Recovering from C-PTSD by Following My Heart

Moving to a new city four months ago brought with it the opportunity to evaluate pretty much everything in my life. Routines and habits were broken. Long-term friendships were now long-distance. The career was in flux. In this transition, the opportunities were endless!

I’d always wanted to live my life by listening to my heart, but the old routines were more ingrained than I realized, and I let them keep me from exploring my inner world. In a new place, I leaned on what I’d always wanted to do: tune in and go from there. For the last four months, I’ve done only what my heart truly said YES to, and that has made all the difference. And I am incredibly grateful for the support I’ve had on this journey so that I can honor my heart.

After several months of deep listening, I feel more like my authentic self than ever before.

If you’re not aware, I have struggled with C-PTSD for years. When a person is affected by trauma, they lose their sense of self, their ability to put words to experience, their sense of autonomy and personal power, and their connection to the physical body and felt sense of life. People who struggle with a variety of “life symptoms,” as I’ll call them, are often misdiagnosed with a series of codes that stand for some type of mental illness. In reality, the coping mechanisms used to survive the trauma are breaking down and life is showing where and how we are wounded. Career trouble, relationship drama, health failure, and money problems are not uncommon among those who have C-PTSD.

What happens for many people is a fragmentation or a scattering of personality. Life feels like it’s disjointed and confusing. Thoughts are all over the place, with feelings of impending doom that won’t go away. A sense of agency feels so foreign, and the question How am I going to be OK? often comes up for these people. I say “these people” as if I’m not one of them…

I am one of the lucky ones. I could still hear my loving inner voice (in conjunction with the voice of shame). And that voice was the one that told me:

You will heal

You are the way

The answers are within you

Yes you can

Follow your heart

I’m not sure if I could hear that voice because I practiced yoga and meditation … or if that part of us never got destroyed by trauma. The Spirit within is eternal, so it’s indestructible. Thankfully that connection wasn’t severed or fragmented through all the shit I experienced. So when the opportunity came to cultivate the relationship with my soul, I grabbed hold and did my best not to look back.

My personal struggles remain personal, but the themes are familiar. All the life symptoms I mentioned earlier have been a part of my journey. And through it all I deeply believed that life was meant to be enjoyed—not endured. So I began to listen deeply to what my heart and soul were saying.

Here are the steps she shared with me. Keep in mind, it’s not like I “downloaded” or “uploaded” a list from my heart. The steps are organized this way because I’m writing. The actual employment and understanding of these steps looks more like a plate of spaghetti than it does a neatly bordered waffle.

Step 1: I found a therapist who specialized in trauma specific to my needs. I had great support in Orlando, and I knew that I’d need that kind of support in Atlanta. I don’t want to live a life at half capacity; I WANT IT ALL. So I committed to doing my deep inner work and found the right person to help me.

Step 2: I insisted on saying yes ONLY when my heart said YES. I can come up with all kinds of ideas in the span of 18 minutes…ideas to solve my problems, ideas to change the world, ideas to save the planet, even ideas for Friday night entreatment. But those ideas sometimes come from old routines, old places, old patterns, old knowledge, etc. So I decided I would ONLY do something if my heart was directing me to it.

Step 3: I learned to discern my messages. Knowing what works and what doesn’t means employing the willingness to experiment (read: take risks) and then learn from either wins or errors.

Step 4: I built resilience capacity (and continue to do so daily). I developed my ability to feel and to tolerate sensation. This goes for both emotional and physical experiences. I did this through meditation, yoga, HeartMath, visualization, breath work, aerobic exercise (I even ran a marathon), and other body-based activities. I also took long walks, sought massage therapy and body workers, and saw an acupuncturist to help me tolerate living in my body again.

Step 5: I built courage to follow my heart. People love to say just follow your heart as if it’s that easy. Maybe for them it is, but for others it takes every ounce of courage to say NO when we don’t want to go to that restaurant for dinner. It takes courage to say NO when we’re asked to take a business trip we don’t want to take. It takes courage to say YES to trying a new hairstyle or dress. It takes courage to say YES to a new opportunity for friendship or networking. This one takes time … But like any muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it gets. (By the way, I’m aware that muscles also need recovery and varied activities. That sentence is certainly an oversimplification of weight training and how muscles work. But hopefully you get the idea.)

Step 6: I learned to grieve. Oh man, trauma brings with it so much loss and sadness. The grief of losing one’s innocence, of losing years of life, of lost opportunity, of shattered relationships, of what might have been…it’s necessary to walk through it in order to emerge whole and reclaim a sense of self. I spent some 3 weeks in deep grief just recently, and it was hard. So freaking hard. I was so sad, hopeless, and lost most of the time.

Step 7: I kept my vision anchored in the present and practiced faith in a happy future. I looked around and focused on all that I loved and enjoyed. I started practicing the count your blessings routine as I was falling asleep. I made a choice to believe that great things were ahead, and that I would be happy, healthy, and whole. When I faltered, I played phone a friend and asked them to help me through it.

In summary, I totally believe I’ve come this far in my healing because I listened to my inner wisdom. I did my own research. I refused to believe that a “small and insignificant life” were mine to live. I fought valiantly for my own health, and I was willing to think outside the proverbial box, which is also a jail cell if you ask me. And guess what? There’s still so much more to go!

At a certain point of healing, we start to REALLY live again. I mean, JOY and HAPPINESS and CONNECTION and LIFE start to be our everyday experience. IMAGINE THAT!!!!!

What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen. - Henry Stanley Haskins

It was the pain of my life symptoms that drove me to seek what was within me. For that reason alone, I am grateful for my pain. If you have trauma and don’t deal with it, it will deal with you. Part of my frustration was knowing I had trauma and doing everything I knew to restore wholeness to my being…but feeling like it just wasn’t working. In hindsight, I see that every single thing I did WAS a step forward, no matter how small.

Miracles were happening all along for me, even though I didn’t realize that. Now I have the sight to see, the ears to hear, and the voice to share.

If you’re struggling with life symptoms out the wazoo, please know that there will come a day when your experience isn’t wasted … Set your intention on healing, determine to serve the greater good, and put your trust in Spirit (Source, God, Universe, whatever you call it). Find solace in community and in communion with Spirit. Decide that you’re going to uncover your heart so that you can shine in this world, making it a lot brighter and a lot more beautiful.

How To Follow Your Heart Summary

  1. Find a therapist who specializes in the needs you have.

  2. Say yes to what’s truly in your heart.

  3. Learn to discern your inner messages.

  4. Build resilience capacity.

  5. Build courage to follow your guidance.

  6. Learn to grieve.

  7. Keep your vision in the present and have faith in the future.

Drop me a line and let me know how you’re doing. I’d love to be here and support you in sharing your gifts, your brilliance, your unique self-expression with the world.