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When you try to heal heal PTSD there are so many ironies. Your once good, intuitive coping mechanisms are now proving to be bad. You have to relinquish control to regain control. You have to look back in order to move forward. It feels safe in the dark even while you long to be let out into the light. Getting caught in the push me/pull me feelings of any of these scenarios can really stall your healing momentum.
One of the most common areas to get stuck, actually, is feeling suspended between the darkness and the light. Since your trauma (and with PTSD symptoms) your conscious and subconscious minds focus on one thing: keeping you safe. The PTSD dark, in how it keeps you isolated in a small, controlled world, can become a very safe-feeling space. But it’s, well, you know, dark, and that’s not always really comforting because the dark is full of negative influences: memories and distorted beliefs, plus the myths and lies that trauma creates. So, the darkness is a place of familiarity (which feels good after trauma) even while the darkness itself (in its oppression and your disconnection from the world) can feel bad. You want to get out of the darkness, but will you be safe if you do? And, will you be able to function outside of your current comfort zone?
The light, on the other hand, is like that shining carrot dangling just out of reach. When you seek to heal PTSD you need something to look forward to and be drawn toward. The light represents all of your hopes, dreams, desires, wants, wishes and every other good, exciting and anticipated detail of the fantasy of your future life. Imagining you can have and be and live in the light is healing (literally: this kind of thinking ahead engages your brain in positive aspects of imagination, which aid in neuroplasticity, which causes brain change), while at the same time the possibilities – which open your life – can feel frightening as your world will increase in size and you will be expected to step forth and live in an incredible amount of freedom. This, of course, challenges your long-held safety precautions. So, you want to step into the light, but do you have what it takes? And, do you deserve it?
Being pulled forward is a much better option than being pushed from behind. The darkness pushes you by providing pain, fear, sorrow, anger, sadness, grief, depression, anxiety and even sometimes pure panic. Your most old brain center (reptilian, in the deepest region of your brain) is driven by the desire to avoid threat. The darkness threatens and pushes you from behind as you seek to avoid the danger of it and what it represents even while embracing aspects of it. Alternatively, the light pulls you forward toward feeling better. This engages your mid-brain motivation: The mammalian part of the brain is largely motivated by rewards. Which is easier: being poked from behind by a sharp object that forces you move away from something that feels bad, or being invited to step forward of your own choice because you want to get closer to something that feels good?
Balancing the dark versus light (and pretty much any) irony has a lot to do with your approach to the process of how you heal PTSD. Are you waging an all out war trying to defy or “beat” PTSD? Or are you accepting where you are as the moment you’re in and attempting to flow forward with intention and determination? The former option is full of catabolic (negative, draining) energy that can make you feel chaotic, overwhelmed, frightened, extremely exhausted and often hopeless. The latter option, propelled by anabolic (positive, rejuvenating) energy, can put you on a more even keel, helping you to take comfortable, deliberate steps forward.
You can begin making the shift from darkness to light by:
1) recognizing where you are stuck and why
2) creating and focusing a specific intention for how you will approach recovery
3) committing to this new approach by taking an action to reinforce it
4) redefining and developing a new strategic plan for how you will progress your recovery process.
As with everything you do to eliminate symptoms of posttraumatic stress getting unstuck between the darkness and the light takes time, but with persistence, focus, conscious thought and deliberate actions changes can sneak up and surprise you when you least expect it.
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