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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


PTSD. A letter from me to me.

Deep breath. You will be okay. You are okay right now.

A brief explanation.

This letter is a reminder from slightly more conscious me who is not in the throes of panic and terror, written for sad, scared me who forgets what is true. It is part of my Book of Me, part of my endless remembering.

Some parts might also be relevant to YOU, person reading this who is not me.

And some may not. And that’s okay. People vary. When I say “you” and this resonates truth, you can let it wash truth through you. When it doesn’t, you can let it go, trusting that this is just what’s true for me, your truth can be different.

Oh, my dear. Oh, my love.

The thing with PTSD is that it completely deactivates the parts of your brain in charge of remembering that Now Is Not Then.

* Completely? How about we say instead: temporarily but pretty damn thoroughly.

You can’t remember. Your body can’t remember.

On Saturday night there were fireworks, unexpected, loud, almost right next door.

And then you were on the floor in the bathroom crying, and you didn’t know for sure how you got there.

You went downstairs and found Agent Z and you were shaking, and Agent Z said: “The fireworks?” and you nodded and then Agent Z said: “You are safe. You are safe. You are safe.”

Because that is part of the protocol, and Agent Z knows what to do.

And then you were on the floor again, this time in the kitchen, and you did not know where you were. You knew you were not at home, you were not sure where “home” was or what that meant. You thought home was Florentin, but you also knew that wasn’t true. You knew you were disoriented, but there was not a huge amount of information beyond that.

Breathing trust and steadiness. Or just breathing.

You are okay. You will be okay. It feels like everything is wrong and yet: nothing is wrong. Even this moment of falling apart is not wrong. It makes sense. There are reasons for it, and there is usefulness inside of it.

You don’t have to like it. And it will pass.

And each time we are in this, it will get easier to find our way out. We are learning the territory of our internal kingdom, and some parts look like this. But they will not always look like this. We are changing our internal space through this process of getting to know it, do you see? It is also okay if you don’t believe me.

You can stay grounded and stable while reading this. You are here now, you want to be here now. You are safe now.

It takes a long time, the remembering. And that’s okay.

The conversation you are having with yourself in your head sounds silly, and that is also okay.

Just keep thinking it out, even if it goes in circles and loops, even if your thoughts seem unbearably muddled. Everything is sifting out, my love. You will get back to ground. You will get back to truth and presence. To a treasure box of tiny stones.

In the meantime, breathe.

Breathe. This air is yours. It is here for you.

Breathe. Repeat your sankalpa, your wish-intention that you are trying on like a costume to see what it feels like, what powers it holds: I can trust the ground.

Breathe. If you know where north is, you can make a compass of words in your space, surrounding yourself with reassurance.

North is Trust. East is Steadiness. South is Love. West is Miracles. Remember? Maybe. It’s okay if you don’t.

Breathe. If you are too disoriented to remember where north is, let it be right in front of you, wherever you are.

And if none of this helps, just drop it. You will get your bearings again.

You still have your ground, even when you can’t feel it. IT IS THERE.

This is what it sounded like inside your head on Saturday night.

Like talking to someone in shock. Because you were.

Voice 1: First thing is we need to call everyone and tell them we’re okay. The cell network has probably crashed but land lines still work.

Voice 2: No, honey. That was then. This was not a suicide bombing. No terrorists here. No one is dead. This was fireworks, just kids, bored teenagers. Nothing happened. You are okay.

Voice 1: S can call for us. Oh god, S is dead. Everyone is dead.

Voice 2: Sweetie, that was a long time ago. You are okay now. No one needs to be called. Look, you’re in Oregon. You live here now. You’re an Oregonian.

Voice 1: I’m a WHAT. Screw you. That is not helpful or reassuring.

Voice 2: Sorry. Sorry, we try again, okay? You’re in Portland. It’s a city. You like Portland. It’s a lot like Tel Aviv, except nothing blows up. You’re a Portlander, which is like a Tel Avivit. It’s a lot like Berlin too, except people smile on the train. It’s good.

Voice 1: Too much information! Where am I now.

Voice 2: You’re at [Agent Z]’s house. Agent Z knows what to do. This is the right place to be. You are safe, you are loved, you are deeply cared for, you have everything you need, you can ask for what you need.

Disorientation. It is natural and normal.

It is okay that it takes you a long time to land.

When Agent Z asked, “Do you want company? Or alone? What do you need?”, your first thought was I NEED PEOPLE TO STOP TRYING TO KILL ME AT WORK.

You knew that wasn’t present-time, so you wrote: Company. Presence. Talk to me please.

And this is good:

You knew you weren’t in Now. You knew that Now is not Then. You knew that Now was reminding you of Then. You knew hearing more information from Now would help.

See? Progress.

It’s just wormholes. It’s just process. It is okay.

PTSD makes your brain smoosh everything together in uncomfortably looping time-space wormholes, nothing is distinct. It is no wonder you feel disoriented.

Look. 10pm on a Saturday, and you and Agent Z were about to go to the Irish pub for a pint of Guinness.

And when the suicide bomber took out the place across the street from your bar , it was also 10pm on a Saturday, and you and the kid were headed to the Irish pub for a pint of Guinness after your shift.

And you did, after the police cleared the street and you closed the bar. Going out for a pint is what you do when shit blows up. And it’s what you’re doing now, but nothing has blown up, you just think it has. Of course this confusion. Of course of course.

Slowly, slowly. Life and aliveness.

You didn’t want to be crying on the kitchen floor, so you sat in the bar and thought: EVERYONE I KNOW FROM THEN IS DEAD.

But then you unpacked that. No one was dead from the explosions. Someone is dead from drinking and liver failure, and someone is dead from being hit by a taxi and someone is dead from choosing to die.

And then you remembered things that are not dead. A list. Things That Are Not Dead.

You looked for aliveness, vitality, breath. You found it in music and a tiny hanging plant. You found it in your pulse and in Agent Z’s smile. You found it in tiny moments of I am here.

This can take time. We have time. And: Nothing is wasted.

Remember the week before last when you got triggered way, way, way harder than this? Six hours of non-stop crying. Hiding on the floor of a bar. Thinking you were homeless. THAT WAS FUN. That was not fun.

But you know what? It was useful.

I know you don’t want to think about the fact that explosions are not even close to being the biggest trigger, not even close to being the worst thing that happened.

And yet, here it is: You have pain. And sometimes you will fall apart, my love.

It is a flushing out. It is a releasing. It can be a healing if you let it, even though it might not feel like one at first.

You think it’s the same territory as before, but it’s not. You have new information, new perspective, new things to practice.

You find your way out slightly differently each time.

Listen for the sound effects of the video game as you invent new exits, reveal new doors back to yourself. Jingling coin sounds, whooshing noises of yes.

By the time you get to the next level, you will have nailed this mission. You know how to recognize fear and give it love, to unveil distortion and meet it with truth, see your pain and give it legitimacy.

And when you can’t, you can’t. That’s part of this too.

Everyone has pain. This is yours. This is a piece of yours. You are safe. You are here. You have choices and options. You have sweet breaths of steadiness, yours for the taking. And I am with you. Reach for me, and I am here.

How commenting works here.

This is that very rare thing that is safe space on the internet, and for that to work, we enter consciously, and we agree to the guiding principles of No Advice and No Caretaking.

We all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff. It’s a process. Each of us takes loving responsibility for what is ours, we let other people take care of what is theirs.

Within that, you can play any way you like. You can write letters to yourself. You can talk to Slightly Wiser You. You can say what needs saying, or be silent with things that need silence. I am also receptive to appreciation, things sparked for you, ways you might play with this.

And I will always always always take flowers, because flowers make everything better.

22 Responses to PTSD. A letter from me to me.

  1. Mary Tracy
    Twitter: MaryTracy

    Thank you for sharing this.

    *offers flowers of gratitude*
    Mary Tracy recently posted… The Fastest Way out of a Depression “Crisis”

  2. Sarah
    Twitter: sarahneedles

    Oh this, oh Havi, thank you.

    Thank you, thank you.

    *biggest armful of colourful lilies*
    Sarah recently posted… How to Make People with Chronic Illness Not Hate You

  3. Juliet
    Twitter: julietk

    I needed to read this today. Thank you.

  4. Kathleen Avins
    Twitter: spiralsongkat

    I have a pink rose for you. Also, some pansies. I wasn’t expecting the pansies at all, but they definitely want to be here.

    As for me, I am remembering some of my own triggers, including some that came from a time before I had all the words I would have needed to make sense of them.

    I also have monsters who believe that my triggers are stupid triggers, that there is no comparison between my scars and the scars of others. Oh, puh-leez, say the monsters.

    But monsters, you just said it yourselves. There is no comparison. There doesn’t need to be. Remember the fountain? It’s like that.

    Besides, I was small, so the small triggers were bigger in my world then. You see?

    Here, Younger Self, I have paints and paper for you. Create all the worlds you wish. And when you’ve finished with them, you can always have more. I promise.
    Kathleen Avins recently posted… April, in a series of verbal snapshots.

  5. Barbara says:

    Sharing lilacs with you – my favorite flower..

    Three colors of them, no less: white, pale lavender, and the variety that is almost blackberry-colored!

