Personal PTSD Story and Healing Journey


As PTSD Awareness Month continues, please be sure to check in with yourself and those around you. Many people are in pain but hide it, pretend it is not there, or do not know what to do to treat it. Chronic pain (physically, emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually) leads to self-medicating, self-destruction, self-harm, potential violence, and even suicide. There is no one-size fits all solution for any person, but I do recommend artwork and art therapy as something others should try.

As someone who has experienced my fair share of trauma, pain, loss, neglect, injuries, and failures, it is easy to think there is no hope and nowhere to go. I do not want anyone to feel that way, and if they do, not for long. My journey has been far from perfect, but the point is that I keep going. I want others to see how far you can come and that it is possible to get better and be better, no matter how long it takes.

I started with neglect, prematurity, severe burns and trauma, violence, no father, and the loss of my mother at a young age. I even did not finish school, but now have an MBA. Most of my failures stem from PAIN and NEGLECT. I did not actually want to succeed and I was constantly distracted by thoughts, feelings, and other parts of my being that were literally unbearable.

The good news is that there is hope, but the bad news is the healing process will not be easy. If anyone is telling you that, they are likely liars and selling you a dream.

I used to think being macho, working out constantly, being a health and promotion coordinator, being an athlete, joining the military, being a protector, achieving Sailor of the Year, obsessing over being the best, and many other actions would heal me. None of these things worked, but are not necessarily "bad". They all certainly make you look good on the outside though and those who do not know the half.

“Traumatic memories typically exist in our minds and bodies in a state-specific form, meaning they hold the emotional, visual, physiological, and sensory experiences that were felt at the time of the event,” says Erica Curtis, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist. “They’re essentially undigested memories.”

Recovering from PTSD means working through these undigested memories until they no longer cause symptoms. Common treatments for PTSD include talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Prolonged Exposure Therapy, and EMDR. These therapy models aim to desensitize survivors by talking and expressing feelings about the traumatic event.

PTSD recovery also involves reclaiming the safety of your body. Many who live with PTSD find themselves disconnected or dissociated from their bodies. This is often the result of having felt threatened and physically unsafe during traumatic events. Learning to have a relationship with the body, however, is critical for recovering from PTSD.

“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies,” writes Bessel van der Kolk, MD, in “The Body Keeps the Score.” “In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.”

Read more for some ideas on art therapy and how that can assist you on your healing journey.

Art therapy excels for bodywork because clients manipulate artwork outside themselves. By externalizing difficult pieces of their trauma stories, clients begin to safely access their physical experiences and relearn that their bodies are safe places.

“Art expression is a powerful way to safely contain and create separation from the terrifying experience of trauma,” writes board-certified art therapist Gretchen Miller for the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children. “Art safely gives voice to and makes a survivor’s experience of emotions, thoughts, and memories visible when words are insufficient.”

Art Therapist Directory: