The Mighty Logo

When Recovery Isn't a Road, but a Mountain

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Too often you find yourself reading “the road to recovery”… but what road? A road makes it sound so simple, like a straight horizontal path. What’s the problem? Why haven’t you finished the road already? I would like to suggest the road is more akin to a mountain climb, on undulating and rocky terrain with a hard slog of an angle to walk up.

• What is PTSD?

First of all, learning you’re on a mountain is a good place to start. This prevents disorientation, not understanding why the path is so hard and why you keep tripping over rocks. When I got my diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), I felt much more able to orientate myself and understand my symptoms and the reasons for them.

“Noticing and identifying these C-PTSD phenomena is more progressive than just being blindly lost in them.” — Walker, P. (2013). “COMPLEX PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.”

I’m lucky enough to live just outside of the Lake District, England, which despite its name, has 214 peaks, called fells, of varying sizes. Hiking is one of my favorite past times and often helps me reflect on my recovery. With different sizes in mind, when we are at the ground level looking up, the mountain of recovery can seem overwhelming, like it’s too big to climb, a challenging journey ahead. Sometimes there can even be cloud cover where we can’t even see the top or the way ahead, we can’t see the trauma for what it is or the size of the trauma.

“De-minimization is a crucial aspect of confronting denial. It is the process by which a person deconstructs the defense of ‘making light’ of his childhood trauma.” — Walker, P. (2013). “COMPLEX PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.”

The trauma you and I went through was not small and neither is the mountain.

The right walking attire is required for walking up mountains, sturdy shoes especially and a compass to make sure you’re on the right path. Different people like different clothing. You might have therapy trousers, an EMDR belt, a mindfulness jacket and medication woolly hat. With this in mind, it is also important to set the right pace up the mountain. Not too fast, choosing the best route which is seldom the most direct. Sometimes there are times for walking and other times will be for resting and taking stock. This is called the “equilibrium between doing and being.”

Not going to lie, I’ve personally had the experience where I have considered jumping off the mountain side. The going can get pretty tough, not only that the weather on the mountain can be changeable and relentless; from rain to sleet to snow, from a breeze to a gale and a range of temperatures and humidity, but cloud cover can surround at any given second.

“Recovery involves learning to handle unpredictable shifts in our inner emotional weather.” — Walker, P. (2013). “COMPLEX PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.”

Doesn’t sound so fun so far. But then, after all this effort, you can stop and look at the route you’ve covered. Wow. What stunning views. Glorious. Look what you have achieved.

“Survivors in the early stages of recovery often fail to notice or validate their own actual progress. If we do not notice the degrees of our own improvement in our recovery work, we are in great danger of giving up on recovering.” — Walker, P. (2013). “COMPLEX PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.”

When you’re climbing that mountain and feel disheartened, stop and look at the where you’ve been. Sometimes we take longer routes, but we are always making progress and the view from wherever we are is an encouragement.

I suppose when talking about a road to recovery it’s less clear where that roads leads to, whereas on a mountain there is a clear aim. What if I were to say climbing the mountain isn’t about getting to the top? Are you disappointed? Annoyed? Want to give up? Hear me out.

“It is exceedingly difficult to accept the proposition – the fact – that recovery is never complete. And although we can expect our flashbacks to markedly decrease over time, it is tremendously difficult and sometimes impossible, to let go of the salvation fantasy that we will one day be forever free of them.” — Walker, P. (2013). “COMPLEX PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.”

The higher you get on a mountain, the better the views, and the more encouraged you become, but recovery is not about getting to the top. It’s about sitting down and looking at the vast view and enjoying a decrease in symptoms, a better knowing of yourself and practiced strategies.

“Deep-level recovery is also evidenced by you becoming more relaxed in safe enough company. This is turn leads to an increased capacity to be more authentic and vulnerable in trustworthy relationships.” — Walker, P. (2013). “COMPLEX PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.”

I wish you all the best with your mountain climb.

Follow this journey on Trevor PTSD.

Thinkstock photo via Digital Vision.

Originally published: April 10, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home