Why It’s So Hard To Be Present in Trauma Recovery
By Michele Rosenthal
If you were to ask me one of the most ENORMOUS tasks of my trauma and PTSD recovery I would answer: learning to become present.
- the underlying fear I contained in every moment
- the grief I tried to deny
- the awareness I felt less than, undeserving and unworthy
- how powerless and helpless I felt
- how crazy I believed myself to be
- how disconnected from myself, the world and others I felt
- how unable I was to see the future
- how unable I was to optimally function in the present
The list could go on and on, which is why I often – sometimes by choice and sometimes without even realizing it – would leave the present moment and float away to somewhere much less fraught with overwhelming emotions I didn’t know how to handle.
Of course, drifting away only compounds the problem and so, at the beginning of my recovery, I began to structure a process to learn to reconnect and stay connected to the present moment. Things that most immediately benefited me were breathwork and meditation. By training myself to be more calm and at peace I found it easier to remain in moments that otherwise would increase my dissociation in response to an increase of discomfort.
I also built on a habit I’d had as a child of enjoying my senses. That is, specifically taking the time to stand still, for example, and smell the sweetness of the October air, or light incense, or candles to create an environmental experience that felt safe and controlled by me. In these moments I eliminated all thoughts of anything except the information I was receiving from what I could hear, smell, see, feel, and taste.
The beauty of these kinds of deliberate moments was that they reminded me that every moment exists in a place of neutrality; it’s what we bring into the moment via our thoughts that causes the moment to be anxiety-producing or peaceful. The smell of the air in and of itself is just the smell of the air. If I sniff it with worry about how dysfunctional I’ve become then I am the one who turns that sweet smell into a moment that makes me feel like I want to jump out of my skin. Likewise, if I suspend all thought and sniff the air and let myself ride the wave of the scent I can be wholly grounded to the neutral experience of the smell of the earthy dampness, perhaps some wood-burning smoke and maybe even a hint of winter’s chill. In either case I discovered I was in control. Learning that made all the difference.
To learn about how you can develop your own ability to become more present, plus tips for how to do that immediately, listen to tomorrow’s episode of YOUR LIFE AFTER TRAUMA with my guest Dr. Cheryl Arutt who specializes in this area.