Yes….But How Will I Get Through the Day?
There’s a limit to how much hideous information anyone can absorb and still function in the way that she needs to function. Many women in relationships with men called sex addicts have ongoing commitments at work, in community leadership and service, with children still at home, in managing personal health challenges, and with extended family obligations. Those commitments don’t disappear and neither do the people associated with them after the hideous information starts rolling in. How do you look these people in the eye, no matter what their age, and act as if your whole world didn’t just explode? You aren’t the one skilled at being a fake—he is!
A variety of trauma symptoms may make these commitments harder and harder to fulfill. Some women can only get a few hours of sleep at night, while others struggle to get out of bed at all. Some women are afflicted with trauma-induced Attention Deficit Disorder, and have difficulty focussing and remembering. They lose their ability to concentrate for any length of time. Some women are hypervigilant so that they are easily startled and spend the day moving from one state of alarm to another. Some women cry uncontrollably or are ambushed by tears at inappropriate times. Some are unable to leave their homes or drive their cars. This may happen occasionally or regularly. Some women lose their ability to be patient with or tolerant of others. Some stop eating and some can’t swallow. Depression, despair and suicidality can also be symptoms of having been through trauma.
I’ll just stop there. You get the picture. And if makes you feel less afraid, I had every one of the symptoms I listed. I’m still standing. And I’m living a rich and wonderful life—a life not without trouble but full of blessings. But sometimes, in a split second, I’m there again. Something happens that sends me over the cliff and I’m in freefall. Luckily it takes less time now to realize I do have a parachute with me in the form of a coping tool.
Coping tools are the things in your toolbox that help you get through the day (and the night) They are tools found to help people who suffer from trauma symptoms. One coping tool does not a toolbox make. You have to have a bunch of them. The thing is, some of them can sound really unlikely to help you. You might end up being as foolish as I was, and dismiss the tools I read about because I was waiting for one that suited the kind of person I was. A year later I had no tools and all my symptoms running everything. Don’t make that same mistake.
That said, there will be some tools you will find more effective for you than others. Some will be your general “go-to’s” and others will be symptom specific. The most important thing I want you to hear from this blog is that coping tools return a sense of control to you, and you need that very much. When you discover you can pre-empt, mitigate, diminish, stop or even eliminate a trauma symptom in your life you gain a sense of your own presence and reality again. Your personal agency is returned to you after discovery, dribble disclosure, practical consequences and therapeutic trauma, (rinse and repeat) have blown up your reality and left you feeling you are not in control of your life at all. This is how you defeat those feelings, because when you can help yourself, you can begin to trust yourself again.
That’s worth repeating: when you can help yourself, you can begin to trust yourself again.
It’s important for you to try various coping tools—not once or twice but regularly over a few weeks. It may take some time to feel any effects. But sometimes you can enjoy some relief right away. The point is that there is nothing else to help you. You have to try.
In my toolbox my basic building block for all the other tools and my immediate “go-to” in any situation of trauma symptoms is my version of mindfulness breathing. Even when my panic is screaming “breathing won’t help this!!!!” I do the breathing. And it does help me.
A few years ago I created a nine-video plus print resources called First Things First, what women need to know after discovery. You can find the intro video for that resources (and others) here https://www.yourstoryissafehere.com/new-index/ . First Things First includes three videos talking about coping tools and showing you how to use them for treating trauma symptoms. This resource has about 3 hours total of video. That might be helpful for you. Also, yoga, EMDR from a certified practitioner, singing in choirs, participating in theatre productions, and walking are recognized as effective in reducing symptoms.
What isn’t helpful is trying to think your way out of your trauma symptoms. In fact, that’s almost the worst thing you can try to do because trauma is what has damaged the links between your cognitive brain function in the cerebral cortex and the emotional function in the limbic brain area and your physical function in the reptilian brain area. The latter two are now running on their own alarm system which is more primitive and basic to survival, and they aren’t really doing what the cerebral cortex thinks should they should do. So, coping tools are specifically designed to help you “talk to” the limbic and reptilian parts of the your brain and help the dial down the alarms. They work to overcome the gap that trauma creates. And that’s why the tools may seem kind of strange or “unlikely” solutions from a cognitive standpoint.
The neurobiology of trauma is a research area that is growing and improving treatment options for trauma survivors. The courses I’ve been taking just in the last year have improved those options for me personally, and for my clients. I wish I’d had these courses when I was in congregational ministry! But they didn’t exist. So if your treatment practitioner isn’t on top of what’s happening in this field you’re not getting the best help you could. The changed dynamics of our brain function after trauma are why coping tools are so important and why we may be dismissive of them at first. But this is how you get through the day. You interrupt the alarm system when it goes off with your coping tool, and dial it down or dial it off altogether.
Sometimes it can feel disheartening to have to use coping tools daily. You may feel sad that your life has come to this. I did. And then I realized that if I kept focussing on visiting the new edge of the grave, I was never getting out of the cemetery. In my life as clergy I have known people who never got out of the cemetery and I didn’t want to be that person. I wanted to live my life as fully and as faithfully as I could even if I couldn’t even imagine it anymore.
So I learned the damn coping tools. You should too. It’s how you get through the day. If you need to talk more about this, your story is safe here.