In order to heal our experience with trauma, we must be willing to get in touch with what we are thinking. For humans, thought is not a conscious process some of the time that we can readily listen in on. We often aren't aware of our thoughts at all. 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 that is human awareness and consciousness.
We don't realize, unless we're taught such things, that our thoughts create stories. These stories become our inner reference and guide. With each thought our mind constructs, acting to add bits to the story across our lives, our thoughts dictate every single move as humans we make.
We're for the most part unaware that it is first our thoughts that ultimately generate emotions, both positive and negative. We've not been educated well in Western Culture in how to listen-in on the inner-conversation our thoughts create.
I've learned as part of my own need to recover from trauma's emotional harm, that it's first a thought, that triggers any emotion. Whether we can listen-in on said thought or otherwise, our thinking processes are guiding ultimately everything we say and do.
It's thought that guides our communication, our actions, as well as triggering our physiology that ignites our inner-sense (the felt-sense) of our emotions.
When first confronting the negative emotions that come with PTSD, we aren't aware, most of us, that the thought-story we have constantly running in our mind (our brain) is creating within our feelings of despair and/or our feelings of anxiety. It's defiantly thought that generates the night-mares we often try to sleep with once PTSD takes over our mind, body, and spirit.
Intrusive memories become the enemy we confront throughout our attempts to heal from PTSD. We don't realize that our trauma story has become our guide. Once we're traumatized, which does, in fact, cause injury to the brain initially, every time an intrusive memory of trauma fires up inside, we're reinjured, unfortunately, by the memories (the thoughts) themselves.
This is why it can take so long to recover. With PTSD active, our symptoms themselves continue to cause injury to the brain. Over time, with this happening, and with trauma memory triggers coming at us out-of-the-blue in our environment, our brains actually change in both structure and in function.
Once we reach out for help, entering into therapy that is trauma-educated and trauma-informed, with 'Cognitive Behavioural Therapy' being still the most studied and validated treatment for trauma and PTSD: It's here we might first learn how incredibly powerful our thoughts can be.
Our thoughts, whether we're consciously aware of them or not, are the grand-contributor in developing PTSD. The basis of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy suggests that it is by getting in touch, consciously, with our thinking, we can perhaps change any thoughts that are responsible for triggering our symptoms.
With awareness and with practice, based on my own experience and the experience of others, I know in dealing with PTSD we can become fully aware of the conversation running inside our mind. When symptomatic, this is not an easy thing for us to do. Thus, it's important to learn some things we can put into daily practice what will assist us.
With some tools in our recovery tool-box, we can work then towards learning to calm not only our minds: With right practices introduced to us and practiced, we can learn to calm, as well, our body, granting some rest, thereby too, for our trauma-damaged, human-spirit.
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 some education and guidance we can learn something that can tackle this problem that's part of dealing with PTSD: meditation.
It's by learning personally some meditative practices that I've learned how valuable these practice can we in helping develop a restored sense of regained emotional control. Recovery is about gaining some power again over our emotional reactions, fight-or-flight, which trigger often unexpectedly.
With meditation, and some right practices of contemplation, we can learn how to rewrite our inner story too, if we like. We can learn to put that story of trauma into a form, following traumatizing experiences, that we can accept, live with, and with a shift like this symptoms get easier for us to manage.
Recovery, for me, is still about learning to live with all the carnage I'd taken in as a paramedic in BC. Like others who might read this piece, the goal of recovery is about finding ways that we can experience by applying some tools, no longer being ruled by emotional issues and trauma stories. Stories that for many of us have long ago been stories of the past.
I know. PTSD doesn't make it easy to keep the stories where they belong. In the past, filed away in the brain as long-term memories. It's the nature of the PTSD beast to keep these memories active, in short-term memory, until we agree with them to do the work necessary to get them into long-term memory where they belong.
As we learn to edit the inner story, after first learning how to spend time in silence, listening-in on what we're thinking, we can experience some welcome relief. Once we begin to put meditative practices into ourselves deeply enough, meditation can then become habitual in our lives. We first must learn to walk, before we're ready to try running.
Ultimately the goal of practicing meditation is to have these new practices become second-nature.
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 experiences; to make sense of ourselves and of reality.
In order to learn how to calm the mind, learning also by doing so how to self-regulate our emotions, we must first learn to control not WHAT we think. We need to learn how to take charge of our inner story-telling experience-by learning first how to listen-in to the minds inner-story-telling.
This inner-banter first appears as a monologue of sorts that is running all the time on it's own. Eventually, if my own experience isn't restricted to myself, we can actually learn to dialogue with our thoughts-talking to oneself is something we've pathologized that never should have been, according to one physician who years ago passed this on for me to consider.
We can learn to do so, listening-in on our thoughts. As we grow with practice, we'll find ourselves succeeding in allowing the thoughts we get in touch with to simply come and go. We learn how to listen-in on our thoughts (observe them) without attaching any meaning to the thought. We learn then too, how to stop using them on impulse to dive into taking any action that might not be best for us to carry out.
Creating awareness is the first thing we must get to. By sitting in silence, by introducing meditation as a first step by simply learning to spend a few minutes per day focusing on only our breath: From there we can move into learning more structured meditative practices, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques can teach us how to master this skill of 'thought-observation'.
Should we grow from these initial practice into wishing to allow other meditative practices into our lives, we can begin a journey into our inner world-which is where the human mind and human spirit, together comfortably reside.
It's here, as well, that the reality of the energy we might call 'God' resides as well.
Thoughts, particularly our memories of trauma, will challenge any attempts we make to be silent. The goal of these practices are not actually to achieve total silence of thought. Choosing to at least start, with practice, we will become aware of the words we are sharing with ourselves.
