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3 Stages of CPTSD Recovery

CPTSD Recovery is a thing.

I’m a business owner with Complex-Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (CPTSD) who is firmly in the space of post-traumatic-growth. I have a lot of past experience to help me organise my own learning around this subject and a desire to share some hope for life after CPTSD.

I didn’t have hope 5 years ago.

I had a needs-must situation to help me face waking up in the morning and closing my eyes at night. Then one day, my pursuit for change paid off. There is now tangible, quantum leap progress, that I can point to, year-over-year for 3, going on 4 years now. As such, I am passing on the very material I would have loved to have stumbled across myself, 10 years ago.

CPTSD shows up and expresses differently for everybody - and - we can examine the common ground to support our own version of recovery.

stages of CPTSD

Explaining CPTSD Recovery benefits from a bit of context

Trauma (childhood, or otherwise) is an experience that can cause the once whole and integrated mind-body self to move towards various degrees of separation.

Degrees of separation - is when dissociation of our wounded and traumatised parts happens. We likely do this as kids to make us more safe (and manageable for our care givers), and as adults, we do this to make life feel less hard, and ensure we ‘appear more normal’ in public.

Compensating for dissociation tends to compound the problem (which, interestingly compels more feedback to motivate us to resolve the underlying trauma). This is because we often compensate with low quality coping strategies, such as:

  1. prolonged bed rest

  2. addiction

  3. endless distraction

  4. poor nutrition

  5. little physical activity

  6. and excuses

Excuses for why we can’t come, after all, why we didn’t get that job, why our friends stop calling, why we don’t care, why we need to block that person, why it’s their drama, not ours, why our business idea isn't launched, yet.

The list is a long one.

In some instances of early childhood trauma, CPTSD can show up in later years.

stages of CPTSD

CPTSD is a mind-body condition

Mind-body because two things happened in early life that set us for life:

One - Unconscious Programs:

Our beliefs about ourself, others and the world were defined from age 0 (in pregnancy) to about 5 years old.

Let me put this another way:

  1. It was a 3 year old that decided if you’re lovable, good enough, or wanted.

  2. It was a 2 year old that decided if your world was safe or not.

Those decisions are set in childhood and remain, unless we deliberately change the programs our mind created and installed, aged 2.

Two - Brain and Central Nervous System (CNS)

Trauma affected the brain and CNS from pregnancy to age 5, when the brain is considered fully formed. If you look at two brain scans of 5 year olds, one from a healthy home, one from a traumatised home, they are physically different.

The brain and central nervous system want rewiring, care and embodied practices to bring them back into alignment. Without deliberate intervention, both our brain and CNS, stamped with the effects of trauma from childhood, remain in operation through adulthood. For me, my experience of this was felt in several areas, such as the inability to self-regulate, making overwhelm paralysing, an always-on fear center distorting how I was interpreting my environment. I would see danger in situations that would appear normal to others. My (over) reaction to that perceived threat would damage relationships, effect my business, and my physical health.

So, because CPTSD is a mind-body condition, recovery from CPTSD requires both the mind and the body to be simultaneously involved in the healing process.

stages of CPTSD

Dissociation seeks Integration

We could surmise that

Dissociation is a form of sickness where trauma was the instigator. Integration can then be described as wellness where resolving trauma is the vehicle back to health.

In the absence of the deliberate pursuit of integration, that ‘sickness’ remains in the body to fester yielding 'who knows what?', down the line.

If you want my two cents on the ‘who knows what’ bit, I’d offer up that the what, is the next level of more intense feedback to shake our fine asses into resolving trauma, or be forced to greet; inflammatory disease, autoimmune disease, severe allergies, shorter life span and the need for more intense coping strategies.

This spiral doesn’t end well.

This quote below, now takes on all sorts of new meaning for me.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek - Joseph Campbell

Those 3 stages of CPTSD and the marked progress:

With hindsight, I wasn’t aware I was spending most of my life (up until 3.5 years ago) in survival mode. I knew that I wasn't normal. I knew I struggled. I didn't know that it was the result of childhood trauma that still continued to run my life. I guess I would have just been of the mindset that, "these are the cards I have been dealt and I'm just not making good enough use of them, I'm not playing them right', as I reached for yet another book, course, or workshop.

I had learned how to appear normal, and yet I wasn’t.

It was only recently that I was able to put some coherent language to the overall state of survival, and then some language around what the 2nd stage, Safe & Stable.

When I wrote the 3rd stage, Thriving, I could see that what many of us would call thriving, is a stage that looks like a healthy person's 'normal'. People who came from a very different lifestyle than ours; healthy people would probably just refer to this stage as ‘life’.

For me, I refer to this 3rd stage as ‘where I’m headed’’.

CPTSD Recovery

A few thoughts on the stages

Survival mode is really about Not-Safe-Can’t-Trust where alone feels better, and overwhelm can be paralysing. We struggle to have meaningful connections, instead our interactions with others are largely transactional. We go it alone, even though we all know it takes a village. We tend to excel at rationalising the irrational (another coping strategy).

Safe & Stable is the stage where self-regulation is being practised. When we do get triggered, we are consciously practicing self-regulation techniques to interrupt the pattern of automatically escalating or automatically shutting down without conscious awareness of what is going on.

Overwhelm is less frequent, and when it does show up, it passes faster.

We are also improving the quality of our coping strategies, while consciously recognising our re-traumatising behaviour, as behaviour that no longer serves us.

We are doing all of this with information that continues to expand our self-awareness, and practices that repair our brain and central nervous system.

I’ve written a summary over here on How to treat CPTSD >

And another blog post over here, where I share my deeper and more detailed understanding of What is CPTSD >

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