CPTSD, PTSD and Fight-or-flight Response: Living in a Trauma Cycle and 7 Steps to Ending It
July 1, 2022
When you’re living in a trauma cycle, your thoughts are wired for chaos. And you remain in a fight-or-flight state. Running from problem to problem. From crisis to crisis. Where I lived for over 23 years.
The best way to describe living in a trauma cycle is like being in a tornado. You’re in a constant cyclone, picking up more speed as you go. Growing stronger in your fight-or-flight state. Taking everyone and everything around you down with you. And the only way for it to be over is for you to stop and stand still. But then all the trauma hits you. Which is excruciating. So in order to avoid the pain, you create the tornado again.
I vividly remember living in this state. Where my nervous system was in constant overdrive. Where my life was out of my own control. I felt helpless and suicidal. Friends and family didn’t know what to say to me. Psychotherapy was a great place to talk, but most of the time I was so scattered, I didn’t know what to say. And since I lived in the problem, it never stopped. Something always felt like it was going wrong. My world was always crashing down around me. And it felt like there was no way to make it stop. Like I was a perpetual victim. Like I was cursed with the drama that was my life.
But once I stood still long enough to get through my trauma, the tornado stopped. And it hasn’t come back in the four years I’ve been in trauma recovery. But the trick was getting through it. To stop avoiding it. For I’ve learned that there is no avoiding trauma. No acting like it didn’t happen. No getting past it without doing the work. I’ve learned that the only way to successfully get through trauma is by doing just that—by going through it.
Stopping my trauma cycle wasn’t easy. I spent over 23 years trying to get help for the way I was, but nothing seemed to work. Then, I began writing and reflecting on past journals, and I started noticing trends in my behavior. And I was in psychotherapy, so I was talking through my discoveries, and my therapist was helping me make sense of them. Then I started seeing an occupational therapist who recognized I was in flight-or-flight and helped me determine a sensory diet to begin regulating my nervous system. And then through craniosacral therapy, a technique that works with the craniosacral system and with tissue memories, my repressed trauma surfaced. When my repressed trauma surfaced, everything stopped. It was the calm after the storm. And it took the shock of my repressed trauma surfacing for me to even think to stand still long enough to begin my recovery.
Since I was already in psychotherapy, thankfully, I had the support of my therapist. And I had my occupational therapist who was helping me with sensory integration. I even got lucky and had a spiritual healer who was teaching me how to breathe and use yoga to deal with the pain. I wrote every morning. I read books about women’s health and recovery. I recognized I was going through the stages of grief. And I grieved.
During those first few months of my trauma recovery, I also started taking care of myself. I learned what it meant to practice self-care. I stopped creating chaos and running and stood still and looked. And while working through my trauma with the help of my psychotherapist, occupational therapist and spiritual healer wasn’t easy, it was only by going through the pain that I was set free.
If you find that your life is chaotic. Traumatic. Out of your control. Like you can’t keep up and it’s not slowing down. If you are caught in a trauma cycle, here are steps to making it stop:
- See a psychotherapist. And commit to sticking with it for at least six months. After six months, if you don’t think the therapist is helping, find someone new, but only leave your current therapist once you’ve found someone new to work with. So there’s no gap in your therapy. It took me a while to find someone I felt understood me. Don’t give up if this is where you’re at now. Stick with it. Put it out there. And trust that you will find the right person soon. Also, if a psychiatrist is recommended to you, see one. I avoided getting the psychiatric help I needed for too long, but once I got it, it changed my life for the better. If psychiatric treatment is recommended to you, get treated as soon as possible. I currently see a natural psychiatrist who has me on natural supplements, in addition to medication, which help balance my moods even more.
- See an occupational therapist. They will help you determine a sensory diet, which will help you regulate your nervous system. And regulating your nervous system will help you know how to get out of fight-or-flight responses.
- Practice self-care. Start by doing little things every day to take care of yourself. Shower every day. Rest. Eat fruits and vegetables. Drink water. Move. Even if all you have time for is household chores, put your body into motion every day. Care for yourself and give yourself the same attention as you would an infant—making sure all your basic needs are met.
- Meditate. You can start by simply taking deep breaths. Breathing deeply in and out through your nose and pushing your breath throughout your body. Taking at least five deep breaths will calm your nervous system and allow you to think more clearly. To hear your inner self. You can also meditate by doing body scans—focusing on each part of your body, one part at a time, and observing what comes up. This engages your interoceptive sense—the sense that tells you how you’re feeling—which helps you process your feelings. Commit to deep breathing at three different times throughout your day. And build from there.
- Journal. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate process. You can start by jotting down a few notes in your Notes section of your phone each day. For example, “Today I feel overwhelmed.” Or, “Today I feel sad.” And then looking back at the end of each week to begin to notice patterns. Consider what your notes tell you about how you’re feeling. Also, consider writing down what comes up when you meditate. And noticing patterns in that too.
- Take stock of what’s in your tornado. Through your journals, begin to make note of the things that are causing you the most stress and strive to remedy them. Do you constantly loathe going to your job? Is your partner taking more than he/she/they are giving? Do you have a friend who stays in a trauma cycle and who adds to yours? Look at the things that cause you the most stress in your life and work to get rid of the stress. Even if that means having to change jobs, end your relationship, limit your time with certain people, etc.
- Believe in yourself. Know that only you have the power to end your trauma cycles. That only you can make it through your pain and get to the other side where you feel peace and calm. Where your nervous system has a chance to rest. Where you end your trauma cycles and where you can finally begin living.
If you or someone you know is suffering, I hope you are able to work through your pain and heal. Let yourself have confidence that a new world awaits you once you do. But remember, you’ll have to go through the pain first. For it is only once you acknowledge your pain that you can begin to accept it and let it go.
I wish you light and love on your journey to heal. I’m in it with you. You’ve got this.
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