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    Post-traumatic growth / The overwhelming weight of "potential"

    <p>Post-traumatic growth / The overwhelming weight of "potential"</p>
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    Community Voices

    Safe touch after abuse

    <p>Safe touch after <a href="" class="tm-embed-link  tm-autolink health-map" data-id="5b23ce5600553f33fe98c084" data-name="abuse" title="abuse" target="_blank">abuse</a></p>
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    Naome Bradshaw

    Letting Go of Looking Back and Moving Towards Post-Traumatic Growth

    I hate birthdays. There, I said it. Let me be a bit more specific. I’m not talking about the presents, balloons or cake. I’m referring to the build up, the expectation. The inevitable disappointment. Year after year. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Don’t get me wrong, amidst the chaos and disappointment, I have managed to have quite a few happy birthdays. I remember some of them. That was before sobriety. As long as I can remember I’ve felt compelled to create the perfect birthday. Hours of thought. Days of planning. Months of anticipation. My quest for the perfect day. What an incredible burden for a 24 hour period to have. Why do I put myself through that every year? As a childhood trauma survivor, do I even know what the perfect day looks like? Or, am I just repeating subconscious patterns in hopes of repairing the past? Is my pursuit of the perfect birthday a trauma response? If I’m really honest with myself, my current dissatisfaction with my born day is rooted in the fact that I am hitting a pretty big milestone this year. This is my 55th birthday. I remember being too young. I’ve been told I’m too old. Actually, when I think about it, I don’t recall ever being exactly the right age for anything. Except drinking alcohol. So, I ask myself, “Am I past my prime?” “Over the hill?” “Spoiled, like milk?” “Long in the tooth?” “Is it time to throw in the towel, or kick the bucket?” Recently, I found myself in the office of a plastic surgeon. I was actually entertaining the thought of having blepharoplasty, AKA an“eye tuck.” Sitting nervously in the doctor’s office, I was rudely slapped out of my age reversal fantasy when I heard the good doctor utter the phrase, “hound dog eyes.” Apparently with my eye structure, there could be a chance of that happening to me. On the drive home I started thinking about what it would be like to stop caring about how old I am and what other people think about that. How liberating! I started fantasizing about that freedom. What if I let go of the idea of going back? “Post traumatic growth” or PTG, is not possible if the illusion remains that things will one day go back to the way they were before the trauma. Aging being the trauma in this case. In order for me to be one of the growers, I have to find something positive within my struggle and move forward. Can I do that? With 682 days sober, I think I’m finally ready to grow into a happy, sober, healthy 55. “I’m 55 and I’m still alive!” I shout out the car window to no one in particular. In April 1979, my life changed forever. At the age of 12, I somehow found the courage to show the world I was being abused at home. After my daring walk through the locker room, I was called to the guidance counselors office. Her name was Mrs. Kershaw. That was our first and only meeting. I had to show her my injuries. I must’ve been so scared. To be honest, I don’t remember. In my memory, I’ve always seen two women sitting with me in that guidance counselors office. Mrs Kershaw, and my chorus teacher, Mrs. Pittenger. Today I discovered, that memory is false. This has me feeling a little shaky, even though I know the reasons why. I loved my chorus teacher. She was the stable, loving mother figure I never had. Before I write about my childhood, I always do extensive research. Getting the story straight and the details right is paramount to me. Sometimes things don’t match up. Such is the nature of traumatic memory. I discovered this fact in a previous story. I wrote about my brother getting burnt in the bathtub by our mother. In that memory, I was undressed and in the bathtub. I could feel the water burning my skin. Only, that didn’t happen. I was actually fully dressed. I was not in the water. I heard him screaming. I saw the steam rising. In my distress, my empathy placed me in the water with my younger sibling. Today, I interviewed my former chorus teacher and current friend, Ree. She used to be called Mrs. Pittenger. The universe brought us back together many years ago when I sang at a wedding she attended. I messaged her recently, asking her to share with me what she remembered about that fateful day. I told her my perspective. She wrote back: “there came a troubling time when I simply did not know what had become of this valued student, and I would not have the slightest until much later. I felt so bad that I did not send her off with some words of love and encouragement.” It’s hard to describe how I felt as I read those words. It’s almost like the ground under my feet cracked open. My fear and shame threatened to swallow me up. I felt like I might disappear, forever. Closing my eyes, I breathe in deeply. In through the nose, out through the mouth. I have learned so much about childhood trauma. I understand that back then, my brain was trying to protect me, just when I needed it most. In the past, these intense feelings and revelations would be too much for me to process. I would spiral out of control and get drunk. Today, I look fear in the face. I walk toward my feelings. I feel them. As a result, they no longer hold power over me. Shortly after the revelation of my bruised body, a social worker came to visit the house on Coolidge Avenue. I heard my father tell him that I had always been a troublemaker. Then, the man left. When I came home from school, I discovered my bed had been stripped. All of my belongings were in cardboard boxes, stacked in the family room. My bedroom became my cell. I slept on the mattress without sheets, pillow or blanket. I ate my meals alone in my room. No more words were spoken. All eye contact ceased. I understood what was about to happen. I woke up in the middle of the night, snuck into the kitchen, found an envelope of photos and quickly grabbed one of each family member. My brothers. Grandmas and Grandpas. Aunts and Uncles. Cousins. Even a photo of my parents. I hid my treasures in one of the cardboard boxes. It was time to leave. I stood in the driveway with a lady I didn’t know and my stepmother. Each of them was holding an envelope. I didn’t hear what they were saying. My focus was on the envelope that the strange lady was holding. My photographs! I could see my dad’s handwriting on the outside of the envelope. “Examine these to see what makes her tick” it said. My heart sank. I got into the car. My stepmom handed me her envelope. The car slowly backed out of the driveway. As she watched us, she stood completely still, her face without expression. I’m not sure how long I sat dazed in the backseat. Glancing down at my lap, I suddenly remembered the envelope. I tore it open, reading the infamous poem for the first of many times. Confusion and anger swirled in my head. What did it mean? Where was I going? Would I ever see my family again? The Road Not Taken By Robert Frost Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,And sorry I could not travel bothAnd be one traveler, long I stoodAnd looked down one as far as I couldTo where it bent in the undergrowth;Then took the other, as just as fair,And having perhaps the better claim,Because it was grassy and wanted wear;Though as for that the passing thereHad worn them really about the same,And both that morning equally layIn leaves no step had trodden black.Oh, I kept the first for another day!Yet knowing how way leads on to way,I doubted if I should ever come back.I shall be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages hence:Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.

