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How I Beat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
I thought it would be helpful to share my own experience of overcoming Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. As a PTSD survivor, I empathize with everyone suffering from anxiety, panic or PTSD, and I understand your frustration with the lack of effective treatments that help in a timely natural way. By ‘natural’ I mean an intervention that doesn’t complicate your life with unnecessary side effects. When you are suffering from anxiety, panic attacks or PTSD, life is complicated enough. Side effects are not an option. In my case I had to find my own way back to health, sanity and happiness. I hope that my sharing makes your road to full recovery easier, simpler and faster.
Let me just add a quick note: my opinions are based on my personal experience. They are not to be confused or compared with professional and scientific opinions on the subject. These areas of learning are respectable and valuable institutions but they are not my field of interest or expertise. What I discovered about stress, its process and prevention, comes from my own lifelong battle with PTSD. I leave it up to you to take from my sharing what is valuable.
PTSD, and I believe any of the anxiety disorders, are caused by such a variety of conditions that the landscape is unimaginable both in terms of experience and brain chemistry. My case is a good example and that’s why I decided to share it with you. We don’t all have to go through the horrors of war to suffer from PTSD, anxiety or panic. Sometimes a “perfect storm” of situations does the trick.
When I was born my mother was recuperating from Tuberculosis without the help of antibiotics. In fact, she had managed to survive TB for years before my birth and had spent long periods in a TB hospital. It was decided that it would be healthier for both of us that I spend my first six months with relatives.
One day at age three, a family member who was an authority figure became enraged with me and shouted that my mother didn’t want me and wouldn’t take me home from the hospital when I was born until my father insisted. Her words rushed into every cell of my body as if they were a confirmation of something I physically knew. Although at my young age no one ever told me I had been without my mother during my first few months, everything inside me knew she was telling the truth. I never suspected her interpretations of the events were all her own.
The intensity of the grief that I felt was so overwhelming I stumbled as I walked back into our house and sat on the sofa. I remember watching an animated black cloud over my head covering the ceiling. I couldn’t move or speak. I remained in this state for twenty-four hours until I couldn’t bear the pain any more. I was too young to verbalize my pain or concern and so I was alone in finding a solution. I decided to pretend it never happened and to forget.
Forgetting seemed to help as I grew older, made friends and adjusted to school. I was an anxious child and I quickly became upset, agitated and panicked if I was separated from my mother. I had zero recall of the trauma I experienced and would often feel confused by my emotional reactions to normal events.
At age seven a second traumatic event happened that started the process of unearthing my deeply hidden emotions and memories. A different relative assaulted me one day out of the blue. There was no warning, no reason, and no context for his actions. I was playing with a baseball in our driveway. A car stopped in front of our home and a man got out from the back seat. There were three other men in the car who remained inside. He came running towards me throwing full bottles of beer at me. The first grazed my head and the second smashed into pieces on our driveway. He ran back into the car which sped away.
Shortly after this second traumatic event I started experiencing panic attacks. At first they stopped me from doing things I loved such as playing sports. But as time went on, they became more debilitating until in my early twenties it was a struggle to function. Psychotherapy helped me discover the cause of my pain but it didn’t offer me any relief. The medications I was prescribed lessened my anxiety but the side effects were dangerous and I didn’t like the feeling that I needed them. I wanted to be able to enjoy my life without having to swallow a pill.
Meditation and yoga were two interests of mine that began in early adolescence. I read many books on the subjects but I didn’t seriously start to practice until my PTSD symptoms prevented me from living a normal life. I went to a Buddhist teacher, a gentleman who knew very little of the English language, but who’s compassion was palpable. It meant we spent time in silence together while I felt his glowing compassion. It was exactly what I needed. It showed me my first glimmer of trust.
The daily practice of meditation is an indescribable process. It is a natural way of opening. Part of the opening process is to let go of effort. We learn, simply by following a few instructions, a technique so natural a child could do it. We learn how to open our awareness first to our thoughts and feelings, then to our bodies, then to our environment, and on and on. There is no goal to this opening. It simply happens automatically when we meditate properly.
As we experience and familiarize ourselves to this opening process our stress is released. We let go of it. When we experience stress it remains in our minds and bodies until it is released. Superficial stress can be superficially released through exercise, for example. Intense, chronic and traumatic stress entwines itself into our bodies and minds so deeply it effects everything we do. Even our attempts to release our stress become expressions of our stress that only reinforce it.
In my case trauma had permeated my mind and body to the point that everything I did was soaked in it. It was like living in an aquarium of blue water. The whole world was blue and yet something deep within me believed there was a better life. There were clear waters ahead. Reassuringly, the more I practiced meditation the more I touched moments of silence and peace. It wasn’t long before I noticed something I had never experienced before - my stress was released simply by experiencing moments of silence during meditation. Best of all it did not return.
Learning how to release stress permanently was a revelation. Health professionals regularly suggest exercise to their patients as a method to reduce stress but its effectiveness is very limited. It works only with superficial stress and it doesn’t prevent stress from returning or accumulating again in the future. What I was witnessing was a twofold process: stress was being eliminated and my new calmer inner state was acting as a protective shield against future stress.
This didn’t happen overnight and it took time for me to stop comparing the process of meditation to an anti-anxiety medication. Meditation doesn’t calm you down like a drug it unwinds your stress by bringing your own inherent inner calmness to your conscious mind. You learn through personal experience that everyone’s core experience is inner silence, calmness and peace. For meditation to do its work all we have to do is meditate using an authentic technique on a regular basis. That’s it.
After twenty-five years of working in the mental heath field I came to the sad realization that very few people would ever be as fortunate as I was and learn what I learned. There is an enormous resistance in the field against natural therapies. In addition, the non-pharmaceutical interventions that are used to help with anxiety and mood related disorders, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, are much more difficult and stressful to practice than meditation. Consciously trying to change your thoughts and behaviors in order to make a perceptual shift takes tremendous effort and is stressful. When meditation is practiced correctly it is effortless, simple, enjoyable and creates a perceptual shift automatically without any conscious effort on our part.
We created The Living Stress Free® Wellness Program by taking an authentic effortless meditation technique and integrating its practice with six additional practices. Each of these six practices help spread the moments of silence that you experience during meditation throughout your life and help you avoid creating unnecessary stress throughout your day. The program as a whole is designed to make the process of releasing stress and creating a protective shield of inner calm as quick and efficient as possible.
I would like to encourage everyone suffering from stress, anxiety, panic and PTSD - it is possible to overcome these debilitating disorders without being addicted to medications. Whether you currently take medications or not, I hope you will look into the practice of meditation as an integral part of your wellness program. There are countless articles on the subject available online and many excellent books on the subject. You can begin by checking out our web site or try the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds to learn more about both the practice of meditation and the emerging science of how and why meditation works.
Good fortune and have a stress free day,
Co-Creater of Living Stress Free®