Sometimes people ask HOW I got any of my shit in order. And let me be clear - I think it's misguided to ask me - I'm an idiot who just so happened to figure some things out after a lot of trial and error, and enjoys writing too much.
That being said, I've taken a few steps on the Trauma Recovery journey that we all face. I'm not saying those steps were taken running, with leaps and bounds. I'm not saying that I don't trip and slide backwards from time to time, or that my leg are always steady and sure-footed.
But I'll tell you what works for me, if you're looking for some honest experiential words from someone with zero academic expertise in Trauma.
And hey - I've been pondering this theory about the key components to Trauma Recovery in my spare time (i.e. during my morning pacing around the yard with wheeliepup Archie). Because what the fuck else would my brain be busy with? School? Practical matters? Nah... just abstract thinking about psychology. Sounds right.
Here's my proposal that no one asked for. The three-pronged axis that supports a lifelong Trauma Recovery journey, from one Fucker to another. AND why a single or dual axis approach... is inevitably going to collapse.
So… if you’ve been following my ramblings for any amount of time, you may have noticed some of the strange vernacular that I use to describe this traumatized state of being.
Why have I done this? Because, even if they're "wrong" from a clinical approach... it helps to have words to describe what you're going through. Just like this three-pronged axis of recovery might be faulty musings of a weirdo, but at least it's a way to think about what needs to be accomplished. A rough road map when you're feeling lost.
First, I interchangeably talk about having “Trauma Responses,” being in “Trauma States,” or having “Trauma Activation,” at times. When I use these phrases, I’m describing those days (or weeks, or months, or years) when you’re in a state of constant system arousal. When you’re experiencing flashbacks, panic attacks, extreme anxiety, depression, and all the other mental and physical manifestations of PTSD - both acute and chronic. In other words, being triggered is an acute trauma response. But, so is a month of dealing with unmanaged anxiety, sleep disruption, and terrible eating habits after being triggered. It takes a while for your brain and body to calm down - even after the immediate “trigger” has passed.
Secondly, I talk about “Traumatized Living,” quite often. For me, this is referring to the ways of life that many of us succumb to as a function of unprocessed trauma. The other mental health disorders, physical ailments, avoidant and self-defeating behaviors that plague Complex Trauma sufferers. The terrible workplaces, the sad residences, the abusive relationships, and the abandonment of our own ambitions that chronically-defeated folks experience when they don’t have the energy to fight anymore or the tools to escape their prisons. When we DO start to make strides in our traumatized worlds - learning about our conditions and enacting real change in our physical worlds - this is what I refer to as our Trauma Journeys, or Trauma Life Recovery.
Lastly, I want to clarify my reliance on the term “Trauma Brain.” In my writing, this refers to both the biological and abstract effects of trauma on the ole brain box. Not only am I making reference to the physiological changes that take place in a child’s brain when they experience abuse during developmental stages - the faulty wiring, if you will. But also the long term effects of these electrical mishaps; the maladaptive thinking patterns and conditioned reflexes that we carry throughout life. The fucked up core beliefs (FUCBs) and nasty Inner Critics. The avoidant and escapist tendencies. The rumination. The penchant for catastrophizing and waiting for the other shoe to drop. The survival adaptations gone wrong when over-applied to non-life-threatening stimuli. Sometimes I also call this a “Traumatized Mindset.”
Where did these terms come from? Fuck if I know. Somewhere in my own trauma learning and writing, I started adopting some creative phrases to try to make sense of the dizzying experiences. Blending researched facts with my personal experiences in an attempt to name and understand the confusing, poorly defined outcomes of Trauma. Are any of these phrases “right,” in the context of clinical psychology or research? Honestly, I have no clue. And that’s alright with me, if it’s alright with you.
As long as I’m making up my own Trauma terms… I’m going to take this one step further and propose a new hypothesis. I want to discuss a functional theory about mental health management that I’ve been turning over for a while now. The three-pronged axis of Trauma Life Recovery.
Could I be wrong? Totally. As I’m always saying, I’m no therapist or psychologist - just an experiential trauma learner with a budding education in Applied Behavior Analysis. Don’t listen to what I have to say if you’re looking for an academic trauma expert. But, for what it’s worth, I think it’s helpful to have words to think about the foundation of trauma recovery, nevertheless.
