Healing from Trauma, PTSD, and Complex-PTSD with Expert Maya Golden Bethany

Imperfect Love | PTSD

 

Trauma. PTSD. Complex-PTSD. Abuse. These seemingly simple words can hold a great deal of meaning, pain, and nearly inescapable charge. Although the significance of these terms can be diluted by misuse, there’s nothing “light” or unimportant about the profound, lasting effects of physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and other experiences that leave devastating – and often deeply hidden – scars. Alarmingly, 1 in 3 women is subjected to physical or sexual violence in her lifetime, often at the hands of a partner. We tend to believe that trauma “should” heal on its own, but the truth is that unaddressed trauma only festers and worsens over time. The “cure” can be found in support, loads of TLC, empathy, and gentle forward momentum.

 

Join Dr. Carla and Maya Golden Bethany, award-winning journalist, novelist, and mental health advocate, for an honest discussion about the healing journey of facing and healing from trauma, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), Complex-PTSD, and related mental health issues. As a bonus, discover the potential connection between perfectionism and unresolved trauma.

 

*Please note that this episode contains sensitive information that may be triggering for trauma and abuse survivors. Please listen with discretion and sensitivity to your needs. This content is not intended for children or those actively suffering from acute mental health issues. If you require support, please contact your emergency hotline or emergency hospital.

 

In the United States, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-7233 or SMS: Text BEGIN to 88788. Call or text “988” for crisis support. UK: 999. Resources: National Domestic Violence Hotline: www.thehotline.org and Crisis Hotline: 988lifeline.org

 

Statistics:

World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/news/item/09-03-2021-devastatingly-pervasive-1-in-3-women-globally-experience-violence

The Lancet: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)02664-7/fulltext

Watch the episode here

 

Listen to the podcast here

 

Healing from Trauma, PTSD, and Complex-PTSD with Expert Maya Golden Bethany

Trauma. PTSD. Abuse. These seemingly simple words can hold a great deal of meaning, pain, and often, escapable charge. Although the significance of these terms can be diluted by misuse or overuse, there’s nothing light or unimportant about the profound, lasting effects of physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and other experiences that leave devastating and often deeply hidden scars.

Alarmingly, 1 in 3 women is subjected to physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime, too often at the hands of a partner. We tend to believe that trauma should just heal on its own, but the truth is that trauma, if left unaddressed, only festers and worsens over time. What is the cure? Support, loads of TLC, empathy, and gentle forward momentum.

In this episode, we’ll focus on this reader’s real-life question. “I was abused by my mother’s boyfriend when I was young. I told her, but she didn’t believe me. The abuse continued until they eventually broke up a few years later. I’m in my late twenties and still have nightmares. My relationships tend to be short-term and full of drama. If things go beyond a hookup, I get anxious and angry. I can’t afford therapy. What can I do to get better?” That question is the focus of this episode. Please note as this episode contains sensitive information, reader discretion is advised.

 

Imperfect Love | PTSD

 

In this episode, I’m joined by a very special guest, Maya Golden Bethany. She is an award-winning journalist, novelist, and mental health advocate who will be sharing her expertise on healing from trauma, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and perfectionism. Welcome to the show, Maya. It is such a joy to have you.

Looking Back

Thank you so much for having me on and the opportunity to share with your readers. I truly appreciate it.

I appreciate you making the time and space to be with us in this episode. Before we launch into the show, could you tell our readers a little bit about what makes you, you?

It’s funny that you would ask that because I think, historically, I probably would’ve struggled with trying to figure out how I identify myself because, for a long time, my identity was wrapped up in how others perceived me. Now, I would say I am above all things. I’m a mother. I am a wife, but as far as who Maya is and the things that make her who she is, it’s creativity. It’s joy to make other people smile. It’s a willingness to help and show empathy to humanity. It’s a long trek through life to leave a trail of goodness in my wake.

That’s so beautifully put. When we look at your trek and what’s made it different and meaningful. It’s not that we don’t all have meaningful treks, but you have quite a history and, in many respects, you are an award-winning journalist. You are a novelist. You have started a foundation for those who suffer from mental health issues, including abuse and addiction. You want to do good in a way that empowers women and empowers people in general who have suffered at the hands of violence or abuse. Could you tell us a little bit about that journey?