    David Lasby

    Exploring Trauma and Recovery in Zelda: Breath of the Wild

    “In Hyrule, I was always on the verge of something new, a promise of discovery that freed my spirit from the two-ton anchor of my own thoughts. In Hyrule, if only for a few hours, I could breathe. Breath of the Wild had become very significant to me … Hyrule had become my escape.” These words from Derek Buck in his 2017 piece for GamesRadar+ speak for more than just himself; “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” (for Nintendo Switch) has been a lifeline to many drowning in depression, anxiety and mental health crises. Its open-world, full of light and beauty, offers players a chance to explore, embrace creativity and to delight in the whimsical details of Hyrule. Perhaps most important, players are granted the power to tell their own story in the game’s wild, post-calamity world. While the mental health benefits of the 2017 “Zelda” title have been well documented, the storylines of the downloadable content (DLC — additional gameplay consumers can purchase) have been examined far less; and that’s a shame because the second DLC has perhaps some of the most healing narratives in the game. First, some important context for those storylines. (If you’re a veteran gamer or familiar with the “Zelda” universe and want a more detailed explanation, please visit the Youtube page of Nintendo Black Crisis , who offers a fascinating theory about “The Champions’ Ballad,” the DLC storyline for “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which specifically explores the origins of Monk Maz Koshia). During The Champions’ Ballad, the main character Link — the “Hero of the Wild” — is invited by an ancient monk, Maz Koshia, to undergo a series of trials to prove his worth as a hero. One particular set of trials allows Link to visit a place in the subconscious known as the Illusory Realm, where he revisits traumatic moments from the past; in particular, he reexperiences the loss of his friends (the Champions) at the hands of dark creatures known as Blights. For complicated reasons explored elsewhere (see above), Link possesses a piece of the souls of his lost friends inside of him, and thus retains the actual memories of their deaths — their memories, not his own since he wasn’t present at their demise). Thus when Link reexperiences these memories, he is directly living the trauma of his friends in addition to his own grief at their loss. (For further explanation, watch Nintendo Black Crisis’ video at 13:05). Beyond providing an explanation for the nature of the monk’s trial of Link, the theory from Nintendo Black Crisis, and ultimately “The Champions’ Ballad” itself, constructs a beautiful and complex picture of the trauma survivor’s journey through the abyss of memory and into post-traumatic growth. Trauma lies at the very core of the “Breath of the Wild” narrative. The Great Calamity (an invasion by dark forces) destroyed a kingdom, took countless lives and produced generational trauma that spans a hundred years. By the time Link awakens within the Shrine of Resurrection, the children and grandchildren of those who faced the Great Calamity make their way through a desolate Hyrule, still picking up the pieces of their families’ lives. Even Link himself must come to terms with the trauma he has endured, defending Princess Zelda and the kingdom to his last breath. Many have observed that loneliness defines the world of “Breath of the Wild” and while this is a human experience that extends beyond trauma, there is perhaps nothing that encapsulates the lived experience of survivors more. It is in this sense then that something very beautiful emerges in “The Champions’ Ballad” — a story arc that players likely travel after they have defeated Calamity Ganon (the game’s ultimate antagonist). The heartbeat that reverberates through the DLC story is not hardship but post-traumatic growth. Within the professional field of mental health, there are two powerful treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that I believe resonate deeply with the narrative in “The Champions’ Ballad.” While somewhat different in their application, both eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and lifespan integration (LI) therapy seek to carefully reintegrate trauma survivors into their whole self, eliminating the fragmentation that can occur in the brain due to trauma, and lessening the sting of traumatic memory and experience. Both therapies rely upon the patient revisiting, and in a sense reliving, the traumatic moment. Peggy Pace, founder of LI therapy, explains , “Lifespan Integration relies on the innate ability of the body-mind to heal itself … [it] utilizes repetitions … of memories to facilitate neural integration and rapid healing.” She observes that, “Through the process of LI therapy clients come to understand … that they are living here and now in the present time. The process of viewing … memories of their lives strengthens connections between neurons … [and] is key to a unified sense of Self.” While receiving treatment, clients may imagine themselves intervening in the traumatic moment, integrating their past and present selves by acting upon the memory, altering it if needed in order to find power in what was otherwise a devastating experience, and to ultimately allow the brain to move forward to the present. It is this process of unifying the self and intervening that I believe allows Link and the Champions to move through their collective and individual traumas, and at last find rest after Link revisits their darkest memories. As each Champion imparts a piece of their spirit to Link, imbuing him with their unique powers, he also takes on their grief, their lingering defeat, their terror. After gathering the requisite Champion Emblems for each Divine Beast, Link is granted access to the Illusory Realm, the place of memory. Monk Maz Koshia warns Link, saying “The enemy you shall face is a product of the fear that dwells within. You must overcome this fear to proceed. The battle is a trial of the soul.” In other words, Link must face the moments in which he lost his dear friends, overcoming not only his own suffering, but their shared trauma as well. Avoidance is a driving impulse for survivors; revisiting the moment of pain or terror triggers a limbic response (fight, flight or freeze) in the brain, and as a result, most push the memory away or bury it in the subconscious. However, in order to experience liberation and healing, it is crucial to face what happened and thus bring the memory into the conscious mind. It is exactly this that Link does in his trials. With each journey to the Illusory Realm, he enters into combat with the perpetrator of the Champions’ collective trauma, the Blights, creatures especially designed by Ganon to kill Link’s friends. Link wears the clothing his friends died in, uses the weapons with which they fought to the death, faces the monsters that stalked them inside the Divine Beasts. Link is going there both in spirit and therapeutically. Link closes his eyes and enters a meditative state at the direction of Monk Maz Koshia. During this meditation, the buried memories of trauma for each Champion are brought into the conscious mind. It is here that change begins to occur. Rather than simply reliving the same horror, Link is granted a kind of agency, the ability to reshape the memory in a way that produces a different outcome. Rather than watching his friends fall, or having the internalized spirit of the Champions re-experience death, Link defeats the Blight in combat; he imagines a different outcome, made manifest by the strength of his courage. It is important to note that in all likelihood, the player has defeated Calamity Ganon by this time, so the conflict resolved here is removed from the threat facing Hyrule and is personal, spiritual in nature. Link’s imagined victory does not and cannot change the events of history, but it does change the way in which he and the Champions relate to the memory. This change in relation and the healing that follows is what’s known as post-traumatic growth (PTG). According to psychologist Richard Tedeschi, PhD , when undergoing post-traumatic growth, “People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life.” Link’s reimaging of the moments of trauma functions like treatment, not all that dissimilar in outcome from EMDR and LI. The horrific past has not changed, but the characters’ relationship to it has. This transformation is finalized when Link emerges from the Illusory realm to meet Kass (a traveling bard), who finishes and performs his song memorializing the fallen Champion, interweaving collected interviews, stories and fond memories shared with the bard by all who loved and lived with the community’s lost hero. These form a new tapestry in the mind that redefines the life and death of those Link lost. Link and the Champions emerge from the quagmire of the past, modeling post-traumatic growth. “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” continues to be a refuge for those in need of escape, who yearn for relief from the chaos and frustration of life in a pandemic and the mental drain of 2020. With news of two new installments in the game’s narrative universe, it will be interesting to see how the storytelling from Nintendo continues to reflect the shared traumas of our own world, and provides a template for facing that darkness with courage; and like the Hero of the Wild, may our courage bring peace and liberation to those in need around us. David Lasby is a contributor to The Mighty and a staff writer at Zelda Dungeon. His favorite Zelda games are Breath of the Wild and A Link to the Past. You can find him on Twitter to talk about all things Nintendo, sci-fi/fantasy,  mental health and creative writing. A version of this article was previously published on Zelda Dungeon.

