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Yay, my friend, Dr. Adele McDowell, has done it again. Huffington Post Canada posted another of her articles. This time, very different from her earlier ones on suicide. In fact, this is the other side of depression and suicide. It is inspirational as she takes the fictional character of James Bond – 007 who can face any one and anything and comes out alive and whole.

Don’t we wish we could do that. It is no wonder that we idolize heroes (and heroines) who can face any danger, look a gun in the face, fight any fight! It is really because we wish that we could do that but don’t think we can. Then, Adele tells her own personal story of danger and courage. Sometimes, one never knows of what one is capable until faced with a dire circumstances. And, of course, there are many kinds of danger from which one can test courage.

For those who have undergone any kind of trauma – abuse, accidents, life threatening illness, etc. – it takes a lot of courage to overcome the incident or incidents. When one has been abused and put down at every turn, the message is that “you are nothing, you will never amount to anything, you. will never be able to protect yourself, you are a coward…..”. And, if the trauma is severe enough, then there is post traumatic stress disorder (ptsd) with which one has to go through. PTSD, for those who may not know, is not just a mental memory. When PTSD comes on – and sometimes the survivor doesn’t even know what triggers it or even what is happening – it is like the trauma is happening all over again. So the survivor is no longer his/her chronological age and doesn’t realize that he/she is actually safe, the memories that come flooding back impact the mind, the body reactions, the fears or shocks of that particular time.

I know because being a survivor or child sexual and physical abuse, as well as undergoing many life threatening illnesses, I am understanding more and more my work, as well as the healing work I’ve done with clients, in overcoming PTSD. I still get bouts of it, but having worked on these issues, I am now able to name the triggers as well as the times PTSD comes over me. I can’t say that I can get out of it immediately – although sometimes I can – but I can at least know what’s happening to me. What that does is that I know it’s not happening again, that I am safe, and that I can sum up the courage to speak up, to protect myself, or to help others. I remember that I am no longer 4 when I was abused, or 10 or 12 when I almost died from an illness. And even now, in dealing with cancer these last 4 1/2 years, I know I now can take the small steps to take care of myself.

Will I ever be a “James Bond”. Perhaps not, but in my eyes I let myself acknowledge each time I take any step to take care of myself, knowing each step only leads to more courage every time. This is what came to me as I was reading Adele’s article. For me, it came at a time when I’m not only dealing with cancer, but shingles these past few weeks. Shingles, unfortunately,  is only one physical ailment in a long line of many that shows me how depleted my immune system is and how much I need to be easy on myself as I navigate these waters.

Perhaps Adele’s article will mean something entirely different to you, but I urge you to read it and see. And, Adele, I’m so proud of you for sharing your very personal story and the courage you had in protecting yourself.

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/adele-mcdowell/the-tao-of-007_b_8007488.html.

 

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Fear

I woke up feeling afraid today. No, I didn’t have a dream or even a nightmare. Upon opening my eyes, my heart was pounding and my gut felt so tight, I had trouble breathing.  I have no idea what brought on the fear; it made no sense. Yet, there it was.

I learned in psychotherapy training that fear  is one of the 4 major emotions – mad, sad, glad and scare. All others, i.e., frustration, resentment, etc.  are combinations of those four. And, just so you know, emotions don’t make logical sense – those feelings simply are what they are.

Yet, as human beings, we seem to want to make sense of everything.

As a survivor of abuse, I have been afraid just about all of my life.  Only I didn’t know what caused it. Told over and over that I was too sensitive, I didn’t have anything to be scared of, that it was all in my imagination, I thought there was something wrong with me.

It wasn’t until I became a psychotherapist and worked with other survivors that I realized fear was their prominent emotion as well.  It makes sense to me now, especially with recent clinical research that has shown what trauma does to the brain. Read the rest of this entry »

My apologies for not keeping in weekly contact with you over the past few weeks and not letting you know about the remote group healing. We’ve been dealing with some unforeseen issues which seem to be resolving themselves. I will notify you of the next remote healing session.

