Saturday, July 23, 2011

Not all war zones are overseas

A common topic of discussion where I work is the psychiatric disorders that are sometimes associated with military service, especially those caused by horrific sights and events experienced in a theatre of war.  

It's called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and basically it's the human defense mechanism that arises from being subject to things that humans were never meant to witness or be a part of: man's inhumanity to man. (And by man I mean humankind).  Only when the person returns from the horrific situation or atmosphere, that defense mechanism can't be shut off.

But other things can cause PTSD, or PTSD-like symptoms.  People who have been abused as children - whether physically, sexually, verbally, emotionally, spiritually or a combination of two or more of these things - are more apt to have these symptoms as adults, even long after their parents have passed away. 

It's like the mind is on "red alert" at all times.

That kind of thinking can help a person survive in the situation he or she is in that is dangerous to him or her (such as abuse).  But the trouble is, once the situation or the danger is over, the alarm bells are still ringing.  The survival mechanisms are still in full cry: suspicion, vigilance to the extreme, an obsession with controlling circumstances, or people, or the level of cleanliness, or of safety from (real or imagined) dangers, and an inability to experience emotion - or an inability to control the flood of emotions... the list goes on. The messages (verbal or non-verbal), the false beliefs and the resentments - some of them deep-seated - that children pick up by being abused, neglected, and/or bullied by their family members carry far into adulthood unless confronted and addressed.  Dealing with these things is something that all too many are too frightened (or too much in denial) to even attempt. 

Many, to escape the pain of the misery inflicted on them and the resulting misery they inflict upon their own children and/or significant others, turn to addictions of various sorts.  These could be mind-altering substances such as alcohol or drugs, or they could be other addictions that harm the body in more subtle ways such as overeating or over-exercising.  I've known various people to be addicted to cleaning their house, to playing video games, to sports, to collecting stuffed animals, to sex, to shopping, to social events - literally anything and everything is a possible addiction / compulsion.  All this to avoid those horrible, intrusive thoughts of not being worth anything, of never measuring up, of being afraid of (fill in the blank), of being angry at (fill in the blank again), of ending up alone and unwanted.  

There are those who think that the past is in the past, that it should not be dredged up. 

I don't agree.   I think of it as having a dead rat in the bottom of your well.  It poisons everything that comes out of the well until you get to the bottom of it and remove the rat, then purify the water.  All the water purifier in the world is not going to get rid of the poison until the rat is gone.

It's hard.  It's messy.  It absolutely sucks when you're going through it.  But the results are difficult to argue with: good relationships with yourself, God, and others, more peace going through a day with no remorse or shame about the past and no anxiety about the future.

Best of all, the war is finally over.

No comments:

Post a Comment