I think, for me, it came with the realization. We hear so much and so often in the mental health community, “You are not alone,” but growing up as a child who experienced sexual abuse, as a child who suffered incest, and sexual assault as a teen, I did feel tremendously alone. It’s because I grew up in a community and in an area where we don’t talk about those things. Also, family businesses are kept within the family or swept under the rug.

I believed in that loneliness of feeling that I was the only child, the only girl to go through this situation, that I was isolated, and that my mental health struggles were solely unique to me. Also, it doesn’t discredit the fact that every one of us is an individual and that we are unique. However, there is a commonality to the symptoms many times of complex PTSD or our relationships being impacted by the abuse, especially when we develop core beliefs as children, that our identity is wrapped up in that abuse. We feel unclean. We feel dirty and all of those things that children don’t have the capability to process.

For me, once I was fortunate enough to receive the care that I did, I had a six-day intensive for PTSD and addiction recovery. I had been in therapy for a number of years, but that intensive was the key to unlocking the heart of so many issues and for me to understand that I wasn’t alone. I wanted to be able to gift that feeling and that realization to other people to provide them with support.

We all want to be seen and heard, but I think when there is that common thread between us where we can say, “I was sexually abused,” or, “I was assaulted,” or, “I was in a horrible and abusive relationship.” It might not be the same conditions, but someone can listen to your experience, nod their head, and say, “I know what that feels like.” I wanted to provide that community to other people and I wanted to also share my story authentically for that reason as well.

I’ve made it a mission. I won’t say it’s an easy mission, but I’ve made it a mission to do both. To create a community and to provide healthcare support, especially for those who lack access to mental health care. I am located in rural Texas, East Texas, and our mental health resources here are few and far between when it comes to psychiatrists, counselors, and social workers. I saw the need and wanted to do what I could as one person to fill the gap but in doing so, it was very important for me to make people feel like someone was coming alongside of them and saying, “I understand. I see you. I hear you. I know exactly what that feels like.”

PTSD Vs. Complex PTSD

Thank you for that very rich, personal, and heartfelt background. Before we go any deeper, this is such a sensitive realm. We know that according to the World Health Organization and other statistics, we have that statistic of 1 in 3. When we look around a room of other women, we can say, “I’m looking at three, and one of those has likely been the victim of sexual or physical assault.” We also have a statistic of one in four when we’re looking at any sort of abuse in relationships.

Those are huge numbers when we can look at three women and say, “One of you has been victimized,” or another group and say, “One in four of you have undergone some sort of maybe emotional abuse,” which, of course, I’m not minimizing that. It can be one of the worst forms of abuse and the psyche, as research shows us verbal abuse and mental abuse can be as painful as physical abuse and register similarly in the body and the brain. Let’s get some working definitions for our readers who might not quite understand the difference between PTSD and complex PTSD. We’ll start there because these terms are often thrown around in social media and life. Let’s dial it down to what we mean when we’re talking about those now.

As you said, we see it so often on social media and I do cringe at the way that those terms are used because they’re very real and it’s not to be minimized the symptoms that go along with them. PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is often attributed to symptoms that stem from one particular incident in life. It’s a singular incident, and it doesn’t have to be abuse. It could be a car accident. It could be witnessing a crime. It could be the secondhand trauma of watching someone who is losing their life and the battle of that as well. It can come in many different forms, but it’s usually attributed to one event where you can pinpoint and say if you’re skittish in the car, it might be because you were in a car accident or you don’t want to leave the house or go for a drive because of that. Your behaviors may vary.

You might experience anger, depression, some ideologies, and some thoughts that are intrusive or negative about self-harm. It can impact your relationships as well. We most often hear about PTSD being attributed to the military and soldiers. What we don’t often associate it with as a public whole is sexual assault, abuse, or childhood traumatic events.

