The Meadows Blog

Friday, 16 September 2016 00:00

Recovery Requires Shining a Light on Trauma

By Peter Charad

It's one of those memories that feels like it happened yesterday.

Tuesday evening, October 5, 1976, I had checked into the Sheraton Hotel in Hong Kong. As I arrived at my room I heard the phone ringing.

I was excited as I assumed it was my Hong Kong pals phoning to tell me what the arrangements were for the evening.

I have never been able to describe the feeling when, as I picked up the telephone, my ex-brother-in-law told me that my brother had taken his own life.

Colin was the family hero; my personal hero. My belief was that when all else failed he would be there to catch me⎯and he was gone!

I couldn't breathe, I felt nauseous, and then an enormous, scary howl screeched out of me. I started sobbing uncontrollably. I felt so alone and in dire stress; completely out of control.

A colleague had been phoned before I was phoned and very shortly arrived at my door with a bottle of XO Brandy. He poured out a very large glass for me. Those powerful feelings began to subside.

Early the next morning I bought the first 10mg Valium tablets, of many to come, and booked my journey to Johannesburg for the Friday funeral. There was no direct flight so I was booked to leave in the evening via Australia, a 37-hour journey that I survived on alcohol and Valium!

I made it to the funeral and returned back to Hong Kong two days later to continue on as if nothing had happened. The reality was that it hadn't happened on a “feeling level.” I had gone way up into that space where I couldn't feel hurt anymore and I continued to live up there for another 12 years surviving on alcohol and drugs.

I entered a treatment facility in November 1988 to help me stop using these substances. It worked; I was there for five weeks and thankfully haven't found it necessary to use alcohol or any other substance since.

However, little did I know that all the feelings I had numbed before, over and over again for those 12 years were waiting to be felt and processed. It was overwhelming at times; I did not think I would get through it. But, little by little, those enormous feelings began to ease and slowly, after three and a half years of sobbing and screaming I began to surface feeling calm⎯not high, just calm.

It allowed me to emotionally bury my late brother with love and then start healing from all the pain and find the real person under all of that trauma. I am so grateful that I stayed and found mentors who shone lights for me when everything looked so dark.

Share Your Story

In honor of National Recovery Month, we want to hear your story and share it with others. What does being #fearless mean to you, and to your recovery? Tell us in a short essay (500 words) or short video (2 minutes), and we may feature you on our blog or Facebook page! Email your submissions to asauceda@themeadows.org, or share them on Twitter and mention @AndreaSauceda in your tweet.

Thursday, 15 September 2016 00:00

Being Fearless in Recovery Means Being Vulnerable

By: Rachel Margolis

My immediate thought about the word "fearless" is of one being without fear. For years, I have been literally frozen by fear and pain from childhood trauma that rolled into adulthood. As a child, displaying any feelings at all prompted being shamed by my caregivers, who I was afraid of most of all. I dived into addiction in order not to feel that fear and pain. Eventually, I was unable to feel anything without feeding my addiction - and that soon ceased to work. The result? I found myself not even able to get out of bed. I wasn't afraid of dying - I was afraid of living. I couldn't feel anything and didn't want to.

During my stay at The Meadows this year, I learned to identify my feelings and "sit with them" opposed to minimizing, denying, and avoiding them. I was full of fear as I faced the darkest parts of my life and I did something so painfully difficult for me - I asked for help each step of the way. I took the risk to be vulnerable and trust people - my peers, my therapists, and my Higher Power. When I reached out for help, I found the "fear" became "less"!

Being fearless in recovery to me is taking the risk to be vulnerable - willing to be seen and to see and accept others where they are. Being fearless is putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward with openness, honesty and willingness, even when it's painful. It's being perfectly imperfect and accepting the humanity of myself and others - while striving to be the best me I can be, which will always be enough. I have discovered that my addiction and trauma are stronger than ME, but not stronger than WE! With that WE strength I know I can walk through the most challenging times that I might face.

Share Your Story

In honor of National Recovery Month, we want to hear and share your story. What does being #fearless mean to you, and to your recovery? Tell us in a short essay (500 words) or short video (2 minutes), and we may feature you on our blog or Facebook page! Email your submissions to asauceda@themeadows.org, or share them on Twitter and mention @AndreaSauceda in your tweet.

