If you have been traumatised, it is quite normal for it to feel as if the past is happening again and again and again, right now. Bill O’Hanlon has a quirky sentiment that resonates for me about the role of therapy - that the job is to stop the client experiencing the same damn thing again and again, so that they can then experience one damn thing after another! That is how life is after all, there is always something. The problem comes if it’s the same something that is just stuck and looping.
I thought today I’d write briefly about some of the things you can do if you find yourself re-living the past, be it through ruminations, uncomfortable emotions, disturbing body emotions, or even visual or auditory flashbacks.
Recognise and build on what you are already doing to help yourself. How do you calm yourself physically? What do you notice that helps / soothes / relieves your distress?
Notice things that are pleasant in your surroundings. Trauma makes us focus on threat and feeling unsafe, and we miss all the other stuff that is also there. Take time to notice things that make you smile or feel nice, and also to remember past times when you have felt good.
Given you have survived and are here able to reflect on your experiences, it’s clear you have strengths and resources. Get really curious about what it is about you that carries you through? What relationships have you sustained that help you? How did you do that? What are you good at, now you take a moment to notice? How have you survived as well as you have?
Lastly, part of recovery is the return of imagination and creativity, when we feel threatened that is just not available to us. Imagine alternative scenarios, alternative outcomes, different endings. In your imagination you can have things be however you want, with many variations at once. Get playful.
All of these approaches are useful, and they also need practice and repetition. Oftentimes, the companionship of a grounded therapist and additional trauma interventions may be helpful. That said, it’s good to flag things that we know helps, because recovery is all about coming into the now and being as much of ourselves as we can.