Traumatized Brains, Traumatized Mindsets, Traumatized Lives
I briefly explained what I mean by Traumatized Living or Traumatized Mindsets, but let me get more explicit to set the stage.
So, you know how there are days when you wake up and have this sense of, “Oh fuck YEAH, ain’t nothing going to hold me back! I don’t know why I’ve been so down on myself for the past ten years, I got it going on and I’ve got everything I need to succeed!”
You know how 24 hours later (or less) you’ll be telling yourself, “I fucked everything up, I hate my life, I’m tired of struggling, nothing ever matters anyways, I never asked to be put on this earth and everything is futile”?
Under condition A, you’ll probably be motivated to do EVERYTHING. Exercising, eating right, socializing, pursuing hobbies, learning, taking therapy seriously, working extra hard, applying to new jobs, searching for better places to live, dreaming of your future… Let’s call this a “Recovery Mindset.”
Under condition B, youuuu probably won’t be doing a fucking thing. Sitting around on the couch, laying in bed, staring off into space, avoiding social contacts, ruminating, eating, trying to kill time, abusing substances, beating yourself up, waiting for the sweet relief of death… Let’s call this your “Traumatized Mindset.”
I’m guessing, if you’re anything like me, that you fluctuate between these two states of being with variable frequencies.
Maybe you have a good month of Recovery Thinking when nothing can hold you back - “look out world, here I fucking come, try and stop me!” Even your regular triggers, annoyances, and obstacles are no match for the high horse you perch upon. Everything is going great and you have NO IDEA why you were in such a funk for the past… 20 years.
Annnnddd… like a rubber band, you wake up one day, snapped back into a 3 month stretch of Traumatized Thinking. Suddenly, nothing can pull you out of this stinking, wretched shit pit. There’s no point in trying. Everything is so overwhelming and uncomfortable. Even if you won the lottery, you’d probably still lay in bed and dream of the ways you’re about to get fucked.
Right - so this is the constant battle we all go through, trying to overcome our Trauma Brains and Trauma Lives in the long term. It’s easy to buck up and have a recovery mindset for a few days or weeks when you’re riding a brief high… it’s not so simple to keep that momentum moving you forward day after day after year after year when life comes a’knocking.
And, unfortunately, Trauma Recovery is going to take years of work. So it’s a real thorn in the foot of your mental health rehab to constantly go through these positive mindset crashes and falls. Each nosedive into a Trauma Mindset doesn’t just set you back for a few days or weeks - it can feel like undoing all of the hard effort you’ve put in for months or years.
Suddenly, your anxiety is out of whack again. Suddenly, you can’t sleep at night. Suddenly, you’re having flashbacks and nightmares. Suddenly, your body condition has slipped backwards into dysfunctional health symptoms. Suddenly, you’re too terrified to leave the house, let alone go to therapy. Suddenly, you can’t imagine ever feeling peaceful, happy, or capable again in the future, and you doubt the validity of these memories in your past.
These backslides on our Trauma Treks have long-lasting, detrimental effects. The swirling shitstorm of mental and physical symptoms is difficult to navigate and sometimes pushes us even further into dysfunctional living. And even worse? These shitty Trauma Mindsets are really difficult to get over. Once you’re stuck in the tar pits, crawling back out to reach the mile marker where the avalanche swept you away in the first place is no easy feat. It takes hard work just to believe it’s possible to feel okay again.
So, how do we keep ourselves from stumbling into this stanking trap, over and over and over again?
This is where I propose that there are three important factors for maintaining a Trauma Recovery Mindset and rehabbing a Traumatized Life. Take em or leave em.
Three-prongs of Traumatized Life / Traumatized Mindset Recovery
Here’s what I’ve noticed.
There are three parts of my life that make or break my functional existence in this world and how I’m feeling about it. When I’m doing well, it’s because I’m upholding all three components and keeping myself accountable for their daily maintenance. When I’m being shitty - towards myself, my life, and others - it’s because positive actions in one to three of these categories are missing.
