PREFACE: Please be aware that some may find this article triggering. Read with caution and PLEASE stop reading and seek out support at any point that it becomes overwhelming. It WILL be emotion inducing and some what challenging. However, I believe that you will be glad that you did so.
I do hope that by the end you are encouraged, inspired, instilled with hope and most importantly EMPOWERED to believe in yourself and the strength that resides within.
YOU are NOT a VICTIM! YOU are NOT a SURVIVOR! YOU ARE AN OVERCOMER!
There can be absolutely no denying the impact that trauma has on mental illness and substance abuse. In fact, I would guess that a significant number of readers of this very article, have been touched by some kind of trauma or another. In fact, I would be bold enough to day, that if you personally have not been touched by trauma, every one of us has some one close to us that has.
Well, let’s start with a simple definition of trauma:
• A serious injury or shock to the body, as from violence or an accident.
• An emotional wound or shock that creates substantial, lasting damage to the psychological development of a person, often leading to neurosis.
• An event or situation that causes great distress and disruption.
• Extreme stress that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope.
Trauma is also defined by DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as:
an event in which a person experiences, witnesses, or is confronted with actual or threatened death or serious injury or threat to physical integrity of oneself or others
Trauma can be the result of experiences that are private in nature such as:
§ sexual assault
§ domestic violence
§ Rejection / Abandonment
§ child abuse/neglect
§ witnessing interpersonal violence
§ Victim of Crime (assault, robbery, etc)
Trauma can also be the result of experiences that are more public in nature such as:
§ Natural Disasters
§ Automobile or other Accident
That being said we have ALL experienced some kind of trauma or another. However, it is the personal/private trauma that we think of most and typically has the most psychological effect.
A Few Facts about Trauma
In mental health and substance abuse service settings
§ As many as 80% of men and women in psychiatric hospitals have experienced physical or sexual abuse, most of them as children.
§ The majority of adults diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (81%)or Dissociative Identity Disorder (90%) were abused as children.
§ Up to two-thirds of both men and women in substance abuse treatment report childhood abuse or neglect.
§ Nearly 90% of alcoholic women were sexually abused as children or suffered severe violence at the hands of a parent.
In childhood and adolescence
§ 82% of young people in inpatient and residential treatment programs have histories of trauma.
§ Violence is a significant causal factor in 10-25% of all developmental disabilities.
In the criminal justice and juvenile justice systems
§ 80% of women in prison and jail have been victims of sexual and physical abuse.
§ In one study, 92% of incarcerated girls reported sexual, physical or severe emotional abuse.
§ Boys who experience or witness violence are 1,000 times more likely to commit violence than those who do not.
From The Damaging Consequences of Violence and Trauma, 2004, compiled by Ann Jennings, PhD.
Trauma, especially when left untreated can have a severe and negative impact on a person’s physical and emotional well-being. Trauma has been linked to…
§ Suicidal Tendencies
§ Chronic Anxiety
§ disturbances in mood/self-esteem,
§ Flashbacks / Nightmares
§ impaired interpersonal relationships
§ substance abuse
OK, enough of the textbook info. What about where the rubber hits the road. In the lives of REAL people not numbers and statistics. The truth is, traumatic experiences can literally be devastating! A single experience can be disturbing enough on the functioning of an adult, how more injurious is repeated or multiple traumas to the psyche of a child. This is my personal theory, not supported by any research that I know of:
“Trauma is the number one leading cause of poor self-esteem.”
It reaches in to the deepest places of the individual psyche, pulls it out, rips it to pieces, stomps on it and then hands it back. All that is left is mess and the individually is usually unable to even recognize her/him-self after the fact. All one is left with is pain, anger, fear, and self-doubt. At this point it feels like there is absolutely no hope at all.
My friends, look around, this sounds paradoxical, but if you are at the bottom, then that is a GOOD thing.
It is a good thing, because if you are at the bottom then there is only one direction to go and that is UP!
My personal “traumatic” experiences are rather minimal, but I have known and helped many through very intense and overwhelming experiences. I do NOT claim to be a trauma expert, but want to offer some encouragement and insights for helping those that have these experiences to fully overcome them; even it is a “baby step” at a time.
So, where to begin? The first step and most important step is recognizing that you do not have to be a “victim” of the trauma in your past. Simply having survived and come out of it at least somewhat functional, you have proven the strength of your character. Despite how powerless you feel now, you are stronger than you believe at this point in time.
YOU are NOT a VICTIM! YOU are NOT a SURVIVOR!
YOU ARE AN OVERCOMER!
I once heard it said something like this: “The mark of an individual is not what he/she has accomplished, who he/she was in the community, how much money he/she made, but what adversity had he/she overcame!
Let me say it a little differently: “Your past has shaped your view of yourself and the world around, but it does not define who you are now, or your destiny.
The first and hardest part of coping with trauma is separating ourselves from it! We must find a way to start rebuilding our “self” from the inside out. Here are a few practical steps:
§ List 5 positive things that other people have said about you.
§ List 5 positive things about yourself.(Attributes or accomplishments)
§ Share a compliment with 5 other people.
§ Do something unrepentantly kind for someone that you perceive to be “worse off” than you.
As you complete each “step” take out a pen and journal about how completing the activity made you feel. Take note to how you feel about your self before and after each activity.
Next and likely just as difficult and I know more painful…. We MUST get in touch with the depths of the emotions associated with our traumatic experiences.
**WARNING** Do NOT try this at home, Do NOT attempt to do this ALONE!
As long as we continue to hide from, cover-up, stuff and self-medicate the feelings associated with our trauma, we will continue to suffer just like we were in the midst of the event over and over again. It is like a never ending flashback of pain and suffering. However, when we face them head and push our way through them, yes it is going to be VERY painful, and we want to quit and give-up. We say to ourselves and even to those around us, “It’s not worth it”. But hang in there. The pain is severe, but if you will endure, then you can break the power and control that those strong emotions have had on you leading to ongoing suffering. Now is the time to be totally honest with yourself and the PROFESSIONAL that is helping you. There is no such thing as wrong or inappropriate emotions. Every feeling that you feel related to your experiences is valid and need to be expressed, processed and released!
You will NEVER forget, but with time and work, those memories will not be painful and debilitating. You are on a long and treacherous journey, much like climbing a steep mountain with nothing but a cliff on one side and falling rocks on the other. But if you can hang on and keep pushing yourself, when you get to the top, the view is worth it. When you finally start feeling like you are getting “ahead” of your past, you will simply be amazed of how STRONG you will feel. The beauty and confidence that have been hidden by pain and fear.
Be patient with yourself, you did to get to this point in your life overnight and unfortunately overcoming it does not happen quickly nor easily either. But, celebrate and reward yourself for small victories and accomplishments along the way. Every obstacle that is overcome, makes you stronger and more prepared to overcome the next. Soon, instead of “making mountains out of mole hills”, you will be “making mole hills out of mountains!”
In closing let me close with one final recommendation
Each day wake up, believe and strive to demonstrate this simple affirmation:
“I and I alone choose my destiny, I control whether I am happy or sad. I am responsible for me and me alone. I choose to live MY life; I choose to write my own story!”
We have to LIVE in the present looking forward with hope for the future. I urge you my friends star LIVING and take your life and destiny back from the traumatic events and perpetrators that have haunted you for TOO LONG!
YOU ARE WORHT IT!
Your past may have set you going down a certain path, but you are still the one in the driver’s seat!
The scars of yesterday are the badge of honor and strength of today and the proof of potential for tomorrow.