“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~ Viktor Frankl
This quote applies to so many of us who deal with PTSD. Whether your trauma is from war, physical attack, abuse or any of the numerous situations humans go through, we often feel helpless in the face of our darkness.
Viktor Frankl, concentration camp survivor, knows this all too well. It’s difficult to think of a situation more helpless than being in a concentration camp. Any person who is held against their will and subjected to horrific losses of human dignity has suffered beyond that which we can fathom. And how astounding is the human spirit that comes to realize in that instance, the only power we have is within our own mind.
You may be thinking, “Wait, I’m the victim here. Why should I have to change? Why should I be the one who has to do all this work? It isn’t fair.”
You are 100% correct. It isn’t fair. It is what it is. The trauma happened. We didn’t have a choice in that. But we have choices from this point forward. We can choose to spend our time thinking about how unfair it all is. We absolutely have that option.
Or we can set about accepting what has happened, and move forward in our healing.
But acceptance can sometimes be the place we get stuck. The muddy quicksand our mind will not move from. Why is acceptance so difficult?
Sometimes, it’s simply that accepting what happened makes it real. Once you truly, (and really, and awfully) accept that this trauma happened to you, it can be terribly frightening. It leads to thoughts about the world not being a safe place for you. It leads to thoughts about how to make certain this never happens again. It leads to thoughts about how you have no control or power in your life.
That is huge.
No wonder we are reluctant to accept. There’s fear beyond that. However, notice all of those fears are thoughts. And thoughts can be changed. This is where healing begins.
I went through this struggle with acceptance. When you’ve had a fairly “normal” American upbringing (meaning no major horrors, abuse or neglect), it’s difficult to believe you’ve been assaulted. Each morning, I would wake up and wonder if it actually happened. Each morning it was my first thought. I went over it again and again. I wanted to go back in time, to lock my patio door securely, to do whatever I needed to do to make it un-happen. I was so afraid to accept that it had happened. I was also afraid to do what it would take to heal. What if I wasn’t strong enough? I turned to God again and again for that strength.
There is such lovely and simple wisdom in the Serenity prayer. It should be a PTSD mantra:
“God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The courage to change the things I can – this starts with our own thoughts. Our thoughts often require a warrior chant to beat them down. But we know, through practice and now science as well, that our thoughts are entirely our own choosing.
And this, my friends, is where we start to reclaim our selves.
This is often quoted, but always bears hearing again:
Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.
There is nothing my holiness cannot do.
~A Course in Miracles
August 30, 2015
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