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Adult Survivors of Child Abuse Art Therapy Complex PTSD My Story Overcoming Sexual Abuse Stages of Healing

The Emergency Stage: Stages of Healing

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The emergency stage is very disruptive. Memories and long repressed emotions bubble to the surface. Sexual abuse was all I could think about. I had no escape from it. I felt like I had lost my mind. I couldn’t sleep, wasn’t eating well, and wanted to run or hide. The feelings are overwhelming and this is when I started to feel even more suicidal. It felt like it was consuming me from the inside out and I was out of control.

New memories that had been locked away came forward. I had nightmares at night and flashbacks during the day. I wasn’t even able to escape into my head with dissociation like I used to. I got myself into therapy and talking to someone really helped me get through a lot of it. As I said in my last blog post that I felt like I finally got past this emergency stage. It still feels this way sometimes and I’m learning to cope better. I still use therapy on and off but what has helped the most is support from my family, friends and online community of survivors. I found forums like http://www.myptsd.com where I read about what other people were experiencing. That helped me not feel so crazy.

During this time I had almost constant anxiety along with anxiety attacks. It has taken me 4 years to figure out how to help myself. There are a ton of parts to healing so one 1 thing really doesn’t work it for me. It takes an arsenal but I am finally in a better place and the techniques I have learned are paying off. I still have a lot of anxiety but I’m better. The attacks don’t last as long and I don’t feel like I’m going to die when they happen. I am less scared. My body freaks out but I am able to talk myself down, breathe, and employ more things that get me through it.

If you are in the emergency stage please know that you are not going crazy. Find someone to talk to so that you don’t have to deal with it alone. There are some great communities out there on the web, forums, twitter chats, survivor communities online. Talk to your doctor about medications, if necessary There are also therapists trained in trauma recovery and group therapy you can attend.Talking to a therapist and reading about the stages helped me realize that this would pass. It will pass for you too. Another thing that helped me was to have a plan for when I was feeling desperate. That desperation for relief led me to feel suicidal. I just wanted the pain to stop. I didn’t really want to die but at times it felt like my only option.

Here is my Safety Plan to help me cope and de-escalate my suicidal ideation:
1. Deep breathing. I use a 1-2-3 method- 1 deep breath, hold to 2 counts, blow out for 3 counts, repeat, slower each time.
2. Focus on the people who love me and how we feel about each other.
3. Call my Mom-text my older brother-text my friend-talk with my online friends
4. Call a crisis line-
National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255
Rainn Nation Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673
5. Go stay with my Mom
6. Contact therapist – make an appointment
7. Go to hospital.

You list might look a lot different from this and that’s ok. Do what works for you. You aren’t doing it wrong, just keep trying. Remember that what works can change. For me, some things work some of the time.

Grounding techniques are also very effective to help keep me in the present and not feeling lost in the flashback or memory. The mind is powerful and a flashback can have you feeling like you are being hurt all over again. These can also help if you are disassociating to stay more present. Try these out and see what works for you:

Employ your 5 senses- Touch, sight, sound, smell, taste
Touch: I like using a cold wet wash cloth. I hold it in my hands, feel the temperature, rub my arms and legs down, the back of my neck, my face. I also have some really soft blankets that I love the feel of. I have a rug in my bedroom that is fake fur and I go sink my toes in it. Wiggle your toes right now and notice the feeling of what your feet are touching. Turn on a fan and feel the air movement. I also go find my dogs and hold them, pet them, talk to them, They are always down for cuddles.
Sight: Notice what is around you, say it out loud, describe things. Art therapy can be very helpful to express yourself and shift your focus.
Sound: Play your favorite music, clap you hands, speak out loud
Smell: I use essential oils for anxiety like: Eucalyptus, lemon, orange, lavender. I also like rose and have rose hand lotion that works with a few senses because it feels good and smells good.
Taste: Eat something and notice the texture, how it tastes- is it sweet, sour, cold, hot? I love making tea and the whole process can be relaxing for me.

Change your state: sit if you are standing, stand if you are sitting. Put you arms in the air. Get up and dance a little or walk around. Stretch. Go outside and inhale some fresh air.

This is a pretty big list but doesn’t cover all the things to try. I don’t mean to throw a big list of stuff at you but it takes a lot of trying to figure out what is going to help you. If none of this works, try other things. Search for grounding techniques and you will find even more things to try. You are unique so what helps me might not work for you. Like I can’t do yoga yet due to it body memories. That’s why I don’t like it. This process also takes practice. Eventually I was able to practice mindfulness more throughout the day and it has helped me to stay more present instead of drifting off into my head. I found that drifting off and dissociating was making my flashbacks and memories worse. Once I got more of a handle on staying present I was able to better cope with many of the symptoms of my complex PTSD. Be gentle and patient with yourself. This is not easy at first because you are creating a new pattern of behavior. It literally takes practice for your mind to create the new pathways and go-to actions that will eventually become second nature. It does get easier the more you practice. These techniques can be helpful in other stages of healing and with stress management in general.