I’ve been talking about resilience in recent posts — the obstacles that hold back recovery, and the strengths we need to keep healing. Last week the topic was fear. In this post (and the video that goes with it) I want to go up a layer to the next strength, and that’s self-care.
I used to think self-care was just hot baths and chocolate for people whose problems were so small that this would actually solve them. But 25 years of continuous healing and strength-building has taught me that, while it’s true that self-care by itself probably won’t heal Childhood PTSD, it makes healing more possible, and it definitely makes it more sustainable.
How many times have you had some healing breakthrough from a book or retreat or a new healing technique or a new boyfriend or girlfriend, and then within about three days you’re feeling more dysregulated and dysfunctional than ever? For me, so many times.
I made the mistake of thinking that the new-thing-du-jour was going to be the whole fix for all time.
Wouldn’t that be nice, if everything would just be OK, forever!
Unfortunately that’s not how healing works. Recovery from Childhood PTSD doesn’t happen because of one-time treatments. It happens because of multiple things, that you use consistently over time. It’s not a pill you take. It’s more like a stack of pancakes.
And here’s what I mean: You probably know how important it is that you get adequate sleep, for example. This would be true even if you’d never had any trauma at all. A lack of sleep not only wears us down physically, but degrades our cognition, weakens our ability to self-regulate emotionally and amplifies virtually all the problems associated with early trauma like depression, addiction, anxiety and even heart disease and cancer!
So if you get only a little sleep one night, and that’s the only thing that’s going wrong for you, you’re probably going to be OK.
But if you had a day where you had no exercise, and you ate a bunch of bread and ice cream and no protein, and you watched 5 hours of TV and had four glasses of wine and had an argument with your partner, and then you lost a couple hours of sleep — then the lack of sleep could be your last pancake. In other words, it’s the thing on top of everything else that pushes you over the edge into an being a mess — with yelling and dissociation and tears and then two full days of brain fog and the clumsiness that goes with that — before you feel like yourself again.
The pancake phenomenon makes it hard to know what sets you off because whatever is the last pancake on the stack could be different every time. The actual trigger, however, is the full stack of pancakes. The stack is where you want to put your attention.
Health problems can be a huge obstacle to healing. You know that vigorous exercise is one of the most powerful healing strategies available for PTSD. But you can’t do it when you feel terrible from bad food and bad sleep, or when you’re sick (and I know this better than you might think).
It becomes a vicious circle, because if you’re trying to do your life, day after day, under the burden of a fairly large bunch of health stressors (aka pancakes), the dysregulation you’re feeling is probably happening at the level of your nervous system. You can’t feel what it’s doing there, but it can make you sick.
The increased rates of disease from Childhood PTSD is is well known and measurable. The more trauma you had as a kid, the higher the probability that you’ll bump into serious health problems as an adult — not just the problems you’d expect to be risks for traumatized people (things like depression, anxiety, addiction and behavioral stuff), but diabetes, obesity, heart disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, chronic pain, migraines, strokes… you get the picture.
And please don’t internalize this as your inevitable fate — it’s NOT! Your risk is higher, but not everyone is affected in the same way. And you can reduce your risk. How? By healing from childhood PTSD. And this means mastering brain re-regulation, changing the things in your life that are beating you down, and taking beautiful, imperfect and substantial care of yourself. That’s what my work and my online courses are all about.
I often get comments like this; people say “Oh, it’s easy for you to heal because you have no idea how bad it it is for me, what I go through, where I’ve been!” And to those people I say, Oh yes I know! And If you think I haven’t been at the bottom of the totem pole, and stuck in hospitals and and broke and sick and sad and hopeless, you just haven’t heard enough of my story!
Every person is different. But where you see me today is not where I always was. And where you are now, doesn’t have to be where you always stay. There is something better for all of us.
Childhood PTSD has obstacles but we have strengths. And strengths, consistently applied, can’t help but move you forward. You can’t always control your progress, how fast it goes, what healing looks like — but trust me, you can move forward. And the place where you end up is going to feel a whole lot better than where you started.
Healing is not an island, it’s a path. And the path is called vibrancy. Today, as you shift from one place on the path, to another place just a little farther toward your healing, pause and notice that vibrancy is not a destination, but that good feeling you get as you take one positive action — one action at a time, one minute at a time. Give yourself that. This is your healing super power in action!
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