Bessel van der Kolk, MD, psychiatrist and author of the book “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma”, describes in great detail the physiological changes our body endures when it has had to absorb the injury of trauma. His work in research, along with other works in the field of trauma, have helped us understand how powerful a story-teller our body can be in its effort to record and speak the stories of egregious events in our lives. It’s as if our body knows the story must be spoken and so it keeps the story recorded deep in our cellular being – our muscles, our breath, our stomach – sometimes every fiber of our being. Storing up such painful details such as tension, smells, sounds, and even emotions wreaks havoc on a person’s nervous system. And while sometimes giving us time to pen the words ourselves, if we insist on avoiding that task, our bodies will begin telling the story via uncontrolled emotions, sleep deprivation, unexplained reactivity to even the slightest threat, and even entanglements with those we love. If the recorded stories have been many in number, the files of untold trauma store up, sometimes for amazingly long times.
It always pains me to see a veteran or service member having to endure the injury of psychological trauma. Most of them I’ve known initially work hard to hide the story from me. But if I listen and watch closely, the impact of those stories begins to leak out before they utter a word. If this happens, part of my responsibility as their therapist is to help them redirect their attention to what their bodies are trying to tell them and give them new and tolerable ways to join in that story-telling. In this way, they can hopefully find balance and relief in their lives.
June is PTSD Awareness Month. If you or someone you love may be experiencing symptoms of PTS (post-traumatic stress), please reach out to a local mental health provider in your area or to the nearest VA. There is a way to listen when your body speaks and this way can bring healing. If these symptoms are leading you to consider self-harm, please call:
National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-800-273-8255
Note: This information is not intended to replace the medical advice or treatment of a trained professional. If you feel your needs are creating an unsafe situation for you or someone else, seek emergent care through your primary care physician or local emergency room.
For many people who've served in the military and suffer PTS, it can be daunting to open up about the challenges. Yet, when those reservations about telling their story are overcome, they find a new support system - a new team of battle buddies ready to take on the challenge with them in support of healing. Take a moment and listen to Patrick share about his experience with overcoming PTS.
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