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AA Sponsor Asks for Help for Recovering Sponsee with Flashbacks

07 Dec


I am sponsoring a woman in AA who has PTSD-like symptoms from childhood sexual abuse. She is very functional in work and has a well kept apartment. Her finances are in order, and she is sober about 1 1/2 years.

She is suffering from frequent flashbacks of the abuse that are causing great suffering. I referred her to your website for the recordings/books. She is against using psych meds, which I support.

We live in a semi-rural area and the local community services board counselors are very psych med oriented. She went to a counselor for a few sessions who suggested meds., which my sponsee doesn't want and then the counselor was pretty vague about a treatment plan. She isn't going there now.

Do you have any thoughts about types of therapy that help with abuse flashbacks? I have suggested that CBT-like work which is really derived in some ways from Buddhist awareness training, could be of use.  She would need guidance, however, since learning what to say to yourself to transform thoughts is a process, not a one time thing.

I realize you may receive many messages like this, so any thoughts are appreciated, and I understand if it's not possible. Please know that we would not hold you responsible for any suggestions legally or professionally. I have some of your recordings for stress, and like them very much.


Dear Paula,
Thanks for writing.  I'm delighted to answer your question, because this situation is more commonplace than people think.  And hats off for the caring work you're doing for this sponsee.

Absent a competent therapist in your area, she can use good old digital technology.  Mary Sise is an expert in this area, and she has a DVD, Thought Field Therapy for Stress Management, where she teaches and models an energy-tapping practice that’s designed to reduce the intensity of her distress fairly quickly. I'd like to see her start with that.  

Peter Levine has created a wonderful audio set of exercises for childhood sexual abuse: Sexual Healing that I recommend as well.

I'd also like to have her listen to and practice regularly with the simple self-regulation and relaxation practices on our Stress Hardiness exercises imagery for a few weeks (one or two tracks once or twice a day for 3 weeks) and at the point she feels ready for it, the Healing Trauma imagery and affirmations.  (Some survivors of childhood abuse can work with it immediately and feel the benefits right away; but others need to work up to it, because it's pretty intense.  If it still feels like it’s too much for her, she should work with the affirmations.  With regular practice, these healing images will eventually supplant the ugly ones.)  

The power of the imagery exercises can be augmented by bilateral tapping as she listens (she can place her hands, flat palm down, on her knees, while sitting, for instance, and tap on alternate knees to the music; or if she's lying down, on her abdomen or midriff is fine too, in an alternating bilateral pattern).  Another thing she might do while listening is to receive gentle, non-touching energy work, such as Reiki, Healing Touch or Therapeutic Touch.

Aerobic physical exercise will help her discharge some of the trapped energy and biochemistry of trauma as well.  There are more suggestions in Invisible Heroes, my last book on PTSD, but this should be enough for now.

I hope this guidance is enough to get her started.  Please feel free to write with any questions and to let us know how she's progressing!

All best,