While not for everyone, as every trauma and recovery is different, I thought I’d share something that has really helped me in my own recovery from PTSD. I went 8 years after a major trauma functioning in two ways: dreading an anniversary reaction and having an anniversary reaction.
I’d begun watching a television show where a woman who had gone through trauma and grief was encouraged to make a box, and put memories of her loved one in it. Her box was small, and wooden, almost like a jewelry box, and contained smaller mementos of her loved one.
I couldn’t get the thought of that box out of my head, so on a hunch maybe a year after I’d seen the episode, I went to the store. I found a plain, white photo box, about the size of a shoe box. I also found finger paints. Though I’m sure I finger painted in nursery school, it’s difficult to conjure any conscious memory of it, and on the same television show, I remembered a different woman being given free reign with a block of clay after talking about a trauma she experienced. I remember how she went to town destroying it. (Another threw paint.) And I got to thinking that maybe something tactile would help me process my trauma, too.
So, I painted my box.
When it dried, I filled it up. I found I liked painting so much that I did 5 more. This is one I feel safe sharing:
I also put anything related to that time that I wanted to keep and look back on in the box. Accounts of what happened. Journals. Memories from prior to it.
Because I was never formally diagnosed and wasn’t insured at the time, I did some looking, and found a PTSD workbook that I could safely go through, at my pace, addressing only the things I felt safe to. Whenever I did things from the workbook, I made sure I was in a safe mentally and physically. I had calming music, a blanket, a comfort object and a list of people to reach out to if I needed to. I also quickly found I needed to limit the amount of time I let myself spend thinking about my trauma. I also was extremely intentional about when I worked through it. As I become more symptomatic in fall and winter, I made my box and did a lot of personal work in early June when I was the least symptomatic.
It was super cathartic for me to be able to express my feelings in a way I hadn’t done before. (I write, but had never painted.) The box itself is also wonderful because of the limits of it. I love being in control of when I open it, and how long it stays open. If things get overwhelming, I can always close it and put it away.
I still struggle from time to time. The box (as anything) is not a cure-all, but it’s definitely been helpful. I’m not a professional of any sort. I just thought making this post and putting it out there might help someone else. Remember that your number one priority should be your own health and safety. It’s okay if you’re not ready to deal with your trauma. It took me years to face mine.
But don’t lose hope…and if you’re ready…try making a box, and put inside whatever YOU need, while surrounding yourself with plenty of comfort, safety and love. It’s not about triggering yourself on purpose. It’s about giving yourself control over when, where and for how long you look back, so you’re more ready to look forward, whenever the time is right for you.