Submitted by James Naughton, MA, LPC, LISAC, Advanced Trained SE, Level II EMDR Practitioner
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was first introduced into psychiatry in the 1980s, and was originally viewed as something rare, affecting only combat soldiers. Today, we understand that just about anyone at any age can manifest symptoms PTSD, and that the sources of trauma are various and uniquely impacting to an individual’s own capacity to respond to threat – whether it be emotional or physical .
Fortunately, not everyone that has experienced, witnessed or been confronted with “an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury” and felt “intense fear, helplessness, or horror” develop PTSD, and those that live with the intrusive-thoughts, emotional numbing and avoidance are discovering that their own bodies hold the key to healing the mind and through undiscovered natural and organic resiliencies that reside in all of us.
Peter A. Levine, Ph.D. the originator and developer of Somatic Experiencing®, and a senior fellow with The Meadows characterises trauma and the symptoms of PSTD not as “a disorder”, but as “thwarted instincts” i.e., incomplete self-protective responses (fight, flight an freeze), held within the body and the autonomic nervous system in a state of complete or partial immobility. When an individual has to face a “perceived” or actual life threatening crisis (the movement from perception of threat into active defense may happen in milliseconds) our nervous system develops a plan for escaping it; however, “If we are overwhelmed by the threat and are unable to successfully defend ourselves, we can become stuck in survivor mode. “ And, adds Dr. Levine, this highly charged state of arousal “is designed solely to enable short-term defensive actions; but, left untreated over time, it begins to form the symptoms of trauma.” A useful visual metaphor , that is demonstrated in Somatic Experiencing training seminars, is the Slinky® toy – normally the nervous system flows energetically like the a metal helical spring moving between two hands (sympathetic activation to parasympathetic deactivation, “on” to “off” , “accelerator” to “brake” or physical expansion and contraction, etc.) , but when internal resources are marshalled quickly within the body, the slinky is energetically and physically stretched and moving faster , demonstrating full escape and/or fight response to the event. However, when the nervous system senses these self-protective plans are overwhelmed i.e. escape is not possible, it’s hardwired to protect us from this over stimulation, and sometimes we shift into a state of freeze or dissociation – and the Slinky® is clamped down and compressed tightly, and consequentially our bodies have to use resources and strategies to keep this flight/flight energy contained. In addition, according to Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, PH.D, overseer of the non-profit clinic in Boston, The Trauma Center, and senior fellow at The Meadows, these un-integrated responses, thoughts and feelings left untreated and/or “completed” make it difficult for anyone “to be fully present in the here and now.”
This may explain why after weeks, months, and even years after a trauma experience, persons with un-discharged traumatic stress feel like their stuck in the “on-position” - feel anxious, panicky at times, hyperactive, unable to relax, restlessness, digestive problems sleeplessness , emotionally flooded to feelings of hostility/rage and hyper-vigilant, or stuck in the “off-position” – depressed, exhausted, at times disoriented or dissociative, a loss of vitality or feeling of “deadness”, chronic fatigue and emotional flatness. Living in our bodies, like being inside running a car with one foot on the accelerator and one simultaneously on the brake, can dramatically impact the natural experience of “connectiveness” – a sense of being a part of and engaged with the world , and like many of patients that arrive to The Meadows, can eventually resort to chemicals and/or behaviors (i.e. sex, gambling work, food) to just dampen down or feel alive or as it’s been said, “Just do time on planet earth.” But today, with what has been learned about the human brain and nervous system over the last ten years, bringing to bear multiple disciplines of examination (neurological, psychological, sociological and biological), the capacity and the resources to heal and “recapture” innate resiliencies/resources, after a traumatic event, resides within us and eventually manifest as a return “home” to ourselves and the world of humanity.
Trauma healing focuses more on honoring and acknowledging a nervous system’s injuries, vulnerabilities and strengths, and “holding a space” of safety as the body and mind gradually move from constricted states of immobility and low energy “I can’t.” to increased mobility and engagement “I can”. Modalities of care for trauma like Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique, Psychodrama, and Expressive Art Therapy, can not only help survivors of trauma complete these natural self-protective responses , but eventually come to believe that they are “the heroes of their own story.”
At The Meadows, we attempted to “create a safe space” in our newly developing “Brain Center” that not only offers the aforementioned modalities, but also has a “drop-in” center were patients can have access to Cranial Electro Stimulation (CES), Heart Rate Variability systems (HRV) and Hemoencephalography Biofeedback (HEG), to strengthen bilateral communication in the hemispheres of the brain and increase blood flow to the pre-frontal cortex to foster mood stability and a greater capacity to observe emotions, thoughts and experiences without feeling overwhelmed. Ultimately, for the patients, instead of coming to a place to feel safe, in time they can discover and learn to cultivate a safe and resilient space within themselves , and return home with more choices in their own recovery.
