What would you do if I were to tell you that there will be times in your life where things don’t go as you planned? It doesn’t matter what your intentions are, or what you were promised by other people. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked, or the sacrifices you made. It doesn’t matter how genuine and authentic you were, or how selfless and compassionate you were.
If you think anything like me, or most other people, you would feel hurt, cheated, dejected, betrayed, angry, and rejected. One of the most common statements I hear from people when I ask them this question is that it isn’t fair. Why can’t people see what I’ve done, how hard I’ve worked, how much I’ve overcome, or how many people I’ve helped? I’m in a place where I am asking myself this question to myself, and my initial statement is the same as most others. How can you not see what I’ve done, how hard I’ve worked, and how much I’ve overcome? You’re right when you think that it isn’t fair. The problem with this line of thought is life isn’t fair, and your expected and calculated outcome will rarely have the outcome as you had planned.
Many years ago, I was in a deep philosophical discussion with a close friend of mine who was wise beyond his. Sadly, he died of cancer in his early 20’s. He had so many plans for his life that would never come to fruition. He told me that the only constant in life is inconsistency. I found that to be one of the most profound and impactful thoughts I had ever heard. The more I think about it, the more it resonates when I apply it to my life.
It is at this point that we find ourselves in a psychological crossroad. My life was in an emotional tailspin in the beginning of this year. PTSD dug its toxic claws in my mind and it ripped me from my family and everything that I loved and cherished. I lost the ability to show or receive love, I avoided anything that I couldn’t control and everything that made me feel uncomfortable. The only place I felt where I belonged was in the void of isolation and numbness. My reality was altered and dark. I refused to talk about how I felt, and I refused to actively participate in therapy. Throughout this destructive path I was traveling on, I pushed my family and friends away from me, and I rejected their attempts to show me love and support.
When I finished the treatment program, I planned on my life going back to how it used to be: my family accepting me, living in harmony, and being proud of me for becoming the husband and father I new I was. My expectations of how I planned my life after treatment were not consistent with what I had hoped. They weren’t consistent my mind-reading and emotional reasoning thought of, if I get better by putting my heart and soul into treatment, everything will be better. The only constant with that thought was its inconsistent reality. I felt feel hurt, cheated, dejected, betrayed, angry, and rejected.
How many times have you found yourself in that place where you feel cut off from the world around you, but you have no idea how to escape the darkness while you watch your life and everything you care about fall apart in front of your eyes? You have the feeling that the sadness and darkness will be a constant reality, your eternal home. How do you recognize when you are starting down that path of constant obscurity and ambiguity? How do you get off the highway to darkness and distress? The answer is simple, yet powerful. There is no complicated psychological algorithm to find this offramp. An extraordinary behavioral therapy called, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), a behavioral therapy that strengthens and persons’ ability to handle distress without losing control or acting destructively, (DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Lineham. Copyright 2015 by Marsha M. Lineham) teaches an effective distress tolerance skill called the STOP Skill.
Stop – Do not just react. Stop! Freeze! Do not move a muscle! Your emotions may try to make you ac t without thinking. Stay in control!
Stopping allows your brain to catch up to your emotions and activate the emergency break before you act based upon your irrational thought, believing that your immediate and radical emotions are truth.
Take a step back – Take a step back from the situation. Take a break. Let go. Take a deep breath. Do not let your feelings make you act impulsively.
Stopping and taking a deep breath breaks the cycle of irrational thought and saturates your frontal cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that controls complex cognitive behavior, emotional regulation, decision making, and moderating social behavior.
Observe – Notice what is going on inside and outside you. What is the situation? What are your thoughts and feelings? What are others saying or doing?
Noticing and acknowledging your internal and external feelings and environment by recognizing the current situation provides your newly regenerated frontal cerebral cortex to properly and rationally assess your emotions and surroundings. This allows your brain to formulate a healthy, logical, and forward-thinking reaction by putting your initial emotions and feelings into perspective and recognizing the potential long term affects had your actions been carried out based on these emotions.
Proceed mindfully – Act with awareness. In deciding what to do, consider your thoughts and feelings, the situation, and other people’s thoughts and feelings. Think about your goals. Ask Wise Mind: Which actions will make it better or worse?
Moving forward mindfully, the ability to make healthy decisions about your life based on both your rational thoughts and your emotions. (McCay, PH.D/Berkley Write Institute, Eta All, M. (2007). Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills Workbook. Pg, 86. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.)
I find myself thinking about my life and how I acted and treated my family and myself before I went into treatment. I obsess over how many opportunities I missed to show my family how much I loved them, how many moments I let pass by because I was numb to everything around me, how many chances I had to turn things around and rejoin my family and reconnect with my wife, how many times my wife desperately attempted to break through my impenetrable shell to rescue me from my dark place. I torture myself with recognizing and being proud of the progress I have made but realizing that it’s too late to go back to the life I had hoped for. One of the most profound things I have relearned from my journey of finding myself again is to dwell on the failures of your past is to ignore to blessings of your future.
We can’t change the past. We can’t change what we did, what others did, or how the events of your life have come to fruition. We can, however, change and dictate our future. When I find myself entering a whirlpool of internalizing and judging the decisions and failures of my past; the first thing I do is implement the STOP Skill. This skill, coupled with many other I have learned, have become a staple in my life. Having the understanding and skillset to recognize that irrational emotions birthed from distress are not a representation of fact. These skills give me the knowledge to stop everything and take five seconds to disrupt the connection of panic driven emotions from making harmful impulsive actions. These skills provide the me to saturate my frontal cerebral cortex with oxygen and reground myself in the present, so I can observe and notice my feelings and surroundings. I analyze the situation and see what other people are doing around me that may be a contributor to my feelings of distress. Once I have grounded myself again in a safe, calm, and healthy place, I am able to cope mindfully and formulate a strategy for moving forward by calculating which actions will make my situation better or worse.
We are taught to always have a plan, because without a plan, the only feasible outcome is failure. I disagree with that thought. Having a plan isn’t a bad thing by any means, however, being prepared provides you with the flexibility to adjust for any number of scenarios that may arise in your journey. By living in the present, and being acutely aware of our emotions and stressors, we can break the cycle of consistent effects of PTSD, false beliefs of yourself and your relationships by realizing that the consistent thing in life is inconsistency. Things will not stay bad forever. Your world will not remain dark. You alone, have the power to turn on the light in your world by changing your attitude, perception, and direction in your life. You just need to stop.