After many consecutive days of feeling ‘well’ and whole, centered, and—dare I even say it, “creative and inspired”—I woke up today feeling despair, a sense of impending failure, hopelessness and regret. My inner critic, whom I appropriately
refer to as ‘Hateful Bitch’, immediately pipes up. “Why, after just a few days of feeling better, would you be dumb enough to convince yourself that you could start a blog or a podcast?! You can’t even give up your morning cup of coffee or commit to regular exercise! You don’t know anything about podcasting or blogs. You will need to learn how to use publishing software and you HATE learning new software! You feel overwhelmed and anxious with these things. Don’t you remember? Do you really think that just because you have had a month’s worth of days that you didn’t feel “sick” or massively triggered or reactionary that you are ‘well’ now?!” [pan to inner critic image in my head slowly shaking her head back and forth with her pinched-faced look of disgust and disappointment]. Then I think of Pete Walker’s book, Complex PTSD: From Surviving To Thriving, and his uncomfortable and haunting statement comes wafting through my mind, as if floating by on a raft…
”…it is tremendously difficult, and sometimes impossible, to let go of the salvation fantasy that we will one day be forever free of them (emotional flashbacks).”
Then the emotional flashbacks start assailing me in waves. Like being pushed off the ledge of a cliff before I had time to grab the life jacket, I feel myself falling into that turbulent, swirling, unstable cesspool of terrible and wretched emotions from the past. Hateful Bitch doesn’t leave after shoving me. No, she stands at the ledge continuing to abuse me with a new onslaught of cataloged failures that clearly prove that I am a worthless piece of garbage. She is holding up her hand and pointing at her fingers as she begins to tick of my failings, one by one: daily exercise, learning to play the violin, keeping on top of business paperwork, keeping an orderly house, being well enough to be a gift to other people instead of living in my ‘victim zone’ where I am selfishly too absorbed in my own pain to be a good wife, mother, or friend.
What do I do? First, I go online and take down my website, because Hateful B has a valid point—that I have no idea what I am doing. Check. Second, I email the foundation I reached out to only yesterday asking to become one of their staff writers and I tell them I made a mistake and that I’m not ready yet. Check. Done.
Okay, now I can relax. I have doused and snuffed out any ember that might have started and become a raging fire. I decide to eat some breakfast since I was distracted from my morning routine by immediately being thrown into a panicked crisis-mode over my mistaken beliefs that I could write or blog! As I eat, I’m thinking to myself, “What is HAPPENING? Only yesterday I felt such enthusiasm, joy, and excitement about beginning this new purpose in life.” I eat breakfast and fix my cup of coffee.
After I eat, I feel restless and so I take my coffee and head into the room I now use as my creative space. My hip is hurting so I decide to try to stretch it out. As I’m lying on the floor stretching, I’m having continuous dialogue passing through my head. Questions like, “Were the last 40 days of feeling healthier simply a mirage? Was I really NOT getting better or making progress? I felt like God was calling me to begin to share my story in order to help others to heal. Was this just my ‘crazy’ talking? Was God even leading me, or did I just conjure that up in my mentally unwell brain? How can I even trust myself or my thoughts when I have mental illness?!”
Now I’m feeling ANGER and I begin to say aloud, “I hate you! I hate you for making me doubt myself! I hate you for making me doubt God! I hate you for making me feel crazy! I hate you for screwing me up as a child so that, even in adulthood, I am immersed in all this BS from the past! I hate you for continuing to rob me of feelings of health and restoration by kicking me in the gut as soon as I start to feel hopeful!” I continue to verbally ventilate my anger. My cat gets very distressed and starts meowing, although I notice she is not approaching me. She doesn’t really like it when I do this (or when I play loud music with bass-boost). She is free to leave the room; I give myself permission to ventilate as much as I want. When my verbal venting comes to an end, I start to cry deep wracking sobs of pain, anger, and grief.
I feel better. I grab my phone and start to message a friend but change my mind and decide to journal instead. Lately, my journal entries have felt like potential future article material. I have only recently begun to journal when I feel strong emotions rising to the surface. In the past, I would distract myself with Netflix for days on end–those days potentially turning into weeks. My favorite stress response is flight/freeze. I start with Netflix and usually end up in a state of dark depression if I stay in this fleeing response. I also LOVE to carb-load on very unhealthy foods while I binge on Netflix. I soothe myself with ‘treats’ because they make me feel better and keep my loneliness and abandonment at bay. This adds further to my feelings of depression because these foods only compound the problem. I isolate. I’m usually home alone for many days each week so no one knows I’m isolating. Well, I guess the cat knows, but she doesn’t really seem to care or mind, provided I remember to feed her.
As I start typing I decide that this entry will be my first ‘article’ and so, like a good journalist, I pick up Pete Walker’s book to find the exact quote that I referenced in the first paragraph. I consider Walker’s book the greatest source for Complex PTSD, referring to it as my “bible” because I frequently reference it for all things related to trauma, just as I reference the Holy Bible in all things relating to Christianity and my faith. As I flip through to find the quote, I come across the following section of his book. This is from chapter four, under the heading, “Surviving Versus Thriving.”
“Recovery involves learning to handle unpredictable shifts in our inner emotional weather. Perhaps the ultimate dimension of this is what I call the Surviving↔Thriving continuum. Before we enter into recovery, it may feel like life is nothing but a struggle to survive. However, when recovery progresses enough, we begin to have some experiences of feeling like we are thriving. These may start out as feelings of optimism, hopefulness and certainty that we are indeed recovering. And then, the bottom inevitably drops out because recovery is never all forward progress. Oh so unfairly, we are back to feeling that we can barely survive. To make matters worse, we are amnesiac that we even had a respite from surviving. Another flashback has hit and we polarize back onto the surviving end of the continuum. We are stuck in the anxious and deadened feelings of the abandonment mélange. In survival mode, even the most trivial and normally easy task can feel excruciatingly difficult. As in childhood, it is all feels just too hard. And if the flashback is especially intense, Thanatos may start knocking down the door. Thanatos is the death urge described by Freud and in a flashback it corresponds with the suicidal ideation we looked at in chapter 1. Once again, it is important to repeat that this feeling-state is a flashback to the worst times in childhood when our will to live was so compromised. As mindfulness improves we can recognize suicidal ideation as evidence of a flashback and begin to rescue ourselves with the chapter 8 flashback management steps.
