Embracing Trauma Recovery as a Process

Until relatively recently, people who struggled with trauma would suffer in silence. Constant chatter and internal dialogues cluttered their minds; painful memories launch unannounced into the middle of moments to hijack emotions and flood the body with the painful yet familiar sensations of fear and dread. Although many people seek help from professionals, true healing often eludes them, so the fight to manage the challenges of everyday life sometimes lead to faulty or incomplete diagnoses. Deep down, people know the range of their symptoms are broad, so the benefits from talk therapy, medications and experiential interventions may only address the tip of the iceberg. Many people lose hope that life will ever get better.

Today, the recovery community has gained a deep understanding of trauma. Healing and freedom from the bondage of past experiences is possible, but such recovery is not a fast process. Just like a bone that is severely broken needs more time to mend than a superficial scratch, emotional scars caused by devastating life events fade slowly. It is important to maintain a realistic view of this fact, as this perspective can generate patience with the process and mitigate feelings of discouragement and despair.

What Is Trauma?

As defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, trauma is the product of events that inspire fear, helplessness, confusion and hopelessness. Symptoms often exist with or without awareness of their connection to the original stress. For example, take the circumstances of a man who survives a horrific car crash: although he may process the event quickly and return to work within a few weeks, chances are his healing is incomplete. Trauma causes the brain to shift into crisis mode, because the part of the brain that controls language, time, sequencing and advanced problem-solving gets compromised. At the same time, the part of the brain that masterminds defending against danger kicks into overdrive. For that reason, traumatic events are usually recalled in the form of images, emotions and bodily sensations. Details that are critical to understanding the event and putting it into proper perspective get lost or diminished.

However, even years after a traumatic event happens, the brain continues working with the nervous system to interpret and understand what happened. Symptoms of this struggle include the following issues:

  • Emotional hijacking in the form of sudden or violent anger or sobbing
  • Nightmares
  • Overwhelming waves of sadness and loss
  • Inexplicable sense of dread
  • Troubling images
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Chronic anxiety
  • Impulse control problems
  • Weak attention and concentration skills
  • High-risk behavior
  • Dissociation

Survivors may work hard to avoid reminders of the event or circumstance. Unconsciously or with full awareness, they may stay away from places, people, objects, locations and activities that could trigger them. For example, they may refuse to talk about certain topics. Someone who was molested may avoid fragrances that she associates with an abuser; someone who was robbed and held at gunpoint in his own home might move to a different neighborhood or state to distance himself from the event; a parent who lost a child in a tragic accident may refuse to celebrate certain holidays in an attempt to erase the memory. When symptoms such as these are lodged deeply, specialists working at the Center for Trauma Therapy say that they rarely respond to first-line treatments. In order to heal, specialized care is usually necessary, often for an extended period of time.

Hope and Healing: How Recovery Works

The International Academy of Trauma Professionals, an organization of clinicians with a specific focus on trauma treatment, education and research, maintain that the best way to overcome trauma comes from receiving a combination of the following skills and experiences:

  • Form a strong relationship with at least one person upon whose skills and knowledge about trauma you can rely without reservation
  • The ability to calm the nerves even when symptoms are most active
  • The ability to resolve traumatic memories and experiences without reliving them

Knowing what to expect from therapy is a smart way to embrace the change process. At most professional centers, treatment takes place in several stages. First, the patient is evaluated. Stabilization, the process by which a person becomes less reactive, fearful and self-destructive, quickly follows. At this point, the deep work of resolving the trauma begins. This process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, depending on several factors. Finally, the patient enters into the aftercare stage of treatment. Among other tasks, this stage focuses on maintaining gains and self-care strategies. Like recovery from other conditions, most people are never completely “cured” from trauma: the wounds may no longer fester and throb, but the scars may always remain as a quiet reminder of the need for tenderness and care.

Recovery from Alcohol Addiction

If you or someone you love struggles with addiction and trauma, then know that help is available. Admissions coordinators at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline can guide you to wellness, so do not go it alone when help is just one phone call away. Start your recovery now with professional support.

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