Category: Therapy (page 2 of 2)

Overcoming the Nightmare of PTSD with IRRT

ptsd_brainwordsLiving with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a nightmare, literally. I have had horrific and terrifying nightmares since I was a toddler. They are so graphic, so realistic, and so vivid that I cannot differentiate them from real life even upon awakening. These hellish nightmares are gruesome, frightening, and horribly detailed down to the vivid sounds, sights, smells, and tastes. It’s like I am really there, it is really happening, I am trapped inside an eternal hell.

I have always hated going to sleep and would do most anything to avoid it most nights. I tried over-the-counter sleeping pills, supplements like valerian root, and even prescription drugs. All they did was put me into such a deep sleep that I could not wake up from the nightmare. Without any medication or supplements, I often woke up in the middle of the dream completely terrified, but it’s better than being trapped in the nightmare.

For me, nightmares are the worst part about having PTSD, however, another big challenge are the sudden flashbacks that are triggered. It can be a sight, a sound, a smell, or even just a random thought, then BLAM! I am right there in a terrifying moment. I am aware that it’s not really happening, but I just can’t stop it. Sometimes it’s minutes, sometimes it’s just seconds, but it’s a jolt to the system that leaves me feeling very anxious.

At one point I worried so much about the flashbacks and the triggers that I avoided all public situations. It was so bad that for about a year I didn’t leave my house unless it was absolutely necessary, and even then I would hide my face with hats and sunglasses and cover my body as much as possible. I would do anything to avoid people, especially crowds. I remember doing all my shopping for food right before the store closed to see the least amount of people. I could not handle being in the public for a long period of time because of the fear of something triggering me. I spent most of that year dabbling with depression and anxiety medications while doing intense therapy.

Living with PTSD also means living with anxiety and a constant state of hypervigilance, especially in public. I am hyperaware of my surroundings at all times and don’t like to have my back toward the room. I usually sit or stand in a position where I can see the door.  I always have an escape plan in all situations. I can’t handle feeling trapped.

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PTSD caused by past traumas (read my story here: http://www.stefanilord.com/category/why-write-a-blog/) means that I have had depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, agoraphobia, and nightmares most of my life, until now.

There is hope!

For years I went to all kinds of therapists; some good, some bad, and some who have given me tremendous in sight. But it wasn’t until recently that I sought out a therapist who deals with PTSD and offers a type of therapy that works wonders to alleviate the symptoms.

Imagery Rescripting and Reprocessing Therapy (IRRT) to the rescue!

All the years of therapy before now peeled back layers of trauma like an onion, which also included a lot of tears. The steady and persistent woking on my self over the years is what helped me to feel better and to overcome my past. But in 2015 I made the greatest breakthroughs ever! Even with all of the years of therapy beforehand, I still had issues with nightmares and some triggers. I asked around for a PTSD therapist and was referred to Bob Stahn (http://wellspringcounselingllc.com/6.html) in Idaho Falls. I had never heard of IRRT therapy, and during the first visit he explained to me what it was. I was excited to get started, so we did some work in the first session. It was horrible! It was awesome! It was emotional! It was life changing!

The therapy works like this:

1. Imaginal Reliving – visually recalling and re-experiencing the traumatic imagery along with the associated thoughts, affect, and bodily sensations accompanied by the creation of a detailed, descriptive, verbal narrative;

2. Mastery Imagery – visualizing oneself as a competent and capable ADULT (today) successfully confronting and disempowering the perpetrator (back then) while rescuing the CHILD from the trauma scene;

3. Self-Calming/Self-Nurturing Imagery – visualizing oneself as an ADULT (today) calming, soothing, and nurturing the traumatized CHILD (back then).

https://mervinsmuckerpsychologist.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/mervin-smucker-definition-of-irrt/

The first step is the hardest and I hated every minute of it. We had to relive the trauma – every inch of it – and I had to say it out loud. I had to recall every detail of the event, including all the emotions; It was one of the toughest moments of my life. But I had faith; I trusted my therapist and I trusted the process. I had nothing to lose. I WANTED to get well!

After my first session I did not have a nightmare that night – not one. I thought it was a fluke at first, but one night turned into one week. I felt lighter, relieved, joyous, and excited about life. I went back again to deal with another issue and we did the same process. As difficult as it was to relive my past traumas, I felt even better after each session. With every session I felt calmer and more empowered. It’s been over 6 months now and I have not had a single nightmare or trigger and I am so relieved. Because I have so much trauma to deal with, I go back twice a month for sessions and each time I feel stronger and happier about life. I cannot say enough about how life saving Bob Stahn and IRRT therapy has been for me.

