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YOU ARE STILL ALIVE
This revelation may seem obvious, but for many trauma victims there is a sense of numb detachment from the body and the world. There's no denying that if you're reading this, you're alive; something you discovered (to your surprise) after your traumatizing event. I say surprise because that's what trauma is; a terrible, horrible, surprise that leaves you feeling helpless and hopeless. The perception of pending death or serious injury is part of the definition of being traumatized. This means that you truly believed that you would not survive. But you did. And depending on who you are and what happened to you, this can either be good news or bad news. Since this is your life and your journey, you get to decide how you want to feel about being alive after what you've been through.
What does it mean to be alive? It means that your heart is still beating, blood is flowing throughout your body, your brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and intestines are functioning. These are not things you have to 'make' happen; they're just happening. Being alive means you exist. It means you, like any other living thing, have the ability to grow, expand and change. Being alive is not the same as living. Being alive requires minimal, to no effort on your part, while living requires effort and courage. Living means intentionally interacting with your environment. It can take significant effort, and courage, to reengage with the world, with life, with people or with yourself. So, the revelation that you are still alive is a call to consciousness; a call to action, a call to that part of you that's not done yet; the part of you that survived the horror and wants to be more than its victim. I've seen people who were blown up, shot or beaten to the point of physical death; yet they are walking and talking. Some of these people find their new state of existence to be overwhelming and debilitating, and become stuck in a constant state of crisis, while others find a way to use this new form to learn, heal and teach themselves, and others, how to live again.
Living means choosing to interact with your environment. You choose to get out of bed. You choose to take a shower and get dressed. You choose to eat. You choose to go to work. You choose to interact with family and friends. You choose to date. You choose to be in an intimate relationship. You choose to become involved with coworkers, organizations or church. At the heart of any of these choices, is the decision to step outside of the fortress you created following your trauma. The choice to live again means having the courage to risk being seen, being touched, being cared for, being loved, being hurt, being betrayed and being safe again. Choosing to live again is choosing to stretch, expand and grow into the next best version of you. The risk is the possibility of losing it all again, but the reward is a stronger more conscious version of You. Essentially, choosing to live again means choosing to be the next best version of Yourself in the face of constant change and uncertainty. A caterpillar has no idea how to be a butterfly, and yet it does all it can do to live fully as a caterpillar. The result, is a gorgeous and healthy butterfly. So yes, you can do everything right, and still things will change. An acorn has no idea how to be an oak tree, and yet it sits in the dark earth, breaks apart, reaches for the light, stretches toward the sun, year after year; it breaks and stretches until it becomes a mighty oak tree. You are the one constant in your life! Wherever you go, there You are. You get to choose how you show up, over and over and over again, regardless of the situation.
Built into every living thing is the information, the essence, the knowing, of how to be the ultimate expression of itself. What sets us apart from all other living things, is cognition, judgement and choice. We think; We judge; We Choose. This process slows us down, and can stop us all together, on the journey to becoming the next best version of ourselves. Ironically, the very part of us that makes us 'evolved humans,' can also make us behave as though we are untamed animals ... lurking in the shadows, at the mercy of our environment, isolated, defensive, aggressive, shy, suspicious and unapproachable; all because we think this will keep us safe. Posttraumatically, our cognition, judgment and choices are made from a trauma victims' perspective. Trauma is a horrible surprise that rewires our information circuits to the point of disorder. Trauma changes everything! How you see, how you hear, how you feel, how you taste and how you smell, are all changed. Consequently, all that matters, is never being surprised again. In this state, living doesn't seem like an option; only surviving. To heal from the wounds of horror and terror, victims must make the choice to live. Otherwise they will remain stuck on the posttraumatic rollercoaster, reliving the traumas over, and over again. Every breath, every minute, every hour and every day, is a chance to start over. Your life; your choice.
Think about who you were before the traumatic event, or events, that you have survived. Think about the person you were before all hell broke loose, and you believed you were 'done.'
Now, think about who you are now. What has life been like since you were traumatized? What is your life like now? Pause.
