5 Minutes To Save A Life

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I often emphasize the present moment as a way to get clients away from the worries of tomorrow and the misfortunes of yesterday.  However, sometimes there’s too much pain in the present to tell anyone to be mindful of the “now.”  Sometimes, there’s too much pain to paint anyone a pretty picture… it invalidates the experience and you render yourself useless no matter how good your intentions may be.  Any variation of getting people to look on the bright side of their circumstances can broaden the gap of what stands between their surrounding darkness and hope.  

A person who has lost the will to live cannot be coerced to reframe or alter the narrative of the crisis.  The crisis, be it the loss of freedom, a child, an illness, or abuse, is remedied through a rigorous validation and honesty.  Both the sufferer and helper must bring forth an honesty of the situation that conveys the present reality for what it is- painful and seemingly intolerable.  Yet, the future must always be accounted for with just as much honesty and responsibility as the present.  While the moment may prove harsh, the future provides an infinite amount of possibilities-hope reigns abundantly in the future-  hope of less pain and more peace, hope of reconciling the worst acts, the healing of deep wounds, the regaining of freedom, and the refining of one’s character made possible by difficult times.  

The Perfect Foe

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“I know you won’t understand but in my lifetime I’ve seen the most beautiful thing life has to offer.  I’ve seen the priceless battle of broken people creatively changing and overcoming toxic patterns.  So beautiful and it’s costs me nothing” -Unknown

They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears.  I believe everyone we encounter is our greatest teacher.  The world serves as a mirror in which through experiences and interactions we learn more about the undesirable parts of ourselves we tend to overlook.  The people we dislike or disagree with often reveal the characteristics within us we need to change.  I’ve often become easily hurt at the indifference and aloofness of others, later taking an honest inventory of my own indifferences, that fearful part that would rather avoid social responsibility.  There are people who just won’t change, a world that just won’t relent, and many breaks we just can’t catch… and yet they are all so charitable in giving us the knowledge of what needs to change within us.  The world is a vast educational platform and its people are the mentors by which we discover who we want or don’t want to be.  Most of us have been hurt beyond reconciliation by the people we love most.  But if there’s any good that comes of it, may it be discovering parts of ourselves in others that we vow to change and never repeat.  

Little Buddhas

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The traumatized psyche of a child contains a silver lining.  With time, love, and treatment, as the child enters adulthood, he or she with great skill and finesse will have an exceptional capacity of reaching high transcendental states through meditation or prayer.  These wounded souls have acquired this ability through the mechanism of dissociation- a detachment of psychological and environmental surroundings used to protect itself against further trauma.  Since meditation also requires a practice of detaching from the ego or thinking mind, these children would have already experienced and understood what most of us seek…less outside distractions and a more intimate connection with our internal world.  Perhaps, a further look into this matter will initiate a shift in which children who have been damaged by trauma can be made into “little Buddhas.”  

On Emptiness and Difficulty

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Often, in times of solitude and reflection I think about past impactful events of my career as a counselor.  My mind wanders through the corridors of a crisis unit where the majority of our patients had a history of multiple suicide attempts.  There were people there who had experienced the worst kinds of acts-abuse on every level, witnessing first hand tragic losses of close friends and family, and sudden abrupt life changes such as financial loss and divorce.  Many of the people I encountered possessed a common characteristic- they were immobilized by their pain and were unable to focus on anything outside of the now prevailing emptiness that pervaded their lives.  Any forms of therapeutic interventions or words of encouragement were lost in the void.  One thing I came to understand:  depression at its peak can paralyze a person, both on the physical and cognitive levels.  Remedying emptiness and difficulty then requires more than persuasion of changing perspective or acquiring tools to cope- it requires a journey further into the experience of despair where light is found through, not away, from the problem.  

Uncovering Reality

Healing takes place when we are able to sit with reality as it is.  When pain is immense it produces a numbness that a person may not even be aware of how they are feeling.  A process of uncovering emotions through validation and recognition of feelings provides us with a sense of belonging and security.  Identifying feelings gives a person the ability of observing their lives from a higher perspective.  The act of observing provides a space between experiencing pain and “paralysis” where finding ways to persevere becomes possible. The sufferer finds freedom in understanding that although they are in emotional pain, they are also capable of observing and becoming participants of their own experience.  People gradually move away from the all consuming thought “I’m in pain” to “I am aware, this is happening to me.”  

Authenticity 

Difficulties can be the means by which we discard what matters most.  All one needs to ask to reach an effective conclusion is “what is this difficulty teaching me?” Perhaps the things we placed so much time and value on really didn’t hold any weight in our crisis.  Sometimes, it takes a significant life event to learn that our time and energy was spent on falsehoods that contributed greatly to the nagging pangs of emptiness.  The moments of crisis are the opportunities by which we get in contact with reality- we discard the fake and commit our lives to what is true.  This is evident in people who have experienced and overcome crisis.  They emanate authenticity and have a zero tolerance for anything that portrays hypocrisy and deception.  These people have learned the principle of impermanence- that things and people are unpredictable and fleeting.  In this, there is great freedom. 

