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If You’ve Suffered, Get Help

WELLNESS--I’ve spent the past three years in therapy for trauma. I do a type of therapy called Somatic Experiencing that’s highly effective and has turned my entire life around.

Thanks to this therapy, I’ve lost weight, I’ve developed healthy sleep habits, and I smile more. I’m more present, my body feels less stiff, and I feel more at home in it. I used to have a migraine every day (for 23 years) and now I don’t. I’m doing better socially and professionally.

It turns out that virtually everything I don’t like about myself was a symptom of my trauma — and underneath all of that is a person I actually like. I’m finally getting to know her and share her with the world.

Before, I couldn’t feel most of my emotions, but I didn’t know it. I thought I felt emotions the same as everyone else does. But trauma manifests itself in what Donald Rumsfeld would call “unknown unknowns.” That is, parts of your body and soul go numb, and you don’t even know they’re missing.

That numbness makes the problem easy to deny or minimize. You can’t feel it, so you believe it’s not there.

Abuse can be disguised as parental discipline, or “advice” given out of love (“I just need to tell you how bad you are because I love you and want you to get better.”) The spectrum of abuse doesn’t just include physical or sexual acts. Neglect hurts too. So do words.

Once I became aware that what I’d suffered wasn’t normal and wasn’t OK, I talked about it constantly. I couldn’t feel anything, so I couldn’t feel how much it hurt to think about or talk about my painful past. I had no idea how much it probably hurt to hear it too.

I thought perhaps if I just kept talking about it, maybe it would somehow get better. It didn’t. Trauma’s sticky. It doesn’t go away easily, and simply talking about it won’t fix a thing.

Trauma’s more common than you might think. I don’t think anyone reaches adulthood completely unscathed, although some people are far more healthy and whole than others.

Suffering some pain is just part of the human condition, and a lot of us have unresolved traumas from our past, even if we’re mostly muddling through our lives okay and we feel fine.

Sometimes I’ll meet people who describe horrific traumas from their past and who clearly haven’t not dealt with them. They’re obviously suffering and yet they’ll say they’re fine.

There’s three versions of this I see often: 1) Nothing bad ever happened to me and I’m fine. 2) Something bad happened but it’s in the past and I’m fine now. 3) Something bad happened and I hurt a lot now but I won’t get help for it.

Knowing what their problem is and how they could get help for it — if they can afford it, which is a big “if,” at least until we get universal health care — feels like the world’s most pointless superpower. I know what they need to do to heal and there’s usually nothing I can do about it but give them time to realize it on their own.

I’m angry that it took me decades of pain to discover what my problem was and then find help for it. It feels like I had to follow the Yellow Brick Road when I could have clicked my heels together three times all along. I wish I could help other sufferers click their heels together and get help faster than I did.

Please, if you’ve suffered too, seek help.

 (CityWatch Guest columnist Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives in San Diego. Made available to CityWatch by OtherWords.org.)

-cw