Trauma and lost years
Many of us have experienced a traumatic event at some point in our lives, together with feelings of confusion and insecurity. Some individuals later regret these past events, and perhaps feel that they have lost time in a life that left them feeling unfulfilled. Although it is hard to see at times, it is important to remember that coming to terms with these experiences plays a significant part in our healing and growth.
One crisis after another can eventually take its toll on the individual. For some, a trigger in the here-and-now may bring up an earlier or childhood trauma. How the individual copes often depends on their early attachment style which is based on the relationship with their mother or primary caregiver. Often those who have had an insecure attachment find it difficult to form relationships as they either over or under attach themselves to others. During a crisis, those who have had an insecure attachment often turn to self-medication seeking comfort from food, exercise, sex, work, shopping or substance misuse. Their ‘drug’ is used to numb out painful feelings. However, when this becomes compulsive difficulties can arise.
The individual may keep it a secret and try to hide their habit from others. It takes time for the individual to realise that their pleasure is actually causing them harm and their family can suffer as well in the process. Their lifestyle may put a strain on their close relationships and finances. Individuals can stop their unhealthy habit for a while, finding a new one to replace it shortly afterwards - swapping one addiction for another.
Clients often describe their frustration at being afraid of the consequences of their behaviour, yet feel unable to stop themselves. Some have lost their jobs, homes and families or engaged in crime in order to fulfil their needs. Nevertheless, they may revert back to their ‘drug’ taking during a stressful period as these individuals often find it difficult to ask for help. Afterwards they may feel guilty or ashamed, anxious and lonely.
Unexpressed emotions like anger and rage, can keep them stuck in their unhappy situation leaving them feeling depressed. However, an individual who is ready to ask for help is often at a turning point. With the right support and professional help, clients can learn to manage their habits and recover.
In addition, you may have heard of ‘labels’ such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Dissociative Disorder which can be used to describe an individual’s symptoms. Research shows that dissociation is a natural response of the brain during a crisis or continuous succession of traumatic events to protect the individual.
Carolyn Spring, Director of Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors (PODS) and survivor of Dissociative Identity Disorder says: "Trauma doesn’t just affect the mind and the emotions. It profoundly affects the brain and the body too. Often the 'body remembers’ what the mind cannot. […] The body is both the medium through which often the original trauma was enacted, and the source of ongoing suffering and self-hatred."
With the help of GPs, healthcare professionals, counsellors and psychotherapists, dark days can fade away and individuals can turn their lives around. Taking one day at a time and holding on to the hope of a recovery, they can begin to regain their confidence. In therapy they can learn to set personal boundaries and form healthy relationships. Eventually, some clients talk about their new found self-love and joy of life.
Individuals may look back and wonder about the years they feel they lost. At the same time, they may feel grateful to have moved on and to have another chance at life.
Spring, C. Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors - Trauma and the Body: Somatisation and Dissociation [Available at - http://www.pods-online.org.uk/, accessed on 28th August 2014]