by Wendy Keller, a woman who cares
Here we are, all fresh and hopeful. It’s a brand new year and if last year was tough on you, you’re certainly hoping things will get better this trip around the calendar.
Hoping is nice, but there is some doing that usually needs to accompany it if you’re going to get results. If you suffered trauma, disaster, tragedy, loss, sorrow, great pain (emotional or physical) or any other serious problem last year, here are three tips to help you realistically get this year going right.
Recognize that just because terrible, bad things happened to you before, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will again. One part of “post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD) is that we tend to get in a pattern of thinking unhappy, negative, low thoughts. Depending on the severity and nature of the PTSD, you might be jumpy or even waiting for the next bad thing to happen. Kind of like Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh.
Here’s the GOOD news: if waiting for the next disaster, trauma or tragedy in your life causes you to physically prepare, like buying insurance or packing an emergency preparedness kit, then by all means take the right action and use this bad thing that happened to minimize your risk when/if the next thing comes.
But here’s the BAD news: if you’ve already taken the only preventative or preparatory actions possible, then waiting for the next bad thing to happen is, well, just plain old bad. Bad for you. Bad for the people around you. Bad for your body. Bad for your future. So ya gotta start to let it go. You can’t pour more water into a glass that’s already full. If your heart is stuffed with fear and drama, trauma and sorrow, there’s no room for any good things to fit in. Only you can control the quantity and nature of the substance in your glass.
The way to STOP waiting for bad things to happen is to talk yourself out of the trees, so to speak. Imagine your scared, angry, traumatized little self is like a house cat that got scared up a tree by a Rottweiler. Speaking as if you are the calm, rational cat owner who wants to coax the frightened animal down now that the big, mean dog is out of sight. What would you say? This sounds dumb, right? But try it! Write a note or speak out loud to the part of yourself that’s scared up a tree.
Ideas you might elaborate on:
“Way up there, nothing can reach you – nothing bad but also nothing good. Why don’t you make your way down here and let the strong, good, brave part of us slowly find ways to get the help we need to put our life back together, maybe even better than before?”
“Yes, kitty. There are big mean dogs in the world. There might be bad dogs chasing you again someday. But right now, in this present moment, he’s over barking at the Johnson’s. Why don’t you come on down here and let’s live our life fully and joyfully. We’re alive in this moment, so we may as well make the best of it.”
What ideas could YOU come up with to literally talk yourself out of being terrified of life? (PS – no shame in that! Those who have been traumatized have earned the right to be terrified of life.) Sometimes, especially for guys, terror shows up as anger. But the problem for you personally comes when you stay in terror, fear or anger. That’s when the trauma keeps on creating ripples of pain throughout the rest of your lifetime. Gotta talk yourself out of it – there’s no one else living inside your head except you.
Life may have scared your cat up the tree, but only the calm, brave, rational part of yourself can talk you back down.
You already have the secret to your success. Even if you’re in the middle of a complete life melt-down, you have within you the keys to get through it and transform this year – and the future ones. That sounds like bull poopies coming from most people, but regular readers know some of the traumas I’ve survived. So let me explain why this stupid, irritating platitude-sounding truth is actually true.
Because this whole life is an inside game. The only difference between people who get permanently squashed by life (and end up permanently on the streets, committing suicide, in a mental institution, etc.) and those of us who manage to slither through the muck of life is this: how we think. Really. It’s an illusion that the outside circumstances control us. I hate this truth, but it is true.
Your control of your mental focus is what will help or slow your progress toward recovery, and even determine if it happens at all. People who look at those of us who made it through and say, “Wow, you’re so strong!” are missing the point entirely.
NOBODY STARTS OUT STRONG! This stuff is what makes you strong if you keep crawling, slithering, struggling through it. You build mental muscles, patterns of thought, the ability to fight off negative thoughts and feelings.
I’m surely not a proponent of pretending the bad stuff never happened. That’s a recipe for psychosis and cancer, if you ask me. You must take time to feel the feelings. But you can’t stay there forever.
What I AM saying is that even while you’re going through the horrible part of your life, by choosing to believe things might get better, you give yourself a smidgen of hope. Hope can grow if you stoke it.
And even while you’re suffering the aftermath of the worst events of your life, by choosing to look in the mirror and say, “I’m still alive this morning. I may as well make the best of today” you can inch your way through this muck. And while you’re doing that, you’re actually building the muscles. Someday, people will tell you,”Wow! You’re so strong!” and you can smile inside and realize what you had to go through bit by tiny, agonizing bit to get “so strong”.
These three tips are not for the happy people of the world, obviously. They don’t need them right now – and hopefully they never will.
But for those of us who have stared into the abyss of life, who have touched death and the depths of anguish, these are real strategies that if you use them, you can make the coming year better – happier, yes. More peaceful, yes. Because instead of sitting around reminding yourself that you are a victim, you are doing something to improve the quality of your mental life.
Happy 2013, my friends!
You have the power to make this year better – you have the knowledge to make this year better – now apply it and watch the amazing results.