I read an interesting article the other day on Medium about PTSD. The writer opined that PTSD has changed from the war torn soldier facing demons from what they encountered during operational duties to one that affects many people in day to day lives, and how this change causes people to react differently to someone who has PTSD from abuse, a serious medical injury, severe emotional bullying from parents or witnessing horrific acts, or being made to particiapte in horrific acts, from someone who has PTSD from being in the military or a police officer. Interesting as I was just talking to my husband about this very topic last week. The typical spin on PTSD, or, as it is called in the military and RCMP, an OSI...Operational Stress Injury, kind of confirms this line of thinking; PTSD from an operational perspective is somehow more damaging psychologically than PTSD from being beaten and raped as a child, being traumatized by another adult or facing a life altering event. After studying trauma for the past thirty years, and extensively for the past three years, I can tell you, trauma is trauma, no matter what you call it or how you dress it up, or under what circumstances it was conceived in. The reactions are the same: sever anxiety, depression, grief, drug and alcohol abuse to numb the pain, hyper vigilance, hyper startle reflex, insomnia, nightmares, night terrors, anger, uncontrollable rage. Then there are the physiological responses: ulcers, severe acid reflux, digestive problems, internal organ damage from the onslaught of cortisol coursing through the body, vagus nerve damage, headaches, nausea, migraines, tinnitus, vomiting, heart palpitations, angina, internal bleeding, brain aneurysms, muscle and nerve damage, fibromyalgia, and much more. What you do not hear about is how many women commit suicide because of horrific abuse suffered by the hands of their parents during childhood. Or, how many people have severe PTSD after being beaten and abused, emotionally or mentally from their partners. Sexual crimes against women are still being debated as to whether it is consensual or not, regardless of the emotional damage. Coaches, Priests, and Boy Scout Leaders that systematically traumatized boys in their care, either verbally, physically or sexually, are not outed until the victim comes forward. And then, typically, the victim has to fight the stigma of being a male that was raped. And then he gets the added benefit of PTSD. We have to start making the connection that any type of assault on people, verbal, sexual, or physical creates long lasting, damaging consequences. Bullying of any form on anyone, whether in the workplace, schools, homes, universities or the hockey arena creates damage that is not easily repaired. We need to understand the depth of violence we create and are responsible for, with our actions. And most of all, we need to support and help the people that are injured. We need to listen. We need to sincerely apologize, and we need to acknowledge their pain. Far too long we have been silent or silenced because it makes others uncomfortable. That is unacceptable.
If you suffer from trauma, speak out, get help, talk to someone you trust. There are numerous resources available in Canada and the US either through your work, in the mental heath community or through the medical community. Reach out. Say something, say anything. You matter.
If you cannot speak out, write it out. Take twenty minute and write or draw, anything. Let the feelings and the emotions pour out. You do not have to be grammatically correct, or an artist to release the demons. Draw and write whatever spews forth, and then burn it. The very act of pouring out your thoughts rather than stuffing them down, and then burning away those thoughts can bring about a feeling of catharsis. And maybe, one day, you will be strong enough to seek help. Do this for yourself. Do this for the people that love you.
Sometimes, we are harder on ourselves than we are on others. We believe we are at fault, we deserve the crappy life we are wallowing in, because somehow we said or did the wrong thing, we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, we dressed inappropriately, we said something that upset the balance, and nothing could be further from the truth. We keep ourselves locked up from guilt and shame, because it is easier to believe we had control over the event and that somehow we can prevent it from happening again, if we dress correctly, not speak up or out, if we follow the rules, if we tried harder, if we remain silent. This is reinforced by others who fear the same thing can happen to them, so well-meaning friends and relatives will tell you, if you hadn’t been walking alone at night, you would not have been assaulted; if you had not been drunk, you would have been safe; if you were not alone with the coach or priest, you would not have been molested; if you had not made your partner angry, you would have not been beaten.
I’ve had trauma survivors tell me that their children have disclosed abuse, and the children are lying because they are seeking attention. These adults are so damaged, that they cannot see what is happening in front of them and choose to believe their child is at fault, and consequently, they are at fault as well for their own abuse.
Years ago a small town in Alberta had a disproportionate number of rapes. The solution? Do not allow women to walk outside after 8:00 PM. Instead of locking up the men, they locked up the women.
This magical thinking serves two purposes: it keeps people scared so they do not repeat what you did and they believe that keeps them safe, and it reinforces the lesson that you are at fault.
Change is difficult, and the people in our lives will be uncomfortable with changes we make to keep ourselves healthy. Be prepared to lose friends and family. But, also look forward to having some control over your life. Accept that you deserve peace, stability and love. People who love you, will support you. There is hope.
Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868
Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645
Native Youth Crisis Line: 1-877-209-1266
Centre for Suicide Prevention: 1-833-456-4566
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255