Saturday, April 14, 2007

Triggers and Vietnam War veterans

Some veterans from the Vietnam War were so traumatized that any loud noise similar to the sound of gunshot triggered flashbacks of the war.

Grown men rolled into a gutter in order to 'take cover' from the sound of a car backfiring. The sound triggered a full-body reenactment of the war experience.

This experience of post-traumatic stress disorder was not under the veteran's concious control. It was an automatic response when the neural network associated with the trauma of war was triggered.

Again, take note that a Harvard/Casey study has proven that foster care alumni experience post-traumatic stress disorder at a rate twice that of Vietnam War veterans.

McGraw, Patricia. It's not your fault: How healing relationships change your brain and can help you overcome a painful past. IL: Bahaii Publishing, 2004.

Learning to disconnect from thoughts, feelings and behavior

Behavior doesn't come out of a vacuum. Underneath the surface, there are deep roots from which that behaviour has grown.

When babies are born, as part of the imprinting process, a baby experiences their parents' emotions as if they were his/her own. It's an emotional merger, wherein the parent and child are meant to "attune" to one another's experience.

Ideally, the environment would be stable and safe.
Ideally, the growing child will be given words to describe his/her emotions.

In this ideal situation, a child would be secure and ensured of protection and love. This child would learn to identify feelings when experiencing them, and think about how to respond to that emotion.

But what if a child's safety and well-being are seriously threatened?
What is there is an external threat that seems frightening and insurmountable?
What if the first relationships of a child's life are broken?

Foster care creates repeated trauma. Children learn to disconnect with thoughts and feelings in order to survive.

Trauma can also create a disconnection with personal behavior: If you, or someone that you know, are involved in self-destructive behavior, over and over, examine their pasts for imprints of relationship patterns in which that type of behavior was born.

Consider a child who was sexually molested -- and ends up exploiting his/herself through unhealthy relationships or becoming a stripper or prostitute. In a sense, what this person is doing is reenacting the abuse from their past in order to make sense of it.

Numbing out: Victims of trauma often try to escape their emotional pain. They try to numb out by sexualizing events, eating emotions, drinking to dull the event, smoking to feel the buzz of nicotine or using drugs to make the situation temporarily 'disappear.'

These are survival techniques. In the face of danger, memories become fragmented, mental processes shut down and the only focus is on survival.

But emotions are basic to survival. When a person's outer life and inner life are disconnected, that person cannot heal.

It takes courage to seek help.
It takes courage to stop running and look yourself in the eye.
Even after the healing process has begun, there will be moments of uncertainty.

In post-traumatic stress disorder, fear from the past raises its ugly head and causes the body to react with fight-or-flight or freeze responses. This experience can be very unpredictable and confusing.

Here are the stages of healing, according to Dr. McGraw:

1.) Attunement to self: Take time to be aware of your emotions, including physical symptoms such as increased heart-rate. Journal about the emotions and bodily sensations that you are experiencing, as well as the thoughts and memories that emerge.

You need this time to remind yourself that your physical state and emotions are important.

Learn what your 'triggers' are... To be triggered is to reexperience an event from the past in the present. You will experience the bodily sensations and emotions of a terrifying event that happened long ago.

2.) Strengthening and stabilization: Create safe and stable life circumstances for yourself. Inasmuch as it is in your power, keep your everyday life free of crisis and chaos. Do not participate in behaviors that you have been using to avoid or act out traumatic experiences.

You need this time to give yourself a base of happier memories and safe experiences.

3.) Working through traumatic experiences: After having a base of happier memories, adults find that they are better able to deal with the past.

-This stage should not be rushed. Rushing this process can be damaging and counterproductive.

-Simply talking about a problem will not heal it. The actual events are less important than their emotional impact.

-Pace yourself. Take baby steps. If a conversation becomes too painful, end it. Revisit the problem later, when the emotional intensity has subsided.

Shocking, surprising or overwhelming yourself with emotional experiences that you are not prepared to handle will not help you heal.

4.) Acceptance and service: This is characterized by:

-No longer hiding from yourself, your past or your true feelings. See yourself within your own story with compassion and empathy. Be the hero of your own story.

-Being aware of your triggers and not letting your emotions take you hostage. Creating a strategy for coping and recovering when triggers occur.

-Building the capacity to develop warm, loving relationships with others. Avoid or discard harmful relationships. Seek to build new, positive connections.

-Establish a goal and direction for your life. What unique abilities do you have to offer the world?

McGraw, Patricia. It's not your fault: How healing relationships change your brain and can help you overcome a painful past. IL: Bahaii Publishing, 2004.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Poem about empty promises

He leaves
and comes back

He leaves
1 week
2 weeks
6 months
2 years

Every time it gets worse
he comes home
and with no thought of how I feel
he leaves

When he first gets home he promises
“I won’t be back in there”
as he complains to us
about the thick metal bars
foul food
and nothing to do
later I wake up and
he leaves

With no info of:
when he’ll be back
what he did
or why
he just

We communicate slightly
only through phone
his picture is a dusty memory in my mind

He says “I miss you boy”
and I say “I miss you too”
but do I really mean it
do I really miss him

“I wish you would come see me” he says
but do I want to?

so I can walk through the metal door
and see his orange suit
scruffy face
sad eyes

so now you see?
let him leave

-Shawn Hanning