The previous PTSD Spirituality essay dealt with the benefits and risks of making resolutions. For those of us who carry the PTSD soul wound, we need to maximize opportunities of healing and minimize the potential pitfalls that often try to take root within us. These parameters apply in our day to day outlook as well as in any pre-planned life changes (resolutions) we may be contemplating.
Examine the Parts as Well as the Whole (Inventory)
If, for example, my resolution is to abuse alcohol less – and that is a good goal – I will need to think about some of the component parts behind the abusive drinking and not just the physical act of drinking itself. Conducting an inventory of which types of situations make me want to drink is a valuable exercise.
In fact, conducting such an inventory could be an achievable resolution in and of itself. Making and keeping a resolution to conduct such an inventory for one time only, or the first Saturday of every month, or whatever frequency, is very valuable for a number of reasons. First off, it is always a plus to have a an achievable goal that can be accomplished in one sitting (since so many of our goals are not usually achievable in a single sitting). Secondly, the information gained would then allow me to form some other achievable resolutions, such as avoiding a place that more easily enables me to stress and drink, or relax and drink. These places could be particular taverns or the homes of toxic “friends” or watching daytime television or listening to Hate Radio. They are the places or activities which will usually convince me to drink abusively.
If I usually come away from a person, place, or event thinking, “Man, after that, do I ever need a drink!” then those are be situations I should avoid.
I may not realize this, putting two and two together and seeing the connections which make me drink, unless I have done an inventory. Of course, we can not control every single situation we enter. That said, chances are there will be some toxic people, places, and events, you can distance yourself from at no great personal cost. While that inventory may reveal we cannot fix every one of those situations, it will allow us to better understand precisely what it is that compels us to put up a shield of alcohol.
This same pattern of conducting an inventory and then breaking down the situation into its component parts also applies to other portions of PTSD’s destructive behaviors. Problems with anger, porn, violence, reckless sex, adultery, thrill seeking, etc., can be investigated to see what moves us to take on those behaviors. The more we learn from these inventories, the more we can be in control of our own lives and relationships.
Programming Healthiness, Not Failure
Making a New Year’s Resolution is not necessarily a program for failure. But we should be careful to ask ourselves what compels us to the behaviors and activities we would like to dispense with. Then, sorting through that information, try to identify some of the root causes. Strive to remove yourself from the presence of those toxins which guide you to self-destructive, relationship-destroying behaviors.
Any well thought out and understood resolution (regardless of when we make it) will lead to physical, relational, and spiritual benefits. A well thought out resolution will heal us, to some degree, on all three levels.
As we progress from smaller to greater goals, we will become stronger, healthier. Those achievements will take me to where I can then look at engaging even larger issues. Because I have learned from the earlier experience of successful resolutions I know I can go the distance to larger goals. Success in our realistic resolutions will help us to continue in our healing journey.
While Specific in Content, Resolutions Also Affect Us Generally
Most resolutions should not be simply a yes or no question of, “Did I keep my resolution?” As mentioned above they can be useful, but to get the full benefit of resolutions we ought to engage them as part of our sanctification journey. For those with the PTSD soul wound (and for anyone else, really) the journey of healing from the worst of our PTSD soul wound is a lifetime plan.
If I have conducted the inventory and then discovered four or five things that cause irrational anger to rise within me, then I have things I know I can work on. If listening to Rush Limbaugh or other forms of Hate Radio makes me angry and makes hating other people easier, then maybe I should listen to less Hate Radio. If I stop listening to Hate Radio, then I will be more likely to see the value that our Creator places on each of us as individuals made in the image and likeness of God.
If we engage in a single miserable behavior or outlook, it will damage more than one single thing. If we heal from the behavior or outlook, we will encourage healing in more than one thing.
Our actions, like the emanating ripples from a stone cast in a pond will affect more than only the isolated spot where the stone hit the water. The ripples of our actions affect not only ourselves, but all of those around us – for better or for worse.
Walking to Running, Each Step Grace-Infused
It does not matter how small the goal or commitment that choose to form our resolutions. The healing comes not only from the actual action that we engage in, but also by merely showing up and honoring the intention to heal. Honest intention matters. Just like the desire to pray is a form of prayer in and of itself (a form that should not be the only prayer type we engage in), our intentions matter when it comes to resolutions.
For some of us, we will at first establish resolutions that are too grand and of wide scope; they are simply to big to do at this stage in our life. This is not “wrong” in and of itself, but it may mean that we have not conducted a complete inventory of what we want to do and what the component parts of a particular resolution may be. If we discover more component parts than we had initially considered, we may need to scale back our goals as we still maintain the same high level of commitment.
