Week 1 of 8 in Trauma Recovery Group…
Many who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder also suffer from PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As many of you know from my latest video, last week I began attending an 8-week trauma recovery group. I attempted to attend this group years ago but was unable to handle the intensity of my emotions. It was recommended that I first go through DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). I’ve done that, graduated, and here I am giving the trauma recovery group another try.
I showed up to the clinic and felt so incredibly nervous. I didn’t know what the night held, and I was prepared for the worst, which in my mind would have been to share the story of my most severe trauma memory and get triggered from this as well hearing those of other people.
Fortunately, this did not happen. This is the same clinic at which I attended DBT, so I probably should have known better that they would ease us into this whole thing. We started in a large room with chairs all around in a circle. There were two PhD level psychologists and twelve attendees, including myself. Three of them were men, the rest of us ladies.
We did a brief check-in during which we said our first name, said how we felt emotionally, shared if we have had any avoiding or self-harm behaviors in the past week, and talked about whether we kept our commitment that we made in the group last week. (Since this was our first week, we acknowledged that we kept our commitment to show up.)
Here was my check-in:
- My name is Debbie.
- I feel good but nervous. I’m anxious about sharing my story and hearing other stories, but I’m also excited to finally feel ready to face it.
- I’ve had no self-harm behaviors, but as far as avoidance, I’ve avoided some wonderful business opportunities because they involve travel.
- I kept my commitment to show up tonight.
We went around the circle, and I felt a kinship to one participant in particular, a British woman with a short pixie hairstyle who uttered words during our segment on the experience of PTSD that were really relatable. Some of the things she hears from others and often tells herself (and so do I):
- You’re such a smart girl. Why are you still letting this bother you?
- It’s been over 20 years. When are you going to get over it?
I always accepted these thoughts and harshly judged myself. I wasn’t the only one. Maybe you have thoughts like this too. One of the exercises that we did was to observe and notice a harsh thought like the two above then turn them into compassion statements. An example would be:
- It’s reasonable to still have reactions and symptoms to trauma twenty years later, even though I am a smart woman, because I’ve never fully processed through and received intensive treatment for the horrific trauma I endured. Now I’m getting help, and this will help with the process of “getting over it” and healing.
The exercises we did (and will continue to do) come from a book called Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse by Lisa M. Najavits PhD. (As a side note, in our group, “substance abuse” and “self-harm behaviors” are used interchangeably, since not everyone in the group abuses substances as their method of self-harm.)
After this, we broke up into small groups of 3-4 patients per doctor for those who would go on to do the in-vivo/exposure therapy segment of the group (some only came for the first hour to learn skills and then left). We also did a worksheet that I needed to take home and do as homework. Group is Wednesday, and I haven’t started it yet, so I need to get on it. Here. I’ll let you take a peek.
Essentially we had to pick three steps that would help us get closer to coping with something we’ve been avoiding (in my case travel) and report back next week. This is practice for handling the more intensive in-vivo scenarios we will do in the group with regards to our specific trauma history.
Next week, we will write our stories in the company of our small groups. We won’t discuss them, just write them. I like these baby steps.
My favorite highlight from the first session’s material:
“PTSD has been called ‘a normal reaction to abnormal events'” (Najavits, 2002, p. 118)
I’ll keep you posted.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. Curious about the significance of the yellow notebook? Click here to watch this video where I explain as well as update you on 6 other awesome BPD & DBT related announcements.