I owe my life to psychedelics and to the writers who learned from them and wrote about them. The most genuine people I have met are psychonauts. In our age, in this culture, I think the psychologically courageous seek the psychedelic experience. This post is inspired by them, and it’s for them. Every psychonautic explorer should know about Post-Traumatic Growth.
This blog started after a series of traumatic psychedelic experiences. The road from flirting with mental illness to the verbing thing I am now, (I went from near nihilism to now being the most fulfilled I’ve ever been), was long and winding. But the journey gave me a purpose, and a part of that purpose is to share information I find that will help fellow psychonautics. This post is a materialization of that.
The point of this post is to weave the scientific data on Post-Traumatic Growth with the psychonautic’s adventuring into psychedelia, and how this is a kind of self-induced initiation ritual the courageous and meaning-seeking youth of our culture perform on themselves. I’m going to outline the scientific approach of turning trauma into growth rather than PTSD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
I just finished Martin Seligman’s latest book, Flourish. He covered many interesting topics, and there will be many blog posts that arise from the book, but the most important nugget I needed to share first was the research on Posttraumatic Growth. Seligman is the leading expert on Positive Psychology and was asked to help the United States Military prevent and heal those affected by PTSD. As part of his research, he conducted a study at West Point;
“At West Point, we found that more than 90 percent of cadets had heard of Post-traumatic stress disorder, which in reality is relatively uncommon, but less than 10 percent had heard of post-traumatic growth, which is not uncommon. This is medical illiteracy that matters. If all a soldier knows about is PTSD, and not about reliance and growth, it creates a self-fulfilling downward spiral. Your buddy was killed yesterday in Afghanistan. Today you burst into tears, and you think, I’m falling apart: I’ve got PTSD; my life is ruined. These thoughts increase the symptoms of anxiety and depression — indeed, PTSD is a particularly nasty combination of anxiety and depression — which in turn increases the intensity of the symptoms. Merely knowing that bursting into tears is not a symptom of PTSD but a symptom of normal grief and mourning, usually followed by resilience, helps to put the brakes on the downward spiral.”
Trauma is defined as;
“an event that profoundly changes an individual’s fundamental schemas, beliefs, and goals, as well as the ability to manage emotional distress, and it profoundly affects the individual’s life narrative.” (1)
A strong and jarring psychedelic experience is traumatic. It can shatter our sense of self, our trust in our own mind (which is one of the most disturbing sensations we can feel), and metaphysically paralyze us. The misinformation around the psychedelic experience and specifically how it can go wrong is akin to the warring soldier who knows only of PTSD. It is a self-fulfilling spiral.
But if we learn about how to turn trauma into growth, we will be able to not only prevent our own mental misery, but we will be able to help our adventuring brothers and sisters.
Post-Traumatic Growth Syndrome is defined as:
“Post-traumatic growth (PTG) or benefit finding refers to positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges in order to rise to a higher level of functioning.”
Dr. Tedeschi has identified 5 elements to Post-Traumatic Growth, and I’ll elaborate on each one and give a personal example.
- Understand the response to trauma
- Practice anxiety reduction
- Constructive Self-Disclosure
- Create Trauma Narrative
- Articulate the Life Principles and Beliefs that are more robust to Trauma
It is important to draw attention to the point here; trauma will find us all. However, the way we explain the trauma to ourselves is the defining feature of how trauma will affect us. Use these five steps to guide your harrowing adversity towards growth. You have autonomy. You are responsible.
Understanding the Response to Trauma
It is a natural response to trauma to have your sense of self shattered, for your beliefs about the world and about other people destroyed. Depression, vulnerability, and even hopelessness are normal responses. This is not a reflection of a weak character or a deficient mind. It is the prerequisite for growth. Death creates room for life. The forest fire creates the soil for a new forest, and old beliefs of reality and your self die to give way to a stronger, broader, and wiser understanding.
The first step is to understand what a normal response to trauma is, and to not allow the symptoms to seduce you into catastrophizing.
PE (Personal Example): When I had my traumatic psychedelic experience, I thought I was dying (this sounds trite to the seasoned trip report reader, but if you have been there yourself, you know words won’t do justice). I started thinking about all the life I hadn’t lived yet and I mourned. I thought about the sex I hadn’t had, the work I hadn’t manifested, and the change I hadn’t made in the world. I truly thought I was going to die.
Anxiety Reduction Techniques
Anxiety is a byproduct of our powerfully predictive minds. It is the fear of a potential; a fear of something that has yet to happen. One of the faults in our wiring is that when we worry about a potential danger, we are priming our minds to seek and think about that danger. Two great scientifically supported techniques to reduce anxiety are the ABCDE Method I explain here, and the Surfing-The-Urge Technique I explain here.
PE: I didn’t know these techniques back then, but I can clearly see how simple it would have been to implement the ABCDE Method, or the Surf-The-Urge technique. I laugh with hindsight. Please, learn these techniques.
This is where I started getting really excited as I read. This is another example of our lives being stories we are telling ourselves. The science is clear, when we share our trauma with other people, when compared to those who don’t share their trauma, we feel measurably and significantly better.
This is why the integration process is so important in successful psychedelic experiences. Share your story, even the most shameful or embarrassing or crazy-sounding; share it.
PE: Thankfully, I had this blog and friends. I wrote my story, and I told it to any of my friends who were interested. Soon it became a story I told that ended with “I don’t consider it a bad trip.” If I had kept this story bottled up, without seeing the confused faces of friends as I tried explaining my thought process, I might to this day genuinely think I harbored a tumor in my brain. Speaking hidden thoughts often exposes the silly logic we prop our fears on.
Create Trauma Narrative
The very act of telling your story will begin to place it in a narrative. That is how we talk to each other. Science can show us what the most effective kind of narratives are, which are the ones that help guide the trauma towards growth.
The most important part of the narrative is to give the trauma meaning. Why did this happen? This trauma changed the course of your life. This means it took away a possible future, but it gave you a new one. And all our trauma are gifts of perspectives that will help us empathize with others who will experience what it is we went through. Find the why in your trauma. Find the gifts.
PE: Obviously I didn’t die. All those things I mourned while I thought I was dying, those now became clear goals. I knew what I wanted to do with my life. There is nothing quite like near-death to sharpen the resolution on your life and goals. I think this is the essence and goal of a successful initiation ritual.
Articulate New Life Principles and Beliefs
You are the narrator of your story. Take responsibility for the story you are telling yourself. Articulate to yourself the new and stronger life principles and beliefs your trauma has given you.
PE: My take away was that life is a story we tell ourselves. The story I choose to tell myself is that I was born to help people heal themselves. And, (due to other psychedelic explorations), I have a personal connection with a higher power and it guides and helps me through life. My trauma has guided me towards a purpose driven life.
Post traumatic growth is much more common than PTSD. Psychedelic Experiences can be traumatic, which can lead to PTG or PTSD. There is a scientifically-supported method for turning trauma into growth. Use this method on yourself and your friends when they have challenging psychedelic experiences. The psychedelic experience is an initiation ritual, journey wisely.
Namasteezy and thanks for reading.