Jim Dredge, CEO of Alita Care, LLC, has announced that Kyle Wescoat will join the company as Chief Financial Officer. Wescoat’s responsibilities as Alita Care CFO will include oversight of the Finance and Information Technology operations for both Sunspire Health and Meadows Behavioral Healthcare.

Wescoat comes to Alita Care with more than 25 years of CFO experience in a variety of well-regarded public and private companies, including Emulex, VIZIO, and Vans. He also has previous experience in the field of behavioral health as the former Executive Vice President and CFO of Aspen Education Group and as CFO of Meadows Behavioral Healthcare. Wescoat received his undergraduate degree from Drexel University and MBA in Finance from the University of Michigan.

“Kyle has proven himself to be a tremendous CFO and organizational leader in a variety of settings. He brings with him a remarkable set of skills and experiences that I believe will benefit Alita Care as we continue to evolve our 15 differentiated programs for treating addiction and other behavioral health disorders,” said Dredge. “I look forward to working with Kyle to create more high-quality treatment options for patients and their families, clinical referral sources, and payors across the country in the rapidly changing behavioral health environment.

Wescoat is also active in his community. He has maintained a long-time involvement with Hoag Hospital Presbyterian and serves as Chairman of Hoag Irvine’s Executive Advisory Board. He also serves on the President’s Advisory Council at Drexel University.

“I appreciate the confidence of our new investor (Kohlberg and Co). I think Alita Care is uniquely positioned to offer a care continuum not found in any other neurobehavioral health company,” Wescoat said. “ I am excited about the innovative ways Sunspire is addressing the in-network market, and Meadows Behavioral Healthcare remains the highest quality provider of trauma-based therapy and eating disorder treatment available anywhere. “

Monday, 12 September 2016 00:00

What It Means to Be Fearless in Recovery

By Tommy S., former client of The Meadows

Fearless:

  • Seeing a new beginning in each day  
  • Putting the day before behind me
  • Accepting each new challenge
  • Using failed challenges as a inspiration and direction to conquer the new ones,
  • Meeting and accepting new people for who they are, and letting them see me for who I am inside and out
  • Extending my hand to those who want it, and to those who do not,
  • Looking at the good in people while also not fearing the bad in people
  • Looking at the bad in me and making it good no matter how long it may be,
  • Doing the right thing even when its difficult,
  • Not criticizing others while being able to criticize myself,
  • Speaking the truth no matter how hard the truth may be,
  • Being able to listen to the truth about me while being ok with it
  • Looking ahead with goals, while letting failed goals help me achieve the new ones

Accepting fear while being fearless, is what fearless is to me.

Share Your Story

In honor of National Recovery Month, we want to hear and share your story. What does being #fearless mean to you, and to your recovery? Tell us in a short essay (500 words) or short video (2 minutes), and we may feature you on our blog or Facebook page! Email your submissions to asauceda@themeadows.org, or share them on Twitter and mention @AndreaSauceda in your tweet.

Thursday, 08 September 2016 00:00

Are you #fearless in Your Recovery?

Being #fearless doesn’t mean that you are never afraid.

Being #fearless means that…

  • You aren’t afraid to confront your fears.
  • You aren’t afraid to challenge any negative thoughts you have about yourself or your purpose in life.
  • You aren’t afraid to live your life as your full, authentic self.

What does being #fearless mean to you, and to your recovery? Tell us in a short essay (500 words) or short video (2 minutes), and we may feature you on our blog or Facebook page! Email your submissions to asauceda@themeadows.org, or share them on Twitter and mention @AndreaSauceda in your tweet.

Tuesday, 06 September 2016 00:00

Men and the Illusion of Anger

Note: The following is a partial transcript of a Facebook Live Presentation Dan Griffin, MA, Senior Fellow at The Meadows, did on August 26, 2016. You can find the recorded video version on his Facebook page.

First and foremost, let me be very clear about what I mean by “the illusion of men’s anger,” because I can already hear some people saying, “The illusion of men’s anger?! My father’s anger, my mother’s anger, my husband’s, my partner’s anger is not an illusion, Dan! It’s not an illusion when the person is yelling at me, it’s not an illusion when the person is hitting me, it’s not an illusion when the person is acting violently toward me.”

