Friday 31 January 2020

Reclaiming Recovery Through Kindness

Alyssa-Caroline shares her experience with using acts of kindness as a coping mechanism for recovering from trauma and battling intrusive thoughts
- Alyssa-Caroline Burnette

To say that battling intrusive thoughts is tough is kind of like saying that getting run over by a bus is a little inconvenient. Because as much as I’d like to power through my recovery and be productive and focused all day every day, that’s a bit difficult when it’s like my brain is programmed to receive keyword alerts for anything remotely related to my trauma. All it takes is one thought, one trigger word, one repressed memory clawing its way up from the grave and my day can spiral through a twisted vortex of everything I try so hard to fight. And at this point, quite frankly, I’m sick of it. Although every day reminds me that recovery isn’t linear and that the road to getting better is longer than I ever thought it would be, I’ve also discovered that I’m not content to wait and hope recovery will overtake me. While I know that some things will definitely take a lot of time and support to fully heal, at the moment, I'm desperately seeking actionable ways I can promote my own recovery. And for right now, I think the most vital step is deprogramming my brain from its survival mode setting.

So, instead of surrendering to my intrusive thoughts, allowing them to drag me back without a fight, I’m learning to take an active role in reclaiming my recovery by training my thoughts in a new direction. And because I’ve learned that repressing them is unhealthy (and futile), I’m no longer attempting to bury my triggers or pretend they don’t exist. Instead, I’m learning to allow them to come and to actively combat them by prioritising positivity. So, over the past few days, whenever my intrusive thoughts have popped up, I’ve practised fighting them through acts of kindness to others. Triggered? Post a nice message on someone’s Instagram feed. Starting to spiral? Read a new blogger’s work and write them a genuine compliment. Feel a panic attack coming on? Message someone to tell them what you appreciate about them.

And so far, it’s honestly working better than any coping mechanism I’ve tried yet! Because instead of engaging in unhealthy practices that centre on repressing or succumbing to my pain, this invites me to make an active effort at replacing my negative thoughts with something wholesome. And the best part is that complimenting others encourages me to remove elements of narcissism and self-pity from my recovery. Instead of dwelling only on my stress, my trauma, and how I’m affected, looking for the good in others forces me to get out of my own head and ask how I can encourage someone else. And because living in survival mode often motivated me to isolate myself, I’ve discovered that not only have I missed connecting with others, I like myself a lot better when I’m concentrating on kindness instead of my trauma.

So, while I recognise that recovery is not a linear process and everyone’s mental health journey looks different, my hope is that sharing my new favourite coping mechanism can improve someone else’s battle too. And although I’m not suggesting that the simple, 'think happy thoughts!' or 'just don’t be sad!' platitudes which are often tossed out are accurate in any way, I do think we owe it to ourselves to take an active role in our own recovery. If we can fight intrusive thoughts and triggers with just a little bit of positive effort or some small attempt at spreading kindness, we can make the world a softer and more positive place for ourselves and everyone else. And the beauty of battling our negativity with kindness is that we can never know how much our encouragement might mean to someone else. For all we know, on the days we choose to fight our struggles with encouraging someone else, we might have offered the lifeline that person needed that day. And wouldn’t it be beautiful if it turned out that our journey to recovery helped someone else too?

I’m Alyssa-Caroline and I’m the Student Minds sub-editor from the University of Southampton. I’ve just completed an MA in Victorian Literature and Gender Studies and I'm passionate about using my voice and experience with trauma to advocate for better mental health resources for students. 

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