Back to the above book.  As I mentioned in my previous posting, I would write on subjects that held meaning for me. The topic today is social isolation for trauma survivors.

This isolation, usually coming in the later stages of a survivor’s response to severe trauma, occurs when “old defensive behaviors prove useless or counterproductive in response to new threats…” (p.69)

What happens then is that the survivor doesn’t understand why what’s worked in the past is failing  now, and the blame gets placed on external factors. This blame, when extended to those who are part of the survivor’s support group, further isolates him/her from those who are so crucial to the healing and recovery process.

Scaer further explains that the propensity towards isolation is a response towards exposure to “ambient environmental stimuli that are associated with social intercourse”.  (p.69) Stimuli that would be otherwise exciting and pleasurable, i.e., laughter, music conversation,  is often perceived by the trauma survivor as irritating.

As a survivor myself, I never understood why I hate crowds and loud noises. I could never go to something like Times Square for New Year’s Eve without feeling claustrophobic. Even a radio station that is turned on too loud physically hurts my ears. And, my own clients have told me that they feel overwhelmed, hemmed in, and that the noise level in crowds sounds violent.

Dr. Scaer comments, “These feelings are associated with more specific symptoms of constriction, low-grade fear, and profound physical exhaustion. The symptoms suggest that such people enter into a state of freeze/dissociation with exposure to very nonspecific but nevertheless threatening stimuli”. (p.69)

As a survivor as well as a practitioner, I reiterate that having a support system is crucial to healing. While I would prefer to be a hermit, I know that social interaction is critical to my mental and even physical well-being. The reason for this is because going through the trauma itself is isolating and forces us to turn inward, to have a deep distrust of others and external circumstances.

While, in the short-term, counting on ourselves may have helped us in the beginning. Over a long period of time, it perpetuates for the survivor a sense that no one can help us. It keeps us in a state of trauma.

Believe me, I had to learn to be a social being all over again. Even today, while others have told me that I seem outgoing and friendly, it takes a lot of conscious effort on my part to place myself in a social situation. It takes even more effort for me to trust another with my experiences.

Opening to a support group, even simple social interactions, have been the most difficult for me to do. Having done so, I know it’s helped me tremendously in my healing process.

And, because I’ve done so, I know other survivors can too.

I’m finally back to posting on the keynote speakers and  workshops I attended at the NICABM Conference- National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine. With the earthquake in Haiti, I felt it was important to discuss the trauma that was affecting the world.

Belleruth Naparstek was the main reason I decided to attend this conference. Before I write about her keynote on veterans of war, I want to first tell you how her work helped me.

She first identified for me one of the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms that I had lived with my whole life. I would freeze when triggered. I couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t speak. I was always told it was because I was stupid, so each time this occurred, my face would turn red-hot with shame.

Belleruth called this  paralysis the freeze (immobility) response. This was the first time I let myself really know that I wasn’t stupid.  It was a response based on earlier trauma. I was so relieved. It’s like finally finding a doctor that can name your illness, and not tell you that nothing is wrong with you, that it’s all in your head. Now that I understand what is happening to me, I have hope that I can change this behavior.

As I continued to read Invisible Heroes, Belleruth stipulated that conventional talk therapy works only to a certain extent with trauma survivors. In fact, she found that frequent retelling of the trauma could be even more harmful to the client. She discovered that complementary healing modalities work with this population – guided imagery, tapping, energy work, etc. 

Qigong is one such complementary modality, and I had intuitively used it  to help my clients become calmer. In this calming state, I discovered that they were able to release repressed memories and heal.

I instinctively knew that I was to return to this work almost thirty (30) years later.  I feel like I have come home! Read the rest of this entry »

So soon after the first one, a second earthquake shook whatever was left of Haiti! We can hardly absorb the devastation of the first, and now we must also contend with a second.

