Thursday 3 August 2017

My 'negative trauma story' re-written into a 'positive trauma story'

One of the first exercises in Michele Rosenthal's workbook 'Your life after trauma - powerful practices to reclaim your lost identity' is to re-write / change your negative trauma story i.e. a short description of your current feelings about who you are as a result of going through the trauma (in our case the 24/7/365 stress of getting our son or daughter through an eating disorder). I jotted down my own version and it ended up looking something like this:

I've had several years wiped out of my life. I feel no-one takes this as seriously as they should. I can't handle trauma and I'm terrified of my son relapsing back into anorexia. I know I simply wouldn't be able to cope. On top of this, I feel a massive void inside me along with a strong and constant feeling of panic and anxiety.

I no longer know who I am or where I go from here. I don't even recognise myself anymore. I feel like a 'non person'. I feel like a massive failure for 'allowing' myself to get like this and weak because I've been struggling to shed these horrible feelings for three-and-a-half years - including several different courses of therapy from CBT and 'talking therapy' to EMDR.

I 'should' have been able to recover from C-PTSD quickly and successfully. By this stage I 'should' be getting on with life and work, picking up where I left off eight years ago. Instead, I'm still like a frightened rabbit in the headlights. Things still seem 'too big' to take on, I still have panic attacks and I still have a habit of isolating myself which doesn't do me any favours on the friendship front.

With the help of the workbook, I have re-written / changed this 'story' to the following:

I've learned a heck of a lot over the past eight years - more than I've ever learned in my entire life. I've learned to be more empathetic and selfless. I've made TRUE friends, closer than any friends since school.

I stuck with getting my son through anorexia and - yes - I made a success of it. I 'never gave up' [referring to something Ben wrote on a card to me: 'Thank you for being the one who never gave up']. It is partly due to my 24/7/365 perseverence and refusal to give in that he is now fully recovered, just completing a Masters Degree and abouty to embark on a teacher training course. It is also partly due to my encouragement that Ben now has a large circle of friends and is happy once again. Most important of all, he is getting on with his life. Ben and me, we've been an awesome team! Together we fought the eating disorder and won!! Wow, wow, WOW!!!

Over the past years I have also learned that people like me as a person, I mean REALLY like me and this is a major revelation for someone that didn't like themselves very much or believe they were likeable. I am infinitely likeable and nice. I've learned to be myself and not pretend to be someone I'm not. I am no longer nervous in public; indeed I've spoken THREE TIMES in public!!!! I've even written two books!

I have also learned that if you reach out to the right people in dark times, they will respond in ways I never imagined. I have experienced humanity AT ITS VERY BEST. As with 'wartime spirit' and 'camaraderie', you learn who your true friends are and make new ones - fantastic, true, loyal friends who you would never have encountered in other circumstances. This is REAL LIFE. Good things... VERY good things... can come out of horrendous things.

I have also learned a lot about my ability to respond to and weather trauma. Rather than not coping, I DID cope, right to the bitter end, and it was the most worthwhile thing I have ever done. There are a host of other characteristics that I developed during this period that I will be able to put to massive use in the future.

Rather than not knowing who I am, I know this:

* That I have played a special role in people's lives as their friend and support, just as they have been a friend and support to me

* That I'm the kind of person who refuses to give in

* That I'm the kind of person who fights for what they believe in

* That I'm a bl@@dy excellent mother

* That people like me a lot, that I'm a likeable person

* That people can depend on me and trust me

* That it's OK to not quite know who I am or where I go from here - it will gradually become evident with some work

* That it's OK to still feel some C-PTSD symptoms - the 'plastic' brain has undergone big changes over the past eight years so it's not surprising that it may take some time to re-mould it into the person I will be in the (hopefully near) future. But it will re-model itself because science has shown that the brain is 'plastic' and can change.

I found re-writing my 'trauma story' to be quite liberating. Not an instant 'cure' by any stretch of the imagination, but the first step on the exciting adventure of discovering the post-trauma me.

Of course doing something like this may not work for you, but, hey, let me throw it into the pot - it might just work for someone else out there!

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