Mental health

Ugly Truth 56: Navigating Spiritual Trauma

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
― Fred Rogers

Good Morning Dear Readers,

Have you ever had a rage dream you were so sure was real? Last night I dreamt of many combative arguments with various friends and family members that involved me insisting they remove themselves from my immediate surrounding. Filled with overwhelming anger and four letter words, I recognized their hurt and betrayal regarding memories of my own that have taken place in real life, and confronted it head on from a position of strength rather than victimization. In my heartfelt conviction I felt vulnerable but strong. Upon waking I was pouring sweat and my heart was pounding with the residual anger. Still, I found solace in the fact that my nightmare remained largely advantageous as it afforded me the opportunity to examine the boundaries my mind implied to better serve me. It was clear to me that despite the intense level of emotion I was experiencing, I was validating my suffering and laying the groundwork to disallow that harmful energy to harness my better self. The more I dig into soul development and trauma work, the more I realize that despite the progress I have achieved there is so much more to unpack. That being said, I have been known to get in my own way as my peace keeping nature drives me to avoid conflict. While mostly favorable, this has no doubt extended my grieving process over the years. I have found that each time I seek to start the conversation and find resolution, it quickly becomes too painful and I pull back. The truth is there are some things I am not yet ready to unravel, and that’s okay.

In a Podcast entitled “Raw Spirituality,” hosted by Alyssa Malehorn and her partner Zack Fuentes, I have gained a plethora of knowledge about the spiritual realm from a New Age perspective. In many instances I disagree with their findings as I frequently find holes in their logic, but for the most part their insight has been very healing and third eye opening. In episode 16 they discuss Soul Fragmentation & Reunification. It is the concept that by acknowledging the traumatic events we endure, we notice that we leave pieces of our soul behind with each negative encounter leading to a fragmented sense of self. The solution then is to recall that energy back to yourself in order to heal and reunify the soul. This creates the space needed to process, grieve, and release our anguish leading to a more reliable integration. It doesn’t take a believer to see how this type of philosophy has a lot to offer us all. If nothing else, it teaches us to sit with and tolerate our grief rather than avoid it. In general, those who face trauma work head on are typically more successful at processing in the long run compared to those who consistently victimize, deny, or distract themselves from it. I know this from personal experience. These spiritual teachings support the idea that self responsibility and psychological barbwire are not synonymous, however, if you find yourself coming up against fear or resistance during this phase, you may require additional support such as that of a therapist to move forward.

Psychologists have long explored the role of dream states as they relate to processing trauma since nightmares remain a hallmark symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Our mind utilizes dream states to relive and process trauma whether we’re ready for it or not. Understandably, this can lead to a multitude of consequences related to emotional distress and disordered sleep. In an article entitled “How to Manage Trauma-Related Nightmares,” The Psychology Group offers up some additional solutions:

Typically, the first step is addressing the cause of the nightmares (in this case, PTSD).

There are evidence-based treatments for trauma or PTSD that are known to be very effective in reducing symptoms. An individual evaluation would be important to address if medication is necessary and to rule out any health risks.

If trauma-related nightmares persist, here are specific evidence-based treatments to address them:

  • Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT) and
  • Exposure, rescripting, and relaxation therapy (ERRT).

These treatments share some basic aspects like visual imagery (visualizing a scene or activity in your mind) and nightmare rescripting.

Here is an example of how visual imagery and nightmare rescripting work:

  • Think about a nightmare that comes up frequently

(Where are you? What is happening? Who is present?)

  • What are you feeling? (during the nightmare and when you wake up)
  • How would you like to feel instead?
  • How would the story need to change to feel this way?

It’s hard to convey the nuances in this technique. A trained therapist can help you further by teaching you the specific strategies to rescript the nightmares properly (to address the last two points).

Although individual treatment is very powerful in managing trauma-based nightmares, there are skills that you can try yourself. Such as grounding, and relaxation or breathing exercises.

Grounding techniques are helpful to distract or temporarily get some distance from the distress caused by nightmares by focusing on the present moment.

First, be sure to completely wake up after having a nightmare. The idea is to help you get oriented in the here and now and to re-establish your sense of safety before you go back to sleep.

Tip: it is useful to have a nightlight or a lamp near your bedside to aid you in getting oriented in the present moment

After waking up, begin this grounding technique.

It’s all about your senses. Focus on:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can feel
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

If you need a little more help, you can follow a grounding technique with a simple breathing exercise.

Over the years, self control and grounding techniques (sometimes with a medicinal assist) have been the most beneficial to me. Likewise, I completely avoid horror movies and dark themes of spirituality to see to it that my mind has less invention to leap from. At the peak of my suffering my nightmares would trigger panic attacks, insomnia, and vodka consumption at 9am before I learned how to better manage them. As dreaming remains an unconscious activity, it is paramount to ground yourself in the present moment as described above and stay calm. This is often easier said than done, however, with practice it will become easier to pluck yourself from a frightening dream state and place yourself back in the physical world long enough to process the heart of the trauma. Over time, this will lead to a decrease in the intensity and frequency of your nightmares.

