PTSD is a psychological term for “post-traumatic stress disorder.” I consider PTSD to be the emotions we feel after we have walked through hell and come out the other side.
In order to get through trauma, it’s natural to deny our emotions when we’re in the middle of a traumatic experience: we try to push them out of our consciousness. Why? Because if we let ourselves feel everything inside us in dangerous times, we’d probably be overwhelmed by anger, grief, fear, numbness, despair, rage or hopelessness. So — sensibly — we repress these intense feelings just to get through the bad times.
But, when the bad times end, what happens then?
The post-trauma world, that’s what.
2020 has truly been a year of trauma: COVID, the awful, prolonged November election (that Trump has attempted to drag on-and-on, thus increasing the trauma), police-protester violence, economic hardship, job loss…you get the drift.
Is it over? And, if so, what comes next?
As life begins to return to the “new” normal, how do we integrate? How do we process/work with all the emotions that we were denying just to get through 2020?
Let’s start with feeling safe again: Did you feel safe a year ago? Do you feel safe now? Will you feel safer once Biden is president and COVID is over?
Once we feel safe, we can grieve what we lost, all the joy that was taken away — all the vacations, parties, family gatherings, sexual encounters, movie dates, concerts and plays, restaurant dinners and drinks with friends (and hugs) that we had to do without for the past year.
Feeling safe is an inside job. The Biden/Harris administration and COVID vaccines aren’t going to make anyone feel safe. If anything, 2020 has shown us that we cannot look outside ourselves for our safety and well-being. In a world of chaos, safety has to come from within.
How do we help ourselves feel safe? Here are some ways to start:
Self-care: Do we do things for ourselves that make us feel comfortable, relaxed and content? Do we nurture ourselves, or do we push ourselves so hard that we can never enjoy anything? Self-care is about taking good care of yourself. How would you rate your self-care?
Surrounding ourselves with people who love and respect us: Many of us tolerate people in our lives who treat us badly. They may even lie to us or purposely deceive us. Why do we keep people like this around? Maybe we don’t think we deserve better. If so, why?
Self-talk: When you mess up, what do you say to yourself? Are you mean and intolerant, or forgiving and flexible? When you punish a child for a mistake, it makes them afraid to try new things. When you encourage a child to keep going after making a mistake, they learn that mistakes are part of life and not a big deal. This is true for us adults too.
Be willing to forgive yourself and others: When you harbor a grudge against someone, it doesn’t hurt them, it hurts you. They may be off having a good time and you’re still sitting in a pool of hatred and revenge. Be willing to forgive: give yourself that freedom and safety.
Living in the present: So many of us worry incessantly about the past or future. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help. The past is over and only a (distorted) memory, and the future is mere conjecture. As the late Queer elder Ram Dass said: “Be. Here. Now.” Pay attention to this moment. If you’re easily bored or often frightened, I bet you’re not living in the present.
Be open to trying new things: Toward that goal, I invite you to join me (and 20 other gay men) in my Jan. 16 workshop: “Power, Love & Presence: The Joys of Getting Older.” This Zoom workshop will be based on my upcoming book, “The Gay Man’s Guide to Aging Well”.
The workshop will be an interactive experience: you’ll be talking with different men individually (through the use of breakout rooms) as well as discussing topics with the entire group of men.
The workshop is limited to a maximum of 20 men, costs $25 and will run for two hours with a 15-minute break. Interested? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.