    Wishing you bouquets, or pots of them that could potentially be re-planted somewhere, whichever you prefer:)

  6. Reba
    Twitter: rrreba

    Flowers of appreciation & gratitude, for sharing your process and for the phrase ‘it is part of my endless remembering‘, which is just so perfect and right and spacious-giving for me right now.


  7. James - Dancing Geek
    Twitter: dancing_geek

    I’ve been away a while, but it makes me happy to know you’re still here creating this space. Such an act of creation deserves bright bunches of flowers. I bring Gerbera and Passionfruit.

  8. Pqw-orange
    Twitter: fiadhiglas

    Everything you’ve written about your PTSD has been helpful to me, as a fellow survivor of trauma. So many people I know (including, of course, those who caused it) will not let me even acknowledge I have PTSD, never mind talk about how it impacts my life.

    It took 20 years, but I did eventually heal from my trauma-onset PTSD. But I still have chronic PTSD, and sometimes I still have to say to myself, “You’re in Maryland now. You never *have to* go back there, if you don’t want to. You’re safe; you’re here; it’s 2013 and you’re good.”

    Thank you for sharing with such candor.

    An armful of wildflowers of every color and shape.
    Pqw-orange recently posted… can giraffes / feign a scarf?

  9. Susan says:

    Sending you a walk in the Rose Garden with soft afternoon light, and blossoms in all the colors, and sun-warmed scents on the air, and slightly nectar-drunk bees, and large picnic/napping blankets under those trees with the peanut-butter leaves.

  10. Leni says:

    sending you every white rose ever

  11. Claire McAll
    Twitter: making_space


  12. Pat says:

    ….*?.@@ ?*’

  13. Sara V says:

    Powerful. phoo!

  14. Shava Nerad
    Twitter: shava23

    <3, so sorry for your pain….

    I have spent some time making salves for the brain, through art, with my partner, in Second Life, that we believe help the hippocampus, the seat of memory that gets looped in PTSD. We haven't found a medical partner to get human testing done, but a number of folks have found it useful and if nothing else, pretty and good community if you are familiar with a game environment already. Get up with tuna@oddfellowstudios.com if you'd like to com join us some time.

  15. Max Daniels
    Twitter: maxdaniels

    Here are some Blue Flag iris from my garden. They just came out. Now I know why.
    Max Daniels recently posted… Old Ladies wearing their silver crowns

  16. Marisa
    Twitter: MarisaDebowsky

    “….makes your brain smoosh everything together in uncomfortably looping time-space wormholes, nothing is distinct. It is no wonder you feel disoriented.”

    That really resonates for me.

  17. Karensu
    Twitter: light_of_summer

    Havi, thank you for writing this to yourself, and thank you for sharing it with us! I think I will be sharing this post with some people who don’t know your work, yet.

    For you: three bountiful peonies that look white at first glance but are actually the palest possible peach-pink.

    Karensu recently posted… Artichoke with Ladybug

  18. Mary says:

    Human explosions;
    raised enraged fists, go ahead and hit me!
    fistholes in the walls, right next to my face;
    sleeping in a hotel, driving around and around not going home, cowering crying in the basement.
    Not now, though,
    not. any. more.
    Still the fear keeps looping around, not such a surprise anymore, more of a reminder: Oh yes, now I remember why…

    A lovely yellow columbine from my front yard, with thanks.

  19. Chandler
    Twitter: AnagramPress

    Sending you all the flowers with cheery radiating petals and open beautiful fractally-seeded faces. Sunflowers, daisies, susans, gerberas, tiny purple asters. All of them.

    Though maybe I’ll keep just one small daisy here, for when the roar of the car rounding the corner and accelerating just before impact fills my ears, and the disorienting rush of pavement zooms back up to my eyes, and the sensation of the dog leash fills my hands, and the ghost of a “No!” crosses my lips, when I least expect it. Maybe if I hold that one daisy, your own bouquet will glow, and you’ll see my thanks, to you, for this.
    Chandler recently posted… Upping the ante

  20. Kirsten
    Twitter: ADHDexecutive

    Working with veterans who are ages 18-100 at the VA I hear stories everyday of what they have survived and the struggles they have coming back and being present. This was a wonderfully written letter. Thank you.

  21. Derek
    Twitter: dex3703

    A friend forwarded this to me. I am making sense of a lot, and I’m grateful you shared this.

    Flowers do make things better. I offer Seattle’s infinite dandelions, which reach out to my childlike pleasure.

  22. ML says:

    Thank you for modeling this kind of self-love, Havi. And for the idea of surrounding myself with a compass of the qualities I need most. It feels like something I might actually be able to do when I lose sight of now and am stuck in a world of *then.*

    I hope you enjoy looking at the Dutch Irises I brought for you, with their rich purples, blues, and bright yellow centers full of sunshine and hope.

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