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Don’t be misled by the title:  This post IS about healing from Complex PTSD.  In specific, this post is about coping with the rough, bumpy nature of the healing process, the “two steps forward and one step back” nature of the healing process.  If you are in therapy, trying to heal your PTSD or C-PTSD, you already may be aware of the twistings and turnings, the irregular and unexpected moves that are part of the dance.  You probably also have been slammed by the sudden and unexpected recurrence of your symptoms, the sucker punch that explodes from your subconscious mind when your conscious mind makes a connection with trauma material, sends the message to your subconscious mind, and you go reeling, out of control, across the dance floor of daily life.  

Well, as far as I’m concerned, to paraphrase the title of another country-western song, “You Can Take This Dance and Shove It!” That’s my first reaction when I experience a setback.  As the hours pass, however, I slowly  regain my perspective and begin to see the meaning and the value of whatever the setback is about.  Eventually, I return to my pre-setback state, a little wiser and with a bit more sense of direction.  Even at my age, 73, I bounce back, and I’m grateful for that! 

Yes, setbacks during the healing process happen.  Those unexpected and frightening occurrences are bound to happen when events outside us collide with events inside us, those inner events being trauma material that we thought we had at least managed to reduce to a simmer.  This, at least, is my experience of the healing process.  And I suspect that I’m not the only person who has had this experience. 

 I’m no mental health professional, and I cannot speak with the weight of research behind me, but I have long suspected that ever since I’ve begun the healing journey, I have become more vulnerable to “triggers.”  And I believe this increase in vulnerability is due to a reduction in my ability to repress the effects of trauma damage.  After all, I am healing, and in order to heal, the trauma material must be more available so that it can be addressed.  And if the trauma material becomes more accessible to my conscious mind, then my common sense dictates that this would make me more apt to experience setbacks.  If I were not trying to heal my C-PTSD and were not in therapy, then I probably would not be so apt to be triggered.  

Or, at least, I would not be so aware of being triggered.  During the period after my divorce at age 42, when I was attending graduate school and later, when I was teaching writing in a community college, I sometimes was surprised by my reactions to certain situations, but I didn’t have the time or the energy to do the work leading to understanding my reactions.  I remember one horrible incident when the husband of a dear friend touched me on the shoulder during an after-church coffee hour, and I exploded in a fury.  I didn’t understand why I did that then, and I felt so awful afterwards and wept as I apologized.  I slunk out of the church, thinking I’d never go back.  Eventually, I did return, but never after that incident did I feel the same acceptance from others as I felt before the incident.  

Now, of course, I understand why I reacted as I did, and I am able to modify my response to unexpected touches from men, but then I was in a different psychic place.  Now I’m healing, but then I wasn’t.  Then the trauma material, some of it the toxic waste resulting from twenty years of spousal abuse, fermented in my psyche, ready to catch me in a weak moment and re-traumatize me.  As a friend says, “With awareness comes change,” and now I am aware of the material and the trigger possibilities, and now I take the time to consider my circumstances and respond rather than react if a male touches me on the shoulder—usually.  When I am caught by surprise, I can never say with complete certainty what I will do, but usually now I am able to think and respond with civility rather than to lash out in fear and anger.  That’s progress. 

Yes, the process of healing the ravages of trauma damage is not a dance I enjoy.  It is a dance, however, in which I must participate if I want relief from the symptoms of Complex PTSD.  And there are rewards inherent in the process, among them my inner sense of healing and also my relationship with my therapist.  She’s a very gentle and kind teacher in this process of healing the damages caused by people who have not been kind and gentle.  My therapist is a constant reminder that goodness and kindness exist in a world that often in my past was filled with cruelty.  As I progress through the healing process, I need that constant reminder. 

One day the lights on the dance floor will dim, the fiddles and guitars will go into their cases, and I will be the only person left to hear the ghostly echoes of music and the clomping of boot heels, but the process will never entirely cease.  It will continue in some form within my psyche as long as I am alive.  But thanks to the help I am getting now, I expect to be a much better dancer at the end of the evening than I was at the beginning.  I wish the same for you.  Peace . . .      Jean