PTSD Spirituality: Resolutions, Vacant Lots, and Setacks

This third essay on PTSD and resolutions addresses how successful resolutions will provide us with the equivalent of spiritual vacant lots to either improve or hand back to the enemy.  Additionally, some discussion on how to handle setbacks and how to remain accountable will be inflicted on the reader who actually plugs along and reads the whole thing.

The previous two essays about PTSD and making resolutions dealt with benefits, risks, seeing resolutions as single moments or as prelude to lifestyle changes.  And, of course, the aspects of authentic grace and cheap grace in our journey.

Links to the first two essays are here:

Essay 1: PTSD and the Benefits and Risks of Resolutions

Essay 2: PTSD and Keeping Resolutions Realistic

When we embark on resolutions to dispense with some of our destructive PTSD coping behaviors we ought not to be too surprised to discover that some of our efforts will be successful and some will fail.  In the areas where we have had some success we will discover that we now have time and energy available that used to be expended on corrosive activities and attitudes.  To loosely quote Crowe T. Robot, “This is the problem you wanna have!”  But there will be some successes and they will open new opportunities for us.

Likewise we will probably not be 100% successful in every resolution we commit to.  This is normal and to be expected.  Frustrating, but not totally unexpected.  At other times there will be occasions when we have been going on well for awhile and then – Double Zappo! – we have a setback.  What do we do then?  Do we bag the whole thing or are there other options available to us?

From Rubbish Heap to Vacant Lot

In many cases, we can be successful in keeping our resolutions.  If we can pare down and then eliminate our negative PTSD coping behaviors we will gain more control of our lives. And, we will discover blocks of time that were formerly absorbed by PTSD’s fear and anger. That newly discovered time can be taken up in writing, artistic endeavors, talking with someone you trust.

Once we start to heal we will discover further healing opportunities from PTSD’s soul wound.

If I can successfully reduce the time-absorption effects of my PTSD I am likely to discover a gaping hole in my day. That hole is where my PTSD used to be exercised and encouraged in its folly. I need to fill that gap with some healthy activities or the PTSD activity will creep back in to that now empty space (for those of you who like the New Testament, think about the story at Matthew 12:43-45…your mileage may vary).

As we discover the availability of time and energy that was formerly burnt-up in corrosive behaviors, we need to ensure we have something positive to engage them with. Do not leave that space absent and waiting for the next bad habit to show up. If we don’t utilize the new found time and energy for healing and healthy relationships, we will lose them and they will revert to their former acidic march against our soul.

When you cease a destructive activity, you have inherited a vacant lot.

You need to build something strong and healthy in that location.

Don’t wait for others to come and dump their junk there. If you don’t fill that space with openness to God’s love and grace, others will show up to dump their toxins on it – and you.

What About Setbacks?

Setbacks can grind us into hopelessness and despair. This is why relying solely on our human will bind us to failure in the long run. While we don’t particularly enjoy setbacks, we know they will come. Can we get up, dust ourselves off, and deliver our journey back into the hands of God? That is the question.

There will be setbacks…but setbacks are also opportunities for us to discover compassion, experience unexpected compassion from others, and to more finely hone our journey.

Setbacks are also opportunities to realize that these resolutions are not merely about having the strength of personal will to change our behavior.  Possession of strong willpower can be helpful, but by itself, it is inadequate and is sometimes harmful. A strong personal will is fine as far as it goes, but it will only takes us a little way along the PTSD healing journey.  To go the distance, God’s grace is more important than the strength of my will when it comes to wrestling the PTSD soul wound.

Rather than the self-focused (self-absorbed?) emphasis on my own will above everything else, I need to develop the willingness to place my fate in the hands of God.  This creates faith and trust.  My own will is important when it comes to resolutions, but we look forward to handing off the ball to God’s grace and love as soon as possible.  Getting to that point is itself a challenge and a journey. This all means it is a faith journey, a graced journey, even if  – and when – we endure setbacks.

The PTSD-recovery journey will start with some aspect of our personal will, but the true fruition comes from being able to take the risk of discovering God’s love and grace for each of us.

For more on this see, Dealing with PTSD Setbacks and Hopelessness.

[I started some resolutions on 31 December 2012. As I write this portion of the essay it is 7 January 2012. Looking back on these seven days, checking my log book of resolution activity, I see I “failed” two days out of seven. Yikes! I have since figured out why I did not complete my resolution goals for those two days … a couple of embarrassing reasons … but I did not let the 2 misses out of seven redefine me as a failure. I did not write off my goals. I regret the setbacks, but I am in this for the long haul and that actually adds value to the five days I achieved my goals.]

There will always be setbacks, at times even personal failures, but with grace we can keep going.

Setbacks are only major problems if I let them freeze me into doing nothing.

Sharing the Journey

Resolutions tend to be more effective when we share them with someone we trust. Again, in an ideal situation, we would touch base with another human being, even if only by phone or email, and let them know if we met our resolution goals for that week.

This checking with someone else can feel a bit risky sometimes. We are checking in with someone and that makes us more accountable.  They get the honor of a ring-side seat for a portion of your resolution journey.

Making our commitment known to someone else is a terrific motivator. At the same time, this is also a means to generate some positive synergy. We are not giving this person authority over us. Rather, we are honoring them by making something we might feel vulnerable about known to them and asking for their encouragement.

We are trusting them for encouragement and the notion of a shared journey, even when we are walking the physical steps alone.  If they are also striving to keep their own resolutions and goals, being asked to witness your own progress will motivate them on their own journey.

If I don’t have someone with whom to share this journey I can always keep a journal or calendar that tracks my goals against my actual performance. Many people will use both: have someone to check in with and also keeping track of your journey in your own personal calendar or resolution log.

And, as in all things, we can share these resolutions with God. We can share with God why we are taking on these resolutions and how we plan to successfully implement them. Bringing God into the conversation about our resolutions, our inventory, and our implementation plan is always a smart thing.

Our prayerful conversation with God can be a detailed examination of what we are endeavoring to resolve or merely a simple request for the grace to stick to our resolutions.

A Journey Which Dispenses With Despair

By the way, what if my resolution involves no healing, nor sanctification for that matter? Then I need to ask if this goal is actually a healthy goal. If the only person who benefits from the success of one of my resolutions is me, then I may need to examine it more closely.

Our resolutions can help us or harm us. The more realistic we are about making them, the better. If we consider a resolution and it seems just way too big for us, then keep cutting it in half until it is achievable for you. You can take on larger projects as your experience of success become more normal to you.

From time to time we may cease a particular resolution and/or start another. The more successful we are at making a grace-filled healing journey with God, the more we will see the small things we can tweak and improve.  Knowing God shares the journey with us and loves us, then the more we are enabled to live in love, hope, and healing.

You need not despair from setbacks. The journey, with or without PTSD, is a challenge. We do not walk alone. We walk together as a community even when physically separated from one another. God does not want us to fail. God made us in the image and likeness of the divine, so we know we have inherent worth. If we struggle with PTSD’s soul wounds, we need not abandon hope. The journey can be tough, but it is a journey that restores us ever more fully to the light and love of God.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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