When a person is involved in traumatic event, it is experienced differently from normal life events. When a person feels under threat or needs to take instant action, the mind and body revert to a more primitive way of functioning that prioritizes survival. Although some circumstances make people go into a state of defensive, numbing shock, the most usual reaction to threat is hyperactivity.
Feelings of threat are recognized by the amygdala, and information stored in the hippocampus/frontal cortex used to help make meaning of the situation. I see a lion in front of me, but it is behind bars in a zoo, has a different context to when I see a lion walking towards me in the street.
With the lion safely behind bars, I am free to use other parts of my brain to enjoy the view of the lion, observe its features in detail. I can sit down and draw or paint it. Fully integrated experience of life needs a secure environment.
When people are in survival mode their mind and body are driven by stress hormones. The mind takes from the environment and from its stored memories of fear and threat all that it can to try and find a means of overcoming the threat or to find escape.
In forced situations we might not be able to escape, and be witness to or involved in horrific life events. Not only does the stress reaction cause distorted memories, but the mind has other defenses such as dissociation, denial or repression which will be used to rid the conscious mind of experiences that are “too much” for us to bear. People will go into denial that incest is happening in the family. Not every traumatic event is obvious and identifiable.
To help people to overcome trauma they need a neutral secure place in which to open themselves emotionally to the experience. It is possible to re-traumatize a person if you force them to de-brief about an event too soon. Sometimes people need time to simply accept that something has happened. The process of fully integrating trauma into the psyche so that it no longer causes distress is something that cannot be forced.
Survivors of trauma always represent the “face” of issues and events that we would prefer did not happen, that perhaps we don’t want to know about. When people suffer trauma as a result of any institute abuse of power, a denial of their reality is often the first line of defense. As memories and recollections may be fleeting or fragmented, a person can be left with a mess in their brain that no one wants to know about or get sorted out.
The worst betrayal is when those with an interest in maintaining an unhealthy status quo take on the role of supporting the trauma survivor to “help” them to deal with the events. The person can easily find that their inconvenient truth is pathologized. They are given medication, labeled as having a “disorder”. Everything conspires to make the traumatized person carry the burden and the pain.
A person who has had a traumatic experience is capable of full recovery if they are given a chance. What is needed for full recovery is a safe, secure and confidential place where priority is given to the recovery of the individual. The chosen treatment center must not have any vested interest which is against a person speaking their truth.
Independent, holistic detox and rehabilitation centers offer the best option for full recovery from trauma and related drug abuse.