Jeanne McElvaney's Blog - Posts Tagged "ptsd"

July 9, 2011
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
For more information, go to Facebook/Learn, Live, and Love with Dr. Laura/Discussions

Persistent avoidance of things related to the trauma and numbing of responsiveness ( not present before the traumatic event.
*Avoidance of activities, places, people that remind person of the trauma
*Avoidance of thoughts, feelings, conversations related to traumatic event
*Inability to have fun (Anhedonia) / decreased participation in activities
*Feelings of being detached or estranged from others

From Spirit Unbroken – Abby’s Story
From Chapter 53

Tuesday morning came too quickly and without an excuse to stay home. What had felt acceptable, as plans were made in the school yard the week before spring vacation, was now a tightrope stretched across a chasm of formless fears. Abby didn’t want to go on a hike and didn’t know how to tell Darla and Sissy. She couldn’t tell them about the slithering dangers she sensed. They were lodged in her body, holding her feelings captive, but Abby had no access to words that fit into the world she shared with her friends. Paper, scissors, rock – there was no choice for Abby. She had to go on the hike with her friends.

Neither joy nor curiosity kept her company as she packed her bologna sandwich, carrot sticks, and Oreos in a paper bag. Numb acceptance joined her while Abby put on her old pants, shoes and yellow sweatshirt. Only a thread of hope encouraged her. Like the thin rubber band wrapped around her ponytail, it held her together and whispered that Darla and Sissy might hike around the rocks and paths she knew so well and come home right after eating their lunches.

That hope snapped as her friends finished eating, folded their lunch bags, and stuffed them into their pockets. Darla and Sissy looked up the hillside and decided they could make it to the top and still get home in time. Assuming Abby’s mutual excitement, they began discussing the best route while their friend turned inward seeking the courage it would take to keep going when every feeling begged to go back home.

“I think we’re more than a third of the way already,” Darla enthused. “And it’s only lunch time.”

Sissy was in agreement. “If we head over to that clump of pine trees, we won’t have to climb over those rocks up ahead and we can walk faster.”

“I like climbing the rocks,” Darla said. “It won’t take that much longer.”

“I’d rather walk further and not have to worry about the rattlesnakes sunning on the rocks,” Sissy responded.

“My dad told me to be careful about that.”

Darla shrugged her shoulders. “You can find rattlesnakes anywhere. It’s no big deal if you just pay attention.”

“Which way do you want to go, Abby?” Sissy asked.

And there it was. When sage brush and dirt filled her nostrils or paths and roads stretched toward increasing isolation, Abby’s capacity to determine what she wanted or needed had withered as surely as a young plant trying to grow without water. Her voice and will had been silenced in the hidden corners of her life, and nature’s gifts had been lost. Abby had learned the best she could have was survival. She shrugged the question away as though it didn’t matter and turned to the comfort of gauging how soon she might get back home.
Darla and Sissy negotiated, insisted, and agreed as the three friends set out for the grove of trees and made their way up the hillside. Together, they eagerly determined their journey to the top while Abby watched for rattlesnakes, wasps, and stickers on the plants growing wildly over the land. Sissy started picking the few wildflowers daring to greet a colder than usual spring, and Darla was finding little rocks for her collection. Abby watched her feet to be sure she wouldn’t slip on the new grass or twist her ankle on a half-buried stone.

With muddy shoes, wilted flowers, and ravenous thirst, they got back to Abby’s house late in the afternoon. Sissy and Darla were glad to tell Katie all the details of their grand afternoon while they watched television with her and waited for their moms to pick them up. Abby smiled and listened. The hike was over. She was home.

Notes along the way... Jeanne McElvaney
More notes at Spirit Unbroken Abby's Story by Jeanne McElvaney
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October 23, 2011

An ordinary memory sits like a photograph in a family album. It’s always available to visit by thumbing through the album. A trauma memory is not pasted in the photo album. It’s relegated to the attics of our mind to be stored in the unconscious. Dissociation happens when a trauma memory is ripped into pieces and locked in a vault without our knowing the photo was taken.

My childhood had trauma memories, those events I could remember but didn’t want to think about. They rarely intruded, but sometimes I would go to that attic in my mind to pull out a past memory and stumble across them. Like sorting through a box of photos collecting dust, my memories were jumbled together, a happy moment right next to a distressing event that was associated with it in some way.

