Archive for January 7th, 2008

Trauma and Recovery

I was not aware that child abuse could cause post-traumatic stress disorder until I was diagnosed with it. I thought that PTSD was reserved for “serious” trauma, such as being in a war zone. I had read about veterans having flashbacks from seeing the opening scene to Saving Private Ryan. I heard that the veterans felt like they were in the war again. That sounded way too serious of a disorder for me to have.

All of this was part of my denial. When I would ask if I was “crazy,” my therapist used to tell me that crazy people try to convince you that they were abused, and abuse survivors try to convince you that they weren’t. I would talk about all sorts of trauma, including almost being suffocated death, but follow that up with how it wasn’t that bad and that other people had experienced worse.

I remember when my therapist first told me that I had a diagnosis of PTSD. He had written the term on a whiteboard, along with a number of symptoms. As we were talking, he said something about people with PTSD experiencing X, Y, and Z. I looked at him with a quizzical expression and said, “Are you saying that I have PTSD?” He looked me straight in the eye and nodded his head as if to say this was a no-brainer diagnosis.

I argued that I did not experience flashbacks. He asked me what I thought my recovered memories were. Truly, I did not equate the two. I was just recovering memories, which was not nearly as serious as a flashback. Accepting that I was experiencing something as serious as flashbacks drove home just how emotionally damaged I really was.

Judith Lewis Herman has written a fabulous book called Trauma and Recovery, which I strongly suggest for anyone struggling with PTSD. She talks about the history of studying the aftereffects of trauma. Did you know that what was diagnosed as “hysteria” in the 1700’s and 1800’s is actually PTSD? Hysteria was considered a woman’s disease until a bunch of soldiers came home from World War I with symptoms sounding very much like hysteria.

That book helped me to understand PTSD in a way that no other resource did. One of my biggest obstacles was overcoming shame. I could read about a veteran’s struggle with shame, which is part of PTSD, and see objectively that he had no reason to feel shame. By taking a more objective view of my disorder through a situation outside of my own, I was able to heal from the PTSD much more quickly than I otherwise would have.

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