Eleanor Cowan


Post Traumatic Living At It's Best


I’m not in charge of the thoughts pacing around in my head, but I felt heavy as I awakened this morning. There was a toxic splash towards my ex-husband at waitressing every Mother’s Day - time I'd so love to have spent with my children if only financial sharing had happened. It took only two seconds:  “No!” I told myself, and swung my legs out of bed and onto terra firma.

While I am NOT in charge of unbidden thoughts, I am responsible about the time I spend on them.  And so, with a hot cuppa tea, my agenda book resting on a colorful pillow on my lap, I begin to plan today – not re-live yesterday ad nauseam.

Today, I’m mailing a special birthday card to a dear friend, and then I’ll prepare a tasty meal to share with a guest this evening. Carol loves my cooking, so I have a Tupperware dish set aside so she can enjoy a second helping at the office tomorrow.  There are a half dozen other objectives on my list, some for others, some for me, some that just need to get done.  I may not feel wonderful as I obey my own orders, but so very, very often, a lovely little surprise occurs, a little unexpected event or a fresh idea that propels my energy forward to a place of pride. 

I am a disciple of my own best vision – and that is exactly what disciple means: to follow your inner eye.

Once I asked a psychiatrist about the fact that sometimes at night, just as I am wading into delicious sleep, I am shocked awake by images of murder and mayhem:  I'm slicing the jugular vein of an abuser who is hurting a child or me.  I’m precise with my Exacto knife as my heart beats like crazy - and sleep is chased away.  The doctor explained this phenomena to me:

“Part of post-traumatic affect is a commitment on the part of your brain to protect you for the rest of your life.  It seeks to ensure that you are always secure.  Nodding off to sleep may leave you vulnerable. Maybe you could get hurt, just as happened in the past. And so your brain finds a clever way to wake you up so you can defend yourself if necessary.”  

The doctor said these distracting flashes of violence are called hypnagogic sequelae of post-trauma.

"They will never stop: A commitment on the part of the brain to protect you is life-long,” she added. 

“So what can I do? “ I asked

Without any hesitation, she spoke words I've treasured for years:

“Make sure that your creative life is so passionate, and that your day is so well-lived, that you rob every ounce of negative defensive energy and re-direct it into your creative work, whatever that may be.

 Your violent images will still occur, but you’ll be so exhausted at the end of a well-lived day that they won’t last long – and your own happiness will soothe you as fall quickly to sleep. 

Now, images of murder and mayhem alert me that I'm slipping in my creative purposefulness. 

 I refocus on my job: my happiness. 

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