I absolutely agree with you. That is not the intention of this conversation.

The purpose of this conversation is to get at the root of what’s behind men’s anger and to share thoughts on how we can all interact with one another in a more authentic way.

This is a personal topic for me. I’ve been an “angry man.” I’ve had a lot of problems with anger. But, has anger really been the issue for me? That’s the question I really think all men should ask themselves if they want to be able to heal the impact that anger has had on their relationships—their relationship with self, their relationships with others, and their relationships with the community.

Anger Is a Mask

I am far from perfect in this practice, but I hope that what I’m learning about myself and my anger might be helpful for some of the men—and some of the women—out there.

The truth is I’m not angry.

I act angry, but often, what I really am feeling is fear. Or, I’m feeling insecure, or I’m dealing with other feelings and they are coming out as anger because I haven’t allowed myself to feel things or taken the time to process what’s really going on.

This is important because as men we are often backed into a corner with our feelings. We’re told that the only feeling that’s socially acceptable for us, the only one that you’re not going to be shamed for is anger. “Yeah, he’s angry, but at least he’s not crying like a little baby. “

He’s acting angry because there’s no space for him to talk about his fear.

Emotional Authenticity vs. Anger Management

Why does that matter? We talk a lot about anger management, and we talk about the problems men have with anger. I don’t think the solution to men’s problem with anger is teaching them “anger management.” I think the solution is helping them to have a better connection to self, better connections to others, and the space and permission for authentic emotional expression.

I care deeply about my relationships. But, I didn’t have the best model for how a man can be open and vulnerable in relationships so I’m still learning how to do that. What I’m beginning to realize is that anger has never really been the issue for me. The issue is how deeply I experience and feel things—how emotional I am, how quickly I feel sad, how quickly I feel afraid, how quickly I feel insecure. The more that I can stay true to those feeling and experiences, the easier it is for me to navigate.

Although, if I allow myself to feel afraid, and to express that to others, I still have to deal with the shame that comes along with the fear. Like a lot of men, I didn’t really have anybody when I was growing up who told me that it was okay for a man to feel afraid and that it was okay for a man to feel sad. So, I have to work through all of this shame and stuff I have in my head about that.

But, the more I feed my authentic self, the more the anger dissipates. That’s not “anger management;” that’s emotional congruence. It’s emotional authenticity. We don’t “manage” the anger. The anger just dissolves. The anger dissipates when it’s just smoke that hides my true self.

Permission to Be Your Authentic Self

So, for men, the challenge is for us to be able to find permission to be the men we really are.

Who are you? Who are you in each of your relationships, who are you in each of your experiences? Are you aware of how you’re feeling? Can you take a deep breath? Can you look below the surface of what’s beneath the anger?

When you feel the anger rising, can you stop before you say or do anything, and find the space to recognize your true feelings? If you feel afraid, can you say to yourself, “I feel afraid, and when I feel afraid I feel weak, and when I feel weak I feel ashamed?” And can you recognize that deciding what to do with those feelings is nobody’s problem but yours?

When I feel sad, I feel ashamed and I feel embarrassed. I feel like there’s something wrong with me as a man—but that’s not true. That’s the illusion of men’s anger.

Real Change is Possible

When men act out in anger there’s no illusion to it. It can destroy; it can hurt; it can damage. The illusion is us thinking that if we just manage men’s anger, it’s going to get better—that if we just create programs that are about men having to control their behavior, it’s going to get better.

Things will change when…

  • we raise boys to be open and authentic in how they express themselves, 
  • we create safe places for men to be open and authentic in how they express themselves, and
  • we coach and support men in all their relationships to be the man that they desperately want to be.

If you struggle with anger, take some time to just take a deep breath and notice what other emotions are coming up. Find someone you trust that you can talk to about those challenges you are feeling on a regular basis. Someone who will understand when you say that you noticed how afraid you were feeling or how shame came up for you and will respond with compassion and understanding.

And then when you do act angry, you can go back and you clean it up because you took the time to reflect on what you were really feeling and to see the illusion of your anger.

It’s not about doing it perfectly, it’s about doing it consciously. That’s the gift.