We that, over time, we can begin to hear. Once we can hear ourselves think, we learn to trust again our own, once PTSD damaged and stolen-away inner voice.
Once we can learn to be aware of our thinking consciously, we can observe (listen to) the story we are telling ourselves too, over time. With observance-of-thought growing within as a skill, 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 in the first place.
Sometimes today, my inner-story telling is more like I'm having with myself inside, is becoming more often a rather constructive and helpful debate at times.
Trauma is the story of what happened to us. The intrusive memory symptom won't allow us ever to forget what happened. That story doesn't make us who we are. It's a mere part of our life-experience, not the whole. 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-for some of us, that pain's been with us for our life-time.
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 a second post here on the blog: first take charge of your breathing and ground yourself.
Don't expect silence. Listen, instead, for the sound of your own voice. Simply focus on your breath-the thoughts will come. Be gentle with this voice. Don't judge the words (thoughts). Don't argue with them. Don't try to change them. We're learning through this how to observe them. Remember, achieving silence-of-thought, isn't ever in meditation the goal.
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. If the mantra turns into other thoughts? Simply return to only focusing for a time on your breath. From there continue the process across the five minute practice session.
This is meditation 101. This is a fresh start. This grants a place to begin. When I started, I did this four times per day.
Five minutes today; maybe ten minutes tomorrow, or next week. 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. But, for now, it's about taking a break, focusing on the breath, and learning how to listen-in on our thoughts without judgement (adding meaning to them) as you learn that you can over time.
To change your inner-storytelling: I find it best to allow such shifts to come on their own inside. As our thoughts change, our symptoms will reduce, in my experience. It will be a challenge, forming a meditative practice. Doing so, will make a huge difference, but understand that's going to take awhile.
At the very least, I'm comfortable sharing that this has been the outcome of learning such things for me.
Below is a collection of mantra's (personal devotions-affirmations) from the Buddha himself, courtesy of Gerald Penilla and The Manifest Station.
Be Well! That's my 'mantra' (prayer) to you.
I'll try here to put this into a short-form: In order to heal our experience of psychological trauma, we must be willing to get in touch with what we are thinking. Please consider meditative practices with as open-a-mind as you can allow. Another thing that happened for me when I started with these practices, is I gained a sense that I WAS helping myself. I found taking the step towards meditation lift me up because I'd done something to take charge.
Again,for most humans, thought is not a conscious process. We often aren't aware of our thoughts. Thoughts are running all the time, but until we agree to learn how, they're sometimes hard to hear. One will come and go, followed by the next. 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 our awareness.
Making friends with these thoughts of ours?
For trauma-recovery, making friends with our thinking is simply part of the recovery-deal.
For More That Expands On This Writing: Follow This Link To The Next Blog Post: 'Breath-Work and Grounding'.
For An Introductory Eight-Week Course To Learn About Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction: Follow This Link (Discuss this with your physician and/or your trauma helpers before you begin).
Updated Today: August 17th, 2018
From Silva Life Systems
One of the most helpful stepping-stones in recovery is breath- work. Learning to breathe effectively forms a foundation for all future work we may choose to engage in. Breathing through our anxiety, for instance, can help reduce our symptoms, quickly and dramatically.
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.
For some of us with PTSD, this dissociation then shows up for us when we'd rather it didn't.
What does dissociation feel like?
Do you recall, for instance, losing touch with reality for a time while driving? Feeling as though you've missed, mile upon mile of highway? Then, seemingly suddenly, you sort-or 'wake-up' to realize where you actually are on the road your travelling?
This is what the dissociative response feels like in action to me.
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 regaining our connection with reality. 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, hyper-vigilant 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 breath-work, mindfulness, and grounding techniques. For us all, every ounce of prevention we can muster can be definitely worth it's weight in gold.
Managing our symptoms: This for many of us will be a need long-term. It's therefore better for us, in all situations that can be troublesome for us along the way, to be ahead of game and educationally prepared.
Practice, does make perfect. It keeps us on our toes and in touch with the sweet-spot of near perfection over time. Daily practice prepares us for those unexpected triggering events that are inevitable in our lives.
During our breath-work, for example, when we allow just TEN MINUTES periodically throughout the day of selfish 'me' time to work with our breathing, I personally found myself by doing so making incredible strides in my own recovery.
With breath-work alone added at intervals (like a pill we might swallow) every day, we can use those ten minutes of silence by focusing on only our breath, which will prepare us, should we so choose to explore the concepts, towards learning the deeper practices, like mindfulness, which will over time bubble up inside of us to accept the validity of this singular truth:
The Present Moments in Life are truly the only real moments we have to experience in our unique, personal surroundings, and it is within our uniquely personal inner-space that we can appreciate some near-silent, quiet moments, simply observing our thoughts, rather than allowing these thoughts to steal away our sense of peace.
Looking back at the past or fretting about what lies ahead in an unknowable future?
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 brain and body's 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.
Thus my own consistent insistence that any who might visit here consider entering into a relationship with trauma-and-violence informed, clinical care:
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.
I've included here a video as well that grants 10 minutes of doing nothing else at all, which helps to train the mind in focusing solely for awhile on the breath when anxiety might take hold, or we find ourselves dissociating from reality for whatever reasons.
Learning to reduce our symptoms consciously, using our own breath and the act of our own breathing to get us there: This is what starting out in recovery was first actually all about for me.
It's a very wise decision to make, agreeing to learn these tools. 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.
Be Well. . . . .
Darren Michael Gregory: The Trauma Recovery Blog
Further Reading and Links
Breath Work: TI Breath Trainer App
Relax & Breathe: Do Nothing for 10 Minutes: YouTube
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
Certified: Community & Workplace Trauma Educator Traumatology Institute.
Associate Member American Academy Of Experts In Traumatic Stress.