How do I deal with PTSD memories? Can I make the PTSD memories go away?
PTSD affects our memories and our PTSD memories can harm us. We survive traumatic experiences in our immediate present that goes on to become our immediate and then distant past, but we are not finished with those experiences. Perhaps it is better to say, those experiences are not finished with us. We continue to relive them as memories. Reliving the memories can further traumatise us. If you have PTSD, then you know that the memory of a traumatic event can be just as terrifying as the original event itself. So, when people say, “Just get over it,” or “Forget it, that was a long time ago.” It’s clear they just don’t get it. My memories can keep my traumatic experiences alive and current and jerking me around everyday – even if the original events occured decades ago. And, since a lot of these memories are processed into our dreams, my traumatic memories also jerk me around in my sleep as nightmares and terror.
Where Did the Time Go? An article by Benedict Carey, recently in the online New York Times, called “Where Did the Time Go? Do Not Ask the Brain,” continued my thoughts on the questions of PTSD and memory. The PTSD Spirituality blog tries to offer hope for those who souls are attacked by PTSD. One of the hopes we all have is that we will not become prisoners of our memories. We hope to be able to live normal lives in spite of the traumatic experiences we have survived and in spite of the suffering we have endured. So, how do we survive our PTSD memories?
Trauma Carves Its Initials In Our Souls Two things struck me from the article that have bearing on surviving the soul wounds of PTSD: First, transformative moments make a deeper impact on our memories and thus we experience them, remember them, as being more recent. For us they are constantly active. Carey reports:
And emotional events — a breakup, a promotion, a transformative trip abroad — tend to be perceived as more recent than they actually are, by months or even years.
Traumatic events are certainly transformative events. If you are raped, molested, shot at, involved in violence, then those are transformative experiences. There are moments I remember from my military experiences that are fresher to my mind than some of the events I attended last month. It is as if traumatic experiences have carved their initials in the bark of my soul.
If someone carves their initials in a living tree, the tree will probably recover and begin to grow over the mutilation. Our souls do the same. If we survive the initial trauma, our souls can grow over it. But there will be a bump or ridge, just as with the tree trunk that was vandalized. But if you run your hand along the tree trunk, you will notice the wound right away, you can see it and feel it – even though it did not physically kill the tree.
To Control Bad Memories, Create Fresher Memories The second thing that strikes me is that the PTSD survivor tends to focus on the horrific, ecstatic experiences, that gave them PTSD. Since these memories are so awful, the PTSD-Identity kicks in and the trauma survivor tries to cope with means that cause even more damage. They may engage in reckless sex or other dangers, or self-medicate through alcohol, viewing violence and porn, and/or drug abuse. In each of these cases the survivor is trying to feel alive like they did when they were traumatised and/or trying not to feel at all by deadening themselves so they don’t have to feel or remember. In each case, this makes the PTSD worse as it severs relationships, treats others and the self as objects, and important to this discussion, creates no new powerful memories that are positive.
(See my earlier essay on PTSD and Ecstatic Experience and Trauma for more information on the duality of soul and body and its connection to PTSD.)
Carey’s article on brain research and the passing of time and the remembrance of memories goes on to say,
…if very few events come to mind, then the perception of time does not persist; the brain telescopes the interval that has passed.
The relevance here for PTSD soul healing and recovery is that negative PTSD-Identity behaviors reduce events which produce meaningful memory, especially if one engages in conduct that deadens the mind like binge drinking or drug abuse. None of the negative PTSD coping behaviors create the formation of powerful positive memories that are transformative. Essentially, the fewer memories I create between my trauma and now, the more readily I will remember my traumatic experiences as if they are part of my current reality, my current now.
While we cannot artificially manufacture “Happy Memories,” we can keep ourselves sober and honorable. If we are sober we will have more memories that we remember and some of them have the potential to be transformative and positive. While this may not happen on a day to day basis, we will remain open to powerful memories because we are not self-medicating ourselves into psychological numbness with drugs and alcohol, or spiritual/moral numbness through immoral sex, violence, and recklessness.
Crossing the Boundary Requires Courage We must cross the boundary to realize that all life has value, including our own. Then we are on the road to a recovery and events will occur in our lives that create memories that are meaningful and transformative. These memories will fill in the dead-space between our initial traumas and then the memories of those traumas will not assault us so frequently.
This does not happen overnight. It is a process that requires a commitment to break out of the negative PTSD coping behaviors and to attempt to embrace life more fully and soberly. This requires courage. It is harder than the typical program of just giving in and sexing and drinking and doping until I am finally as phsyically dead as I am spiritualy dead. If that happens, then PTSD wins and we all lose.
Your mileage may vary. The bottom line is that we don’t have to remain in the prison of our PTSD memories. As always competent medical care as well as competent spiritual care is advisable.
Our PTSD-producing memories will never fully go away. They are based on events which happened and we cannot turn back time. But the memories can be kept in proper perspective and no longer enabled to bully us. The more affirmative memories we create now, the less our trauma history will dominate our minds, souls, memories, and dreams.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z