Universality 

It is sometimes a game changer when we realize that tragedy is tragedy only when it manifests itself in our lives.  However, tragedy occurs daily.  I cannot think of a single individual who has not experienced the death of a loved one or not experienced a loss of some kind.  Pain and emptiness may initially draw us more inwardly, but can also give us the chance to notice that difficulty and feelings of emptiness are universal.  On some level, we have all experienced a loss and many have been able to overcome the resulting darkness and go on to live healthy and productive lives.  If we occasionally gaze our eyes outwardly during crisis, we’ll find the comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our suffering and we will eventually get through it.  

Depth Of Our Wounds

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“The scars had finally healed.  Looking back on every laceration, every opening… was only an attempt to break free, a way to release all the things I wanted to be and all the things I wanted to say.  Each scar collectively became a map of where I wanted to go, a clear direction for a lost soul.  The scars had finally healed, and I knew this because what I had done to myself physically, through the process of healing, was finally transcended and attained on the spiritual realm.”

Dying To Feel: Healing Addiction and Trauma

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Trauma drastically alters the senses.  And then it dulls them.  With the passage of time, trauma can hinder victims from both fully experiencing emotions and tactile sensations, depriving them of establishing healthy relationships and a sense of belonging.  This is often brought on by dissociation- a survival mechanism used by victims who psychologically “check out” to avoid any continued danger.  This strategy is subconscious, meaning it’s automatic and mostly done without the awareness of the survivor.  The default mode of behavior and presentation is often detached, melancholic, guarded, and listless.  The person is chronically withdrawn from life, people, and events while being unable to fully feel sensations.  The ability to taste, listen, touch, smell, see and feel feelings is significantly impaired, leaving the victim disconnected from the world and him or herself.  Often, a victim is unable to identify what they are feeling or how they should feel during a situation and will develop a set of stereotypical behaviors that they think are appropriate.  They will smile but there is no joy;  they will cry, and no tears;  they will even play the role of the energetic socialite but lack enough life to convince anyone.  

So, how is all of this relevant to addiction?  Well, those who have experienced trauma want to connect as any healthy person would, they want to feel, and they eagerly want to love and be loved.  However, they are cut off from doing so by the same mechanism that protected them from experiencing painful memories and/or ongoing trauma.  In their yearning to feel, the victim will often seek out substances and behaviors (objects that do not represent an immediate threat of danger nor remind them of the assailant) that will enable them to sense something no matter how destructive the act or substance is.  This desperate attempt is the strategy by which the victim uses to jolt himself back into life.  So, through our eyes the victims are killing themselves, but through theirs, they are actually surviving the best way that they can.  Survivors who are struggling with an addiction are dying to live, they are dying to feel through engaging in a fabricated relationship which satiates the starved soul.  The addiction becomes the only way, although erroneous, to feel anything.  

With roughly 50 to 66 percent of people with Post Traumatic Disorder (mental health disorder some people develop after experiencing a traumatic event) simultaneously struggling with addiction, it is vital to treat survivors with an actively involved compassionate approach that focuses on safely reaching into the withdrawn parts of the self through a genuinely loving relationship that gradually introduces them to re-experiencing the world.  Effective therapy in this area is one that works with the goal of giving the survivor the opportunity to fully experience- to completely feel- their own lives.  

 

Irving Cabarcas, LMHC, MCAP, ICADC

If you or anyone you know is dealing with trauma and/or addiction, we can help.  Contact us here.  

Trauma: How Victims Become Survivors

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Imagine for a second you cut yourself while cooking. A deep cut, with a cold sharp blade. After about a week, you look at the wound and you begin to tell yourself how careless you were, how pathetic you were for letting yourself get cut. You tried to treat the wound yourself only to find out that you’ve made it worse. Then, you try to go up to a stranger in desperation who tells you to go away because it’s disgusting.  At that point you feel like a victim to your own lack of awareness dealing with the trauma of a deep wound and you purposely throw out all the kitchen knives so that you’re not reminded.

In trauma, there are some similar concepts.

Victim. Something bad happened to you.

Trauma. Something bad.

Survivor. Something bad happened to you but you somehow got through it.

There is plenty of information and topics about trauma. I will cover only the surface by talking about the narrative, safety, and guilt.

When working with survivors of trauma it can be difficult, yet critical, for the survivor to tell their story. Trust and the feeling of safety are key within the therapeutic relationship in order for trauma work to begin. When trust and safety are established the elephant in the room can be taken off the wall and discussed.

Working through the narrative of the trauma can be a difficult subject. There are clinicians who struggle in this work because of the severity of the stories and the amount of empathy it can take to help someone who discusses the horror stories of their lives. As important as it is for the survivors to feel the space to communicate, it is important for the clinician to work through their own narrative and reflect. Telling the story is key to healing

While we (clinicians) know and understand the symptoms of trauma, there is a symptom that is rarely discussed and that is the symptom of guilt. There is a lot of self-blame from the survivor. The hindsight in domestic violence is an example:

“Why didn’t I leave? Why did I stay?” Are two very difficult questions that seem to be asked when looking back, and if they are not processed, the individual can lead to more guilt, blaming themselves for both questions.

Like I said, trauma it is hard work. Telling your story, whether you are a survivor in therapy or a clinician in supervision, working through the story, the narrative, and the guilt is important in allowing the space for the work to begin.

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