Life Changes

The echoes of trauma

There’s an elephant in the room.

If you’ve never heard that expression before, it means there is something that no one quite knows how to address without a sense of awkwardness or discomfort. Yet people can do it.

Today I would like to address “trauma” as one of those elephants, using compassionate intention with each word. I would like to help you find your voice.

My goals are to help create language for further discussion, decrease any negative preconceptions and move the healing forward within ourselves, families, workplaces and communities through information and resources.

It’s a very relevant topic in our region, as more people than you could ever imagine have experienced trauma. I’ve done my research.

Traumatic events can echo with varying and layered effects throughout a person’s life, including unknowingly sabotaging relationships.

Families, workplaces, communities and countries can experience trauma. Yet the conversation may have seemed too prickly to discuss. Healing can’t take place without conversations; especially those happening in our heads.

Let me first help to distinguish that NOT every unwelcome, dramatic event in life brings about trauma. Yet people of all ages and stages of life can be living with trauma -including the smallest of children.

Healing trauma has been difficult because no two people are alike. Post-traumatic stress originally was named for what was termed “shell-shocked” military. But that was only the beginning of naming traumatic events and effects on lives. Research has significantly progressed to understand it is not only a military impact.

Let me be clear. Telling someone to “shake it off,” “get over it,” “buck up” or “take a pill” is cruel. Adults may have unresolved trauma from childhood that continues because of this very lack of support.

Adults with post-traumatic stress already are beating themselves up enough for not being able to figure it out alone. So think of how children feel when they can’t “name it” or simply “fix it” either. They don’t have the resources, and they may not tell what has happened.

Let me stop to say something very important at this point. If you were a child when something happened, know you didn’t have the life experience to put language to what was happening either. Maybe you tried to hide something because you thought it was somehow your fault or a family secret. I see you clearly. It was not your fault. Give yourself “self permission” to not feel guilt.

Trauma is not a choice. It causes an actual impact to the way the brain works. Your brain’s amygdala is part of the limbic system, responsible for emotions, survival instincts and memory. The body’s production of chemicals, neurotransmitters, neuropathways and other areas can impact ways of thinking and being in the world.

You’ve probably heard of fight, flight or freeze as trauma reactions. There is much more than that to understand. Because the brain controls everything, it can have far reaching impacts to other areas of the body.

People with post-traumatic stress are not broken. They are in a process of reestablishing their footing, anchors, perspectives and health. There is an actual “reentry” process that takes place. Learning how to be present is one key.

So where can you begin the healing journey for yourself or a loved one? Some solid resources are available to everyone. Two of the most significant researchers in the field are Dr. Bessel van der Kolk and Dr. Peter Levine.

I suggest you begin by talking with your physician. You may have told them about physical pains you are having; such as migraines, intestinal problems, confusion, anxiety, sleep disorders and more. Yet without telling them of an event that happened to you, they will not know how to fully care for you.

I’ve researched this topic for more than three decades, and planned on creating programs after completing my Ph.D. in “life leadership after loss or trauma.” That process was interrupted when my mother and I both were diagnosed with different cancers within a week’s timeframe. But now I can make a difference.

This column affords us 800 words of conversation. It’s a great start, yet I will offer something beyond this column.

I am organizing a free monthly program that you and loved ones can attend to gain tools, insights and healing paths from professionals within our community. It will focus on body, mind and spirit. Know that you will not be asked to share your story. If you would like to know more, you are welcome to contact me at Langley.1188@comcast.net.

Recently Lady Gaga was interviewed by Prince William. She had the courage to say she deals with PTSD every day. I admire her for doing so. I admire you for taking back your life or helping a loved one to do so. May peace finally be with you.

Langley is the author of “Life Changes … “ Her column is published the first Sunday of every other month in the Lifestyle section.

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