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Can Changing Location Help Spur PTSD Recovery?

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?

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