone away, it wasn’t until I picked it up hours later that I was hit by all the messages telling me **** was going down in the group.
My friend who had never opened up before about his trauma, had vomited it up. It often goes this way at first, partly I think it is because we fear that if we don’t blurt it all out in one hit we will stop, clam up and never escape from it, but also because there is a self-sabotage element in all the that we do until we move forward on our road to healthy. It is normal for a person who is hurting to push for more than the other person is able to give: self-sabotaging efforts for closeness and support. Unbelievably, even if the form of sharing was harsh and difficult to read/view he was attacked by another member of the group, literally eviscerated. Anybody who knows me will know how that went for that individual.
What came from that was very important for me and my understanding of sharing stories of trauma.
The motivation to share comes from a knowledge that isolation will kill us, that only by finding acceptance amongst peers and support can we move forward and survive the trauma. When we first “share” it isn’t done with any real sense of purpose or plan. It will be vomited up. So I am writing this in the hopes that it reaches those out there considering this crucial step in PTSD recovery.
Preparation is key: after this event on the group I set up a lot more peer support and PTSD professionals as admins on the group to protect those sharing and those supporting. Sounds like I’m policing the group pretty hard and maybe I am, but these are vulnerable human from all walks of life. They deserve the best we can give.
If you are planning to fight this PTSD, to reduce the hold your trauma has on you: prepare. That means know your audience, know where and how you will share. Prepare the ground as best you can so that it is successful.
Peer support means that sometimes we are going to hear stuff that is hard to hear, or impossible, as it triggers us. We need to know OUR limits. Walk away or tell the person sharing that we can’t handle it right now, not in an aggressive way but in a “look, I’ve hit my wall, I’m so sorry, I have to take a break”. Then go find a person who CAN support them because their triggers, their trauma are completely different. That’s why having a multi-layered PTSD support group is great: it’s not all cops, all combat veterans, all sexual abuse survivors, etc. There is a depth to it that allows the admins to fish around for the right peer group within it.
KNOW YOUR TRIGGERS
This is key. It’s not up to anybody else to manage your triggers it is up to you. Know your boundaries and your limits. RESPECT your limits, they are your strength. You need to respect yourself as you would another.
I also learned to limit the population of the group to those who were there for the right reasons. Anybody who is actively using drugs or circling the drain is a person who will hurt others. That’s not okay. DO NO HARM is the first rule and one I hold to absolutely. I am better off doing nothing if there is a risk of doing harm, I wish more psychologists followed this rule.
If a person wishes to join but won’t answer our questions, they don’t get in (unless we know them personally and can confirm they are good humans). This is a good rule to have in life too, make sure you surround yourself with genuine humans not fake friends.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE, CHOOSE WISELY
Do not share with a drama queen. If the person you are talking to is one that is surrounded by a constant swirl of drama or gossip, run away my friend, run away. This is not for you. If the person you are thinking of confiding in has ever told you a secret or a piece of gossip about another, run. Again, not for you. Trauma is deeply personal and you are not going to want to hear it repeated and laughed about. Find a person with depth, a quietness in their soul and thoughtful. They do not need to understand or have experience in your field or your trauma, in fact, that is irrelevant. You are seeking a quiet ear and a supportive human to connect with who will not try to “fix you” or find a “solution” but simply to walk by your side as you battle your PTSD.
DON’T EXPECT INSTANT RELIEF
A member of the group shared this with me: “I expected to feel free or a bit better after sharing. I didn’t. It felt .. worse” To my mind that would be normal, it never occurred to me that she would expect instant relief from her trauma by telling it once. It takes years of retelling it before it starts to lose its hold. I’m sorry but there it is. What can give you fairly instant relief is doing it in art or seeing it in an art piece, it’s why I work with those with PTSD. The fact that I can portray (often in ways only the individual understands and everybody else says “Oh what a beautiful …”) the trauma speaks to the soul and says, “It’s okay, I see you and I do not fear you. I accept that you have been through this and I know you will survive it”. Art says what words can’t.
PATIENCE YOUNG JEDI
Stick with it, push that boulder up the hill. Lean on those around you who are so far up that hill you can barely see them, but they are extending their hands to pull you up with them. Grab the hands offered and don’t let go. Keep fighting and know that there will be good days, bad days but all you do is keep on moving forward no matter what.
THERE IS NO BLOODY TRAUMA MEASURING STICK!
This is one of the most asinine thoughts out there. My trauma is bigger than yours. Her trauma is so MUCH worse that yours! Etc… good grief. Wouldn’t it be great if your brain knew THAT before it was injured eh? I’ve fallen 40ft and smashed into every surface I could on the way down, got up and dusted myself down, walked off. And I have a friend who tripped walking on a beach and broke his ankle. Somebody ought to have had a word with his ankle and explained how ridiculous it was that it was broken. I’m sure that would have worked a treat.
There is NO TRAUMA MEASURING STICK!
I often hear from those who read my posts and random ravings of a less than sane mind. More often than not they tell me that something I wrote resonated or spoke to them, it opens a space in their minds and soul such that they feel they can share a little. That is the main reason I still share stories, like the recent child abuse interviews and post. If you aren’t ready to share then try to read some posts and the writings of those who are further ahead, reach out to them and ask questions. Baby steps.