Why would my brain want to dig up something so tragic and force me to relive it, as though it were happening again in the present moment? I put a lot of energy and effort into shoving the memory as far down as I could. If my mind were a big house, with many rooms and hallways, I wandered down to the deepest depths of the basement. I found the darkest hallway, with the darkest corner to bag the memory up and leave it in. I wanted to keep it from ever surfacing and hurting me again. Out of sight, out of mind, right? So what was the purpose of digging it up and reliving it? Why would anyone purposefully do that?
Well after much thought, this is my opinion. We humans are natural problem solvers, we do it from the day we are born. We think, therefore we are human.
Our brain has a natural tendency to solve and resolve whatever is happening in our lives. If it is particularly difficult, we will chew on it over and over in an attempt to grind it up small enough, so we can “swallow it and move on.” Sometimes we put an immense amount of effort into this process, whether we want to or not. You know how it goes. Why can’t I stop thinking about this! Ughh….!!!
Well, what happens if we cannot chew it up small enough to swallow it? It NEVER goes away!
It sits down there where we buried it and it festers. Like a wound that was never properly treated, it cannot heal. The bag we put it in, cannot contain it and it eventually begins to erode the bag and leak out of the dark hallway. Then it inevitably begins to leak into other parts of our life. Even into the rooms you have happily processed and organized effectively. You may not recognize it is at first, but over time, it will become very apparent. By the time you recognize it, it may feel out of control and overwhelming. Sometimes the contents of the bag can become so toxic, that it explodes! Making it to where we have no choice, but to face it. The brain says, oh hell no, not this time! You WILL get back in here and face it. You will deal with it. (aka, here is where dissociation can happen) This is what happened to me.
Therapy is not a band-aid its surgery!
I find good therapy, often hurts like hell, if it is going to work. It takes effort. You have to re-open the wound and remove the parts which are festering, to make way for the wound to heal. Then you have to go in search of the right antibiotic (one that works for your situation), to start the healing process. The most important piece of the puzzle is finding a counselor you trust enough to help walk you through this process. It is akin to finding the best surgeon to help you fix your painful physical wound. One you feel you can trust with a knife, to complete the surgery and not cut off your leg in the process. Graphic, I know, but this is the real deal.
I wish more counselors/therapist would just come out and talk about this as honestly as I have with you. Only one counselor I have worked with has done so and I did some pretty good work with him before he was promoted and could no longer see me.
Ok, so what did not work?
- “Simple” talk-therapy did not work. In fact, it made it worse for me having told my story, only to be left to my own devices. I should have been placed with someone skilled in trauma therapy versus being seen in the pain management clinic. Trauma therapy would have been a better solution, as they are trained to help you establish a safe space/place with which to process the trauma. They know how to be with you in an effective and supportive, trauma informed way. They teach you coping skills and how to sit with your discomfort. How to contain your emotions. They should know how to provide you with tools to assist you between sessions. You know…the place where life actually happens.
- Not understanding or having it explained to me, that therapy, at least in the beginning, can make things worse at times before you begin to get some reprieve. It may be a bit before your situation starts to improve, but it will happen. If I had been aware of this process, I would not have felt so lost, scared and alone. This is specifically true for trauma treatment, but can also be true for other types of issues. However, I suppose to be fair, knowing this might automatically scare some people away from doing therapy. So, that is important to consider.
So, what did work?
- My meditation therapist not just hearing my story, but providing me with a more positive outlook and instilling hope. All counselors should know how to instill hope and assist you with seeing incidents and emotions/feelings in a different light. It is their job.
- Being given goals to work on. Such as letting my body express it’s anger and need for violence in a safe way. Allowing emotions to be expressed physically can be super helpful and normalizing! (Some of the best trauma treatment individuals out there highly recommend allowing trauma to work its way out through the body via physical expression.) This is also why exercise can be helpful. Working on getting to know my inner warrior and showing her some appreciation. Practicing meditation. These are all goals I worked toward and I found all of them extremely helpful. Working on them/doing them helped me to feel more grounded and focused as well.
I believe it is important for you to know, counselors/therapists are not a one size fits all solutions to your problems!
Finding the right match is the most important part of your journey to mental well-being, other than admitting you want help in the first place. Please do your research and wait until you feel you have the right match, before delving too deeply. This may take time, but it is worth it. You need to know you can trust him/her with the weight of your issues and that he/she will be able to help you find solutions.
Also, the type of therapy provided is not a one size fits all approach! You may find certain therapies or approaches do not work for you and that is OK! There are many options out there, so keep looking until you find one which jives with you personally. Therapy is hard work and takes commitment. You will not get better overnight, but you will get better! You will also learn a lot about yourself in the process, which in and of itself can be immensely healing.
Being mentally unwell will eventually manifest itself in your body. Empirical evidence is being uncovered every day, which speaks to this topic. It can cause anxiety, stress, indigestion problems, gastro-intestinal problems, depression and even auto-immune diseases to name just a few. It can even give you flu-like symptoms. Getting help soon enough with what is happening for you mentally and emotionally, can eliminate the potential for future physical problems to manifest.
And lastly, everyone needs a helping hand once in awhile, were human…not islands. There is no shame in having issues to work through, I do not know a single person who does not have something they could use help with! Having a non-bias person who can assist you with seeing all of the possible angles and options to working with whatever is happening for you, can prove immensely helpful and healthy. Do not let shame or fear keep you from reaching out. Whether it is something as simple as helping you form better personal relationships or something as complex as PTSD, there is help out there. Why go it alone if you do not have to?
Never give up hope!