These categories are: Behavior, Inner Landscape, and Environment.
Sounds too simplistic and common sense to mean anything or justify a graphic? Fair enough, Fucker, let me keep explaining. Also, here’s your shitty fucking graphic, anyways. Deal with it.
So, similar to what we learn in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I'm thinking that there are basic building blocks in our lives that influence… well… essentially everything.
In CBT, the focus is on Thoughts, Emotions, and Behaviors as the stimuli that form our inner - and, therefore, outer - worlds.
Semi-paralleling that model on accident, I’m proposing that our Behaviors, Inner Worlds, and Environments influence our ability to maintain growth mindsets and make lasting changes in our lives following traumatic events. Equally simple in theory; extremely difficult to achieve in real life.
Let’s break’er down. These are the three areas that require our time and attention in order to have time and attention for anything other than wallowing in self-defeat.
AKA - your physical and social surroundings, what you’re consuming, what’s influencing your outlook.
When I say “Environment” I don’t just mean your home decor - although, honestly, something so shallow as your shitty, cockroach-ridden apartment is definitely part of it.
When I refer to Environment, I mean all of your surrounding stimuli. Your region, your climate, your culture, your workplace, your residence, your religious views, your social network, your support system, your media consumption... All of the information that comes streaming into your eyes and ears - quite literally, the definition of stimuli. The antecedents to your behaviors, if you want to get educational with it.
Whether you’ve noticed it yet or not, these things fucking MATTER.
Have you ever realized how much being around persistently negative people drags you down? Have you experienced the life-pervading effects of a toxic workplace? Have you been negatively impacted by keeping scumbags for company… or, being around your unhealthy family? Have you noticed how much shame filters in from your cultural expectations? Have you taken note of the life-limiting influences of uncomfortable climates, unsafe neighborhoods, or poorly designed transportation systems? Have you realized that there’s a connection between ingesting defeatist media and giving up on life, yourself?
Welp… you should really start.
On a broad level… let’s talk about the effects of outdoor environmental conditions.
Anyone who lives in the Midwest, for instance, probably has realized how negatively their entire life outlook is affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder every winter when 6 months of sub-zero torture descends on the region. But what about those of us who live in extreme heat and humidity for half of the year? (Second home, Atlanta, holler!) What about the folks who live in a shady neighborhood and feel unsafe leaving the house? Or a city where it takes hours to run a simple errand because of traffic and terrible public transit? Or an apartment complex where people are always screaming and breaking things?
The effects are the same. Avoidance will take over. You’re going to lock yourself indoors, limiting your life experiences and drumming up your anxiety every time you DO have to leave the house. You will probably feel triggered a good portion of the time, just existing at home. You will find yourself “stuck,” in forced Freeze responses that are characterized by indecision, worry, and unrest.
Hello, agoraphobic years of my life! Yay, being afraid to leave the front door. Yeehaw, fear responses self-perpetuating and exponentially building upon themselves until you’re too afraid to go to the grocery store.
What about the people who have less-than-ideal social environments? Folks who hold jobs in toxic environments or have work environments that don’t meld well with their personalities? Those of us who have “difficult” family members who continue to deny and disrespect our life experiences and opinions? The Fuckers who primarily associate with Debbie Downers and Eagerly-Upset Edwards?
Yep, you’d better believe those folks are going to have an impact on your life, whether you realize it or not. The things that other people say seep into your brain, and you usually don’t even notice the long term effects. The thoughts and behaviors that they will reinforce or reject will have a role in your daily life. The level of acceptance or dissonance that you experience in a social environment will work its way into your psyche and impact the way you see yourself.
When your social world reinforces negative, detrimental, or simply incohesive thoughts and actions, you will work ten times as hard to keep yourself afloat.
Finally, when I say “Environment,” I’m also referring to the media and systems you subscribe to.
Have you ever been a part of a shaming religious organization? Have you primarily chosen to wallow in the company of emo bands? Do you put mindless garbage on your TV or podcasting app to just zone out and let your mind wander? Are you a frequent flyer on the flaming pooplane that is scrolling through social media?
