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Cleaning Up House: Steps to Healing From Trauma

I’m living in a mess. Both literally…

Messy House

…and figuratively.

When a house is really messy, there are steps used to clean it. These are the same steps I’m using to heal from PTSD.

1. Recognize that there’s a mess. Our homes often get messier bit by bit. There are many areas that we may not look at for weeks. We may not even realize how messy things are getting. Then when we open up that closet, cupboard, etc. we see that it’s a disaster. Sometimes this recognition is so overwhelming that we shut the mess behind closed doors and try to ignore it a bit longer. Eventually we will have to face the reality of the mess if we want to get it cleaned up.

I spent a good 25 years not realizing I was living with PTSD. I didn’t remember any other way of living, so I couldn’t see that I even had horrible symptoms that had been building up for years. I had to take a step outside of myself and look in from a new viewpoint to see how much I was suffering. At times this recognition of my pain is so unbearable that I try to shut it out because I’m not quite ready to admit how bad things are. I eventually have had to recognize the reality of my situation in order to start to heal.

2. Start unpacking and make an action plan. When I find out how much clutter, dust, and grime has filled up my home, I need to start removing all the items from cupboards, closets, and drawers to get to it. I move furniture around so I can see all the dirty areas. I find and gather all the bills and paperwork I need to go through. After I clear all the mess out of the areas of my home, it looks like a tornado hit it. This is the messiest looking stage of cleaning. Even though it looks more disastrous than before, it’s actually progress toward getting a clean house. Although it feels overwhelming to see how bad things are, I need to decide how I’m going to tackle the messes.

Once I realized that I had a PTSD, I had to start unpacking all the clutter that was in my mind and impacting my body. I saw the anxiety, nightmares, and panic attacks. I identified the feelings of worthlessness and desires to die. I started to see the detrimental impact PTSD was having on me. I have found this stage to be the messiest and most difficult in my path to healing. Things get uglier before starting to get better. I am tackling my symptoms as best I can, but it is a long and arduous process. It is excruciatingly painful at times.

3. Start cleaning up bit by bit. It is after making a bigger mess that we can start cleaning out the areas of the house one by one. I use a variety of techniques and cleaning agents depending on the mess. These range from dusting, steam cleaning, vacuuming, sweeping and scrubbing. I use different cleaning agents such as Windex, disinfecting wipes, wood polish, and leather treatments. The progress may be slow at times, but as time passes the house gets cleaner and cleaner.

As I identify each symptom of my PTSD, I do my best to clean it up. I cannot fix everything all at once and the range of processes vary greatly. Some of the things I’ve tried (although not an all-inclusive list) are talk therapy, biofeedback, meditation, positive self-talk, psychiatric treatment, multiple medications, medical treatment, writing, talking with friends and family, sleeping, exercise, and eating better. What works to help one symptom may not work for another, or may not be enough for the next symptom. Sometimes I have to be creative in how I clean up these symptoms and use combinations of things to start to see improvement.

4. Enjoy how clean and tidy things are. One of the best feelings I have is right after my house gets a thorough cleaning. It’s a rare peace that I savor. I wish my house could always remain this clean.

I have finally started having glimpses of peace and calm. I experience these feelings when I have gone through this cleansing process. Once there, I wish I could feel that way forever.

Clean house

5. Maintenance. While the joy of a clean house comes, they can’t just be cleaned once and stay that way. After a deep clean there continues to be things to pick up and wipe up to maintain it.

The same is true of dealing with PTSD. Even when I feel better, I still have to tweak a medicine or take a break from things that induce stress in order to feel good.

6. The cycle continues. Sometimes life gets overwhelming and houses can get so messy again that the process needs to start back in step 1. Or maybe just one or two areas need specific attention. The cleaning process may not need to go through every single step. Sometimes problems are encountered as the cleaning begins again and so attention is diverted to work on new unexpected areas. As we uncover a mess, we might find out it is much worse than we thought. Sometimes an emergency problem occurs and we have to put what we’re doing on hold to deal with the emergency.

This past weekend I was sorting through our newly finished basement. I decided to tackle room by room to get things cleaned and placed in the proper area. Along the way I stepped onto sopping wet carpet. This took me back to stage 1 and had to recognize that this wet carpet was actually a problem. Then I had to change directions and work on a room that I didn’t realize needed my attention. I had to unpack an entire storage room and decide how I’d tackle the problem. When one idea didn’t work to clean and fix the mess, I had to find another. This took hours of labor that I was not expecting. I couldn’t figure out what was causing the leak. I used many towels to soak up the flood in the storage room and continually vacuumed up the water from the carpet. I set up fans on high to try and dry the carpet. The water kept coming and I continued to deal with the symptoms of the leak since I was unsuccessful at finding the cause. After moving an entire storage room around, I was able to find the leak and work to divert the flow of water to a drain. It was only then that I was able to really make progress in cleaning up the unexpected mess and getting the carpet dry. Days later, we were able to identify a broken overflow pump and water heater due to our water pressure being set at twice the recommended limit. This emergency needed to be dealt with immediately in order to prevent further damage. We had to get a new water heater and pump. These costs were unexpected and drastic measures had to be taken in order to clean things up.

flooded basement 1

Throughout my process of healing, I often uncover a new messy area. Sometimes the discovery is a huge setback which sends me tumbling down. I might get really discouraged, upset, and feel like giving up. I may get stuck back in stage 1 where I don’t even want to accept that I have the problem. I have to work really hard sometimes to uncover these existing “messes”. Sometimes my setbacks might not be as drastic. Sometimes I may be able to recover from my setbacks more quickly than other times. Sometimes I have a strong and unexpected trigger and have to put my life on hold to deal with the repercussions in order to prevent further damage. I feel like I am making overall progress despite triggers and setbacks. I don’t think things will ever get as “messy” as they were before I was able to accept that I suffer from PTSD. Now I hope to be able to get to and remain in the maintenance stage more often.


  1. For the life of me, I can’t clean and sort and STAY clean. It all slides back to piles and defeat. I’m trying to get the PTSD under control. My gf has said she can’t be in a serious relationship with me, partly due to clutter. That horrifies me and embarrasses me to no end, yet, I’m STILL paralyzed around this. HELPS!

    • We’re so sorry to hear how much you are struggling. It is definitely a constant battle…one only truly understood by others who’ve experienced it. We have found therapy to be one of many useful tools in trying to heal. It’s important to find a therapist that specializes in treating victims of trauma. Have you tried searching for one in your area?

  2. Thank you guys for sharing your story. I heard your podcast on surviving abuse website. I have a surviving abuse blog too and I’d love to link up to get more hits because every time I tried to search for blogs dealing with what I’ve been through, I only found exMormon websites etc. I actually don’t know how to link up but my blog is and talks about how I was raped as a little girl and my daughter was molested by neighbors even though I thought I was so careful. I also talk about different experiences I’ve had with God to help me through it all. Thanks!

    • Great to hear from you. Thanks for listening to our podcast. We’re sorry that happened to you and to your daughter. We have found a group of survivors of sexual abuse who are both LDS and non-LDS that we speak with regularly. Thanks for sharing your blog with us. We will check it out. Take care.

    • Thank you Kara. I have to keep reminding myself that no matter how messy things get, I’m still making progress. 🙂

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