Part of our resolution process – like any sanctification journey – may be first just trying to figure out what it is we hope to resolve. We will benefit if we ask ourselves, Is this resolution a single achievable goal? Or, does it have component parts?
This questioning, considering, and inventorying, can be done all silently in an inside-your-own-head conversation. But better results will come if you write down some of this consideration. The process of writing will help you weigh evidence and form conclusions that may slip by you if you only do this process mentally.
There is a grace involved in considering our resolutions and endeavoring to find out the best way to pursue them.
One needs to be careful however that they not just say, “Oh well, my heart was in the right place. I tried, failed, and now know I cannot do better. So, I can quit trying to improve. God knows I tried and God will always forgive me, because, you know, my intentions were good.” We should be wary of this attitude as it is a form of cheap grace.
Watch Out for “Cheap Grace”
When speaking of honest intention as we consider our resolutions, one needs to be careful that we don’t pursue what the theologians and clergy call “Cheap Grace” (Don’t confuse this with Cheap Trick’s ‘Live at Budokan’ album…that is something else altogether – yes, really, it is).
Cheap Grace occurs when we
A. pre-plan our sins, and/or
B. not authentically care when we fail or sin, and
C. we just figure God will forgive us anyway.
This expectation that God will forgive us simply because it is part of God’s job description is a form of naive misunderstanding at best and pernicious sin at its worst.
This form of cheap grace is often combined with a feeling of impunity. What form of impunity? The one that comes when we think we know God’s grace will wash us clean later on, regardless of what we have done wrong. People who fool themselves on this track have mislaid the notions of repentance and penance as part of forgiveness.
If we begin to count on cheap grace, we will feel neither forgiven nor sanctified. Rather, we will be further addicted to the sinful behaviors we are trying to cover up with cheap grace. We know that God can and will forgive us, but we ought not to treat God like a predictable, two-dimensional wind-up toy that will accede to our demands.
Staying Realistic and Lifestyle Questions
Usually, our resolution requires a change in our lifestyle and outlook. A beneficial resolution will help us heal as we practice it, as we live it out. It will no doubt be difficult, inconvenient – maybe even physically painful – when we first start to live out our resolutions. But if we persevere, realize that more than mere willpower is involved; we will begin to realize the healing that sprouts from well-tended resolutions.
If we are to succeed at our resolutions and heal as the result of living them out, then we need to amend our lifestyle, maybe even our values. Part of the realism we need to embrace is to take things in manageable stages.
If one of my resolutions is to drop some weight (all too true in my own case! Yikes!), it is unrealistic of me to think I will get it all done in the first month and then live happily ever after. If I am going to drop weight and then keep it off, I need a lifestyle assessment (inventory) and then a realistic change in how I live my life.
And, having dropped the weight (we live in hope!), I will need to continue the healthier lifestyle if I desire to keep the weight off. If I go back to my pre-resolution diet and sedentary lifestyle, I will regain the pounds (While this may feel obvious to the two or three people who are still reading, it still needs to be said).
Re-Investing Our Time and Our Soul
How we occupy our time will be important.
For example, if part of my PTSD soul wound is manifested in the consumption of pornography, abuse of alcohol or drugs, or unbridled anger, I will need to have a replacement for the time, energy, and activity that was invested in those despair-producing activities. If I realized it or not, to be subject to those PTSD behaviors is also an investment of my time. Not only will I need to stop one behavior, but I will need to guide that new-found time into something constructive.
Where I invest my time will produce either a healthier soul or a soul mired in despair.
We need to not only cease any horrible, family-destroying activities, but we need to replace them with activities which encourage love, respect, and healthy relationships.
Instead of using one’s time to ogle other people’s daughters or sisters or mothers, one needs to do something creative and positive. If our PTSD soul wound has damaged us so much that if we quit being self-destructive we are left with nothing to do, a gap of open time, then we need to do something positive and healing in that time.
If I am abusing alcohol due to PTSD’s anger components, then I am probably also damaging some of my most important relationships at the same time. If I can sort out what causes my anger with an inventory (and that is an investigative journey upon which many of us will fear to embark), then I am better suited to wrench control of my life out of the hands of anger.
I can endeavor to return my life to myself,
I can seek to return it into the hands of those who matter most.
Often, many of us would embark on a new project, “If we could only find the time.” The time to start that new journey is usually to be found as the freed-up time from eliminating negative behaviors. We have the potential for a “Double Win,” whereby we stop spending time negatively and start using that time positively.
Your mileage may vary, but usually, getting over a bad habit or past the active phase of an addiction will mean we need to think about how we use our time. For those who have PTSD and are still reading this essay:
The start of our PTSD healing journey begins by inhibiting, and then stopping, our journey of PTSD’s self-harm.
The next essay will conclude our exploration of Resolutions and PTSD.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z