Learn More with Dan

If you’re a mental health professional or clinician who’d like some tips on how to address the unique needs of men in trauma treatment, be sure to sign up for Dan’s FREE webinar on The Man Rules & The Principles of Recovery. It’s happening on September 14, 2016; 11 a.m. – 12:30 Pacific (2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Eastern).

If you’re a man in recovery, who’s ready to take it up a notch, and transform your experience of recovery register for A Man’s Way Retreat at the Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows. During the five-day intensive, Dan will lead you through activities, group sessions, and mindfulness exercises focused on taking your recovery - and your life - to the next level. The next session is coming up October 3 – 7, 2016. To register call 800-244-4949, and ask about the limited-time 25 percent discount offer!

When bystanders pulled Stanford University swimmer and Olympic hopeful Brock Turner away from the woman he was sexually assaulting behind a fraternity house dumpster, he laughed.

When the judge in the resulting sexual assault trial handed down a sentence much more lenient than the recommended six years of jail time, citing the “severe impact” he feared a harsher sentence may have on the 20-year-old, many felt that he might as well have laughed.

Both reactions to Turner’s crime make light of the traumatic and often devastating impact that rape and sexual assault has on its victims. The Brock Turner case opened up many fraught and painful discussions about rape culture and the way that society tends to blame victims of sexual assault and normalize sexual violence.

Many of those same wounds are being reopened this week with the news that Turner will be released from jail after serving only 3 months of a 6 months sentence. The news is not surprising—most expected him to only serve part of his sentence on a presumption of good behavior—but, for many, it’s serving as an unwanted reminder of their own sexual traumas and the ways in which their pain was silenced, ridiculed, or ignored.

The Long-Lasting Impact of Sexual Assault

Researchers aren’t sure why, but rape seems to have a more severe impact on a person than other types of trauma. It’s normal to feel some symptoms of traumatic stress for a few weeks after any experience with violence. Those who develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), however, can continue to experience problems with sleeping, nightmares, panic, severe anxiety and depression that last for months or years. As time goes on, if the person does not receive treatment for the disorder, the symptoms can get worse and worse, and even become debilitating.

People can develop PTSD after any number of horrific events including combat, car accidents, and life-threatening injuries, but rape victims have been found to be more likely to struggle with long-term psychological and physiological issues. They also have a higher risk of developing PTSD and related disorders.

In addition to PTSD, women who were raped have also been found to be more likely to suffer from sexual dysfunction, pain during intercourse, menstrual problems, and inhibited arousal.

Why Does Rape Have a Stronger Impact Than Other Types of Trauma?

Though no one has yet been able to determine the reason why rape has such a heightened traumatic impact, some theorize that both brain chemistry and rape culture play a role.

Cortisol, a hormone that is released in times of stress, was reported in a 2011 study to be found at higher levels in rape victims than in those of people otherwise traumatized.

The exact reason is unknown, but some researchers believe that it could be that the physical closeness of rape prompts the body to respond differently to rape and sexual assault than it does to other types of trauma.

Another possibility is that rape victims’ levels of cortisol are elevated due to the level of shame they experience—shame has been found in some studies to be linked to higher levels of cortisol. If the shame theory holds true, it further illustrates the importance of changing the way we treat rape and sexual assault victims as a society.

Recovery from Rape and Sexual Trauma

Many women who are traumatized by rape experience a secondary traumatization through the harsh scrutiny, blaming, and shaming they receive from law enforcement, family, peers, and others are often reluctant to ask for any further help. Men who are raped or sexually assaulted may be even more unlikely to report the crime or ask for help from the resulting trauma, due to stigmas related to men, sex, and powerlessness.

More must be done to help lift the burden of shame from both male and female victims of sexual assault, and raise awareness about treatment options for PTSD and other mental health issues that often result from the emotional trauma of sexual assault.

If you’d like to talk to us about treatment options for sexual trauma and related disorders, please give us a call at 866-330-1925. Our specialists are glad to answer any questions you may have and understand the importance of keeping your call strictly confidential.

Thursday, 25 August 2016 00:00

Marijuana Addiction is No Joke

Can a person really become addicted to marijuana?

You never hear of any dying from daily pot use. You certainly don’t hear about it in the same way you hear about deaths and other tragedies caused by alcohol and other “harder” drugs. And, there are some serious medical conditions for which marijuana is now believed to be an effective treatment. Additionally, the movement to legalize marijuana seems to be growing—25 states have legalized medical marijuana, while four states plus Washington, D.C. have gone even further and legalized recreational use of pot.

