Don’t Let Trauma Ruin Your Life

Have you suffered trauma that is so devastating that it is currently ruining your life? Are you, perhaps, the parent of a child that has experience some form of trauma and want to know how you can help your child? The facts for children alone are startling: Every year more than five million children in the United States (about 7 percent) experience an extreme traumatic event. Some three million, or five percent, are subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Today, there are between 15 and 30 million (20 to 50 percent) children living in the United States that are either the victims or witnesses of violence. But trauma can affect anyone, child or adult. A traumatic event is defined as a sudden and unexpected occurrence that causes intense fear and may also involve the threat of physical harm. These include events such as an accident, the death of a loved one, a life-threatening illness, abuse, a natural disaster, war, and immigration-related trauma. There is also complex trauma in children and adolescents, which typically involves simultaneous or sequential occurrences of child maltreatment that is chronic, begins in early childhood, and occurs within the primary care system, usually the home. This child maltreatment can include physical and sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence and psychological maltreatment. Research has shown that exposure to these initial traumatic experiences, and the resulting emotional dysfunction, fears for safety, and inability to recognize danger cues, often set off a chain of events resulting in subsequent or repeated trauma exposure in adolescence and adulthood. Who Are These Victims of Trauma? Soldiers returning from active duty in war-torn areas are often suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a form of trauma resulting from wartime experiences. Women and children who are the recipients of domestic violence and/or sexual abuse are other trauma victims. Adolescents and teens who are sexually abused or bullied or stalked and harassed by schoolmates or others are also trauma victims. The aftermath of a devastating earthquake, fire, hurricane, tornado, flood or rampant wildfires can leave thousands of individuals suffering from trauma. Anyone, man, woman or child, can be the victim of crime. This is also an example of trauma. What Can Be Done One point is absolutely clear. You don’t have to let the situation go unattended. There is help available for victims of trauma, whether that individual is an adult who experienced trauma as a child or during adolescence or adulthood. It is easy to dismiss the idea of overcoming trauma, either because it seems as though the trauma is so deep-rooted as to be inaccessible or unable to be processed or out of fear over the process by which someone does overcome such painful memories. There is no question that this is frightening. It would be frightening both to the loved ones as well as the victim of the trauma itself. Often, the victim of early childhood trauma has long ago given up on the hope of ever feeling “normal” again. As such, he or she may have resigned himself or herself to a life of lesser expectations. In the worst cases, the individual is so demoralized that life seems not worth living at all. Substance abuse and subsequent abuse of one’s own children and other problems cascade together to create the perfect storm of a downward spiral. Again, this does not have to be the outcome for you or for your child, loved one or friend who has experienced trauma. The first step is recognizing that there is a problem and making the decision to find help to overcome it. This isn’t always the easiest decision to arrive at. Many of us are expert in the practice of denial, of telling ourselves and others that, no, there really isn’t anything wrong, that we’re perfectly capable of handling things just fine in our lives. In reality, however, without the help of a trained professional, we’re often anything but capable of living anything other than a shadow of a normal life. Is this what you want for yourself or your loved one? What Kind of Help is Available for Trauma Victims? Dealing with the aftermath of trauma is a complex situation. There may be physical reminders of the event, such as scars from wounds resulting from an accident, war, or domestic violence. There is also the tremendous psychological and emotional devastation from the painful memories associated with the trauma. Counseling and a comprehensive treatment program consisting of various treatment therapies can help trauma victims recover. One-on-one counseling with a therapist is one aspect of a coordinated treatment plan tailored to the specific individual seeking to overcome trauma. Group therapy is another. But there are many more treatment therapies that may be utilized to help an individual in his or her path to recovery from trauma. It may be best for the trauma victim to go to a residential treatment facility, particularly if drug and/or alcohol abuse or addiction also exists. One point of caution is to be sure that the treatment facility specializes in trauma treatment programs, in addition to treatment for other addictions and/or mental health disorders. That is because treatment of substance abuse, for example, without also treating underlying mental health disorder or history of trauma that is disrupting the person’s life will likely result in the individual returning to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. Many trauma victims are also suffering from drug or alcohol addiction. In fact, many likely turned to alcohol and drugs as a way of coping with the intense pain they felt as a result of the trauma. One therapy that has been shown to be highly successful in helping individuals overcome trauma is EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing). EMDR is an innovative psychotherapeutic method involving eye movements and bilateral stimulation to both desensitize and reprocess painful memories. For individuals who have drug or alcohol addiction and are at high risk for relapse, EMDR can offer great relief from the often overwhelming emotions resulting from trauma. Holistic therapies may also prove useful in helping the trauma victim to heal. These may include acupuncture, yoga, meditation, massage, equine therapy, nutritional counseling, and spiritual reawakening. Naturally, the core of treatment for trauma involves counseling. Getting past the painful memories and replacing them with life-affirming thoughts is paramount. Through gentle and consistent guidance and counseling, the individual can learn how to restructure his or her life and begin to feel joy again, to recognize that life is worth living after all, and accept and embrace that a happy future is very much a possibility. Next Steps Ask yourself what you want out of life. Do you want to go through the rest of your life being afraid of everything, unable to create goals, much less pursue them, for fear of not being deserving of happiness? If you flinch at sudden loud or unexpected sounds, can’t sleep without recurring nightmares of the traumatic event, attempt to bury your pain through abuse of alcohol or drugs, you might be experiencing the destructive effects of trauma. Are you willing to give up this misery? Wouldn’t you want to be done with it once and for all and go on with your life in the manner in which you want to live it? What about all those hopes and dreams you once had? Don’t you want to give them a go? Don’t you think you deserve to be happy? While you may not believe it right now, you can overcome all the accumulated pain associated with your past trauma. It isn’t a lifelong process, either, to learn how to overcome this albatross hanging over your head. It only takes a decision and a commitment to getting help. Once you take that step, you’re well on your way to healing. Find out what treatment facilities are in your area that specialize in trauma treatment. Research their programs either online or in-person. Ask all the questions you want and determine whether the facility feels like a good fit for you and your particular circumstance. Find out what insurance the facility takes and whether there is any financial assistance that you may qualify for, if finances are a problem and your insurance doesn’t cover the treatment. But don’t give up on the idea of getting treatment just because it may seem a little complex to get the treatment covered or paid for. Your first priority should be to get the help you need. Ask for recommendations from your doctor, if that feels more comfortable for you to get started. But definitely do ask for help. Keep on asking until you find the treatment facility that will work for you, and that feels right for you. Remember, you have the rest of your life ahead of you. A little time taken now to begin the healing process means that your future can be as bright as you always wanted it to be. It all starts now with your decision that you want to heal.

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