This week in PTSD Trauma Recovery Group, we did two things. We covered the concept of “Red and Green Flags” (triggers and indications that we are becoming dysregulated) and we began the process of participants, in vivid and disturbing detail, recounting their trauma incident aloud with the group. I was very, very upset by the latter portion of the class, which I wont get into for obvious reasons. Instead, let’s learn some skills.
From the book Seeking Safety: A Treatment Guide for PTSD and Substance Abuse* we did an activity labeled “Signs of Danger Versus Safety.” The goal is to “[l]isten to the messages your behavior is sending you.” (*side note: in our group, we substitute “substance abuse” with any self-harm behaviors).
Here is the worksheet. We were told to check off the red and green flags we notice in ourselves from time to time, with it being okay if we check items on both sides of the chart and on the same line.
During group, one of the doctors said that there is a saying in American lexicon that people “spiral downward.” By noticing our red flags and working toward more of the green flags, we can work on reversing the process and “spiraling upward.” At anytime that we notice ourselves spiraling down, we can take action to go the other way toward health, balance, and feeling regulated.
This week, I was repeatedly reminded of the terrible story I heard from one of my peers, and of the fact that it is my turn to tell (and record, as we must re-listen to it and re-record it throughout the week as part of the exposure therapy) my trauma story.
I’m scared. I feel embarrassed, even though I “shouldn’t.” I feel vulnerable. I am just feeling ICKY about it. At the same time, I really want to invest completely in this opportunity for healing, so I consider that aspect. This week, until next session, my homework is to keep writing my story out, so I do it, even though it raises my anxiety. I remember that it always returns to baseline at the end of the twenty minutes that I set on the timer. The doctor told us that studies have been done which show that twenty minutes is the magic number for exercises like this, as it give the brain the opportunity to rise in anxiety and then return down again.
I’ve noticed an increase in anxiety and other PTSD symptoms, which as I mentioned on Facebook and Twitter, the doctor says is all very normal during this treatment. “It gets a little bit worse before it gets a lot better,” she said.
In the meantime, I have been engaging in a lot of little self-care activities to calm my nervous system. When in distress and wanting to get through the pain effectively (without acting in ways we will regret or sabotaging, for example), Distress Tolerance Skills are the best.
I’ve been practicing many, including:
1. Mindful, slow, deep breathing (Grounding)
2. Painting my nails (DBT Skill = Distraction, Self-Soothing)
3. Watching “fun” TV shows (DBT Skill = Distraction)
4. Listening to Music (DBT Skill = Self-Soothing through sound)
5. Relaxing Showers (DBT Skill = Self-Soothing through tactile/touch)
6. Keeping Busy (chores, errands, helping others) (DBT Skill – Distract)
Facing trauma from the past is no easy task, but equipped with DBT skills, a great clinical staff, and a willingness and desire to be well, we can do this!
One of the MOST important things to remember is to treat ourselves with as much kindness as possible in the process.
I recently made this video for you, and I chose this song because of the message of kindness. I hope you enjoy it and find yourself soothed.
Thanks for reading, watching, and listening.
To Go On to Read Week 4, Click Here