Complex PTSD or complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is when, during the course of your life, you have experienced multiple traumatic events of varying types. It could be that you experienced abuse for a number of years in those different forms. It might’ve been physical. It might’ve been sexual. It might’ve been emotional abuse. Maybe you did witness a crime. Maybe, unfortunately, in the way society is now you were in the event of a mass shooting or something of that nature that can have those lingering effects. It’s a compounded number of traumas in your life and how they begin to show up.

The way that for me personally the complex PTSD showed up, I didn’t quite understand until I went to the six-day intensive and went to treatment, but I had suffered sexual abuse for a number of years. I had witnessed domestic violence in my family. I was a news reporter and worked at the crime beat. I saw all manner of human atrocities and I didn’t recognize what that was doing to me. There was a lot of rage. I had a lot of anger.

My relationship suffered. I was a perfectionist to cover up the feeling of not being good enough. That’s very common with complex PTSD when you’ve been through so many multiple traumatic events. There’s this, “Why does this keep happening to me,” or, “Why am I going through these things?” It creates a feeling of not being enough. That can create perfectionism. It can disrupt relationships. It can disrupt your health so you can have weight gain, weight loss, and sleeplessness.

Chronic illnesses are also a symptom of complex PTSD. It’s chronic respiratory issues. It comes from your system and your body being in a heightened state of alert constantly because that’s how you have lived. That’s how you have been able to survive. Your body doesn’t know we are not in survival mode anymore. If your anxiety level is always at 100, but your actual stress level is somewhere around 50, then the cortisol in your body is not coming down the way that it should.

 

 

When that happens, you can get a number of illnesses. You can see things like bronchitis or susceptibility to flu and cold much more easily than others.

Complex PTSD, that’s how it varies from PTSD. It’s multiple traumatic events of varying kinds that have compounded over a lifetime and the symptoms can be more severe. That’s not to minimize PTSD because it is in itself a very intense condition, but I think in 2024, we can safely say a lot of us have experienced multiple traumas in our lives. It’s just now starting to be recently recognized that complex PTSD is an actual step beyond the original PTSD diagnosis.

A lot of people today have experienced multiple traumas in their lives and now just starting to recognize that complex PTSD is an actual step beyond the original PTSD diagnosis. Click To Tweet

Thank you so much for that thorough overview of PTSD and complex PTSD. We’ll backtrack just a little bit. I am with you and you say there is something cringe-worthy when we hear these terms, not intentionally abused or misused. However, when somebody says, “I didn’t get the dress I wanted. I have PTSD,” or, “My manicure went awry,” or, “My date was bad,” or, “My car tire is getting low. I have PTSD.” When we do that, we’re inadvertently diminishing the impact that true PTSD and complex PTSD have on the many millions of people suffering from those mental health issues.

I agree with you. We can all be a little bit more mindful sometimes about how we use words, especially those that have an impact on mental health. The next thing I want to thank you for bringing up is that very clear difference between PTSD and even war vets are often diagnosed with a singular PTSD. I’ve volunteered with vets and most of them have complex PTSD because many of our soldiers had very difficult childhoods.

Also, they go into situations that we’re simply not prepared for. They then come home and they’re thrown back into life. They might have TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury, and other things. We want to realize and honor that PTSD and complex PTSD show up in different ways. We don’t need to diagnose someone or go around saying, “This person has this or that,” but realizing that it’s okay and not only okay but important to reach out for mental health support so that you can understand what might be happening to you or a loved one.

The next piece I love that you brought up is the part about how we all experience trauma in different ways. When I’m working with someone who has PTSD, sometimes they’ll say, “I didn’t have it as bad as someone else,” or, “Why did this happen to me,” and this other person’s not traumatized by it. I use the image of let’s all get onboard a little airplane and we have one person who is already suffering from anxiety.

We have somebody who just had a few beers. We have someone else who’s working on their computer during the flight. We have a mom with a child. We also have somebody who’s taken an anti-anxiety med and that plane starts going down. Each one of those individuals, and we’re assuming the plane survives will have, because they’re in a different place. One is busy with work. One is on alcohol or using alcohol. One has taken medication. The other one has a child to worry about.

