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Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year’s Resolutions by Patience Mason
© Patience H. C. Mason  1999 
Feel free to copy and distribute as long as you keep the copyright notice. 
From The Post-Traumatic Gazette No. 28
This won’t arrive before the New Year.
Practice not being perfect, & do it anyhow! Let me know how it works!
Every New Year, I used to swear I was going to lose weight, get my house perfectly clean (and keep it that way), and be unfailingly kind to Bob and Jack. Every year by January 2nd, I had failed at one or another of these, so I would give up on them all. “ What’s the use?” I used to tell myself. “I can’t do anything right, and I can’t change.”
I think a lot of people have similar experiences with trying to change.
Today, I do my New Year’s resolutions differently. The Tuesday before New Years, at our ACOA group, the one I’ve been going to for 14 years, we make a list of things we’d like to leave in the old year. Mine includes old ineffective behaviors that still sometimes crop up, worries, habits, old reactions that I’m recycling. Going around the circle, we read our lists to each other, crumble them up and throw them into a central wastebasket.
After that, we write a list of things we would like to take into the New Year with us and read them to each other. We keep that list.
My list always includes having all my feelings back, program friends, the chance to work at what I love (writing about PTSD and recovery), the 12-Steps, the 12-Step programs I belong to, the tools of the program (writing, literature, meetings, telephone, service, anonymity, etc), my growth in the qualities of honesty, gratitude, self-acceptance, compassion, and acceptance of others.
Over the years, my lists of what I want to leave behind in the old year have evolved from long detailed descriptions of behaviors that were making me (and Bob) miserable to their present form. As I worked on myself, applying the steps and principles and tools of the program to every problem, a lot of that old stuff has just faded away.
I believe this is because rather than resolving to eradicate old behaviors, as I used to, I have been focused on learning new ways of looking at life and new skills for dealing with life.
My ideas about change always involved perfection before. Now they are focused on “progress, not perfection.” It makes a big difference.
Everyone said that I could just erase some part of myself I didn’t like if I tried hard enough. I was full of shame because I didn’t have the stick-to-itiveness to succeed. Today I know that was erroneous information. Suppressing stuff makes it stronger. Bringing behaviors to light and seeing what they have done for me in the past helps me to look at what they may be doing to me today. Then I can change. I expect change to be slow. I used to think it would be instant.
If you have been making New Year’s resolutions about behaviors you want to change and have failed repeatedly, here are some suggestions:
1. Make a list
of things you would like to leave behind. Although you might find your self listing “house, bills, spouse,” I think it is more effective to list your own qualities that may contribute to problems in these areas. Like “my inability to say what I want or need to my spouse,” or “my compulsive spending which makes it hard to pay my bills.” I started out with things like “Telling Bob how to drive places.” Now I might write, “Still sometimes thinking I know what is best for people.”
2.For each item
think about what value it may have had for you in the past. Defensiveness (thinking everyone is against you, or hearing disagreement as criticism instead of as another way of looking at things—not a threat) is often based on experiences of trauma. You needed to defend yourself.
Not being able to say what you want or need can be based in childhood experiences of being punished for having wants and needs or on the effects of basic training.
Being a spendthrift may be based in having to grab anything good that came along because it might be taken away.
Making friends too fast, trusting people before you know them can be based in having to trust abusers who have power over you. To survive, you have to live in denial of the abuse for as long as you are in their power. This is as true for veterans as for people who suffered child abuse. (“The best trained [there is no training for combat], best equipped [M-16’s that wouldn’t fire] military force ever,”) Add to this the need for community which we all have and people can make some very choices that look dumb. Numb not dumb is a better way to look at it. If we didn’t get community at home, we look for it elsewhere, but we don’t know how to be friends and we’ve been trained to ignore our own safety. On top of that, numbness makes it difficult for a traumatized person to pick up on warning signs that other people see. And finally, when normal people see a wall, they tend to respect it. Abusive people want to take it down because they like power, so they pursue people who have put up walls to protect themselves. The masquerades of great romance or perfect vet buddy often end with retraumatization.
3. Think about
the drawbacks of the behavior for you today. What is it doing to you? For example, defensiveness may be preventing you from getting the support you need. Gullibility may be getting you in trouble with abusive people. Not saying what you want may lead to relationship problems.
4. Let go of the
list of items in some symbolic way. You could share it with a group and then throw it away like I do. You could share it with a therapist or spiritual advisor or sponsor and then burn it. You could share it with nature or God and then burn it.
When I do my daily devotions, I always do a short version of this. I say my version of the 7th step prayer: “Harmony of the Universe, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character that stands in the way of my usefulness to harmony and to my fellow beings. Grant me strength as I go forth in harmony. May I walk in harmony always.” then I mention the behaviors or characteristics that seem to be causing me the most trouble that day and ask for them to be removed. It works.
5. Think about
the resources that are available to you today that you didn’t have when you were being traumatized. For instance, you are probably older, no longer a powerless child, or even a Private E-1. You may have more education, more experience, more spiritual resources, been in therapy or a 12-step group and have more recovery resources. You may be able to write, may have a list of feeling words, a list of slogans (this too shall pass, one day at a time, etc.), books that validate your problems and suggest solutions, may have developed interests that lift you out of depression...
6. List qualities and resources
you would like to bring into the New Year with you. Include things you like about yourself and any new skills you have learned that have made life more liveable. List the changes you have made that have improved you life and the qualities you are developing that make you more like the person you would like to be.
Sharing this with someone may make it more concrete for you.
7. Accept that it
takes time to change. You will quite naturally find yourself repeating and recycling some of the things you would like to be rid of. When you do, tell yourself it takes time to change. If it causes you pain, let the pain help you re-commit yourself to trying out new actions and reactions which will replace the old ones. Substitution is different than erasure, both more gradual and more likely to happen!
If you slip, be kind to yourself. Say “Whoops! that was a free sample of what I am trying to get away from. No charge and sorry about that!” Laugh!
Tell yourself that trying and failing is better than not trying at all. Human beings are never perfect. Progress not perfection.
8.Look at your
list and acknowledge how far you have come. Even if it is only three inches and you have miles to go, remember that it is extra hard for trauma survivors to change. Whatever changes you have made, no matter how tiny, are the beginning of a path to healing which only you can create. With the help of other survivors and caring professionals, you can find recovery that works for you.
9. Remember
there is a lot of help on the way if you are open to it. Sometimes it is words said at a meeting or by a therapist or friend. Sometimes it is the sunlight on a leaf or the cheerful call of a chickadee. Sometimes it is discovering a feeling of peace in exercise or meditation. Sometimes it is your own inner voice saying, “Yes, it hurts, but I deserve to recover. Take a break, yes. Have compassion for myself, yes. But never give up!” Small things can make a tremendous difference in your life. What works for someone else may not work for you, but then again it might!
10. Keep the list
to remind you of your personal path to recovery.
None of us can do this perfectly. We don’t have to do it the way someone else would find convenient or says is the right way.
We do have to find our own path, using the principles we aspire to, to become the people we were meant to be.
When you are having a bad day, take your list out and look at it.
Have a good year!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