Now, think about who you want to be. Try to imagine what you would do if fear was not an option. What would you do if you could not fail? What small steps can you take toward the person you want to be? These steps can be as small as getting out of bed, taking a shower, having a meal, calling a supportive person, leaving your house, taking a walk or even brushing your teeth. Depending on where you are on your journey, the steps will vary. The step doesn't matter as much as the choice to move. On the following pages, I invite you to write (without judgement) about what you would do if you could not fail and steps you can take now toward who you want to be. No step is too small, and no goal is too big.CHAPTER 2
WHILE YOU WERE OUT, SOMETHING KEPT YOU ALIVE
* * *
This revelation may be off putting for some, so bear with me. Whether you're a scientist, atheist, agnostic, spiritual or religious person, your body experienced an event that disrupted your state of consciousness. Regardless of what you believe in, something bigger, stronger and smarter than you — call it God, Universe, Elohim, Jesus, Yeshuah, Spirit, Buddha, Allah or Energy; it kept you alive when you thought you were going to die. That's what trauma is; an event so overwhelming to the senses that your brain believes death, or serious harm, is imminent and the body prepares to die. But you don't. Instead your body freezes, for seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks or even months depending on the physical impact of the traumatic event. This 'freeze' is the third step in the body's stress response following 'fight' and 'flight.' While you were frozen or dissociated, your body continued to record the details of the event, its surroundings, the sights, sounds, smells, tests and sensations. So, that when you regained consciousness, you could collect this information and decide what to do with it. What happened? Who can I call? Where am I? When am I? Can anybody, see or hear me? These questions fire rapidly and are answered at varying speeds depending on the circumstances of your specific event. Are you in a crowd, in a home, on the side of a road, in the woods, on a battle field, in an abandoned building, in a hospital or in a movie theatre? Is it day or night? As answers start to flow and you become more physically stable, more questions arise. What do I do now? How do I move forward? Can I move forward? How did I survive? What will my life look like now? How can I face myself? How can I face my family? What will they think of me? What do I think of myself? What do I need? What do I want? What matters now? Does anyone care about what happened to me? Do I care about myself? The answers to these questions can move you forward and set you free or hold you hostage making you a prisoner.
You don't have to instruct a physical wound to heal. You just need to keep it clean, supported and protected, and the body is designed to do the healing work — swelling to reduce movement, pain to remind you to be careful and slow down, clotting to create a scab and so on. Your body can rebuild bone! And given the right support, our hearts and minds will heal and rebuild as well. The Intelligence that keeps you alive, beats your heart, heals your paper cuts, grows your hair and blinks your eye, guarantees it. You don't need to pay heart rent, blood mortgage or bone insurance; it's taken care of — provided. We just need to give our broken hearts and minds the same attention we give to our broken bones.
Imagine, how different life would be, if we could see the extent of our mental and emotional wounds. How would we behave, if there were casts, splints or cutches for our hearts and minds following a traumatic event? Would we be as considerate as we are for someone with crutches and a broken leg trying to navigate stairs or tight spaces? If we could see the emotional wounds of the crash or explosion that may have caused the physical damage, how would we interact? Would we slow down the flow of information the way we hold the door and the elevator? Would we offer to repeat or rephrase instructions or requests, the way we offer to carry a bag or box? Would we be more attentive to the psychological and emotional wounds that may accompany a black eye or concussion, or do we need a back story? Does it matter if the person with the back eye and concussion is a service member, boxer, football player or domestic violence victim? Regardless of the source of trauma, our bodies behave much the same way when traumatized; shock is shock, pain is pain, loss is loss. Judgement, guilt and shame that follow the event will, unfortunately, determine the extent of support given to the individual and the resulting wounds. The ability, and right, to heal and grow posttraumatically, is built into every living being. Love and support is all that's required from us. The Intelligence that kept you alive when you were unconscious or 'blacked out,' is always active; always supporting growth and healing. We may not agree on what 'It' is, but we know It's there.
Giving yourself permission to heal is the first step. This means surrendering to the power and wisdom that created you. Permission to heal is about getting out of your own way and letting yourself be, supported, cared for and loved. You don't have to believe in a creator or higher power to heal; your skin and bones do it by design. The power that beats your heart isn't conditionally distributed; it is ever present. We've come to expect that our bones and skin will repair themselves. So, we do what we can to support them and go on — a band aid, a splint, ice, rest, elevate and so on; maybe checking in with the doctor in six to eight weeks. That's faith. Based on years of evidence, we now take for granted that the body will heal. Miracles are only miracles until we understand what's happening. Once we can explain how and why bone and skin repair themselves, it stops being wonderous. Once we had machines powerful enough to make the invisible visible we stopped calling them miracles. We simply support the wounds and expect the healing.
