by Staci Sprout, LICSW, CSAT
My journey, both as a survivor of extreme abuse and betrayal and also as an addictions therapist working with extraordinary individuals, has taught me that a new way of looking at trauma, addiction, and grief is key to healing these widespread human afflictions. A different way than I was taught, at age 18, when I went to see my mom’s psychiatrist to request Prozac, and I was given the small square prescription, even though I didn’t really feel depressed and had only wanted it to lose weight.
Different than my experience at age 21, when I went to see my first psychotherapist, a psychologist, for binge eating and was given a diagnosis of Dysthymia, or chronic, low-grade, functional depression. I was happy my insurance paid for my treatment, and the diagnosis was part of them doing so, but I’ve come to learn that human distress and what resolves it are far more complicated than checking off a list of symptoms and deciding on a diagnostic label. I’ve also learned that the center of the human journey to heal from trauma resides in the individual seeking healing, not the therapist.
So much of what I was taught professionally had a different framework, a therapist or practitioner-centered model. Even social work, which is founded on the principles of honoring the individual within their environment, did not provide me a client-centered life overview of what healing from trauma might look like. The duration of focus began when the individual or group arrived for treatment and ended when the treatment terminated, hopefully with a successful resolution of whatever symptoms inspired the help-seeking in the first place. Sure, I was taught to take a life history, but I didn’t learn the significance of trauma and how a trauma-adapted brain is vulnerable to a myriad of addictions to distract, self-soothe, and express a story that has no other words.
Post Traumatic Transformation is a model that recognizes the power and resilience of those who have survived trauma. It is neither diagnostic nor illness-based, but strength-based and optimistic: all traumatic effects are temporary and adaptive. Symptoms of trauma-adaptation can feel overwhelming, but once their function is understood and honored, safety is restored to consciousness and further transformation follows. In other words, there is a cure for chronic traumatic stress adaptation, and it’s the journey of Post Traumatic Transformation.
Post Traumatic Transformation (PTT) illustrates how an individual can heal from trauma by moving through three phases, starting with the trauma itself and its survival in Phase I: “Hell(o),” the painful wake up call stage where addictions are put in the context of adaptation to and expression of trauma. Phase II: “Recovery” is entered with the start of addiction recovery and achieving sobriety (which often do not occur simultaneously), and it brings with it new experiences of formerly dissociated raw traumatic stress states and a new vulnerability to life stressors. Progress in this phase depends on building a healthy “Personal Village” (that lovely term from Marvin Thomas, MSW), maintaining sobriety and learning pacing of traumatic re-associations and healthy grief skills. Success here brings mental, emotional, physical and spiritual detoxification and new meaning to one’s history, reorienting one’s focus away from survival and onward to Phase III: “Reclaiming Our Birthright.” For a lovely example of what Phase III looks and feels like, check this out, taught by a master, Kayden (and her caregivers):
http://vimeo.com/84802749 Kayden + Rain from Nicole Byon
Song – “In My Arms” by John Foreman
To support those intentionally embarking on this journey, I offer the Post Traumatic Transformation Checklist, inspired by the wonderful work of Daniel Siegel, MD, Belleruth Naparstek, psychotherapist, Robert C. Scaer, MD, and Melisa Noel, EFT Practitioner:
Post Traumatic Transformation Checklist – by Staci Sprout, LICSW, CSAT
Practice Personal Healing: Commit to radical self care*
- Get nurturing sleep and a workable sleep schedule
- Eat nourishing food – watch junk food/sugar/toxins – and take nutritional supplements for balance
- Surround yourself with loving, safe relationships, and let go of those that drain or harm you (Create a “Personal Village” – more info here: http://www.personalvillage.com/accolades.html )
- Pursue play/fun/novel experiences (hobbies, travel)
- Ensure you have adequate financial means for a safe, comfortable lifestyle and funding all support and health care (for support if you chronically don’t earn enough, resource here: http://www.underearnersanonymous.org)
- Take down time – not just electronic entertainment – to give your brain a rest
- Take regular personal getaway retreats – we need a change of scenery and period of reflection to support us with transformation
- Regular journaling/art in a personal diary or some form of intimate expression and later reflection
- Develop personal visions/goals list and prioritize them, and review them regularly for progress
- If you find yourself stuck in addictive/compulsive patterns, get help to get sober, asap
Develop Your Healing Community: Support for traumatic healing** and skilled grief work
Stay with your healing process no matter what – this is healing of all past attachment wounds, as you become the center of your healing and can persevere no matter what happens! And, get help/get resourced!
- Regular meetings with a trustworthy mentor/therapist/practitioner who has experience with trauma healing and can serve as a supportive presence and “reality-check” coach
- When you feel stable and trusting, try trauma clearing/healing work like Lifespan Integration (my favorite: http://www.lifespanintegration.com), sensorimotor psychotherapy, somatic experiencing, EFT, or EMDR
- Regular bodywork to help process emotional/physical/spiritual pain stored in your body, such as massage therapy, cranial sacral therapy, Reiki, Jin Shin, and other forms of energy healing
- Spiritual/intuitive support/growth guidance from safe sources
- A safe support group/circle with fellow survivors of trauma (including recovering addicts if you’ve used addictions to cope)
- General information about trauma, read:
Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal by Belleruth Naparstek
Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessell van der Kolk
Trauma Into Truth: Gusty Healing and Why It’s Worth It by Rythea Lee
- Information about the grieving process and regular coaching on healthy grief processing skills – Grief Skills Chart here
- Specific information about “dissociation,” “association,” “reassociation***,” and “transformation” in the context of your trauma healing.
Check out: “Post Traumatic Transformation” for more information and to listen to an audio presentation titled “Wound to Wisdom: Using Grief to Empower Your Recovery.”
*For more information on Dr. Dan Seigel and his work on essentials for mind health, see drdanseigel.com
**List adapted from Bellruth Naparstek’s Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal
***See www.melisanoel.com for information and consultation on reassociation. Melisa developed the Natural Reassociation Method, or NRM, a revolutionary approach to the compassionate healing of trauma.