Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What Does Trauma Recovery Actually Look Like?


Recovery looks different for everyone. It is simplistic to reduce anything as complex as how people heal or change to stages, steps or phases. However, I have noticed a flow or pattern of how people go through their recovery process. Sometimes they repeat stages, stay for long periods in certain stages or even jump stages. Here is the framework that I often see.

1. Denial. Most people start their recovery with some degree of denial. In order to live life, be successful, and move forward denial is an important coping skill. Sometimes a traumatic memory needs to be hidden in the psyche if a person wants to survive. When the time is right to heal; meaning that there is enough safety, enough support, and/or the weight of the trauma memory becomes too big to carry, then the work to unfold the trauma capsule or memory can begin. Other parts of the self work hard to protect the traumatized part with denial. Consequently, the parts of the psyche or self that have been denying the trauma need to emerge and agree that they have been doing just that and it is no longer beneficial to continue. This part of the work can go on for a long time depending on how much the person wants to move on in their healing. I hear phrases like:
“I can’t believe this really happened to me.”
“This couldn’t been true.”
“Did I make this up?’
When there is no longer any part of us invested in denying the reality and scope of the trauma, then we feel like we are seeing the truth of what happened for the first time, even though we have lived with it for years. The pain now fully emerges due to not having the numbing device of dissociation to cover it. We wake up into numbing disbelief, which turns into pain and suffering. At this stage we need a lot of support, nurturing and care to not turn to addictions to escape the feelings.

2. Anger. The second step after we fully accept our trauma is anger. We are angry at the past, people in the present, and ourselves. We are angry that the world can be so cruel, that we were not protected, that people can act so horrid, and that we had to live through what we did. We can be angry with our therapist for leading us into this awakening. During this stage I hear phrases like:
“How come my mother did not protect me?”
“I wish he was dead.”
“There is no God.”
“The world is cruel.”
“Why me?’
When we learn ways to move through anger, how to release it safely, how to hold it without being overwhelmed by it, and how to calm it, then we can move into a more reflective expanded awareness of our self and the world. We need to pace this step because we could be dealing with years of bottled up anger. Remorse, self-blame, and fear can emerge and different parts of self will have different agendas and stories that we will need to listen to and resolve.

3. Bargaining. The third step is bargaining with the past and the future. In this stage people feel that they have lost too much time, wasted the best years or their lives or made bad choices because of their traumatic childhood. Sometimes they wish they had never started their recovery process because it is too painful. Sometimes they wish they could just check out. This is a time when clients stop therapy and think they need a break, when really, what they need to do is feel all the feelings that are emerging and realize that they can bear it, even though it is difficult and painful. During this stage I hear phrases like:
“I will never use again if things just get better.”
“ Why me, I don’t deserve this.”
“ If I read this book, do this workshop, see this healer I will be healed and the pain will be over.”
“Why can’t I just move on?”
 Railing against fate can turn into having a deeper ability to reflect, understand and be with the chaos of the universe. We can move away from blame and fear and find new ground after we get a new philosophy, spiritual belief or understanding of the world that fits.

4. Depression. The fourth step is depression. This stage is usually flooded with sadness for yourself, others and the state of the world. Sometimes you are reflecting in a healthy way on your past and other times you feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of your loss. You may isolate yourself and pull back from the world. It is the beginning of the mourning process and you need to be gentle, and soft with the new you that is emerging.
During this stage I hear:
“The world is too evil.”
“Maybe I need to travel, retreat, and/or move.”
“ What is the meaning of life?”
This retreat stage is a time to heal wounds, talk to family members and start the process of meaning making. It really is a time to embrace “not knowing” although every inch of you wants to know why. It is a time to deeply listen to all the different parts of you and be with yourself in a kind compassionate way. You are getting to know yourself freshly.

5. Acceptance. In this stage of the work you learn to accept yourself and others. You return to the surface work of being yourself in the world. Practical matters are easier to work with and you don’t feel as lonely. You want to reconstruct yourself and find a new way of being in the world. The pain and turmoil are still with you but you have skills in releasing, being and working with it. You find that you can stand in the reality of your situation without the past hijacking you. You don’t feel the urge to deny the past. It has found a different way to live openly in your body. You are starting to feel hopeful. During this stage I hear:
“I am feeling more integrated and whole.”
“I am amazed about how strong I really am.”
“I want a more meaningful life.”
“I am less afraid and more peaceful.”
This awaking stage can be scary and exciting. It is another birth stage in your life. You don’t turn your back on your weakness or wounded parts but use your strength to integrate and include them in yourself. Accepting your own weaknesses enables you to accept other people’s weaknesses and creates an expansiveness in your field of awareness.
Clients art work.

1 comment:

Jason Strong said...

Its amazing to see what art can do for people. It is a great way to let out their emotions in a nice, safe, and healthy way. I'm grateful for art and all that it does for us. http://www.compassionateheartstudio.com/online-art-therapy-services.html

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