But there seems to be a disconnect where wounded hearts and minds are concerned. Support is still too slow. As if nothing really happened; we avoid, delay and deny our emotional wounds. So common, and dismissive, is the attitude toward mental and emotional damage, that the sayings 'you're fine,' 'you just want attention,' 'you'll get over it,' or 'don't dwell on it' become internalized by the victim. The emotional and psychological wounds become more about the maladaptive behaviors than the actual traumatic events themselves. Trauma survivors tend to blame themselves for the 'mess' they're in or blame others for causing them to behave in destructive ways. Either way, attention is given to the behaviors resulting from the traumatic event, instead of the wounds driving the behaviors. Wounded beings behave differently than healed beings. Man, woman, child, lion, cub, elephant, dog, cat or rabbit will behave aggressively, defensively and withdrawn when traumatized. These behaviors are attempts to feel safe, even when help is being offered, the wounded may recoil or attack. So, care and support must be compassionate and nonjudgmental — as neutral as a heartbeat. When we focus more on behaviors than we do the traumatic loss, malpractice/maltreatment can occurs.
There is the attitude that we're somehow stuck with labels like Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar, Borderline Personality, Obsessive Compulsive or Posttraumatic Stress Disorders. As if they are things! They are labels (judgments) given to a list of behaviors, no more, and no less! They are medical identifiers given to trauma survivors who are trying to stabilize (or feel 'normal again') posttraumatically. And each one of these behaviors are because of some significant loss. They are the response to losing an important thing or person; they are attempts to cope with the life changing event that was determined, by the individual, to be traumatic, overwhelming, catastrophic or just too much to handle. Losing a family member, a friend, a job, a home or a body part are all potential causes for a trauma response. The word trauma comes from the Greek word meaning serious wounded needing professional attention. A wound leaves damage that must be repaired, if the wounded is expected to regain full functioning. The posttraumatic emotional and psychological loss felt by a person following a catastrophic or traumatic loss is personal and unique to that individual. The damage and trauma response are directly correlated to the significance placed on the loss by the person experiencing it — trauma is subjectively registered in and by the individual.
No one has the right, nor the authority, to tell a trauma survivor how he or she feels Posttraumatically. No one has the right to tell a survivor to 'just get over it.' Even if you have your own trauma history, it does not give you the right or authority to tell someone else how to experience their trauma. The significance of the loss, is determined by the individual losing the significant thing, and not the grown-up or 'expert' professional, witnessing it. Another important element of trauma is that it is subjective, subjective, subjective! That means it is based on the individual's perception of the experience.
What makes it seem so common is the symptoms and behaviors that follow. We are all created the same, and yet we are all different; like snowflakes, apple trees, butterflies, ocean waves or roses, we are commonly unique. We are the same in that we all bleed, cry, mourn, yell, laugh, fear, attack, defend and protect. What makes us different is why and how we do these things. Our values and perspectives will determine what we do, when, why and how we do it following a loss. Faith in science, or faith in a higher power, is a value that we learn and use to make sense of our world, and our place in it. Our values are how we make sense and relate to our world — ourselves and those we care for. Any threat, real or perceived can cause a defensive response. Any loss, real or perceived can trigger a trauma response. And trauma is experienced, and responded to, from a primitive, instinctive and irrational part of ourselves. When we believe our life is endangered, we don't think. We act. We act from a place of raw, primitive emotional instinct. Posttraumatic — after a traumatic experience, we try to 'make sense' of the event and our response to it. The ability, and willingness, to do this with compassion will make all the difference. Cognition, logic, judgement, guilt, shame and punishment will most certainly slow down the healing process; because, trauma is beyond cognition and logic, which is what makes it a disgusting surprise. Trauma is an event that is beyond belief, outside of our current sense of reality, that leaves us feeling helpless and hopeless to prevent it from happening.
When we attempt to rationalize the invisible, we discount important information, which results in long, and unnecessary, pain and suffering. When we label mental and emotional wounds using only scientific evidence, the person is lost to the disease. There is no x-ray for a broken heart or shattered mind, only the feelings and meaning we give to the experience. There are instruments that can measure the effects of trauma on the physical brain such as; SPEC or PET scans (methods used to examine chemical damage in the brain and other soft tissue in the body), and they are often too expensive for most people to afford. And they cannot identify meaning or value, two inexplicable ingredients of trauma — as it is the loss of something or someone meaningful, and the value of the thing or person lost, that facilitate the conditions for a trauma response. If you're not a cat or dog person, you'll respond quite differently to the death of a cat or dog than someone who is. If you didn't know Jim from Iowa, you won't miss him like his family or friends will. The emotional damage that results from trauma is rarely seen, believed or understood — the very things needed to heal from trauma.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Post-Traumatic Stress Revelations"
Copyright © 2018 Afrah Caraballo.
Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
You Are Still Alive, 1,
While You Were Out, Something Kept You Alive, 7,
There Is No 'Back To Normal', 20,
There Is No Expiration Date For Trauma, 37,
You Must Decide To Leave The Posttraumatic Cave, 47,
You Are The Only Reason To Try Endlessly, 64,
You Must Share The Gift Of You, There's A Reason You're Still Alive, 78,