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Archive for September 26th, 2008

In my last post, PTSD: What Do Flashbacks Feel Like?, I shared what flashbacks felt like for me. In this post, I will share tips to make working through flashbacks more bearable.

Let’s start with the physical aspects. When you are experiencing flashbacks, your brain is doing some major restructuring. Because of this, it is a really good idea to start taking Omega 3 supplements. As my yoga instructor explained it to me, Omega 3 supplements are like the “oil” for your brain.

Imagine a car engine trying to operate without oil to lubricate it. That is what you are doing to your brain, especially as you are experiencing flashbacks, if you do not get enough fatty acids in your diet. Taking Omega 3 supplements will help with the physical stress of experiencing flashbacks.

You will also need to set aside lots of time to process the memories and to rest. I struggled with terrible insomnia while I was experiencing flashbacks. I needed to set aside time to take naps on occasion so my body could rest. I also canceled numerous commitments and slowed down my life so I could focus on healing.

When you are experiencing a flashback, you have more power than you might realize. Even though one part of yourself is reliving the trauma, another part of yourself is fully aware of being in the present. You can use this “dual reality” (Judith Herman’s label) to your advantage.

When I experienced a flashback, I would talk myself through it. I would tell myself that I already survived the abuse, so I could survive the memory. I would remind myself that, no matter how bad the memory was, I knew the ending because I will still alive and okay today. I would also “play music” in my head to help calm myself as I experienced the flashback.

I also learned that I had the power to “stop” and “rewind” a flashback. As long as I promised myself that I would return to the memory the next day (and meant it), I could stop a flashback midway through so I had time to process the information. Many of my flashbacks contained a series of traumas in one incident, so I needed time to process each piece of a memory. Trying to deal with the entire traumatic experience in one sitting was simply too much.

Most importantly, I learned to believe myself. While what I remembered might have been smoke and mirrors in certain situations, my reaction as a child to that trauma was not. So, if you recover a memory that seems farfetched, such as being raped by Santa Claus, believe it. Your flashback is likely a very accurate representation of what happened, but you are experiencing it from the perspective of a child, not an adult.

Try to rest in the knowledge that flashbacks do not last forever. I experienced multiple flashbacks each week for a good year, but they finally tapered off. At some point, you recover enough information to be able to heal. You do not have to relive every single incident of trauma in order to heal. You just need to recover enough information to see yourself for who you are and to appreciate what you have been through.

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Photo Credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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