Dr. Randall Bell, PhD, author of Post-Traumatic Thriving - The Art, Science & Stories of Resilience, has circumnavigated the globe many times, arriving when many are trying to flee. He uses his sociologist and economics background to rebuild damaged communities and restore lives. The media dubbed him the "Master of Disaster." He's not particularly fond of this term however, he chose to accept it because it allows him to bring about the change he wants to foster.
"I’ve never been interested in seeing bullet holes or blood. I am interested in solutions and getting people back on their feet. While I am not a big fan of the nickname, I figured that if this could help bring awareness to recovery and healing, then I would go with it." (page 297)
Through his work, he has visited some of the darkest and dirtiest of places, meeting people who were often at the lowest point in their lives; been interviewed by television, radio and magazine journalists; met with high-ranking heads of government; and stepped into a world that is largely inaccessible to Joe and Josephine Public.
In addition to Post-Traumatic Thriving - The Art, Science & Stories of Resilience, he wrote MeWeDoBe and founded Core IQ, a non-profit that provides free life-skills training.
Post-Traumatic Thriving is a user-friendly look at what trauma is and how people embark on the journey to recovery - moving from the survive to thrive stage.
This book is a good primer for anyone who recognizes that they or a loved one has unresolved trauma. It is also a good addition to your workplace library.
Post-Traumatic Thriving could potentially help teens navigate the tumultuous journey into adulthood. Forewarned is forearmed.
Organization of the Book
The reader is escorted through the Dive, Survive and Thrive sections, each containing five chapters. The Appendices include a number of exercises, open-ended questions and suggestions that help you step on the path towards the Thrive Stage. Since there's no time like the present to start, jump right in and put one of the suggestions immediately into practice.
Post-Traumatic Thriving is peppered with a number of graphics that help you easily grasp the clearly-explained concepts.
Here is an example:
- Watch the language you use. There's a difference between saying, "I am depressed" and "I feel depressed." The former becomes your identity. It's much easier to let go of a feeling than an identity.
- On page 131, you are encouraged to face emotions, then learn to modulate them by using a variety of techniques and strategies. Throughout the book, you are reminded that a trusted therapist can help you release the trauma. I believe that some people are able to work through traumas on their own or with the help of a trusted friend or other person with whom they have a rapport. As with many things in life, it depends on the circumstances, the situation and the individuals involved.
- A great deal of trauma stems from adverse childhood experiences (ACE). They "remain in our memories somewhat as shrapnel within our own mental war zone." (page 180)
- Look to something greater than oneself. Prayer and meditation can calm anxiety, but does not speak to everyone. "Religion is great for many, but has its limits." (page 230) Perhaps your spiritual practice occurs in the cathedral of nature. For others it's music. Find what moves you; what feels bigger than yourself.
- Our vibe attracts our tribe. I grew up with a father who was an alcoholic. Although my mom didn't put it quite so eloquently, she used to say that all those alcoholics seemed to find each other.
- "The Yabbits" - those people who say, "Yeah, but...," regardless of the situation or circumstances. Negative people have a problem for every solution. When it comes to problem-solving, there's a time to chunk up and a time to chunk down. Wisdom is knowing the difference. For example, you definitely want an engineer to discover the problems before you board a plane or cross a bridge, but the same laser focus isn't necessary when she sweeps the floor. There are times when that kind of scrutiny is stifling; it can squash the creative juices. (Scroll down on What Makes Olga Run for my take on "Yabbits." Incidentally, a lot of Olga's strategies for living well are mirrored in this book.)
The Stress Connection
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) appears numerous times on this blog. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) are the two branches of the ANS. It is a prehistoric bit of physiology that we have brought with us into present time, much like the sabre-toothed tiger the cave men dragged home for dinner.
Dr. Bell plainly explains the role the ANS has in the stress of trauma.
A Toolbox Full of Strategies
In this case, it's a book full of information, but also strategies to help you move forward in your life. I regularly open my toolbox and employ a number of the strategies to maintain my equilibrium. A number of them are recommended in this book.
What I encourage my clients to do is to develop awareness. If we don't know what we're doing and how we're feeling, we can't take steps to make changes, especially if, on some level, we're desperate for those changes.
"Feelings reveal themselves through sensations and reactions in our bodies. For example, anxiety is manifested by rapid breathing, a racing heart, or habitually clenching our jaw. We get fatigued, headaches, muscle tension, upset stomachs. These physiological indicators are just symptoms of underlying and unresolved feelings. If left unaddressed, we continue to physically, emotionally, and spiritually spiral downward." (page 201)
He encourages a Daily Quiet Time (DQT). Use this time to get grounded; to meditate, pray, read poetry or an uplifting passage, spend time in nature or to simply savour the day. I have been doing this for a number of years and I find that it is a good way to start the day. For time-challenged people, I think that the length of time spent isn't as important as the intention and quality of the practice. For example, it's worth starting somewhere, so why not turn your morning shower into a DQT.
Your DQT can incorporate a gratitude practice. It's a powerful stress addresser and undresser - one that can move you out of a stuck state and into a more growth-oriented mindset.
Dr. Bell has this to say about forgiveness:
"Many people report that forgiveness finally came unexpectedly, at a time when they listened to their inner voice. They were intentionally practicing self-care or building the courage to face their perpetrator square on." (page 264)
I found that to be true in my own life. As a result of regularly practicing the stress techniques that I teach, I had the realization that I no longer held onto this ball of anger whenever I thought about my dad. Deep in my heart, I knew that I had forgiven him for his drinking.
Addressing trauma is scary. For instance, it can open wounds that you may think are closed, but like a low-grade infection, seep into other aspects of your life.
As a consequence, some people may not be ready to move forward, but as Dr. Bell says, "If you want something you have never had, you need to do something you have never done before." (page 306)
If you find yourself in that situation, reading Post-Traumatic Thriving may help you find and use resources to forge your way forward.
What Others Are Saying:
Jay Levy - Amazon reviewer:
"Everyone experiences trauma at some point in life. Dr. Bell acknowledges this and shares his own personal story of trauma and recovery. He also takes the reader on a journey through the healing process using examples of real people, some of whom you will recognize. Working through the pain using the methods in this book can lead to self-awareness, growth, and empowerment. Want to find out how to push past your discomfort in a grounded and realistic manner? Read on! Find your path to allow your trauma to be your history, not your story."
Walter Schumm, Professor of Applied Family Science at Kansas State University
"Dr. Bell weaves the theory and science of trauma and the detailed processes of recovery, healing, and ultimately thriving throughout the stories of eleven persons of various ages who experienced unusually severe trauma. His grounding in science, his clearly illustrated diagrams of process, and the detailed experiences of the trauma victims, including his own trauma, will provide hope for many of us who have gone through one or multiple traumas but are still someplace between those experiences and an ultimate state of thriving."
Carol Duff, MSN & Contributing Author at Veterans Today
"In Post-Traumatic Thriving, Dr. Bell follows the journey from the depths of the initial shock to the pinnacle of ultimate healing and growth. The covid [sic] pandemic has been a traumatizing event itself and this book interweaves advanced science with the stories of people who have not just survived, but used their trauma as the fuel to thrive. It was a wonderful read, with a great flow and complete with great suggestions to try to help ourselves. I love the grounding exercises. I now use them all the time."
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Post-Traumatic Thriving for review purposes.