Mary K. Armstrong leads with her post in our first session in our PTSD FORUM. She is part of a team of professionals I am inviting to help our veterans suffering from PTSD. These veterans are forced to learn methods of self-help because of the lack of local support so I am encouraging those outside the realm of government assistance to follow Rob Simpson’s example and form their own self-help groups across the country. These groups, however, need professional guidelines and techniques to help them be more effective along with sharing their experiences. This is what our team of trauma specialists propose to do.
Rob also encourages spouses, friends, caregivers — anyone close to vets suffering with PTSD and don’t know how to help them — to attend his group’s sessions. I agree with this approach.
Those suffering from PTSD believe they are alone, but they are not. And because folks back home have not seen or experienced what they did under combat conditions does not mean they cannot imagine and empathize with them if they do open up and talk. There is nothing worse than being left on the sidelines watching someone you love just disappear on you. Family, friends, spouses want to help but don’t know how. I admit not everyone is lucky to have that kind of emotional support. Not everyone finds a partner or marries someone who is mature enough or compassionate enough to handle the changes in their loved ones when they come home with these post traumatic symptoms. They are needy people in their own right trying to learn how to cope with life’s punches and don’t have the emotional reserve necessary to handle the extra burden of the vet or current serving ‘soldier’ suffering with PTSD. But this is not the case for all families, friends, partners and spouses of PTSD sufferers. Many can handle it if the PTSD sufferer will let them in. Love is the comforter common to these caregivers. They just need effective tools to help them communicate this.
Rob talks about how his first marriage failed but now he is remarried to a woman who loves him and is his lifeline. We cannot and should not ignore both sets of needs in dealing with PTSD sufferers.
Remember, you can ask Mary questions in the Comments sections below. BONNIE
So, you might ask, “Why is a trauma therapist who spent her whole professional life treating victims of childhood trauma writing for War Veterans? Good question. I’ll attempt to give you a good reason.
The damage done by trauma is pretty much the same, whether it happens in a war zone, in a terrible car accident or in the parents’ bedroom.
Two factors make for trauma. The event is 1) intolerable and 2) inescapable. The human race has survived thanks to the brain’s ability to change under catastrophic conditions. Times of war, famine and natural disasters would have wiped out the human race without the brain’s ability to adapt to trauma. For example, the hippocampus of the brain (responsible for handling memory) atrophies from lack of use. Often victims of trauma don’t remember the terrifying incident. This allows them to live better in the immediate future. Long-term though, they pay the price. I’ve heard it compared to living off your credit card. At first it allows you to live a lot better. Later you have to pay with interest.
The price you pay for not dealing with the traumatic incidents is this: the emotions appropriate to the trauma are stored in the unconscious. Whatever we don’t have access to in our conscious minds leaks out and forces us to act in ways we don’t understand and don’t want. The rage that is stored away will be misplaced onto the wrong person. The terror we felt will be played out when the veteran from a warzone dives under the table because a car backfires: when an accident victim is terrified to get into a car: when a victim of child sexual abuse goes numb with her adult sexual partner.
After the War in Vietnam, the returning vets encountered a pubic that didn’t want to hear what they’d been through. They knew they needed to tell their stories and organized their own “rap groups.” Today, thankfully, there is understanding of trauma and there’s help available. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We just need more people like Bonnie Toews to provide guidance. More and more therapists are being trained to work in this most important area. And we need more support from funders, like the government.
After all, trauma is trauma no matter how it occurs.
_____________REFERENCE: Sylvain Chartrand CD is collecting a Bank of Articles on PTSD. For more information, please see Canadian Veterans Advocacy.