PTSD Awareness Month

alcohol awareness month

Written by Ted Crawford, M.S., LMFT
Clinical Therapist, Pine Grove’s Outpatient Services

June is National PTSD Awareness month. Everyone has some amount of trauma in their past that hasn’t been fully processed (“digested”). Even though the actual events are over, numerous people still have instances when the high-charged emotions connected to those experiences seem to “revisit” them. If you’re one of these people, know that after any overwhelming incident, there can be some emotional energy that continues to hang around. If it’s bad enough and goes on for a while, it’s called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Either way, it’s part of a normal reaction to an abnormal amount of stress. In other words, you’re not going crazy.

PTSD is a condition in which the trauma sufferer is triggered to “re-experience” the event in some way and this may include, (intrusive thoughts, feelings, body sensations, images, nightmares, etc.). The fear of being triggered naturally causes the person to avoid people, places or situations that they would rather not have to avoid. They may also experience emotional “shut-down” and numbness mixed with intervals of heightened senses, feeling “on edge,” being increasingly irritable and having difficulty sleeping and concentrating.

So why do some people suffer these symptoms more than others, even after going through similar events? First, know that there’s a multitude of factors influencing how an individual experiences a certain crisis. These factors determine how easy or difficult it is to make sense of that event in the moment. The more we understand about what’s happening and why, the quicker we can put our “fight and flight” energy to use to get safe, (and have a gripping story to tell later). Any leftover energy is processed and released as we talk about it and allow ourselves to feel the associated emotions. If we do this enough, the story is de-stimulated to the point where it actually begins to bore the story-teller… and when it comes to getting over trauma, “boring” is what you want. This would be an example of processing a traumatic event according to the ideal pre-wired neurological plan. Other crisis situations, however, leave us with a story that’s so over-stimulating that it feels too difficult to talk, (or even think) about. This is because, for numerous possible reasons, the experience overwhelmed our ability to comprehend it in that moment, therefore leaving us feeling helpless or “frozen” to some degree. An immobilized mind and body leaves the survival energy with no “discharge instructions.” Trapped inside, this energy prompts the survival portion of the brain to continue sensing a danger that no longer exists, particularly when triggered by something we associate with the event. You can imagine how all of this could interfere with a person’s ability to come to terms with something!

Now you know that post-traumatic symptoms aren’t really caused by the traumatic event itself, rather, they’re the result of not allowing ourselves to feel and express the emotions associated with the event. Emotions are meant to be released after they’ve run their course, and although they can be disturbing, they can’t hurt you unless you keep them bottled up. When an alarming emotion is sparked, it’s an opportunity to discharge the energy it carries. When enough of this energy is liberated, the information is stored in our long-term memory, where it rests, (instead of banging around in our bodies, wreaking havoc). This is a requirement for us to fully heal. So talk about the event and how you experienced it. Cry, shout, shake, (yes, when you can do it safely, let yourself fall apart a little!) Although our symptoms generally fade over time when we do this, it’s often wise to use professional help to move things along when needed. Many counselors are trained to work with this particular issue, and can help you through the process toward recovery.

About Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services:

Located in Hattiesburg, MS., Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services is one of the nation’s most comprehensive treatment campuses. Pine Grove’s world renowned programs treat gender specific chemical addiction including specialized tracks for co-occurring eating disorders, compulsive behaviors, trauma, and mental health. Additionally, Pine Grove offers an Intensive Outpatient substance abuse healing program for adults. Other Pine Grove specialty programs include a dedicated professional’s treatment curriculum and a comprehensive evaluation center. Pine Grove also features a program for patients with sexual addiction. Inpatient Services including an Adult Psychiatric Unit, along with a Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Unit, and Outpatient Services are other components. Pine Grove is a division of Forrest Health, a partnership of healthcare organizations across South Mississippi, and the behavioral healthcare extension of Forrest General Hospital. Established in 1984, Pine Grove has provided nationally and internationally recognized health care for 40 years. For more information about Pine Grove, please visit www.pinegrovetreatment.com and call 1-888-574-HOPE (4673).

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