The hardest thing about dealing with PTSD is that you get so overwhelmed you feel there is no way out, no hope, nothing that will help. But I am here to tell you that there is hope, you can get better. Try IRRT therapy for yourself and see if it works for you. If not, then try other forms of therapy – there is something out there for you. There is a form of therapy that will help you to cope with life, you just have to be brave and try. And one thing about us PTSD survivors, we are brave! We faced some horrific things and come out the other side, broken, but we come out. The hard part is facing the demon and walking into a big, cold, dark cave and believing there is a light. It’s a good therapist that helps you ind the switch. I have faith in you, I know you can do this. If you need more information on PTSD you can find it here: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/basics/symptoms/con-20022540

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Becoming My Own Therapist

One of the tools I use the most in my tool box is self-talk. When I realized that all my feelings came from my own thoughts, I now held the power to choose what l allowed to ruminate in my brain. I could let my thoughts run amok with no supervision, then later try to figure out what triggered a bad or depressed mood, or I could pay more attention to what I thought throughout the day and capture those thoughts and feelings as they came up.

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It has taken a lot of work to get to this point of self-awareness. Even today, if I don’t stay on top of what I am thinking, I can slip back into old self-defeating behaviors, thatcan have horrific results. In the past, while in the depth of my depression, I would say horrible things to myself:

I’m so fat, and ugly, and stupid. I am such a loser. No one would care if you died. No one. No one would shed a tear because I don’t have any friends and I’m nothing but a fat, stupid, pathetic, worthless loser.

Thinking those thoughts over and over, day after day, can cause one to utterly lose hope. I don’t want to go there again, and if I do, I want to be able to pull myself out quickly.

I always thought that my therapy sessions would fix me. In actuality, what determines how fast you get well and stay mentally healthy is based upon the homework do in between sessions and the amount of effort you’re putting forth to get better. I think of the hour of therapy as a lecture in school – you learn the generalities of the subject, but to master it, you have to put forth the effort to actually own the material. And of all of this, one of the greatest things that I learned in therapy is that I have the power to change, by changing my thoughts.

One of the very first things I did on the road to self-discovery was to observe and listen to my inner chatter. It’s amazing how many erroneous thoughts run through the mind. What I noticed is that I had labeled myself as a horrible person. Everything about myself was bad: fat, ugly, stupid, dumb, loser, good for nothing, worthless. I decided to take all of those words and write the opposite on paper and read that every day. Every morning I would tell myself out loud that I am beautiful, smart, worthwhile, and good person. In the beginning I would roll my eyes and totally not believe any of this. Then one day I asked, “Why not?” That’s when I started to question my belief system. “Why can’t these good thoughts be true? What is truth anyway? Where did I get this negative believe system?” I started reading all kinds of self-help books, including “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. “What you think about is what you bring about” is the main premise of this book. Think you are successful and you will become successful. Think you are a failure and you will become one. I had never realized before this point that what I was thinking was affecting my moods, decisions, and behaviors. Once I learned this I had the hope that things can get better.

I kept checking in with my thoughts, and with every negative thought I would think the opposite. If I said I was stupid in my mind, I would tell myself how smart I am and try to think of an example. I would defeat my own thoughts with self talk and new thoughts – I was learning to become my own therapist.

We are the only ones in control of our life, our feelings, or mood, and our destiny. No one else holds that power over us unless we let them. Try observing your thoughts for a day and see what you find. Were you surprised at the results? Try writing down all of the bad and then make a list of the opposites. If you think you are stupid, not only write out that you are smart but give examples. I’m sure you have some. Even when I was at the depth of my depression I could think of one thing: I’m kind to animals. The list grew from there and continues to expand today.

My abuse and trauma is deeply engrained into who I am. Even with all the horrific things that happened (read my story here: ) I still hold the power to change, but only if I put the work into it every day with little or no slacking. I have a list of things I do every day to keep myself on the path of self improvement and self-discovery. This is my insurance that if I do indeed hit a rough patch, I can quickly turn things around by being my own therapist and apply everything that I know. Self-talk can be the key to me having a good day, or bad. Ultimately though, it’s my choice.

Writing my story to help others

IMG_7691My life was filled with hurt and tragedy before I was even born. My biological mother got pregnant at 16 to a handsome and charming older man, and they were introduced to Dr. Schober by a friend of my birth father. Doc, as she preferred to be called, was doing abortions and alternative birthing in peoples homes and in her office in Pacoima, California on the east side of the San Fernando Valley. I was told by the person that introduced them to Doc that they originally wanted to abort me, but at some point decided to place me up for adoption. Doc was a closet lesbian who had been looking for a child for her and her partner to raise, so she told my birth parents she knew a couple looking for a child. After my birth, Doc simply put her name on my certificate, had a doctor friend sign it, and she sent it off to be certified by the state. I went on believing that Doc was my mother, and some guy I never met named William Schober who supposedly died while she was pregnant, was my dad until I found contrary paperwork when I was 34 years old.

When I was three, my adoptive parents decided to leave me with a neighbor couple so they could go out for the night. I felt immediate dread and my gut instinct new before it happened, but no amount of crying would change their mind. They left me with this sadistic pedophile couple; she laughed as he raped me. I was haunted with nightmares and flashbacks that ruined most of my life.