It was hard enough learning that 200,000 were found dead, and how many were injured? That’s not even counting the destruction of property, the lack of food and shelter, the insufficient medical supplies, and dealing with riots and violence. This does not even take into account the exhaustion of those who are working day and night to help in any way they can. Nor, does it take away the frustration felt the world over, let alone the starving Haitian survivors,  at supplies being turned away from the ports in Haiti.

The world was barely beginning to find organized ways to get relief to the survivors. For the survivors themselves, there has been NO time to begin to recover.

How much trauma can people endure? How do we respond to multiple and almost simultaneous natural disasters over which none of us can control?  And, the question that looms large, “Why us”? Read the rest of this entry »

I cannot even begin to imagine the devastation of lives and property in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti last week. And, of course, the trauma from this natural disaster befalls those who are left to deal with the destruction.

As with any traumatic experience, the first reaction is that of shock and denial. This is the first stage of grief. The other stages are: anger/depression, sadness, acceptance and moving on. These stages do not always occur in succinct passages. The person grieving sometimes gets stuck in one or another, perhaps feeling the third stage before going back to the second.

In denial, there is disbelief that this happened, that this could be real.  Time gets distorted, everything in slow motion. Sometimes, it feels like time has stopped altogether.  The body withdraws into a sense of numbness, the heart shrouding itself from feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the loss.

I’ve talked to others who lived through 9/11. They describe how they walked around in circles for hours and thought that only a few minutes had gone by. They could not think or see straight. They thought the world had come to an end. They claimed that what they knew to be safe in their lives were all put at risk. Initially, they did not even feel the pain if they had been injured. That came later when the shock wore off.

For those whose loved ones were in the World Trade Center, they felt a sense of panic. They scrambled to see if their family or friends survived, or not. Their panic increased as they realized that phone lines were down, and they couldn’t get through. Some started walking towards the buildings, but found the aftermath preventing them for getting anywhere near. The not knowing  produced a different kind of reaction. They claimed a sense of hopeful hopelessness as they waited for word, any word.

For those who knew that their love ones had perished, they stated a mixture of shock and grief. They went over in their minds the last time they were with the person or persons. They acknowledged guilt if the last parting was with anger, or regret if they did not have a chance to say good-bye. Some were thankful that they did say good-bye.

Even for those who were far way, the constant re-running on television made this a tragedy that the world shared. With advanced technology these days, the trauma of a natural disaster becomes a global event.

And, so, this is what so many are undergoing in the wake of  the Haiti earthquake.  A disaster of this magnitude will take time from which to recover.  In conjunction with the essentials needed to survive, there will be psychological needs that must be met. Many will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd), virtually reliving, over and over , the horror of the quake.

We are reminded that life is precarious, that disasters can happen anywhere, anytime, and to anyone. In this matter, we are all equal.

For a society like ours that believes that we can control our lives – an earthquake, a hurricane, a tornado, a tsunami, a bombing – forces us to face our mortality.

I urge you all to remember that we have a choice. We can live in fear, or we can choose to view all life as precious and make the most of everyday with those we love. We can ignore those who are suffering, or we can choose to reach out to them.

Reaching out shows us that we can move forward together.

Hoping you have all had a wonderful holiday!  Now, it’s back to NICABM presentations and learning about the latest research in healing trauma.

The first keynote address was The Healthy Aging Brain, presented by Lou Cozolino, PhD. He is a professor at Pepperdine University, has a private practice in Beverly Hills, CA., and is the author of The Healthy Aging Brain.

You might be wondering, as I was, how this topic has to do with trauma. It has everything to do with it. Read the rest of this entry »

1st PostWelcome to my very first post on “the forgotten peace”, and my first blog ever! I am very excited to share and interact with others who have experienced trauma, as I have.

The forgotten peace is what has been stolen from us when trauma disrupts our life.

My approach is personal as well as  professional. I’ve been in the mental health and the alternative healing arena for twenty-seven years.

This post is an overview of what this blog is about, its goals, and the ways we can reach them.   Read the rest of this entry »

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