Biiiitch. What you choose to fill your head with makes a goddamn difference. If you aren’t listening to trauma educational audiobooks all the time… okay, fine. But at least try to find something engaging, eye-opening, and aimed at self-development. Don’t turn off your brain in front of mindless reality TV all the time. Don’t get lost in other peoples’ pretend lives on instagram - or, even worse - in the attention-seeking posts on Reddit. (Note - no, not all of Reddit is bad, but some of it is devoted to triggering cries for help that aren’t meant to help anyone.)
If you want to live better - find ways to improve your environment to support your good intentions. Simple as that.
If your job is driving you to psychotic breaks. If you’re too afraid or uncomfortable to leave the house. If you’re constantly pumping chaotic headlines from sensationalist news programs into your ears.
Fucking STOP IT. Cut that shit out. And yes, that includes the negative social influences. Say goodbye; they aren’t helping you, and in fact, they are hurting your Trauma Life Recovery.
Easier said than done? Yeah… I know… but so is living this life founded on Complex Trauma.
AKA - your inner environment, your self-analysis, your thoughts, beliefs, presence and perspective
When referring to your mental space there’s a lot to take into account. It’s not only how you feel and what you consciously think… but all of the subconscious sentiments, deeply programmed dysfunctional beliefs, and attitudes that you use to frame your interpretation of the universe and your place in it. In other words, it’s a complicated landscape to capture, especially when the seasons change so quickly at times.
What’s going on inside of you, as a Complex Trauma sufferer?
Probably more chaos and unrest than anyone could ever anticipate from the outside. Probably more fucked up belief systems and defeatist attitudes than you even understand, yerdamnself. Probably a lot of dissociative and escapist tendencies that make it difficult to see things right in front of your own eyes. Probably a lot of obsession and rumination that masks any big picture thinking or positive forward thinking. Probably some lifelong values transplanted into your head from your family’s generational trauma before you could even form the words to repeat them.
Yippppp. That’s a Trauma Brain, alright.
Obviously, if you want to make lifelong changes to your life, that includes the way you think about your life. How you view yourself. How present you are in the environment around you. What you’ve learned to expect. What you believe is possible. What you believe you deserve.
This is the component that probably requires the most work from a Traumatized Motherfucker, because it is the most rapidly-shifting, yet pervasively-stubborn, aspect of the trilogy. By that, I mean, our emotions and interpretations of the world are like rollercoasters a great deal of the time. One moment everything is cool, the next, you’re triggered into a state of complete despair. One day you feel somewhat optimistic, less than 24 hours later, you’re wondering why you ever thought there was a semblance of hope to make improvements.
At the same time, you’re probably dealing with a lot of lifelong mental influences and belief systems that you can’t even pinpoint. When your family has been repeating the same fucked up maladaptive beliefs since you were in diapers, you likely have a hard time naming them or untangling them from what you actually have seen with your own two eyes.
The influence of your family’s past trauma (and let’s be clear, basically everyone who suffers from C-PTSD comes from a set of parents who also suffered from C-PTSD - you’re probably just the first person in your family to ever hear about it) has framed the way you’ve seen the world and the way you’ve existed since day one.
Your mental landscape is tricky because it is the least observational piece of the puzzle. When you need to make changes in your environment or behaviors, those are fairly objective points to analyze and confront. “My neighborhood is riddled with crime” - fucking move. “My pudgy body is making me more depressed and riddled with shame” - again, fucking move. There are ways to view, analyze, and fix the external problem that even a third party could confirm.
Your internal mechanisms, though? Well… an outsider might comment on your shitty attitude, pessimism, or negative emotions… but that’s probably not going to help you accomplish anything other than the dissolution of another relationship.
Hell, half the time YOU probably don’t know what you’re actually thinking or feeling, because your thoughts are too tied up in anxiety, rumination, and obsession. Concentrating on the bright, moving flash on the screen while your brain-PC is running all sorts of secretly-encoded background programs.
I never realized, for example, that I didn’t believe I deserved happiness, wealth, or respect until I did a lot of deep work.
How do you think my life has proceeded, since I’ve been consistently telling myself that there’s no point in trying, I was just born doomed and broken with a predetermined fate of lifelong misery? Uh… it’s followed that route. When the only paths you can even recognize are the ones that lead you right back to your family roots, you will keep returning home and sleeping in your childhood bed.