So, what’s the big deal?

Well…The big deal is that like any substance or activity that has the ability to alter your mood or neurological responses, marijuana can be addictive. And, like all other addictions, it can have a devastating impact on your life.

Nowhere to Turn

When people do start to feel that their marijuana use is interfering with their lives and relationships in a negative way, they often have trouble asking for and getting the support they need. Molly Hankins, in a personal essay for Nylon magazine, put it like this: “Being a junkie or an alcoholic who turns themselves over to a 12-step program, the sober lifestyle, God, whatever, registers at the David Bowie end of the addiction spectrum. Being addicted to weed barely registers as laughable and there’s no one in my life I feel comfortable talking to about it. As the era of marijuana prohibition in this country seems to finally be coming to an end, what is the popular discussion surrounding appropriate use? How much is too much? How do I stop if I want to but can’t?

Among the many excellent pointsMolly makes in her essay, her point about the need for a discussion around marijuana and addiction really hits home. The low rate of fatalities directly related to marijuana use, as opposed to heroin or alcohol use, for example, may have contributed to a general societal complacency around Marijuana addiction.

It’s important to note that even though weed may not be as fatal, statistically speaking, as heroin or alcohol, depression is often co-occurring condition that goes along with marijuana addiction. And, withdrawal from marijuana can exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Many people—like “Jake” who wrote a letter to Scientific American in 2012 describing his marijuana addiction—often end up having suicidal thoughts.

This means that the drug can, in a way, be indirectly tied to some fatalities. The drug may not be directly responsible for deaths related to suicide, but it certainly doesn’t help to prevent them. Here’s how Jake describes his experience:

“Over time, the proportion of high time to clean time became steadily more heavy on the high side. I went through several periods of suicidally. During my last six months of use the possible necessity to kill myself always seemed just a week or two away. My plan while I was at school was to jump off of a nearby parking garage. At home, I would use my dad's shotgun to shoot myself in the head. I didn't want to feel what I felt when I wasn't high. Luckily, I always got high before I was ready to actually kill myself.”

How Much is Too Much?

For those who become addicted to marijuana, "recreational use" of the drug slowly stops being fun or relaxing. The need to smoke in order to cope with life’s ups and downs and the need to hide how much you’re smoking (or ingesting) from others can have the same isolating and disruptive effects on a person’s life as any other addiction. Here are a few of the signs that someone may be dependent on the drug:

1. Craving
People who are addicted to pot often think that they aren’t "really addicted" if they don't smoke it every day. While it’s true that marijuana addicts can go a few days between smoking again before they suffer any symptoms, it’s important to note that that’s because the chemicals in marijuana can stay in a person’s system for days. Once all of those chemicals are out of their system, subtle but serious withdrawal symptoms can start to set in. The first sign is a craving powerful enough to drive the addict to use the drug again.

2. Irritability and Depression
People who are addicted to marijuana find themselves becoming increasingly irritable and depressed if they go many hours without another hit. Often they don’t recognize the connection between their mood changes and the drug. After several days without the drug addicts can begin to develop severe depression accompanied by frequent crying spells. Many in recovery from marijuana addiction say the experienced a rapid and immense drop in self-confidence and self-esteem along with intense feelings of worthless and anxiety. Some even developed suicidal thoughts.

3. Loss of Ambition
While some pot users may continue to function at their jobs and their personal lives, addicts may end up accomplishing a lot less than would if they were not addicted to the drug. People who were once active and ambitious may stop participating in work, school or social functions, and lower their ambitions or drop them altogether.

4. Physical Changes
Withdrawal from marijuana can also include physical symptoms like nausea and loss of appetite. People in withdrawal often also report having sleep disturbances and nightmares that can continue over a period of months.

How Do I Stop If I Want To But Can’t?

Many people with addiction and substance use problems are afraid to ask for help because of the stigma associated with the disorder. This can especially be true for those struggling with marijuana addiction. Since many harbor the belief that marijuana is a completely harmless drug, many addicts might assume that their friends and or family members will dismiss their concerns, especially if they are marijuana users too who don’t feel that they have experienced any ill effects from the drug.