Each individual will experience that traumatic event differently. Some may develop PTSD. Others may go, “It didn’t affect me at all.” I think that’s important for us to realize because sometimes people compare themselves to someone else. I’ve even had rape victims say, “I didn’t have it so bad. I’ve been only raped once in my life. Whereas one of my girlfriends has been raped three times.” Trauma is not something we want to compare.

Responses To Trauma

It’s not like a dress where we want to compare colors. It’s absolutely an individual experience, that is, I believe, and I’m wondering what your opinion is because this is my understanding in my work that trauma and our susceptibility to it are partly environmental, partly our personal history, and our genetics. We will likely have different responses to different life experiences. What is your thought on that?

 

Imperfect Love | PTSD

 

I agree wholeheartedly because I have seen situations where how our past can bring up our reaction to something very differently than someone else. As you mentioned with the plane analogy, someone might walk away from a situation and not have the same exact reaction as someone else. However, because of that other person’s past history, their childhood experiences, maybe a predisposition to flying anxiety, then it’s confirming their worst fears, so it starts to spiral.

It’s the same with the military that you alluded to. Not every soldier comes back with PTSD or complex PTSD, and that’s no reflection on the strength of that individual. It’s no reflection on their mental fortitude. It is what they’re bringing into the situation as they go forward. It is their past or whatever trigger there is in that moment that they react to.

Not every soldier comes back from the battlefield with PTSD. It is no reflection on their mental fortitude. It is what they bring into the situation as they go forward that matters. Click To Tweet

Sometimes, we can be triggered by a situation and not understand where it comes from. It can be a smell, a sound, or a name. We get to see that a lot of times when my foundation offers group support. I hear the clients of this support group often talking about, “I was having a panic attack or an anxiety attack during a thunderstorm or severe weather and my husband was fine or my partner was fine.” It might be that that partner grew up in an area where severe weather happens all the time. It’s no big deal and it might be that that other person grew up in a situation where they survived a tornado once before and here they are again.

We’re all reacting differently because of our past experiences. What we hope to do is to be equipped with ways that we can respond with a little bit more grace to ourselves and healthy action than to internalize, verbally berate ourselves, physically harm ourselves in the worst cases, and seek help and support. I agree that we all react to things differently based on how we grew up or our perceptions of the world or the core beliefs that we developed even as children.

I very much appreciate so many things that you’re saying and I want to pause on the part because it’s so critical. People who suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD, and complex PTSD often think they’re weak. I so appreciate that you highlighted the fact that having a mental health issue on your plate does not at all mean you are weak. It simply means you have suffered. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. If you’re mountain climbing, you fall, and you have a broken leg or a broken arm, we don’t look at that as a weakness.

I appreciate that you brought this up because I agree with you. Many people think, “I better tough it through this or not tell anybody because I will be seen as weak,” or, “I brought this on myself. I was abused because I did something wrong. I was sexually assaulted because I wore clothes that were too skimpy or was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Wait, pause, hard stop. Being sexually abused, emotionally abused, physically abused, neglected, or any of that is never your fault. It is never anybody’s fault. Readers, if that tape is running in your head, it is never anybody’s right to abuse another human being. It is not your fault and it doesn’t make you weak. I like to flip that a bit and say, “When you come forward and you want to change your life as you are doing, you’ve changed your life.” You’ve created a mission.

Nurturing Self-Love

Not everyone’s going to want to make a mission out of healing, but when you reach forward for support, that’s such courage. When I’m working with survivors of sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse, and all of those things, I have such appreciation for my clients because it takes such strength to not self-anesthetize with all sorts of behaviors that are harmful in the long term. Also, to step forward, change your life, and want to heal. What is your thought about that?

Unfortunately, a lot of us hit rock bottom before we feel the desire to pull ourselves up or want to change. In a very twisted way, those rock bottoms create opportunity. I’m not praising them because I’ve had numerous of my own but I think when we’re able to look inward and say, “I want to change. I want to be better. I know life isn’t supposed to be this way. I want more for myself.”