If you want to feel better, treat everyone better, and live better… you need to think better. You need a realistic mindset and two feet firmly rooted in the ground below you. You need to change your perspective, find inner motivation, and stop breaking yourself down before you even get the chance to try.
Yeah, you need to get into therapy. You also need to start filling your brain with better influences than the ones that formed your traumatized life, in the first place. Change your thoughts, change your inner energy, find the power to change your world. Psychology.
AKA - how you expend energy, the ways you move in the world, the events you overtly control in your existence.
This one is easiest to understand. Your behaviors - how you show up in the world for yourself and for others - are going to have a major impact on the life you build for yourself.
If you’re constantly laying around in bed, filling your mouth with delicious snacks, and isolating yourself from your social support system… you’re going to continue leading a Traumatized Life. If you opt for working a dead end job, playing video games all night, and drinking yourself to sleep… you’re going to continue leading a Traumatized Life. If you know what you should do differently, but take the short-term easy way out when the time actually comes to make your move… I won’t repeat it again. Trauma life.
On the other hand, if you decide enough is enough and finally follow through on making that therapy appointment, getting regular exercise, and keeping addictive substances away from your mouth… you will start to see changes that are distinctly non-traumatized. What do they call that... Functional? Healthy? Balanced? Well-adapted?
Ha, what’s that like. Sounds foreign and exotic.
The fucking truth is (puts on ABA hat) adaptive behaviors are critical to leading a socially-healthy life. And, honestly, that’s pretty much the basis of this human experience. We’re highly social pack animals. We’ve evolved to prioritize our acceptance in the herd. Most of the reinforcing and punishing factors that cement our routine responses on Satan's green earth are motivated by our evaluative processes for social safety.
In other words, the reason you behave the way you do is almost always going to come down to an interpretation of it being socially acceptable or unacceptable. And, your inner responses to your behaviors are going to be framed by the evaluation of how successfully you achieved the desired social outcome.
Shame, anxiety, depression, obsession, fear… these are the internal experiences that punish you for acting in ways that might threaten your position in the group. This is especially important to remember for Complex Trauma sufferers, because the basis of our Trauma is social. We’ve likely been carrying around these survival-based emotional burdens for our entire lives, thanks to negative social consequences we experienced early on. But that doesn’t mean we know what the right behaviors are or how to functionally enact them. In fact, trying to avoid these emotional punishments probably causes us to carry out even more detrimental behaviors. It’s an endless cycle.
For example… You probably know that it’s socially unsafe to eat McDonalds everyday, lounge in front of the TV, and drink beer on repeat. You probably experience guilt, shame, and self-hate judging yourself through the imagined lenses of your peers in response to these behaviors. But you likely avoid this by strengthening your behaviors or turning to other avoidant responses - drinking more beer, eating more fast food, or eventually shutting yourself indoors entirely so you don’t have to confront the negative responses of your social group.
Behaviors are easy to change, in a way, because they are observable and measurable. They’re challenging because we’ve been so thoroughly programmed to lean on certain ones over the course of decades that they become reflexive. Again, unconscious processes that we’ve learned from an early age and probably rarely consider from an outside perspective.
When you start creating new habits, routines, and conscious efforts… your life will change. Possibly, very quickly, if the two other factors are being maintained, as well. But until you get started, you’re trapped in a cyclical pattern of re-living the same day for the rest of your life and hoping something is magically going to change for you.
The necessity for all three components
Sweet, I think this has been a pretty straight forward discussion of shit that will make your life better or worse, no matter your mental health status. Again, call it an overly-detailed analysis of common sense knowledge and I won’t disagree.
The more important part is how the three individual components - your environment, your inner landscape, and your behaviors - can’t carry your ass towards Trauma Recovery unless you have the trilogy of wheels spinning.
One, alone, isn’t going to work. You’ll probably fall flat on your fucking face almost immediately.
Having two irons successfully placed in the fire, however, probably isn’t going to work, either. Not long-term, anyways.
