Recovering From the Wounds of Emotional Trauma

By Meghan Vivo

Every client who comes to The Ranch leaves a piece of themselves there. A simple stone, carried around to represent the burden of emotional trauma, becomes a symbol of surrender. On a quiet night along the banks of the Piney River, men and women breathe their story into their stone, and in one powerful gesture of releasing the stone into the river, surrender their old story and begin anew.

From Victim to Victor

James Nihan has witnessed this transformation from victim to victor at The Ranch for over 10 years. Inspired by the courage and healing he has seen, Nihan, an award-winning songwriter, wrote “Dragonfly,” excerpted below.

Dragonfly fans the sky
Witnessing the scene below
Near enough to hear the lie
She was told so long ago
Courage overcoming fear
Tracing pain and facing in
She sheds the poison with her tears
Feeling healing love begin

“People experience a lot of fear when beginning a new story,” says Nihan, who serves as lead residential assistant at The Ranch. “Often we settle for the life we have, with all its upheavals and discomforts, simply because it’s what we know. We assume it’s better and safer than stepping forward into the unknown, which can feel like leaping into an abyss.”

As Nihan knows from his personal experience in recovery and subsequent success as a songwriter, stepping out of the role of victim can change someone’s life forever. After years of writing life-has-done-me-wrong lyrics, Nihan began crafting songs of hope and inspiration.

“Being the victor means I have the power of choice. I can choose anger, resentment and isolation, or I can choose to be compassionately connected to the world around me, forgiving myself and others as I go,” Nihan explains. “No one makes the perfect decision every time, but we can learn how to quickly redirect ourselves back to the healthy choice again. Rather than dwelling on a problem for three days, now I can get back on track in three hours, or even three minutes.”

Recovering the Authentic Self

Dragonfly says goodbye
As the woman says hello
To the truth she can’t deny
Love is all she needs to know
She softly fades into the trees
In pastel shades of summer rays
And dancing on the August breeze
He can hear a song of praise

When clients arrive at The Ranch, they are often hurt, angry, resentful or depressed. While some come to The Ranch specifically for trauma treatment, others uncover deep-rooted trauma in the course of addressing addiction or other issues.

Many clients put up emotional barriers that prevent them from getting to the “inner child,” where the real therapeutic work happens, says Nihan. While it’s a process to open up on such a deep level, the reward is discovering the authentic self.

A sacred fire circle is one of the most impactful places for clients to share their experiences and reclaim their identities. Nihan recalls a 19-year-old client who struggled with anger and unresolved grief from his father’s passing on 9/11.

“After he came in from the fire circle, his face was completely different,” Nihan recalls. “He told me he had been praying for Bin Laden. If a client could find forgiveness for the person who killed his father, I knew I could find forgiveness in my heart for those, past and present, I thought had offended me.”

The Path of Empowerment

Dragonfly, keeping dry
Lands upon a drifting leaf
He can feel the river sigh
Carrying away the grief
Resting iridescent wings
As sunset burns and turns to night
He thinks about the way all things
Are kindred spirits of the Light

The stone ceremony and fire circle are just two ways men and women recovering from emotional trauma at The Ranch shed the pain of the past and move forward into life. Clients are encouraged to become active participants in their own recovery. In addition to traditional therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and intensive individual, group and family therapy, treatment includes spiritual ceremonies and experiential therapy.

Experiential therapy helps clients get in touch with who they are and what they are passionate about in life. For some, equine therapy sparks the healing process, whereas others may discover new insights on the ropes course or in art therapy. Some clients participate in a “vision quest” toward the end of their stay – a solo overnight experience, often held at the medicine wheel, atop a rolling hill beneath the stars, where they face fears and connect with their spirituality.

“The Ranch offers treatment that is truly unique,” says Nihan, who was attracted to The Ranch because of its special programs and native ancestral landscapes. “From the early days, The Ranch hasn’t been afraid to try new and innovative approaches, exposing clients to a wide variety of therapies until it finds something that resonates with each individual.”

Writing a New Life Story

Mother River washes clean
The wounds you give her
Even those unseen
And Mother River held this broken child
Until her reflection smiled

In the safe, supportive and serene setting of The Ranch, clients are empowered to express their feelings and overcome self-limiting beliefs. When clients embody the victor, it shows not only in their emotions but also in the way they carry themselves. Rather than being stuck in a place of shame or fear, clients leave with their heads held high, ready to write the first words of their new life story.

Lyrics from the song “Dragonfly”
Written by James Nihan
Published by Composure Music (ASCAP)
Used by Permission

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