 

Imperfect Love | PTSD

 

That is a form of self-love, whether we recognize it or not and probably one of the hardest steps of that entire process is to say, “I want better than this. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t like this. I don’t like who I am when I’m in this position,” and to want to change that. It does take a tremendous amount of courage. It is not easy to walk into a counselor’s office for the very first time, sit down, and start opening up.

In my book, I refer to a counselor and I jokingly said to her one of these many years later that I wasted my time for a year and a half because I didn’t talk about any of the root causes of what I was going through. I talked about the anger and I talked about being irritated, feeling stressed, and having stomach pains, but I was never talking about the root of it because to dig that deep was frightening. It was terrifying.

I didn’t want to vocalize that to anyone, but in order to get better, I had to. That takes courage and I’m not commending myself. I’m commending every other person that has the ability to do that and it wasn’t a waste of time for that counselor by any means. It was letting me move at my pace in a way that was comfortable to me, which I now understand. Once we got to the heart of things, once we got to those core beliefs, that little girl who wanted a seat at the table who was still screaming in the back of my mind to say things and to speak up, I started to feel the need to do so for that child.

I would encourage anyone who has experienced any type of abuse or trauma, whether they were a child, whether they were an adult, whether it’s been recent, whether it was twenty years ago, to look inward and to see how it’s impacting relationships and to see how you feel about yourself. What negative thoughts do you have? What negative talk do you have? What steps can you take to change that? What support resources are there? If you feel that you can’t afford therapy or to meet with a counselor, what alternatives are there in your community?

There are a number of resources online now available to people as well. I believe that mental health warriors, as I call them, have a tremendous amount of faith. I don’t necessarily mean spiritual faith. I mean faith in yourself that you can do this. You can pull yourself up. It takes work. It takes energy. It’s not going to feel great every single moment. The people around you might not understand it, but you’re not doing it for them. You’re doing it for yourself. I salute anyone who takes a step forward in that journey.

When dealing with trauma, you will not feel great every single moment. The people around you might not understand it, but you are not doing it for them. You are doing it for yourself. Click To Tweet

Thank you for pausing and flushing out that piece because everyone has their own way of healing once they reach out for support. That’s the first piece, as you are saying. If you go to a group session or sessions or individual therapy, your pace, your psyche generally knows. “I can do a little bit more work today. This is a rest day. I don’t want to think about it.”

When we do that, we are helping the psyche honor that it has its own pace, that we each are individuals, and that healing, especially when it’s trauma, can take a lifetime. It’s not a one-and-done thing. We get through the bulk of it often in 1, 2, or 3 years, but it still keeps popping up. I agree with you. For our readers and the individual who wrote in that, it sounds as if you are saying, “You reaching out and saying, what can I do?” That act of courage of saying, “How can I fix this? How can I get through this,” and then surveying yourself, looking at how it’s impacting you, is step one. Let’s look at how it’s holding you back in life, in your relationships, self-love, self-care, and negative beliefs.

For the person who wrote in for this episode, we look at this individual saying, “I’m okay with hookups but anything that gets beyond that more intimate, there’s a lot of dysfunction happening and chaos. This person’s already on the track of knowing that it’s not healthy. We don’t know if there’s substance abuse or not, but reaching out for support and substance abuse is so common when there’s unaddressed PTSD and complex PTSD because people want to self-soothe.

They don’t want to hear those voices and feel those negative feelings, so they get some relief. Unfortunately, that relief lasts only as long as the substance lasts in their system. You brought up individual and group therapy. You also brought up something that our readers might not be familiar with, an intensive.

Before I ask you to describe what an intensive is, I also want to pause on group therapy because as part of getting my master’s and doctorate, I had to do group therapy, which can be intimidating. That’s why they have you do it because they want you to know what it’s like to be on the other side and do it in group therapy or going into a room where you imagine that everyone else, at least, this was my situation must be more together. Everyone else must have had an easier life. Everyone else must be doctors, lawyers, or whatever they are. They’ve got to have it more together than I do.

The truth is, and that’s why I learned that piece that we are all so alike. So much more alike than we think. The doctor next to you is the attorney or the firefighter, 1 in 3 of them has suffered some form of physical or sexual abuse. We have these preconceived notions that it must be some other type of person or whatever that is.