One wheel at a time
The “I think I can!” - Inner landscape axis, only
Let’s say that you’ve just attended a Tony Robbins speaking engagement and you’re feeling revitalized on the inside. Your mental health problems are a thing of the past. You’re excited to be you. You can’t wait to make big changes in the world. Your mental landscape is looking beautiful, spacious, and easy to navigate today. You have one wheel of the Trauma Recovery Axis installed on the machine and gas in the engine. Ready to go.
Now… let’s say you take your beautiful inner world, walk out of the motivational speech, and return to your dilapidated house. Your phone starts blowing up with your family members harassing you about interpersonal dramas and obligations. They scoff at your seminar attendance and tell you life is futile - you just need some Jesus in your life. In the meantime, you learn that your work has devolved into chaos and you need to redo everything you completed yesterday because someone else fucked up royally - your problem now! You wanted to start working on that big project that Tony inspired you to complete, but now you’re just feeling overwhelmed. Without realizing it, you’re standing in front of the refrigerator and piling cheese into your mouth. Suddenly, you’re too uncomfortable and bloated to start working on that project at all, let alone the workout routine you swore you were going to start today. It’s too fucking hot out and you look like a pimply mess, anyways. As you feel disappointed in your failed goals, you uncork a shitty bottle of whisky and take a big pour. Fuck it, this day is ruined, why not. Might as well pass the time until you can try again tomorrow. But tomorrow… everything follows the same script. Unpredictable job, pervasively negative family, uncomfortable living situation, unhealthy habits. By the end of the day, you forgot completely about that light, optimistic, excited feeling that Tony gave you. Your mind is back in the gutter. Life is pointless, just like your mom said on the phone. You wasted all your money on attending that motivational speech like a fucking moron. Now, you might as well go pick up some fast food and sit in front of the TV, since you managed to fuck everything up, just like you always do.
Sound familiar? Sorry, Fucker. If it makes you feel better, I crank out these examples with zero hesitancy because I’ve lived them too often to forget.
The point is, one aspect of the Axis feeds right into the next. They all reinforce or undermine each other to effectively determine your existence - for better or for worse. And when you only have one wheel to balance your entire life on, it’s destined to topple sooner rather than later.
The “I’ll fucking make myself do it.” - Behavioral component, only
Imagine the same situation above, but starting with a new behavioral intention. Let’s say you just finished your first session with a personal trainer and you’re feeling great! You’re finally going to start working out and get your entire life back on track! Now, throw in all the same factors mentioned earlier. Your defeatist mom, your unpleasant home, your toxic job. How long do you think that you’ll continue the life-positive behavior of working on your health, really? Uh huh. Same fucking scenario. What starts with good intentions ends with handfuls of cheese and glasses of whisky in front of the TV while you berate yourself for ruining everything.
One more? Okay!
The “Change my space, change my face!” - Environmental aspect, only
You finally move to a better house in a better neighborhood. You’re so stoked to be in a modern home, where you have privacy and a real standard of living, instead of being trapped in a shady apartment complex. This is it - your chance to be a whole new you! And then… you remember that your mom really wanted you to spend your paycheck to support her again this month. You’re selfish and ungrateful all of a sudden. You take that self-evaluation hard. You feel like a little kid being scolded and your inner critic starts yapping. Without even realizing it, you’re distracting yourself from the inner shame spiral with - you guessed it - sedentary living in front of the snack cabinet again. Suddenly, you’re feeling too useless and gross to even go out into that new backyard of yours. So much for starting your garden today. Might as well get out the whisky…
And so, I contend that making alterations in one area of your life is an amazing start! But it probably won’t lead to a graceful finish. Good effort, but there are too many missing pieces to make this machine function with dysfunctioning cogs.
Can you keep one afloat while you work on repairing the others?
What if you have two out of three components?
What if… you’re making strides in some areas. You at least have 2/3rds of the axes in place - surely, that’s good enough? Right?
Maybe, for a while! But if you’re like me, limping along on 66.66% sounds a lot more metal than it will be in real life.
Let me propose the patterns seen with two-functional axes.
Behavior-Environment. The “Imposter Recovery”
Whaaaat if you have moved to a great new place, changed your job, cut off your unhealthy social associates, stopped consuming depressing media, and started taking care of yourself with healthy routines and care?
