Mental Health

Can Changing Location Help Spur PTSD Recovery?

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In her book TRAUMA AND RECOVERY, Judith Herman writes, ‘Recovery unfolds in three stages. The central task of the first stage is the establishment of safety.’

At the time I left NYC I hadn’t read Herman’s book. I only knew that in my hometown I didn’t feel safe. I believed if I stayed in the city I would continue to plummet down the blackhole of my mind and be lost forever. Just because I had always wanted to live at the beach – and because the idea of the beach seemed so peaceful and serene, so opposite the PTSD state in which I lived – I up and decided to move to Florida.

What started out as a whim became the crux of my recovery.

Once I landed in Florida (and yes, I was lucky because I convinced my whole family to come with me) everything began to change. Away from the bustle of the city, stripped of my identity in a place in which I experienced such pain, at once in Florida I felt a shift, as if it were even more than possible for me to feel free.

With everything new and full of the unknown, I saw myself, too, as new and unknown — a woman in a new place with things to discover. My mind played a little trick on me: I thought that if you relocate you can leave your trauma behind. (Boy, was that wrong!)

I’m glad I made the mistake of believing I could run from my past. By moving and starting over, I thought my whole life would begin afresh and everything that had been haunting me would magically disappear. For a little while it did. I collapsed in the calmness of the beach town. I slept – really slept, often and deeply - for the first time in over twenty years. I stopped being frightened of myself. I stopped anticipating the next trauma. My emotions were more under control. I felt relieved and at peace. I spent a lot of time on the beach, bathing in the soothing elements of the environment and imaging myself as a new person.

It took about two months for the newness to wear off and my PTSD symptoms to kick back in full-time. But here’s the gift: Those first two months in Florida gave me a glimpse of how life could be. They inspired me to figure out what was wrong and how to heal so that I could live in that state of present-moment connection and peace all the time.

What would it take for you to feel inspired to believe you can actually, really definitely, achieve a different way of life?