Trauma Talk: Life breaks us all

Stock Image, St. George News

OPINION — Hemingway writes, “Life breaks us all, those it doesn’t break, it kills. Once healed, we are stronger in the broken places.”  

Life breaks us through traumatic experiences; combat, criminal misadventure, automobile accidents, fires, rape, divorce and even bankruptcy are among the tools used. This breaking presents like an iceberg – 10 percent visible, easily recognized; 90 percent hidden, morphing. Like a sliver, unless it is treated, it will not get better. Unlike a sliver, it cannot be removed but only managed.  

The level of traumatization I’m referring to is that which is significant enough to produce post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD. Once this level of traumatization occurs, the individual, in my experience, will never stop doing threat assessments; that is, he or she keeps waiting and looking for the next traumatic event.

Trauma – healing or management

There will always be an ongoing dialogue about whether traumatic experience is ever healed. In my experience, it can only be managed.  

The traumatized detect the “spooling up” of anxiety, depression, hostility or whatever flavor of reactivity that is triggered by an event, situation, noise, smell or sound that sparked the memory, a re-experience, of the past traumatic experience. Once this “spooling up” is detected, a method of self-regulation created by the individual during treatment of the traumatic experience is enacted and the individual returns to baseline emotional functioning.  

The “self-regulation device” can be a thought, a breathing exercise, a short closed-eye visualization or any number of other possibilities created through therapeutic treatment by a professional.

I believe that we live in a seriously stressed world. Many of us feel we spend most of our lives on the verge of being completely out of control of our environment, our day-to-day social milieu, our children, our parents, our colleagues and even our feelings.

Economic stress, social unrest, being at war in some location or another for the last 60 years and the endless search for the Holy Grail called “happily ever after” have turned us inside out enough times that we have to take a vacation to recover from a vacation.

Alcohol, prescription drugs, rogue drugs and other self-medicating strategies to find some “peace of mind” have thrown us at the mercy of what we turned to for relief.

PTSD – not just for veterans

It isn’t necessary, as I wrote earlier, to go to war, get shot or assaulted, or to have a major catastrophic accident or disease to be kissed by PTSD; by definition it occurs when someone is in a situation where they believe that their life is imminently at risk or endangered or they have witnessed an event that has caused the death or severe mayhem and injury to another person.  

Like everything else in life’s cliché “different strokes for different folks,” the event or the intensity of the traumatic experience necessary to cause PTSD varies across a wide spectrum.

Common symptoms of PTSD, besides events discussed above, are sleep issues, recurring dreams, hypervigilance (endlessly threat assessing), serious discomfort in large crowds, high anxiety in chaotic situations (shopping at Wal-Mart), reluctance or serious discomfort about leaving home and preferring not to attend parties, celebrations, movies or family reunions.  

Like the sliver I wrote about earlier, if you are experiencing symptoms similar to those described here, get some counseling, or that sliver is going to continue to get worse and could even cost you your life. At the bare minimum, it will significantly reduce the quality of your life and the lives of all of those who share a life with you.  

The right professional can help by co-choreographing a strategy of life for you that will open new vistas you had thought were forever closed.

Bruce C. Solomon is a licensed therapist working with people, and their families, who have suffered trauma, any sort of trauma that leaves behind a trail that impacts the person’s life. Opinions stated in this column are his and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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7 Comments

  • debbie October 29, 2016 at 9:17 am

    we live in a time that we have never had before. at our fingertips we can see in an instant destruction, learn about history and destruction and politics and our future destruction.. medical analysis (that is often correct actually) what sicknesses we have to look forward too.. and it almost seems like we need a psychologist right beside us to guide us thru this nasty information highway we have presented ourselves. (ps why are we trusting the mental health of our nations black and white children to history teachers—>> why on gods green earth do we have them sitting together in a classroom unattended by a mental health worker embarressing young black children that the white children around thems great grand parents owned their ancestors? thats pure out and out mental anguish?) <<–was just a side note.

    The only way to counter this is to give up something. That something is knowledge of our future. Just throw caution to the wind. Vote who you think is best dressed.. only listen to the youtube list "top ten songs to make you smile " go to sleep at night with the fire place app and christmas music. Hide all political posts on your facebook. unlike everything on your facebook but happy things. i know it sounds liberal (i'm a conservative), but we are being swallowed up by worry.

    when we mess up, when we hurt and as the article said, have been broken by life.. i think sleep, massage therapists, (or at least a massage chair ((they are 1500 bucks well worth it wish i had one)).. and a therpist on demand is a good thing. Doing something selfish like pursuing something you've always wanted to pursue.. changing the grate of your road your traveling so at least your soul doesnt hurt.. take a second at your belief system.. is there something less stressful God wants for you? Hope is always here.. it is always alive, and evil has a way of smothering it with a list of things to wear us down. God wants a relationship with us. Period. says so in the first book of the entire bible. why would he push us away? Well… i really liked this article. it opened some great dialogue.

  • .... October 29, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Well as long as Dumbob and RealLowlife get their mental health assistance things should be better for them in the future.

  • starboss October 29, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    I think there’s a clue in The Book somewhere that indicates He helps those who help themselves so we gotta act, essentially “reach out.” (Hamlet:) “Aye, there’s the rub” because there’s sharks in the water and so reaching out is an act of blind faith. Mayhaps who, or what, responds to your reach is someone like the one who slurred “Dumbob” and “RealLowlife” rather than his own condescending mental health… Thank you for your kind comment and the thought you brought to the article.

  • .... October 29, 2016 at 9:43 pm

    Awww poor little stardud would you like your pacifier now LOL !

    • GuySmiley October 30, 2016 at 10:37 am

      Such comments are arrogant, insensitive and juvenile. You obviously do not understand PTSD.

  • GuySmiley October 30, 2016 at 10:50 am

    One of the most significant challenges in Southern Utah is the lack of affordable mental health treatment. Southwest Behavioral Health Center is only accessible by people on Medicare or Medicaid. Intermountain’s Psychiatry and Counseling clinic is woefully understaffed, has a six-week waiting period and is minimally covered by insurance. Most other counseling services in Southern Utah do not participate in insurance plans at all. Therefore, the costs, typically about $120/hr, are out of pocket or paid for by church donation funds. As with other aspects of our health care system, it is broken, too expensive and terribly inadequate. As a result, many people fall through the cracks. Combine this with a dominant religion that promotes excessive self-criticism and it is no puzzle that suicide is on the rise.

    • starboss October 30, 2016 at 10:09 pm

      Up for kicking around the possibility of a “Therapists Free Clinic” based on some type of referral system Guy?

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