In order to heal our experience of psychological trauma, we must be willing to get in touch with what we are thinking. For most humans, thought is not a conscious process. We often aren't aware our thoughts. Thoughts, just seem to come and go. They are like leaves floating in a stream, coming into our awareness, only for a moment, then moving on past us in the trickling stream of consciousness.
We don't realize that our thoughts create stories; and these stories become our inner reference and guide. We aren't aware that this thought-story is creating , within, our feelings of despair. Intrusive memories become the enemy we confront throughout our attempts to heal. We don't realize that our trauma story has become our guide. With awareness and with practice, we can become fully aware of the conversation running inside our mind. When symptomatic, this is not an easy thing for us to do.
With the symptom of memory intrusion, our minds seem to dictate our story to us and we resign ourselves into believing we have lost our ability to control our thoughts. With meditation, we can regain control. We can learn how to rewrite our inner story. As we learn to edit the inner story, we can experience some welcome relief.
Remember, always: human beings are story-tellers by nature. We've created stories since the beginning of time. We've been writing, internally, our life story since the day of our birth. We use story-telling to express to ourselves and others the intricate weaving of experiences we've encountered along life's journey. We use story-telling to make sense of our experience; to make sense of ourselves and of reality. In order to calm the mind, we must learn to control what we think. We need to take charge of our inner story-telling experience.
Creating awareness is the first step. By sitting in silence, by introducing meditation into our lives, we can begin a journey into our inner world. Thoughts will challenge any attempts we make to be silent. Soon, with practice, we will become aware of the words we are sharing with ourselves. We can begin to hear, again, our own inner voice.
Once aware, we can observe (listen to) the story we are telling ourselves. With observance, over time, we can then pay closer attention to the story. The most wonderful and healing part of learning through this process, is when we ultimately discover that we can control the words we write upon our mind.
Trauma is the story of what happened to us. Our inner story of trauma, with the symptoms that challenge us become our inner dialogue; intrusive, unwanted recollections of the events that brought to us, so much pain.
To begin a practice of meditation takes only five minutes. Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Using the practice of Breath Work and Grounding, shared in the previous blog, first take charge of your breathing and ground yourself. Don't expect silence. Listen, instead, for the sound of your own voice. Be gentle with this voice. Don't judge the words (thoughts). Listen, quietly, as you continue to practice grounding and breathing. Wait for a silent break. Then, take charge of your thoughts with a single phrase: "I Am!" This is a mantra. "I Am!" Repeat these words, silently to yourself. Continue for five minutes. This is meditation. This is a fresh start.
Five minutes today; maybe ten minutes tomorrow. Keep working with the practice and allow the experience to gently and slowly grow inside. In time, you can use this practice to change your thoughts. To change your inner-storytelling. As our thoughts change, our symptoms will reduce. It will be a challenge, forming a meditative practice. Doing so, will make all the difference.
Below is a collection of mantra's (personal devotions-affirmations) from the Buddha himself, courtesy of Gerald Penilla and The Manifest Station. Enjoy!
Be Well! My mantra to you.
This video, recommended today from Silva Life Systems
Breath-work also forms a foundation for developing meditation practices should we choose to pursue adding meditation to our recovery toolbox. Mindfulness (learning to live in the present moment) is a practice that is revolutionizing recovery in mental health. Breath-work is a first step in learning mindfulness concepts.
A second key concept is Grounding.
In my own recovery practice, Grounding translates to simply using techniques that help me to restore my direct connection with reality. I still find myself in states of self-protective dissociation, from time to time. Dissociation protects us emotionally. The state allows for detachment from our surroundings when the senses start taking in too much of the action.
Numbing out for a time acts to silence things inside, for those days when our mind is dealing already with far too much in terms of trauma memories.
Dissociation only really becomes a problem for us when the activation of the process creates enough of a loop in memory that activation of dissociation quickens and makes more reactive the dissociative response. The response is quite normal for us otherwise.
