In the last few years, I’ve had some traumatic experiences that had a significant impact on my life overall. In terms of how I conceptualize trauma responses, what matters the most is how the mind/brain processes the trauma. That processing can range from adaptive to disordered (i.e. PTSD). While I don’t have PTSD, I still haven’t fully processed the trauma-related memories. I was reminded of this when I got triggered a couple of weeks ago, and all of that emotion came rushing back. I realized that I’ve been engaging in some serious avoidance, and that means there’s a lot of shit that hasn’t been dealt with.
In some of the continuing education I’ve done on PTSD for professional reasons, one of the things that interested me was cognitive processing therapy, which is an adaptation of cognitive behavioural therapy. One of the elements of this type of therapy is creating a trauma account, which accomplishes a couple of things. Creating a trauma narrative helps the brain to change how it encodes emotionally and sensory-charged trauma memories, and writing, re-writing, reading, and re-reading also acts as a type of exposure therapy. So I decided I was going to go ahead with creating a trauma account.
But then I kept putting it off. I didn’t want to do it. I recognized, though, that this avoidance was exactly why I needed to do it in the first place. So I put it on my calendar for yesterday morning, knowing I would be able to go to yoga class afterward to relax. I created a little safety zone for myself: soothing aromatherapy, cup of tea, wrapped in a cozy blanket, and with my favourite stuffed animal plus my guinea pig who loves her mama the most tucked in at my side. And I started writing.
I wrote for 45 minutes. It was hard, and it was tiring. I tried to observe how my body was responding: the tension, the stomach ache, the shallow breathing. But I did it. I’ve still got a lot left to do, but I’m glad I’ve started the process. What stands out to me is that I’m now able to name the emotions that before were too raw and twisted in thick snarls to tease apart. Something that came up repeatedly was “I feel worthless. More than worthless.” I hadn’t realized that was such an issue.
I’m going to stick with this approach of scheduling and making a safety zone. I’m going to keep writing until it’s all down on paper, and then I’m going to highlight and footnote until it makes sense, and then hopefully I’ll feel more ready to move on and escape from the prison of the past.
Note: Some people have expressed interest in learning more about CPT. The US Veterans Affairs Center for Deployment Psychology has some interesting info in their online mini-course Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) for PTSD in Veterans and Military Personnel. Yes, it’s aimed at therapists and focused on veterans, but it’s still a really good source of information.
You can find a trauma account update here.
PTSD Treatment Options: An Overview, a mini-ebook that’s available from the MH@H Download Centre, covers a variety of evidence-based therapies for PTSD.