By the books, you’re “doing everything right.” Things seem promising from the outside. Your friends and family think that you’re doing really well. You look better, you feel better, and you’re living better.
But you can’t shake the same old narratives in your head. You’re not good enough for this. You aren’t meant to have nice things. Your attempts at physical health and functional living are hilarious. You know you’re never going to keep them up - you never could. Something bad always happens. Something cracks your facade and exposes the rotting stench underneath. You live in constant stress, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting to be exposed for the stupid, dirty, broken butthole that you are.
When your environment is right and your behaviors are generally pro-you, things seem promising for a minute or two.... But when you haven’t addressed your underlying fucked up core beliefs, self-hate, and history of Trauma, it doesn’t really matter in the long term. You might actually start having increased mental unrest, which will eventually topple the other structures you’ve created.
If you don’t feel like you’re worthy of the things in your life, not only are they meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but you will find a way to sabotage them. If you feel like an imposter, you will suffer from increased guilt, shame, and self-judgement. You will start to expect negative life events - it’s only fair that the world will come back to bite you in the ass while you paint on your fake smiling face, afterall. And where you send your bad energy, shitty times will follow.
Eventually, your new digs won’t mean anything. Your home will start to deteriorate as you ignore your household responsibilities. Who cares, no one is coming over anyways. Your work performance will suffer as you contend with increasing depression, anxiety, and stress. Who cares, you don’t deserve to have this position and you’re destined to be found out one day. Your new workout routine and clean living will subside. What’s the point, when you’d rather sit inside and spend time alone than burden society with your presence. Your interest in positive media and social connections will disappear, as you start to find all of this self-improvement and optimistic thinking fucking obnoxious.
Long story short… Even if you put shiny wrapping on new external circumstances, your unaddressed mental and emotional scars will continue to fester until they stink up the whole place. Your Trauma Life Recovery will rot from the inside out.
It may seem like you have it all… but, Fucker, you don’t have shit if your brain is still focusing on all the worst aspects of your internally miserable existence. You won’t even appreciate the things you have accomplished. Maybe when they’re gone you will - so that you can beat yourself up for the good things that you had and lost.
Until you take the extra energy, free time, and positive feelings that are created from improved behaviors and environments and use them to change your damn mind about life… you’re going to fall down again. But you might look better while you do it.
Who’s depressed? Okay, moving on.
Inner Landscape-Environment. The “Armchair Recovery”
Do you know anyone who deeply immerses themself in piles of motivational books, self-improvement podcasts, and spiritual learning? Maybe they spend a lot of money on the expensive “fixes” that are recommended by the thought-leaders that they follow? From the outside they have an awesome job, a cool place to live, maybe even an enviable relationship?
When you meet them, you’re intimidated. This person wields words and resources that make you feel inferior. They seem self-assured and wiser than the rest. Plus, they’ve figured out the best ways to live for a bombass instagram account.
They’re always talking about the methods to be more productive, more grounded, more successful, and more grateful. They seem to have all the answers.
But… when you take a look at their actual lifestyle - how they practically move through the world… maybe you realize that they’re kind of a goddamn disaster? There seems to be a disconnect between the words they speak, the image they project, and the way they actually spend their time each day?
I call this one the Armchair Recovery attempt.
Sitting back from a lofty place of accomplishment and comfort, absorbing all the positive information on the planet, talking a big game… but never showing up with supporting behaviors where the rubber meets the road. This is what happens when you’ve worked on your mental environment and your physical environment, but you haven’t carried through with the final component; enacting all the things you’ve learned from therapy, TEDtalks, and your company wellness program.
What happens with this Fucker? Well, they seem great, through and through.
Until… the alcoholism that masquerades as “being a good time guy with fine taste in whisky and craft beer,” starts to show its face. Until their terrible diet and sedentary lifestyle catches up with them in the form of decreased self-esteem and digestive disorders. Until their tendency to splurge on fun activities instead of maintaining a budget starts to undermine the sprinkling of wealth that they overestimated from their enviable job.