There are activities all of us do to in our own self-care that can promote our nervous systems innate capacity to restore itself and remain “elastic” as we recover from illness, depression, anxiety and addictions:
- Expand and develop a support system : Social support helps with meaning in life – feeling loved and cared for releases oxytocin and counteract effect of stress hormones.
- Moderate exercise, Yoga and Tai-Chi: Releases endorphins, a natural opioid, that heightens reward system, improves sleep and one’ sown sense of ability. Also, it can promote “neurogenesis” in many areas of the brain , i.e., hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.
- Meditation and prayer: Enhances mind-body connection, quiets sensitized structures in the limbic system and strengthens connections to executive functioning, for an increased capacity for mindfulness and access to “moral self”. Fosters healthy humility.
“Each individual has their questions about life, about the purpose of their existence, the meaning of it all. There are those who would allow others to influence their answers to life. There are those who believe there are no answers, so why bother? And then there are seekers. The seekers are the ones who will become co-authors of their lives. They are the ones who will live life to the fullest, understand a need to experience all emotions, stay open to the truth of who they are, and embrace the gifts of choice and change.”
- Barb Rogers: Twenty-Five Words- How The Serenity Prayer Can Save Your Life
In this compelling and powerful video, Dr. Peter Levine, The Meadows’ Senior Fellow and developer of Somatic Experiencing®, demonstrates this treatment with an Iraq Veteran diagnosed with severe PTSD. Somatic Experiencing is a proven method for treating PTSD in combat veterans.
As Dr. Levine explains, many soldiers bring the war back with them and if they don’t resolve the war experience, then they bring that kind of violence back into the home. It makes relating to their spouse and children almost impossible. Watch as Dr. Levine helps this veteran move past his traumatic war experiences.
Click here to view the full length (25:54 minutes) video.
Finding out that your committed partner has sexually betrayed you is like: getting your heart ripped out, stomped on, thrown through a glass window, spit on, and perhaps lastly, smothered with gasoline and set on fire. Then, your partner asks you to forgive him or her; and you don't think you could ever be more furious and disgusted.
This is a common experience for the Partners of Sexual Addicts that I work with on a weekly basis at The Meadows. The stories and behaviors may be different but the underlying foundation of the damage is always Betrayal. Emotional, Physical, Sexual, and Financial betrayal is devastating and gut-wrenchingly painful for a partner who had dreams and hopes of having a healthy and committed relationship. Those dreams are now shattered and the Partner is left with the questions of "Why wasn't I enough?", "How could they do this to me?"; and "Where do I go from here?"
Sexual Addiction stems from a deep rooted intimacy and attachment disorder that often starts within childhood, teenage, or young adult years. Many of the patients I work with at The Meadows have been engaging in some type of dysfunctional, sexual fantasies, thoughts, and/or behaviors since they could remember, far before ever meeting their current partner or spouse. Sexual Addiction thrives off of Shame. Often times the addict's shame, due to their behaviors and lies, will be deflected or projected onto the partner and they are the ones that have to carry it.
Because sexuality and being sexual is so important and integral in intimate coupleships, when that is destroyed or taken outside the primary relationship, the partner has no choice but to take it personally and look at it as an attack on themselves and who they are or are not. Many spouses that I speak with will say to me, "Why wasn't I attractive enough, sexual enough, loved enough to keep him/her with me?" My message to them is: "If there is one thing I want you to learn this week, it is that this had nothing to do with what you have or have not done".
So if the partner did not cause the addiction and is not an addict themselves then why be a part of the patient's treatment and come to Family Week? I often hear from partners: "He is the sick one! He gets to go and get help and leave me here at home with the chaos and damage that he created! And now he is asking me to drop everything and come to Arizona for a week to help him?" My reply is: "Come here for YOU."
Within the Family Week program, partners are given resources and tools to start to stand on solid ground. Family Week is NOT about reconciliation, fixing the problem or hearing an excuse about why the patient acted out. The week long program is designed around boundary setting and healthy communication that allow the partner to be heard and protected.
