PTSD strives to change our identity, compel us into isolation, lacerate our abilities to hope and love. To survive and thrive in the face of our traumatic experiences and intrusive memories we need to find and embrace sources of life and love. The embrace leads to continued hope and life. There are many different manifestations of life and love for us to discover. Lately, for me, it’s been a sunflower.
We seek to find reasons to maintain hope and love. Without them, we are doomed.
Both those people with PTSD and those people who care about someone with PTSD mention that the trauma experience seems to change them into someone else, into something else. The PTSD strives to change our identity and to wound our souls. As this process takes hold, people can be repelled from us, especially if we become selfish and ugly. This leads to isolation when people avoid us or when we avoid them.
What PTSD is trying to do to us can be summarized in its three goals.
- PTSD’s First Goal is to Damage Your Healthy Relationships
- PTSD’s Second Goal is to Isolate You
- PTSD’s Third Goal is to Physically Harm You
But worse of all, comes the flaying of our hope and ability to love. If this laceration runs its course, then self-harm is its outcome. Self-harm through cutting, drinking, drug abuse, sex and porn abuse lead to deeper despair and may result in suicide.
To fend off this darkness, we need to find and promote what gives us joy. This in itself is a voyage of discovery that is well worth experiencing. Just as we need to discover what forms our PTSD triggers, and then frequently assess how sensitive we are to them on any given day, we also need to be willing to look for joy.
Sometimes finding joy may be in something complex or it may be in something rather simple and happenstance.
Frequently, the source of our joy may be something non-verbal. Joy can create the light that fends off the darkness.
Lately, for me, part of that discovery of light and joy takes shape in the form of a sunflower growing in my backyard. I know its days are numbered because the life cycle of a sunflower in my yard usually concludes with a squirrel finding it to be a tasty treat. In fact, I’ve been pleasantly surprised the sunflower has lasted as long as it has.
I could wax poetic about how the beauty of the sunflower affects me. I will spare you that pain and just mention that the color and shape of it catches my eye and gives me hope. I am delighted that a sunflower reaches up to the sky and then follows the sun through a day storing up light, energy, storing up life.
The sunflower for me serves as an analogy how in spite of marauding squirrels and other challenges I need to keep my gaze reaching upwards, my face drinking in the gaze of life-giving light. If I do so, I gain more life and love and hope.
Our day to day life is filled with plenty of challenges. If you have survived trauma, then you may also know that the day to day challenge of living can be amplified by the intrusive memories of bad times. To avoid succumbing, we need to actively look for life, hope, and love. Divine grace resides therein, continues life, where we not only preserve ourselves, but where we can help others choose to live and not die.
If we dare, we can find grace and hope in healthy relationships. We can find them in acts of creativity like playing music, drawing, painting, or sculpting. This can also include listening to music, drinking in a slow gaze upon art, sculpture, or a sunset (and also by listening to the new CD by Iris DeMent, “The Trackless Woods,” featuring the poetry of Anna Akhmatova, which I have been enjoying). We can write, sing, dance. And, we can find grace and hope in worship, prayer, and meditation.
In any act that leads us to healthy discovery we gather-up a greater appreciation of the creativity that grows in ourselves and in others.
The discoveries, act, and appreciation, leads us to know explicitly or implicitly that we are not merely meat-puppets to be used, exploited, and abused by others, but that we are created in the image and likeness of God. And, thus, no matter how damaged life may leave us, we have value.
You can find these discoveries and they can keep you healthier and alive. For me, lately, this has also been in the yearly re-discovery of just how much God-given beauty is created in a sunflower.
Be Well and Semper Pax, Dr. Z