So, it’s especially important for those who fear that they may be dependent on pot to know that they are not alone - many people struggle with this particular drug in the same ways that they do. They are not imagining things—marijuana addiction is real and it can be treated. And, They are not weak - anyone can become addicted to marijuana.

Help for Marijuana Addiction

If you think that you or a loved might have a problem with marijuana, reach out for help from a therapist and a local Marijuana Anonymous (MA) group.

If the addiction is severe and is accompanied by other disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder—and it often is— inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment may be needed. If so, look for a program that provides treatments that can begin to heal both the emotional and neurological aspects of addiction through trauma work, experiential therapies like equine therapy and art therapy, and brain-based therapies like biofeedback and neurofeedback.

Our specialists at The Meadows would be happy to answer any questions you might have about addiction treatment. Please call us anytime at 800-244-4949 or chat with us through our website.

Thursday, 18 August 2016 00:00

Trauma from Natural Disasters Can Linger

Trauma that arises from natural disasters—like the horrific flood that has devastated much of Louisiana this week—can have a heavy emotional toll on those who are directly affected, including survivors, rescue workers, volunteers, bystanders, and witnesses. Mild to moderate stress reactions are normal and expected for anyone involved. Although their reactions, emotions, and behaviors may seem extreme at the time, they generally don’t turn into chronic disorders.

For some, though, the trauma can be so overwhelming that it more or less “rewires” the person’s brain, putting them in a state of hypervigilance and/or helplessness for many months or years beyond the event leaving them with the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or severe anxiety and depression.

When Does Stress Become a Stress Disorder?

Peter Levine, a renowned trauma expert and Senior Fellow at The Meadows, defines trauma not by the event, but by the person’s reactions to it and their symptoms. Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, shootings, and massive violent attacks are events that typically come to mind when people think of traumatic events. Many might also include being involved in a serious accident, being a witness to a serious accident, or being the victim of or witness to a serious crime as “trauma.”

Some people will be more severely affected by a traumatic event and struggle for varying periods of time based on the nature of the event and their own temperament. Some of the warning signs that someone is experiencing levels of stress beyond what is normal and expected after a traumatic event and may be struggling with PTSD include…

  • Dissociation (amnesia, feeling as if he world is not real, losing your sense of identity, taking on a new identity, feeling disconnected from your body)
  • Flashbacks (vivid “screen” memories, night terrors, repetitive reenactment)
  • Panic attacks, violent impulses, inability to concentrate
  • Paralyzing anxiety, constant worry, severe phobias, obsessions, fear of losing control
  • Problematic drug and alcohol use, sexual acting out, eating issues, and other forms of self-medication
  • Delusions, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts

Any of these symptoms indicate that the person likely needs help from a mental health professional or treatment program.

When to Get Help for PTSD

It’s not possible to predict when or if someone who has experienced a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Some people will seem fine at first—maybe even strangely fine—only to be overcome with the disorder some time later. In general survivors of natural disasters should see a therapist or mental help professional if acute stress symptoms don’t subside after a month, or if they feel that their thoughts and emotions, and their lives, are spiraling out of control.

If a treatment program is needed, it might be helpful to look for one that offers not only talk therapy but also EMDR, Somatic Experiencing©, and the latest neurofeedback techniques for treating trauma. A comprehensive, brain-based approach can help PTSD sufferers recover more fully and return to “normal” more quickly.

By Dr. Jon Caldwell, D.O., Ph.D. Chief of Psychiatry at The Meadows

Note: This post was originally published on TheGriffon108.com. The Meadows is proud to be a TRICARE Preferred Provider of behavioral health and addiction inpatient services in the West Region. Call us today at 800-244-4949.

Trauma is part of the human experience. Being alive comes with the inevitable risks of stress, injury, sickness, loss, and death. There’s no escaping it. Critically though, these threats to health and life are perhaps most pronounced for individuals who serve in the military. Few other circumstances in modern times make these threats more real than military service. Military service members are required to complete their mission while facing significant risk and threat.

Constant Threat and Chronic Stress

Fortunately, humans are equipped with a highly functional nervous system that, under typical conditions, can successfully deal with most stressors and threats. For example, relatively common experiences like nearly running over a piece of garbage on the freeway, an argument between two people in a retail store, or being disappointed by a loved one are stressful and somewhat threatening situations that are usually managed effectively by most people’s nervous systems.