Intensive

For me, the power of group therapy, and I ran a women’s support group for years and it was quite a large group. The work can be done in support groups where you listen to other people and you heal through just listening alone, and then you heal through sharing your story and asking questions when the time is right for you. I absolutely am with you on the power of group therapy. Let’s talk a little bit about what you mean by an intensive.

An intensive is a concentrated effort over a span of so many days. In my case, it was six days, but they vary in length. Some are 6 days, 14 days, or any given period of time, but it is a chance to focus solely on individual mental health in an environment or in a setting that only allows you to focus on your thoughts, being present, your feelings, and your emotions. If you’re fortunate enough to be in that situation, it’s led by a licensed trauma specialist, a counselor, or a psychiatrist.

They work with you in a group setting, as you mentioned. Usually, you are with 4 to 5 other people, but sometimes the groups can be larger depending on the number of mental healthcare specialists available, but they work with you at the heart of what is causing your addiction and what is causing your substance abuse.

Also, substance abuse can be such a broad category because it can be alcohol, drugs, food, or sex. It’s anything you use to numb your feelings and emotions. They also work with you on your beliefs about yourself. I mentioned earlier that one of my core beliefs as a child was I wasn’t good enough because I was being abused. Something was wrong with me. I was dirty. On the flip side of that, I developed the unintentional, but with a child’s mind, this belief that I only existed for the pleasure and gratification of other people.

Whether that was physical gratification or that was emotional, being the people pleaser, being the go-to person to support them, saying yes to everything, never saying no, burning myself out by trying to achieve and not drop the ball, keeping spinning plates in the air. We worked through the heart of that. When they say intensive, I do not use that word lightly. Not to put fear in anyone, but it is extreme because we didn’t have access to television. We did not have our phones and we weren’t allowed to listen to even music. We had to sit with our thoughts.

Anytime that we were not in group therapy or working on our individual worksheets, we talked about different subjects, from codependency to eating disorders. We learned self-care. During that time we did some body-based healing methods as well. It wasn’t a matter of cognitive therapy or talk therapy. Some people might call it untraditional, but trauma release exercises. We did some family-of-origin sculpting where other members of the group had to pretend to be a family member, berate us, and how we responded to that.

When we say intense, yes, because it puts you in a situation where you have to be vulnerable and open up. I had a hard time even being vulnerable in those first few days and I wondered if it was going to happen for me. I even joked that I was going to fake it until I made it. Maybe if I pretend I had this big breakthrough, my moment, or my epiphany, then it will come. However, if I just hung on a little bit longer, it would and it did.

I don’t think I’ve cried or released as much energy ever as I did that day, but it was a crucial moment and pivoted the rest of my life going forward. In intensives, we couldn’t call home. We couldn’t text. We were shut off from the rest of the world to be able to just focus on ourselves and learn how to live with ourselves through the guidance of a mental health expert. It is fearful when you walk into a situation with five other people that you don’t know and they’re strangers. You become family very fast.

During intensive sessions for PTSD, you are shut off from the rest of the world to be able to focus on yourself through the guidance of a mental health expert. Click To Tweet

You mentioned the power of support groups. There is power in the group because even though our stories weren’t all exactly the same, there was something about going through that experience together that we are bound together for the rest of our lives. I am truly grateful that I had the opportunity to do that. I was also grateful for the body-based healing methods. When I say body-based, again, I mean something beyond cognitive therapy and there are different variations of that. There’s EMDR, which is Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing.

Also, there are trauma release exercises, Brain Gym, and all of these different things that you can do with your body to re-center yourself, refocus, or unlock memories. When I saw the importance of that for me, I wanted to bring that back to our community. Also, because that had been such a vital part of my healing and my recovery, I wanted to offer that in the community, but again, those things can be expensive. Those sessions for EMDR can be hundreds and hundreds of dollars for a couple of hours.

