When one hears Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, the image of a Vietnam Vet comes to mind. However, many people from all walks of life may suffer from this disorder. They are the survivors. They can be people who live in the inner city, those who have suffered the loss of a loved one, survivors of childhood trauma in adulthood, or a man or woman after a divorce. Or they can be witnesses, rescuers or survivors of catastrophic events. They can have reactive depression and even a dissociative disorder.
Can we heal from PSTD? Not completely. I have figured out my triggers and I still have occasional night terrors but the uncontrollable shaking, reactive depression and chronic anxiety have dissipated. Learning to ride your dragon, can open portals to a new life.
I cried in grocery stores. At unexpected moments. Hiding my tears. There are times I felt that if I ever start crying I would never stop. As a child, it was demanded of me to endure incomprehensible suffering without shedding a tear. I began to understand how tragic my childhood was in my middle aged years when depression became overwhelming after the birth of my first child.
Trauma comes from the Greek word meaning “wound.” Among professionals it is defined as “an emotional state of discomfort and stress resulting from memories of an extraordinary, catastrophic experience which shattered the survivor’s sense of invulnerability to harm.”
One way, the only way to survive these traumas is to numb yourself. By pushing painful memories and feelings down and away, we can cope. However, as time passes by, if we do not deal with these original feelings, they may begin to affect our conscious behavior. We may numb ourselves to a point where we are no longer responsive to our own family, we avoid friends and finally in severe cases we avoid all human contact. In the case of dissociative disorder, the person takes on a whole new persona. It can be a whole new personality lasting years or of short duration called a fugue state.
Usually, the person appears to be coping, well even. They may be going to work every day as if nothing is wrong, but on the inside, they may be feel they are falling apart.
In this society where expression of feeling is often viewed as a weakness on the part of the individual, one must not hesitate to seek help. Help is out there and you need not “tough” it out alone.
Psychotherapy is not a luxury, nor should one be stigmatized for it. Finding someone you can really talk to about your trauma without judgement, is the most important thing you can do for yourself. Professionals can help you re-experience the trauma little by little so you can remember it as a whole in the here and now and not feel wounded by it. You can begin healing. There are many ptsd stories to be told.
Common coping mechanisms that are counterproductive are such things as living in denial, blaming yourself or others for the catastrophe, overprotection and avoidance. When people are living in denial they refuse to talk about what happened to them. “Naming and talking about our experience, no matter how tragic, take much of their control and power away”, writes Robert Hicks in his book, Failure to Scream.
Sometimes we become numb to our feelings because we grew up in a dysfunctional family. (50% of all families have been described as dysfunctional) In these cases, it is not considered a disorder, but an ineffective mode of dealing with feelings.
Pain, Fear, Anger. Invite them in for tea. Use your best china. Give them space. Recognize them for what they are. We feel the bad so we can feel the good once more. Cry the river of tears. Tears are the salve for wounds of the heart. Take hold of your fears, trace them down into your subconscious. Make the subconscious, conscious. Trace your fears to the root, whether it be in your past, in your family, in your self, in the culture, both or all. You will also find your broken dreams, your creativity and much more. Archetypes abound in the collective unconscious, Magnificent discoveries await you.
Joseph Campbell told the story of Igjugarjuk, the shaman or priest of a Caribou Eskimo tribe in northern Canada, in his book, The Power of Myth. Igjugarjuk told European visitors that the only true wisdom “lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and can be reached only through suffering. Privation and suffering alone open the mind to all that is hidden to others.”