There have been a few studies about women who get molested, raped, or sexually abused. It seems to happen more than one time; I am that statistic. My adoptive parents moved me to Simi Valley to be safe, and at age 11 we moved to Moorpark so I could have horses. My 42 year old neighbor took his sweet time grooming me like any good pedophile does. Within 6 months he went from daddy figure, to sick, perverse version of a boyfriend. He told me I was the only man in the world that would ever love or understand me. He was wrong.

At 14 I rushed into a relationship with a man 9 years older than me. He was charming, supplied me with a plethora of drugs, and was controlling and verbally abusive. At 18 it turned physical, and when I broke up with him, he beat me. I ran outside, but he grabbed me on the sidewalk, beat me up again, then dragged me into his parents house. He beat me some more, ripped my clothes off, then he raped me. I never talked to him again.

At 18 I went with some friends to Vegas. While they played blackjack, I decided I wanted a real drink, not a watered down free one. Two men approached me, the talkative one kept my attention while the quiet creepy weird slipped something into my drink. Thats the last thing I remember before waking up in cheap motel – bloody, robbed, and raped again.

I don’t know why I was giving this tragic life; I didn’t deserve it. No one deserves to be raped, not ever, not for any reason. But not only was I raped, beaten, drugged, and physically abused, I was also verbally abused at home. Sandy hated that Doc had adopted me, she said it ruined their sex live, and she blamed me for everything. She called me a whore, a fat slob, a lazy good for nothing bitch, and when I was younger, she threatened to throw me back into the trash where they found me. Sandy was filled with anger and rage, and Doc did nothing to stop her. She was in her own world filled with parties, lies, drug and alcohol binges. She also floated in an out of jail; her longest stint was 18 months when I was just 5. I didn’t understand time, and I thought she had abandoned me for life. Not only did my home life suck, but I was also bullied every day of my life at school and by neighbor kids. I was either beaten up, had rocks thrown at me, or I was shunned from everything. No one protected me – not my parents, not the teachers, not a the neighbors. No one.

I was filled with hate, anger, shame, guilt, rage, disgust, hurt, and self loathing. I contemplated suicide more days than I can even remember. I became a drug addict and dealer, alcoholic, criminal and all around asshole. I acted out in every way possible and my mantra was “fuck the world before it fucks me.” I spent years trying to control my life with food; either overeating, starving, or barfing it all up after a binge. All the highs were temporary – nothing gave me relief from the pain. I even tried an overdose on pills, and in the midst of passing over, I didn’t go up or down, instead I started floating off to the right into a cold dark abyss. I realized before it was too late that even death would not give me any relief. I realized, in that moment, I have to fix my life before I destroy myself. Thus started the very long and painful journey of looking inward and dredging up all the trauma. I had to talk about things that I never wanted out of the “pain-boxes” I had shoved them into. Slowly, over time, I began to see that the more light I shinned on the monsters, the smaller they got. Some took a long time to evaporate in the light, and some I let crawl back into the caves and hide until I was ready to deal with them.

It took a lot of work, and during periods of time would take 2 steps forward and 3 steps back, but I kept moving forward. I kept digging. All the painful work eventually paid off and most of my days are now filled with happiness and inner peace.

This blog will be my sharing of how I not only overcame, but I learned to thrive inspite of all the horrific things that happened to me. Its taken me a long time to make this decision – its not easy to relive events and expose myself like this, but in the end I hope that my confessions give someone else strength to face their own dreams and find their own joy. I plan on addressing the top 20 things I did to turn my life around. Too many people make recovery look overly simplistic and its not. I see too many books, blogs, and advice stating that “I just did this one thing and Im fine now.” Thats not me. I did many things to get well, but the most important, for me, was finding a good therapist. Everything else worked as an adjunct to the therapy, but all of these things have a very important role in my evolution to happiness.

20 Steps to Find  Happiness and Increase  Confidence

  1. First and foremost I had to find a therapist.  Over the years I have seen about 20 and maybe 3 or 4 of those were good.  Later I will discuss how to find a good therapist and what to expect.
  2. Finding your own spirituality or connection to life.
  3. Exercise – Running.
  4. Hiking –  Nature.
  5. Motorcycle riding.
  6. Eating healthy and suppliments.
  7. How to properly use and carry a gun.
  8. Boxing – Self Defense.
  9. Situational Awareness.
  10. Yoga – Meditation.
  11. Writing – Journaling.
  12. 12 Step Programs.
  13. Self help books, workshops, seminars.
  14. Volunteering and giving back.
  15. Affirmations- Gratitude – Visualization
  16. Goals.
  17. Photography – Hobbies
  18. Love Me Book.
  19. Healthy friends and support system.
  20. Making a commitment to work at getting healthy and being happy.

 

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