One of the first books I purchased after my diagnosis of PTSD was Pete Walker’s book. It was VERY triggering. In fact, reading one of the very first chapters threw me into a traumatic episode where I became overwhelmed by emotions and sobbing, shaking, and saying things like, “No one spoke against him! It was not allowed!” in reference to my narcissistic abusive father. I had just begun my therapy at this point, and looking back now, I can recognize that I existed only in my triggered amygdala state 24/7 for many, many months during this phase of my healing journey. Also, I now realize that I had no business reading that book alone without the guidance of a trauma-informed therapist to help keep me emotionally regulated so that I didn’t re-traumatize myself with all the emotions the book drudged up from my childhood trauma. Here is a great podcast link about Affect Regulation that talks about how we must stay emotionally regulated (between 4 and 7 on the chart shown below) in order to safely process through emotions without causing ourselves additional trauma. This chart can be found on Dr. Adam Young's website if you subscribe to receive his free resources.
So, after happening upon this part of Walker’s book in this moment and writing these emotions and feelings down to allow myself to process what I am feeling, I can more clearly see what is happening. Let’s break it down.
What happened here? I made the decision earlier in the week to start writing a blog with the hope of eventually adding a podcast. I took physical steps in this venture by creating a website and reaching out to a potential source. I did these things after months of talking to God about my “purpose” in life. As a recent empty-nester, I have invested in myself and my healing process with this newfound time and freedom after homeschooling all three of my children for eleven years. I began thinking about ‘purpose’ after listening to Dr. Adam Young’s podcast, The Place We Find Ourselves, episode 34, Your Kingdom: The Purpose of Counseling. If you have a trauma history, I can highly recommend all his podcast episodes; I have found great insight and healing there.
According to this article in Walker’s book, I’m simply getting thrown into the surviving-thriving continuum. I realize that in the past I would have cycled through this process over the course of days, weeks, or possibly even months. Then it hits me! Not only did I not get sucked into that vortex of barely surviving for the next few days or weeks, but within a matter of minutes I had instantly grieved with verbal ventilating and sobbing. I didn’t flee. I didn’t freeze. I didn’t go to Netflix to distract myself for the next three weeks. I immediately recognized the feelings were from the past and that my fleeting thoughts were from Hateful B.
One of the first monumental steps in healing complex trauma is being able to recognize when we are in an emotional flashback. At this moment, I am visually in my mind’s eye kicking Hateful B in the teeth. Just to clarify, I do not claim Hateful B as a part of myself, but rather I identify her to be my actual parents’ hateful words to me as a child. Take that, H.B.! Next, I acknowledged my bodily need to eat and stretch. Again, this awareness of self in the face of an emotional flashback is a huge win. When the emotions of pain and grief surfaced, I allowed them to exit my body and mind and experienced that release that only comes from the sweet surrender of turning around and leaning into the emotions that are coming up.
Now, I am writing my first article; cathartic for sure. Free therapy, too.
* TRIGGER WARNING: Scripture, God, Religion
But I also quickly recognize that although I have done the hard work of multiple therapies, education, and healing modalities, it is not only my own actions that have brought me to this place of healing. The benefactor of my healing is God. Many of us benefit from a belief in a Higher Power, Spirit Mother, God, etc. Since learning about trauma and being a part of several Complex PTSD groups online, I have come to learn that many people have been traumatized with religion, distorted views of “God”, sexual, physical, or emotional abuse by Pastors or Church Leaders, or because of their abuse, they simply cannot identify with a “Father” in heaven that is anything other than the cruel and abusive biological father they have experienced as a child.
Although my biological father was not a healthy person, by some miracle, I am still able to accept my Heavenly Father as a guide on my healing journey. My family of origin did practice a religion and at a very young age, I cried out to God and I felt Him answer me. Isaiah 43:1 says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” I believe that. I believe that I am His Beloved. He revealed this name for me, Beloved, on a silent retreat a few years ago. He calls me His Beloved. And His purpose for me came through His healing for me.
Restoring My Beloved will be the name of my future podcast. It is the name of my website, www.restoringmybeloved.com. It is not up as I write this on September 27, 2019. It will probably not be up tomorrow.
But I am starting today. I am starting now in this moment to live His purpose of sharing my story to help others on their own healing journey with Complex Trauma and PTSD. And in ‘doing my research’ to write this article today, my Father in Heaven, in His faithfulness to me and my healing journey, led me back to the paragraphs in Walker’s book that confirm that my healing IS taking place, that I am equipped by Him to help others, that I’m not crazy for starting a blog or a podcast, and that I should definitely not listen to H.B. when it comes to past failures.
Because I am no longer that Vikki. I am being made new in Christ. “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17. And, Romans 8:31 asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Certainly not H.B.! She has no place here anymore. She can no longer hurt me or control me; the old things have passed away. “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, ‘Father!’”
God is restoring His Beloved. But that’s not just me—that’s you, that’s all who call upon His name when fear starts to pull us back into the past emotions that are trying to rob us of His freedom, joy, and purpose in this present moment.
What would you be capable of today in your healing journey if you believed you were beloved by God and that His power gave you freedom over fear and slavery from the past?