More Grace

I also got a call a few months ago from a guy who had read my Suggested 12 Step Format for Veterans Family and Friends and thought it was brilliant. He called me a few days ago and the first meeting of Combat Vets Anonymous will be January 8th in Pennsylvania. I am sooo happy about that.
Contact is
The link to the format is
You can download it and use it if it seems helpful.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I got an email the other day which was just the subject line: 
Subject: Thank you so much for your blog and PDF files. That was the whole message.
So I wrote back, "You're welcome." 

I got this reply, which I post with permission:
"I have PTSD and this is my first major holiday in 45 years that I have determined to Not go through it like I normally do, with denial and hiding in my basement....I was having a real hard time today and typed into Google, "Pain and PTSD and Holidays" and you were the first on the list of links. I spent an hour with your Files and Blog and then was able to continue my therapy with a renewed sense of purpose and energy....The PDF files are wonderful and I am able to now access them without having to be on line....
Again, Thank you so much, M"
Needless to say, this made my day. The link is below.
PTSD and Holidays is in Gazette #16. It is also the second essay down on the page
 It really means a lot to me to  that my stuff is helpful enough for someone to actually write and tell me so. When the first version of this essay came out, one VA therapist wrote me that her WWII combat vets had had their first good Christmas since the war! Hope my readers find it helpful too.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I am happy to hear that Anne Freund's wonderful book, Taming the Fire Within, is now available for free downloading at
This book has the right attitude about PTSD as a normal reaction to abnormal situations. It also clearly explains symptoms and common reactions to war experiences in plain old everyday English instead of the psychological jargon which usually makes people with PTSD feel like there is something wrong with them.
I hope most of you know, I think PTSD proves there is something right with you. Number one, it is proof of survival. Dead people don't get PTSD. Number two, it proves you give a shit. If you're numb, that proves it more, because you would not have to get numb to survive if you didn't give a shit.