How Far Have You Come? A Review of Trauma and Recovery

Judith Herman wrote the definitive work on Trauma and Recovery in her book by that title, with the subtitle: The Aftermath of Violence--From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. You haven't heard from me in a month while I have been living with this book, preparing a presentation on the trauma of suicidal ideation.

It was a trip, that presentation, taking me through the dark corners of my life in the last fifteen years. With Herman as my guide, I also traveled through the progress I have made, considerable progress.

[It's still possible to register for The Healing Conference, now with two for one pricing. Recordings of the presentations will be available through 2021.]

The first half of the book begins the history of the concept, beginning with what was called shell shock in World War I through to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD in Viet Nam, along the way picking up other traumas, sexual violence and captivity.

I found myself described in the nature and consequences of captivity, with intense suicidal ideation over an extended period of time as an experience of living with somebody 24/7 who threatens and plans to kill me. Not fun. And not easily dismissed once freed from the spell. David Conroy describes the lingering effects of suicidality in an article, Why Is It So Hard to Recover from Being Suicidal?

The second half of Trauma and Recovery leads the reader through the stages of recovery:

  • Safety
  • Remembrance and Mourning
  • Reconnection
Safety is primary. One doesn't recovery from the trauma that one is still experiencing. The poor, pitiful, and overworked amygdala needs the opportunity to stand down, before other parts of the brain can engage the healing process. This work includes establishing physical safety, untangling thoughts and emotions, establishing the capacity for trust, and building a support system.

Trauma work involves remembering the traumatic experience in manageable bites within a safe environment, so that the brain can metabolize it thoroughly and not shut off parts that will continue to reemerge in twisted and damaging ways.

Reconnecting with friends, family, social networks, or building new relationships signals the move past the trauma into a new life.

For some of us, reconnection involves a survivor mission, a dedication to a cause to heal or prevent trauma for others. That is what Prozac Monologues is all about, the blog, the book, and the speaking engagements.

These stages are not a linear process. While recovery begins with safety, it will also return to safety.

It was a difficult read, this book, reactivating memories and their physical consequences. It instigated a few therapy conversations and will continue to do so. It was also affirming, as I recognized progress made.

Recovery from trauma is possible. It's hard work; it has its setbacks; it continues through a lifetime. But it's possible. Herman's book is the standard text on trauma for therapists. It is enlightening for friends and family of those affected. It is a roadmap for those of us who have been to the dark side and are on the way back.

Blessings on your journey.

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