Then what happens? Well, all that spiritual and mindset learning will only take you so far when you haven’t figured out how to practically enact it. Without the coping skills to deal with these new problems, where is that sparkly career, home, and social network headed? If you lose your hard-earned external accomplishments and you don’t have the habits to support healthy living… is that strong self-evaluation going to continue? Or is that mindset going to hit the toilet with the same explosive quality as all the E.coli-tainted appetizers that this prosperous lifestyle funded?
We all know this person. They know how to regurgitate what they’ve learned. They know how to create a comfortable lifestyle, free of outside stressors. But they don’t functionally have what it takes to keep themselves from a rapid crash. And their behaviors will ultimately be the factor that undoes all their other progress.
Sad, almost… if they weren’t so smug.
Behavior-Perspective. The “Yo-Yo Recovery”
One more scenario. What’s the outcome if folks figure out their mental hang-ups and put positive routine behaviors into place? Surely, that’s going to carry them through to the finish line, yeah? Fix your mental space, fix your physical existence… That’s it! What could go wrong?
So, someone is in therapy, they have a good outlook, they feel fond of themselves, and they back it all up by being a good, well-balanced human when it comes down to caring for their physical needs. They get out of yoga one day, ready to conquer the motherfucking world! Annnd… then find out that their car was broken into, their brother just got arrested again, and their work is threatening to fire them if they don’t come back to the office to complete someone else’s job. When they try to get social support, they find out their best friends have been drinking and coking out since 8am. To unwind, they turn on a depressing shitshow on TLC and try to forget all the complications as gunshots ring out from the complex parking lot and cause panic attacks.
What’s going to happen with this Fucker? Is that positive mindset and carefully designed routine going to keep them from falling into a Traumatized Life again?
Clearly, my opinion is a resounding, “Nah.”
Sure, they are embodying everything necessary to keep clipping along through Trauma Recovery. But what about the chaotic job that causes them to have emotional breakdowns and fear responses every few days? What about all the people around them acting as negative influences with substance abuse and shitty attitudes? What about the dangerous environment outside their front door that continually re-triggers horrific memories of old Traumas?
Try as they might - and fuck, maybe they have an incredible mental fortitude that I’m underestimating; it happens - they will probably start to crumble. Those good behaviors will start to slide. Those positive mindsets will dull a little each day. God forbid, something newly-traumatic happens in their unfortunately entropic and unsafe environment which sparks a total meltdown… There are myriad ways that this one, like the rest, can go wrong.
The thing is, this one seems like it’s the most promising, amiright? They would probably get a shiny gold star and an A for effort. They’re really fucking trying. And, I bet you anything that they see a lot of Trauma Recovery success when the pieces are falling into place. They will be feeling amazing, looking a million percent better, and talking with a renewed excitement for this thing we call life. It will appear as though they’ve cracked the code. The world should bow down.
But, without the external influences to keep a Fucker evenly-keeled and untriggered, it’s just a fucking matter of time.
With uncontrollable circumstances comes mental distress. In a Trauma survivor’s world, this means fear responses and avoidant behaviors are going to take over. Maybe not today, maybe not the first time they’re berated at work for something outside of their control, but someday soon. That perfect combination of unpredictability and past Trauma will pop up and cause a break down.
Watch their mental health journey and be ready with your neck brace - you’re signing up for a case of whiplash, even when all systems seemed to be functioning under professional control.
Alright, Fuckers, that's all I've got for you.
A hypothetical model for the major influencers of your horrible, traumatized life. Written in one day, with great wrist irritation and a backlog of my "real work" to do, as a result. What else do you want from me?
Oh, like, HOW to renovate all these areas of life? I don't think I'm the best person to ask. But if enough of you do, maybe I'll give it a shot.
If you want a real expert opinion (and you should), I'll recommend for the billionth time that you check out the Trauma Bibles; From Surviving to Thriving and The Body Keeps the Score. Check them out if you're interested in what people with psychology doctorates have to say (again, you should).
I can only provide speculation from my ponderings, anecdotes from being a Traumatized Motherfucker, myself, and recently-acquired facts about behavioral applications.
Hey, at least I'm recovered enough to be trying. This wrist-sacrificing writing requires all three prongs to be in place.