Being betrayed will undoubtedly, for most partners, contribute to feelings of shame and worthlessness that creates a deep, dark wound within them. The Meadows and Pia Mellody define Trauma as "Anything less than nurturing". Sexual betrayal would obviously fit into this category based on the definition and many partners experience symptoms of trauma such as hypervigilance, despair, flashbacks and nightmares, among other experiences. The shame and trauma need to be addressed for the partner to start to heal that wound. Even if the partner decides to move on from that relationship he or she will continue to be plagued in life and through other relationships if not addressed.
Through my work at The Meadows, I have seen amazing growth and strength in men and women who thought that they could have never dug themselves out of the dark hole that sexual addiction created. Recovery work, for both the addict and partner, instills hope, perseverance, and self-worth that they thought they had lost. The Meadows Workshops such as Partners of Sex Addicts, Survivors, and Women's Intimacy Issues are great resources to help partners to gain awareness, understanding, and tools to help themselves and their families.
Lauren Bierman is a Family Counselor at the Meadows working with the Sex Addiction population. She is a Licensed Associate Counselor and has been trained through Patrick Carnes and IITAP's Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) program. Her passion is working with Partners of Sex Addicts in their own healing process and helping them find hope after sexual betrayal.
The Meadows will be an exhibitor at the Arizona Coalition for Military Families Fourth Annual Statewide Symposium in Support of Service Members, Veterans and Their Families. It is being held at the Desert Willow Conference Center in Phoenix May 15 - 16, 2013.
The two days of programming will be focused on increasing knowledge, skills & abilities for serving and supporting the military and veteran population. The exhibitor fair will offer programs and resources to assist service members, veterans and families
Symposium topics include Substance Use: Trends, Strategies and Best Practices, Military Sexual Trauma, Problem Gambling among Veterans, Suicide Prevention and Postvention in Military and Veteran Families, and Evidence‐Based Practices for the Treatment of PTSD.
"In continuing support of our TRICARE contract, The Meadows is pleased to participate in the 2013 Arizona Coalition for Military Families Symposium," said Jim Dredge, The Meadows CEO. "The Meadows has a commitment to serving our heroes and their family members."
As an exhibitor at the conference, Sharon Pollei, Business Development Liaison, and Greg Fine, Intake Coordinator, for The Meadows, will be in attendance.
For more information and to register for this event, visit http://arizonacoalition.org/events/symposium.
The Meadows is an industry leader in treating trauma and addiction through its inpatient and workshop programs. To learn more about The Meadows' work with trauma and addiction contact an intake coordinator at (866) 856-1279 or visit www.themeadows.com.
For over 35 years, The Meadows has been a leading trauma and addiction treatment center. In that time, they have helped more than 20,000 patients in one of their three inpatient centers and 25,000 attendees in national workshops. The Meadows world-class team of Senior Fellows, Psychiatrists, Therapists and Counselors treat the symptoms of addiction and the underlying issues that cause lifelong patterns of self-destructive behavior. The Meadows, with 24 hour nursing and on-site physicians and psychiatrists, is a Level 1 Sub-Acute Agency that is accredited by the Joint Commission.
The Meadows has produced a new video, "The Meadows - The Right Choice" with Meadows' Senior Fellow Dr.Claudia Black. Visit The Meadows homepage: http://www.themeadows.com to view the video.
Claudia Black, MSW, PhD, has spent 11 years working in an advisory role with The Meadows. She is a renowned author and trainer, internationally recognized for her pioneering and contemporary work with family systems and addictive disorders.
In the mid 1970's Dr. Black gave voice to both young and adult children from addictive homes, offering a framework for their healing. This cutting edge work would be critical in creating the foundation for the codependency field and a greater understanding of the impact of family trauma. Since that time, Dr. Black has continued to be a passionate leader in the field of addiction.
Dr. Black has offered models of intervention and treatment related to family violence, multi-addictions, relapse, anger, depression and women's issues. Dr. Black designs and presents training workshops and seminars to professional audiences in the field of family service, mental health, addiction and correctional services. She has been a keynote speaker on Capitol Hill in Washington DC and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada. She has extensive multi-cultural experience working with agencies and audiences in countries such as Iceland, Brazil, Japan and others throughout the world.
Dr. Black is one of the original founders of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics and continues to serve on their Advisory Board, and also serves on the Advisory Board of the Moyer Foundation. In addition, she is the author of over 15 books, most notable is It will Never Happen To Me. Her most recent books are related to partners of sex addiction, Deceived: Facing Sexual Betrayal, Lies, and Secrets and Intimate Treason: Healing the Trauma for Partners Confronting Sex Addiction. Dr. Black also creates educational videos for use with the addicted client and families affected by addiction. Many of her books and videos have been translated and published abroad.
For more information about Dr. Black, please visit www.claudiablack.com.