Part of the heart of creating the foundation was to allow people to have those healing experiences who might not have gotten it otherwise. I didn’t want socioeconomic status to be a barrier to receiving care and I don’t think that it ever should be. I was fortunate to do that intensive. I think knowing what I know now, I would still do it again. As terrifying as it was, I know that those six days of my life that I carved out to work on just me, transformed me for the rest of my life because I know that I can’t ever go back to the Maya who didn’t know herself or understand herself.

I couldn’t go back to essentially playing dumb about my emotions. I now understood and instead of looking at that as a negative, it was absolutely like a toolkit. It was like having a drill and a sledgehammer to start saying, “What are we going to start breaking down?” You understand it now. You understand why you’re doing these things. You understand what this behavior is so let’s get to work.

I would recommend to anyone who’s interested in looking into something like that to make sure that they’ve done the work prior to because I was in therapy for a number of years before I did an intensive. I don’t know that I would’ve been able to just open the door and walk right into that if I had never experienced at least some therapy sessions before that.

Thank you for emphasizing that because it’s much like someone who goes to any intensive, whether you’re a writer and you’re going to a writing intensive or a ballet dancer and you’re going to a ballet intensive. When you’re doing a mental health intensive, you do want some awareness and some strength under your belt because, as you are saying, the intensives, I’ve done one in my life and it wasn’t of the same ilk as yours.

When you are in that sacred container of self-work 24/7 with other people with no distractions and you are accessing parts of the body, mind, and spirit that you may have walled off for years, there is a lot that comes up. You do want some definite skills under your belt before you go into that realm. When we look at our reader’s question, you’re giving great tips and tools about individual therapy, group therapy, and intensives. Also, looking into what is available online and within your community, there are many times in a community, whether through a nonprofit, a hospital, or a clinic where we can find free or low-cost resources, which is one of the beauties of group support.

Many group services are very low cost and we want to be able to open that door for ourselves because, as you say, the trauma is healed only through the body, mind, and spirit connection because trauma is held in the body. As an EMDR practitioner, I know that we can also get somewhat of a dose of that bilateral stimulation through walking right, left, right, left, right, which is what we’re doing in EMDR with special tools and special scripts. We want the readers to know that don’t let the jargon scare you, leave the jargon to the professionals. The key piece is that you deserve healing. You are not broken.

You did not cause the trauma that came your way. No matter how much you’ve been gaslit to believe that you did cause it, that you deserved the abuse, or whatever it was. No. The answer there is a hard no. Any way that you start that feels comfortable to you, that first step forward, if you persevere, if you continue with supportive people like you, Maya. Also, your 1 In 3 Foundation and all of the work you do, and being a model of someone who has gone through that fire to heal, to come out the other side, to give back, and to be a light for other people, I think it’s so beautiful. Thank you for that.

One more piece because you brought up so many points that I want to touch on them all. When someone has suffered from abuse and either has PTSD complex or PTSD, we don’t want to underestimate that hypervigilance that lives within being the body, mind, and spirit 24/7 where you are just listening. You’re walking on eggshells and you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. Your radar is up all the time.

Knowing Your Limit

As you said, those heightened adrenaline and cortisol levels are not good for the body. It does not allow the immune system to function properly. With too much adrenaline and cortisol constantly coursing through your body and not having an opportunity to let down to feel safe, of course, you’re going to be more susceptible to illnesses of all sorts. Thank you for bringing that up as well. It’s such an important piece. When we do the work to move forward and to get into situations where we can learn to live with less of that stress response, that fight or flight response constantly living within us, it’s a new life ahead, isn’t it?

It truly is. I think one of the things that I’ve taken away from all of my experiences is knowing when I’m at my limit and when my body is telling me enough. I laugh because I have jokingly said before. It’s almost like my body’s in a temper tantrum where it’s like, “No. I’ll get on the computer or I need to go across town or drive 30 minutes this way to do this.” I feel this sag of energy and your body is going, “No. You have done what you can physically do now.” I used to ignore that and push past it and then that would only lead to burnout, which is another symptom of all of those things of being in a heightened state of hypervigilance all the time.