Discuss: What have your dreams taught you as it relates to trauma work?

See below for more Deskraven posts on the topic of PTSD and nightmares:

Ugly Truth 46: June is PTSD Awareness Month!

Ugly Truth 36: Insomnia & Nightmare Exacerbate Depression

Ugly Truth 21: The Hidden Symptoms of PTSD

17 Ways to Cope With PTSD Nightmares

PTSD: How to Cope With Body Memories

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!

Mental health

Ugly Truth 36: Insomnia & Nightmares Exacerbate Depression

Dear Readers,

Depression and insomnia are the strongest risk factors for frequent nightmares. Likewise, research shows nightmares and insomnia exacerbate more dangerous forms of depression, including suicidal ideation, among women specifically.

Bipolar patients report bizarre dreams with death and injury themes before their shift to mania. It was found that dreams of bipolar depressed patients have more anxiety than those of unipolar patients. Dreams of bipolar patients, particularly those with rapid cycling, may show evidence of the subsequent shift prior to noticeable affective and behavioral changes.

Having flashbacks to traumatic events, also called re-experiencing, is a hallmark symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. For roughly half of PTSD patients, those flashbacks occur at night while sleeping, often referred to as “replicative nightmares.” Others may dream more indirectly or symbolically.

I have been formally diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),  Bipolar Disorder (mixed type), and a couple of anxiety disorders. So which one is it? I don’t know anymore – but I’m tired, and you’re not alone. ❤

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!

Mental health

17 Ways to Cope with PTSD Nightmares

“Even if she be not harmed, her heart may fail her in so much and so many horrors; and hereafter she may suffer–both in waking, from her nerves, and in sleep, from her dreams.”
Bram Stoker, Dracula

Dear Readers,

Insofar as I can tell, daymares and nightmares are not all that dissimilar. Even if our consciousnesses of them changes, the method used to keep the wolf at the door is the same.

For as long as I can remember I have had nightmares. I believe this was a result of intense childhood stress. It wasn’t long before my nightmares would carry over into my days, and I would come to experience the early warning signs of psychosis as a child. In some ways, it is amazing how abuse and abandonment can bend and sway our minds to survive. However, often times those childhood survival skills, dissociation for example, become problematic as an adult.

It wasn’t until Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder manifested itself in me in early 2009, when I lost two family members to suicide in 48 hours that I began having nightmares on a truly horrific scale. I was 19. This was proceeded five years later by the experience of caregiving for a terminally ill family member where I was exposed to a constant state of stress, fear, surgical procedures, poverty, and the monstrous dysfunction that entered my young home.

In the beginning my nightmares consisted of highly detailed apocalyptic themes. I vivdly remember bleeding skies, firey seas, and the demise of loved ones in violent and catastrophic ways. I recall being chased, attacked, or trapped. I would wake up frightened, panicked, crying and trembling – unable to separate myself from the sensation of the dream I was so sure was real. When this happened, it was not unusual for me to drink vodka at 9am, chain smoke on the front steps, and call loved ones. I would journal feverishly in some attempt to connect the dots. I would flail, avoid, and investigate. It would take me hours, sometimes days, to shake it off.

In the following years, I started experiencing full blown flashbacks. Flashes of light, sensations of time travel, reliving of trauma, guilt, remorse, and grief. I cried more. I drank more. I made more 4am phone calls. While my insomnia worsened, I began to notice over a period of time that going outside and sitting in the sunlight offered some relief and perspective, and my need to self medicate lessened. By way of necessity, this is how I came to understand Grounding Techniques.

Grounding Techniques are skills put into practice that ground you in the present moment by exposing the five senses to sensation. These might include:

1. Holding ice in your hands

2. Enjoying a warm cup of tea

3. Going outside to take in nature

4. Listening to music

5. Identifying five things you see in your environment

6. Mindfulness meditation

7. Diaphragm breathing

8. Physical affection from a loved one

9. Taking a warm bath

10. Wearing or diffusing essential oils

11. Exercise

12. Drinking copious amounts of water

13. Tasting something sweet or salty

14. Touching something soft or soothing

15. Engaging with a pet

16. Watching or listening to comedy

17. Checking a clock or calendar

The purpose of using Grounding Techniques is to pluck you from the trauma of a nightmare or flashback, and place you back in the reality of the present moment while also teaching you to self soothe in an unharmful way.

It is ten years later and I still experience nightmares of the same intensity, but with less frequency. I have trained myself to de-escalate upon waking, making my recovery time much shorter. If this helps only one person find a millisecond of relief, then I have accomplished what I set out to.

What is your favorite Grounding Technique?

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!