How I Healed From Parental PTSDJun 19, 2023
A single word was my first step. A word birthed out of pain and desperation:
I said, enough. I am suffering enough. This has gone on long enough. I am struggling enough.
It was a statement that my psychological and bodily pain was sufficient to change my world dramatically. That I deserved a radical response to my radical suffering.
Considering hospitalization and in-patient treatment helped shift the tone as well. Everyone knew that I was suffering. Everyone knew I wasn't doing well. They didn't know how much, and they didn't know what to do about it.
Once my loved ones considered the impact of me checking into a hospital and getting referred to a 6 week intensive treatment program, everyone began making major plans to accommodate this potential path.
My husband took leave from work. Our parents, siblings, and friends did all that they could, including spending weeks at our house, dropping off food, and helping to take care of our kids.
Everyone didn't need to understand or empathize. We needed specific concrete help, and we asked for it. It was insanely vulnerable for my husband and I. We had to voice our reality in a way that we'd never done before. We said words we'd never imagined saying.
I pretended that I had suddenly gotten a life-threatening medical diagnosis, (which wasn't actually pretend). What would happen if I had to call everyone I loved and tell them that everything needed to change because I had cancer? Why was it so much different to say that I had PTSD?
I faced down my shame, that lying, whispering voice that declared that this was all my fault, and if I had somehow been a better mother, this never would have happened in the first place.
I stared it right in the face and shouted, "NO!"
"You lie. This is not my story. I am a strong, brave, incredible mother who has suffered deeply alongside my child's suffering. We have been through hell. I am broken in too many places and in too many ways to simply let time do its healing work. I need attentive care and aggressive treatment so that this doesn't spread further. I deserve this. I need this."
My first act of healing was self-acceptance.
My second act of healing was stepping away. I told my kids I had a new job to help people heal in their mind and body. And that I needed to start with myself. That we cannot teach what we do not know. I needed to leave the house each day to do my job, but I would come back and play and read them stories and snuggle and tuck them in at night. I became the "special parent" -- and my husband became our steadiness.
This was healing for us both.
My third act of healing was to work with specially trained professionals whose whole job was to support my healing journey. I asked my long-time psychologist to be the ring leader of my developing team and to help me research what path forward I needed, to do the explaining and to tell the back-story, so that I could jump into safety without the emotional labor.
I adjusted medication with my psychiatrist. I found an EMDR specialist and a trauma-informed yoga teacher. I found a childcare provider for when my husband went back to work. With my team around me, I began.
The healing work was intense and exhausting. I was shocked by how physical the process was. I felt the impact of trauma in my body, and I felt the healing of trauma in my body. There's nothing mild or "all in your head" about PTSD. It's a brain-body-emotion-spirit condition, and it requires a comprehensive treatment plan.
I took gentle walks and listened to classical music. I invested in a pass to a local spa where I could use their sauna, allowing the tension to melt out of my body. I cried harder and longer than I have in my life. Vulnerability leaked from my pores.
As I look back on that early portion of my healing journey, I still feel the vibrations of standing up to shame and choosing life.
I believe something cosmic happened in that step.
It was the surgery, the removal of the cancerous mass, the wrenching away of the spreading contagion so that my body and spirit could begin to heal.
Shame kept me silent. Healing began when I said, "Enough."
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