    Community Voices

    The Mountains I’ve Climbed

    The mountains I climbed
    Are screaming victory
    They say “You made it”,
    I don’t have to worry anymore.
    The view from the top is so revealing,
    I know I belong,
    I belong.
    Every descent is a little proof of my story.
    #mightypoetry #junepoetry #PosttraumaticGrowth

    Christa Marie

    My Problem With 'Post-Traumatic Growth' as an Individual With PTSD

    I recently learned of a growing subject in the realm of trauma: it’s called post-traumatic growth. The idea is that an individual goes through a traumatic event and grow from it as a person, becoming kinder, stronger, wiser, more compassionate, etc. As soon as I heard of the term, every alarm bell in my mind went off. I have a major problem with the “growing” concept of post-traumatic growth being considered an “unexpected positive side-effect of trauma.” I am a survivor of multiple traumatic events, and I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The trauma I experienced drastically changed my life in multiple ways, without a doubt. However, that’s what trauma does. The University of Maryland Medical Center defines traumatic events as “an experience that causes physical, emotional, psychological distress or harm. It is an event that is perceived as a threat to one’s safety or stability of one’s world.” So, of course, if it causes distress or harm, and is perceived as a threat to the safety or stability of one’s world, of course it’s going to drastically change their life. You cannot go through trauma and come out as the same person you were before. Trauma shows people a side of life that cannot even begin to be understood without personal experience. I, like 20% of individuals who live through trauma, developed PTSD. PTSD simply amplified the pain and fear stemming from my trauma. Trauma and PTSD made me into a different person, but it wasn’t a change I would’ve ever wanted. I cannot relate to most people my age because what I experienced and how it affected my life isn’t something that has even crossed their minds. As I’m entering my last year of high school, my friends are graduating college, getting married, and having children. I’ve spent countless events, parties and dances hiding in an empty room in tears, completely overwhelmed by the reality of my situation and what it did to me. If I could go back and change everything that happened, I absolutely would. Even if I could just send a letter to my younger self with resources to get to safety and information on how it would later impact my life, I’d do it without a second thought. At the same time, I now have a completely different ability to help individuals in similar circumstances because I genuinely understand, and my career and education goals have completely changed. I’m stronger for what happened to me because I know what I’ve survived previously. These changes could absolutely be considered positive. However, these things wouldn’t have changed in that way if I wasn’t already the person I was previously. If I hadn’t already cared about people, I still wouldn’t be equipped to help them. If I wasn’t open-minded, my goals wouldn’t have changed. If I wasn’t desiring growth, it wouldn’t have happened, and there are other, positive, methods by which people can grow. Here’s my big issue with “post-traumatic growth” — it negates and fantasizes what victims experience, and leaves survivors feeling even more isolated. Trauma is jarring, painful, drastic, overwhelming and a negative experience. A couple of positive alterations in which the trauma had some impact doesn’t make the trauma into a good thing. The concept of “post-traumatic growth” can only happen when someone wants to grow, and in that case, there are multiple other ways someone could grow. Thus, trauma survivors, feeling an unspeakable amount of pain, see things about “post-traumatic growth” making trauma sound like this beautiful, amazing thing that magically accelerates maturity and development, and feel ashamed for not feeling great about what just happened to them. At that point, the very concept that is supposed to make trauma somehow be a positive thing has a negative effect in itself. So, please, if you are talking about “post-traumatic growth,” don’t forget about post-traumatic stress, post-traumatic pain, post-traumatic depression, post-traumatic illness, post-traumatic flashbacks, post-traumatic night terrors or post-traumatic difficulty. Trauma is never a good thing, and the negative aspects by far outweigh the potential slight positive influences. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via spukkato