However, I have learned to listen to the cues that my body is giving me. If I get a headache, have an upset stomach, do not get a good night’s sleep, or have a lot of restlessness, I can turn internally now and start self-assessing and asking, “What’s going on? What has me feeling this way?” Sometimes, it’s a very natural thing. There are a million things going on with the career or with the child. Those are natural responses but it’s also a sign sometimes to take a step back.

One thing I do want to say to encourage the readers as well is I can talk about these things, my experiences going to an intensive, and use the jargon in these terms, but that does not, by any means, mean that I do not still struggle. It is a lifelong journey. There are periods when things are at ease. There are periods where I have weekly therapy appointments and then I can taper them off once I feel like I’m leveling out.

I have also had to learn how to incorporate meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga because it was a matter of kicking my own tail. I needed that adrenaline rush of working out and doing these superhero workouts that were pushing my body to the limit. Also, I’ve had to learn to be okay with going for a walk and taking in the sights and the sounds. Also, stretching and being okay with that is movement and not trying to tear myself down.

I want to say that you can do the work, feel good, and then you might have to do the work again. That does not make you a failure. It just means you’re a human being and that life comes at all of us and that we all face different times of struggles, transitions, relationships, moves, and new jobs. They can exacerbate those symptoms that are there. It’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to feel that you might have to go back to some of those support resources. You didn’t fail. You’re living your life.

 

 

Thank you for highlighting that. As a psychologist, repeating what you are saying, “It’s never a failure to go back.” Just like anything in life, we need touchup courses in sports, in school, and in everything. Why would we not think that something that’s been hardwired into the psyche is so painful, like childhood abuse and adult abuse? All of those things take time. Also, the journey is ongoing. Before we wrap up, I just want to give a nod to the element of perfectionism that you spoke about because there is that sense sometimes with perfectionism, as you were saying.

Closing Words

We strive for perfectionism for so many reasons. Some of it may have abuse underneath it and I know in my case, my perfectionism came from and I see this with many people who have suffered from trauma. “If I can only get this right and make this perfect, my world will be okay.” “If I can only do this and check off all of those boxes, I’ll be safe.” Nobody will yell at me. I will be loved. I want to be able to pause and look sometimes if we are perfectionists or recovering perfectionists. What are the roots of that? The truth is that with perfectionism, no matter how right we get it, it won’t heal the trauma. It may even make it worse. Thank you, Maya. Where can our readers find you?

I am on social media. On Instagram, I am @GoodAsGolden. I am also on Facebook and under MGBWrites. My website is GoodAsGolden.com. Also, my memoir, The Return Trip, released in November of 2023, is available amongst any of the major booksellers. I truly appreciate this conversation and the opportunity to come on. Thank you for allowing me to share and visit.

I am so grateful for your beautiful energy, intelligence, compassion, and all of the wisdom you’ve shared. Are there any other last-minute bits that we want to look at or how did we wrap it up for you?

If you’re interested in learning more about the 1 In 3 Foundation, we do have some programs online. The website for the organization is 1In3Foundation.org. We have some monthly online support group meetings for anyone that might be interested or you can find our contact information. If you’re not sure of where there might be an organization like ours in your community, we can help direct you to one.

What a blessing you are. Thank you, Maya. Thank you for leaving a trail of goodness in your wake. I am so grateful and appreciative. Thank you, readers, for sharing your time with us. It’s a joy.

 

Important Links

 

About Maya Golden Bethany

Imperfect Love | PTSD
Callynth Photography

Maya Golden is an Associated Press winning and Emmy-nominated freelance journalist in Tyler, Texas where her foundation, 1 in 3 Foundation, serves survivors of sexual trauma with little to no income in East Texas. Her memoir, The Return Trip, was released in November 2023 from Rising Action Publishing Co. Her first novel, a political thriller, The Senator, will release in April 2025, also through Rising Action Publishing Co. For Newsweek, she has written about women in sports journalism. For Salon, she’s written about fandoms and healing. For Insider, she’s written about addiction, and for Black Girl Nerds, she’s written about Complex PTSD, dissociative disorders, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maya recently received the Parent Writer Fellowship from the Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing. She is a graduate of Texas A&M University.

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