When a feedback loop occurs in the filing system in our brain. This creates a problematic issue as the process causing the action of checking out of reality for a time, and with this looping in play, dissociation comes at us more often than is helpful, and then shows up for us when we'd rather it didn't.
Do you recall, for example, losing touch with reality for a time while driving? Feeling as though you've missed, mile upon mile of highway?
This is what the dissociative response feels like in action.
The symptom can become quite problematic for us in the long-term, should we end up with this state looping in the brain leading us deeply into a more debilitating situation of absolute withdrawal from life.
Grounding techniques can help significantly in maintaining our connection with reality, as well. Or, grounding can assist us through a process we can us as a means for coming back into the real world following a dissociative episode:
One that perhaps kicked in to calm the input of the environment for us to physiologically protect us from adding insult to the injury of an already far too busy mind.
Trauma, with anxiety active, gets us thinking incessantly sometimes. Focusing too much about the past or transporting our imagination too far into the unknown future:
This can leave us in a state of inner flux and can leave us highly symptomatic. Remaining grounded and functional in these situations can be quite difficult for us to do. Keeping our focus about living only into the reality of the present moment takes practice following traumatic experiences.
When living with PTSD, it's best for us in terms of recovery to schedule a consistent practice regime for both mindfulness and grounding techniques. For us all, every ounce of prevention we can muster can be definitely worth it's wait in gold.
Managing our symptoms: This for many of us will be a need long-term.
It's better for us, in all situations that can be troublesome for us along the way, to be ahead of time prepared.
Practice, does make perfect. It keeps us on our toes and in touch with the sweet-spot of near perfection.
Daily practice prepares us for those unexpected triggering events that are inevitable in our lives. During meditation, for example, when we allow just five minutes of selfish me time to start with everyday, we can use those five minutes of silence by focusing on a single truth:
The Present Moments in Life are truly the only real moments we have to experience our surroundings or inner-space.
Looking back or fretting about what lies ahead?
This activity is really, in the present moment, only about us recalling memories and imaginings we're reflecting upon. There is no reality left in either one of these states of mind.
Daily breath-work and daily grounding practice will improve our connection to reality in a preventative way, reducing the bodies need for dissociative self-protection, over time.
Traumatic memories can be so intrusive, this is true. They seem to constantly override our experience of the present. It is important to learn to reflect upon the trauma experiences by choice. As we might do in the safety of a counseling relationship.
To learn breath-work practices and grounding techniques we sometimes do best with a human teacher. This is the gift of therapy, actually. Finally accepting the courage we need to allow ourselves a little vulnerability can lead us into the world with a human being who just might know a thing or two about exactly where we've been.
Let's face it. We aren't supermen. To learn these techniques takes training. Help is waiting. We only need the courage to risk being vulnerable enough to ask for it sometimes.
I hope you can use the two videos included in this blog as an introduction to developing your recovery practices. The video is courtesy of Dr. Anna Baranowsky with the Traumatology Institute.
One of the best products they offer, the Breath Trainer App, is a very inexpensive smart-phone application and is an ideal tool to get started practicing and training our bodies to respond to anxiety.
Learning to reduce our symptoms consciously, using our own breath and the act of our own breathing to get us there: This is what recovery is actually all about.
It's a very wise decision to make.
In terms of adding to our lives a little prevention, follow the links below as well to find a 12-Step grounding tutorial.
Many thanks to Dr. Anna Baranowsky and The Traumatology Institute for explaining in the video for us both of these very powerful techniques.
Further Reading and Links
How to Ground and Center
Breath Trainer App
The Traumatology Institute: Online Treatment Program
Disclaimer: These materials and resources are presented for educational purposes only. They are not a substitute for informed medical advice or training. Do not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified health or mental health care provider. If you have concerns, contact your health care provider, mental health professional, or your community health centre.
Darren Gregory © 2014: All Rights Reserved
Associate Member American Academy Of Experts In Traumatic Stress.
(Currently Needs Renewal).