It was the dissociated memories that shocked and then challenged me. I hadn’t known they existed. I didn’t know there was a vault that would safely store the kind of trauma memories that were so overwhelming, disempowering, and life-threatening I couldn’t manage them as a child.

Shock turned to challenge as I gathered information and embraced a healing journey with an outstanding therapist who knew the landscape of dissociated memories and childhood sexual abuse. What first felt like haunting, scary, ugly ghosts emerging from the vault of memories without my permission started to become empowering snapshots from my past.

Each time I surrendered to the memories that were bubbling up, I came away with gifts that empowered me to reshape by life in ways that thrilled me. They could show me moments that had transformed personal choices into coping reactions. These memories had information about fears that defined my days, relationships that did not honor my spirit, and feelings I didn’t understand. They had the power to shine a light on habits I couldn’t change even though they didn’t serve me.

Inviting secrets profoundly buried to protect me was a maze-like experience. When I drew this landscape of sharp corners, dead ends, and no paths, I was moving past resistance and into the arms of healing. Then I wished the secrets weren’t held so securely and deep inside because I wanted to know the treasures found in the answers they held.

Notes along the way… Jeanne McElvaney
More notes at Spirit Unbroken Abby's Story by Jeanne McElvaney
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Healing from childhood sexual abuse felt like a cavalcade of challenges, obstacles, rewards, insights, emotions, and the incomprehensible. Though every survivor can recognize this landscape, each of us has our own experience. For me, this journey of courage asks that I also share what I learned about healing from dissociated trauma memories.

~ It always brings us the experiences, people, and opportunities we need.

~ The rewards are part of the journey, not at the end.

~ Going back into the memory allows us to discover what we learned in that trauma. It empowers us to update old beliefs and feelings and this changes our lives.

~ Trauma memories are laid down through emotions and our five senses. Going back into them gives us a chance to put the experience into words and this is essential to healing.

~ In reconnecting to our personal spirit, we find paths to honor and celebrate ourselves. We connect to inner wisdom and perceptions rather than coping mechanisms

~ Healing is about discovering we have choices and learning how to take care of ourselves with those choices.

~ It shows us how to respond rather than ignore. It gives us tools to take action instead of reacting.

Healing requires courage, the same courage that got each of us through the trauma of sexual abuse. We still have that courage... much to our surprise. Recognizing our memories are not the enemy, we can embrace them as protective allies and clues to our well-being. There are many times we think we aren't able, don't deserve, can't imagine, wouldn't dare, or couldn't possibly make the choice for our Self. I beg you to try and keep trying. You grow stronger with each choice.

Notes along the way... Jeanne McElvaney
More notes at Spirit Unbroken Abby's Story by Jeanne McElvaney
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May 11, 2012

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse often feel tremendous resistance to stepping onto the path of active healing. The dragons of our experience feel too large and overwhelming even when we are told we will find incredible, empowering, joy-filled, peaceful days on the other side of healing.

While I fully embrace each survivor’s choices with an open heart, I want to keep shining the light on the tremendous rewards found in healing journeys. This week, I was reminded of these gifts when another dragon came roaring out of nowhere.

It swooped into a dream that had all the signs of a fragmented memory. I woke up thinking, “I used my voice! I used my voice!” Oh, that was a glorious first, but I was also stunned because this was not my primary abuser. I was being shown another pond of slime in a landscape I thought I knew.

This memory came at a time when I was facing a big choice. One path would take me back toward the comfortable and familiar. The other one would challenge my strong beliefs about what I couldn’t have / didn’t deserve. With this decision haunting me, I chose to set aside the memory. It came back the next morning when I woke up in a dizzy, adrenalized state.

While my thoughts and feelings encouraged me to ignore the messenger, by body was urging me toward insight. The moment I actively chose to follow the clues being offered, the answer about which path to take became clear. The choice felt good and strong... I am going to embrace the challenging opportunity, the one that will open doors.

I haven’t completed my journey with this new memory, but it has already given me an empowering gift. That is always true in our healing process; we are offered treasures along the way. Without knowing the details, I already know this past experience is linked to ways I have held myself back. If the memory hadn’t nudged me, if I hadn’t listened and responded, my abuse would have been the force behind my decision. I would have chosen the safe path… and missed a chance to grow my life in a way that will celebrate my spirit.

Notes along the way… Jeanne McElvaney
For more insights about memories, check outSpirit Unbroken: Abby's Story
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