In circumstances like these, most people feel a temporary surge of adrenaline and hyper awareness to the potential threat; their nervous system prepares them for “fight or flight” and mobilizes the necessary resources to effectively deal with the situation. In relatively short order, the fight or flight reactivity usually subsides naturally, and they are able to return to the flow of their lives: driving, shopping, and social engagement.

However, under extreme or chronic conditions of stress and threat, as is common in military service, the nervous system can become overwhelmed. In fact, the chemical and physical make-up of the brain-body stress response system can be altered by experiences of extreme or chronic stress (i.e., trauma). For many service members, this can result in decreased “resiliency”, or the capacity to effectively manage everyday life circumstances. This shift in resiliency can occur immediately after the experience of trauma, but very often it can occur down the road, sometimes years later.

What is PTSD?

For some service members, the trauma-related changes to the nervous system progresses to the point where he or she qualifies for the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The diagnosis of PTSD is made when a person was directly or indirectly exposed to an extremely stressful or threatening event or series of events that resulted in symptoms of intrusion (e.g., disturbing memories, nightmares, flashbacks), avoidance (e.g., avoidance of thoughts, people, places, and things associated with past trauma), negative alterations in thinking and mood (e.g., self-blame, guilt, shame, isolation, withdrawal, depression), and alterations in arousal and activity (e.g., insomnia, hypervigilance, irritability, anger, self-destructive behavior).

These trauma-related symptoms are very distressing. But, for a variety of reasons, many service members don’t seek help and, despite their best efforts, are unable to manage the symptoms on their own. Therefore, it is common for these individuals to cope with their symptoms by turning to addictive behaviors, like alcohol and drugs, pornography and sex, gambling, video games, and disordered eating. Of course, while these behaviors may temporarily modify unpleasant trauma-related symptoms, they frequently result in more distress and added functional limitations.

What PTSD Looks Like

The everyday situations mentioned above will be used here to better understand the experience of PTSD. For many service members, a piece of garbage on the freeway would likely elicit thoughts, memories, or flashbacks about Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). This experience could easily result in driving-related stress and hypervigilance, intrusive memories or flashbacks, poor concentration while driving, fear and avoidance of driving, or anger and road-rage.

When encountering an argument between two people in a retail store, a service member who is affected by past trauma might experience a pronounced fight or flight response. If it is a fight response, he or she may experience intrusive memories or flashbacks of previous violent encounters and surges of adrenaline in preparation for defending oneself or attacking others. If the individual has a flight response, he or she may experience overwhelming urges to leave the store, avoid that store and similar retail stores, and retreat further from public places and crowds.

If a military service member who is affected by trauma is disappointed by a loved one, he or she may escalate quickly to irritability and anger, perhaps reacting by yelling, throwing things, or becoming violent. Alternatively, the anger might secretly fester into resentments that result in addictive acting out behaviors. On the other hand, being let down by a loved one might result in painful feelings of being misunderstood, guilt and shame, self-loathing, sadness, and depression.

As these vignettes illustrate, services members can have pronounced nervous system reactivity in response to everyday situations as a result of their history of traumatic experiences. This reactivity takes them out of the present moment flow of routine life and leaves them feeling uncomfortable in their own skin and disconnected from other people. In this state, they are more likely to resort to addictive and unhealthy behaviors. Sadly, many service members suffer in silence, and some don’t get help before it’s too late.

Help is Available

Fortunately, it’s never too late to get help, and there is hope! Appropriate treatment can help to identify past traumas, current symptoms, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Additionally, treatment can help reduce nervous system reactivity and restore its natural capacity for self-regulation. Treatment can help affected service members to let go of shame and self-destructive behaviors. Restoration of resiliency means that service members will once again feel confident in their abilities to manage everyday life situations. Lastly, service members who receive appropriate treatment can reestablish safe connections to peers, loved ones, and the world around them – they are able once again to enter the flow of life and experience all that it has to offer!

Contact The Meadows

Intensive Family Program • Innovative Experiential Therapy • Neurobehavioral Therapy

(*)
Invalid Input

Invalid Input

(*)
Invalid Input

(*)
Invalid Input

(*)
Invalid Input

Invalid Input