Marking Progress in Recovery

Years ago, sitting in a therapist’s office, I remember feeling stuck and wondering if moments of intense activation would ever end. Tired of the anger, exhausted by my efforts to outrun shame, and feeling hopeless about my healing and recovery, I wanted to know if I would ever feel┬ánormal? At that time I had already done quite a bit of work on my trauma. I had created a support network of strong women, found time to heal in nature, was going to therapy on a regular basis, and had created several meaningful goals for my future self. For example, I had already decided that I was going to dedicate my career to helping others heal from traumatic experience. But first I needed to heal myself.

My brother sexually abused me throughout my childhood and after several suicide attempts, he eventually died by suicide when I was sixteen. In my twenties, and sitting in a therapist’s office, I remember feeling like my brain was on fire. We discussed how one minute I would be thinking about what happened as a child and how the next moment, I would be thinking about what happened when I was an adolescent. The flood of memories could be triggered by specific events, interactions, and could also come out of nowhere.

Although I did not know it at the time, I was right where I was supposed to be at that point in my recovery. My brain was healing as it replayed the memories over and over again, creating context, and working toward integration. I needed to be patient, skillful, and feel supported through all of it, but most importantly, I needed to show up to the work. To willingly stick your hand in the fire may seem counterintuitive when it comes to healing, but it is absolutely necessary. Marking progress along the way (along with the support from caring others) helped me find the courage to keep going. I want the same for you.

Here are two ways you can mark progress and capture proof that you are moving forward:

Intensity

Over time, you may notice that you no longer feel the overwhelming pain that you once did when previously activated. What used to feel like a kick in the gut at some point will change to slight irritation or annoyance, like a fly buzzing around the room. As this change happens, notice the difference in severity of symptoms even if triggers continue to happen. Eventually, you will either remain unfazed, or perhaps notice only a mild discomfort when reminded about what happened.

Frequency

You will know you are healing when you realize that even if you get knocked down you are no longer down nearly as long. For example, something that used to completely knock you off your feet for days, weeks, or even months, may now only knock you down for a single day, a few hours, just a moment, or not at all. As the duration of symptoms shortens, you will have certain proof that you are healing, and that your brain is pushing out the poison until eventually, there is nothing left.

The truth is some of your triggers may not ever fully go away, but eventually, the fire begins to die down. Over time, and as your brain continues to heal, you will find that you are no longer feeling the same intensity or frequency of symptoms. The fire no longer burns as hot and may eventually go completely out. For now, know that you are right where you are supposed to be, healing and finding courage to allow the process to unfold as it should. It may not be okay now, but it will be.

Clear Reflections

What are two or three of your triggers? (ex. people, places, songs, events, anniversaries, or random thoughts).

What is the proof that you have made progress in your own healing and recovery?

What is going to motivate you to continue your healing journey?

How will you continue to mark progress along the way?

Celebrate every step.

Speak Your Mind

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