Healing Line

Healing Line

Post-Trauma Healing

by Nigel Mumford
Jul/Aug/Sep 2012

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. - Genesis 4:8

Be kinder than necessary. Everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle. - Anonymous

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or as the US military now call it Post-Traumatic Stress or PTS (they have dropped the word “disorder”), has become a household name in recent years primarily due to the wars we have been involved in since Vietnam and the horrors of 9/11. Historically it is good to note that before Christ, even the mothers, wives and girlfriends of ancient Greek warriors noticed a change in their loved ones upon return from battle. The individual’s reaction to “combat trauma” has brought new insights to the results of “combat within the domestic household.” Primarily this diagnosis can be triggered from experiencing threat of injury or death, flood, fire, car crash, assault, domestic abuse, prison stay, rape, gang warfare, terrorism or war. This can include the overall threat, real or perceived, of your death or the death of others. PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder where symptoms can occur even beginning after three years or more from the occurrence. This can happen at any age or with either gender.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 caused PTSD in some people who were involved, in people who saw the disaster, and in people who lost relatives and friends. We are currently seeing many combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who have been thoroughly and repeatedly traumatized by many return trips to those theaters of war. One man I know has been in both theaters a total of seventeen times! Another man I know was in WWII and was fine until the newspaper headlines of September 11th “Three Thousand Killed.” This set him into full PTSD as he had reckoned he had killed about three thousand people as he called in artillery fire. He was fine for fifty five years until triggered by that horrific news.

The cause of PTSD is unknown. Psychological, genetic, physical, and social factors are involved. PTSD changes the body’s response to stress. It affects the stress hormones and chemicals that carry information between the nerves (neurotransmitters). It is not known why traumatic events cause PTSD in some people but not in others. Having a history of trauma may increase their risk for getting PTSD after a recent traumatic event.*

I wrote a personal description of PTSD or “Shell Shock” as it was called in the seventies;

  • The mind is witness to a catastrophic event.
  • The intellect cannot cope with what is has seen.
  • The body reacts physically under duress.
  • The heart receives emotional scar tissue.
  • The soul weeps.
  • The mental trauma is a total body reaction to horror.

I had been diagnosed with Shell Shock and was regrettably medically discharged from the Royal Marine Commandos after spending a year in combat and experiencing repeated trauma. The worst event was witnessing the shooting of a friend of mine as I was watching him for a command to cross the street. He was not killed but his wife, upon hearing the news, immediately miscarried. The collateral damage of war!

The following are some of the symptoms that accompany issues of PTSD taken from PTSD Support Services.* (I remind you that these are normal feelings attached to abnormal situations, t he mind, body and soul’s reaction to the threat of death.)

The person who has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following were present: The person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others. The person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.* This applies to both the military and civilian world.

Some of these symptoms include:

Isolation

Many who suffer PTSD have few friends. Many who witnessed traumatic experiences complain of feeling like old men in young men’s bodies. They feel isolated and distant from their peers. Veterans in particular feel that most of their non-veteran peers would rather not hear what the combat experience was like; therefore, they feel rejected. Much of what many of these veterans had done during the war would seem like horrible crimes to their civilian peers. But, in the reality faced by combatants, such actions were frequently the only means of survival. *

Depression and Suicidal Thoughts

They feel depressed; “How can I tell my spouse? He/she’d never understand.” They ask, “How can anyone who hasn’t been there understand?” Many report becoming extremely isolated when depressed. Substance abuse is often exaggerated during depressive periods. Self-medication is an easily learned coping response in military combat of issues at home; alcohol appears to be the drug of choice.*

Rage

Remember; if you blow a fuse, you will be in the dark. - J. John.

The sufferer’s rage is frightening to them and to others around them. For no apparent reason, many will strike out at whoever is near. Frequently, this includes their spouses and children. Some of these outbursts can be quite violent. This behavior generally frightens sufferers, apparently leading many to question their sanity; they are horrified at their behavior. However, regardless of their afterthoughts, the rage reactions occur with frightening frequency.*

Avoidance of Feelings: Alienation

An emotional numbness… The spouses of many of the sufferers I have interviewed complain that the men are cold, uncaring individuals. Indeed, the sufferer will recount episodes in which they did not feel anything when they witnessed a death of a buddy in combat or the more recent death of a close family relative. They are often somewhat troubled by these responses to tragedy; but, on the whole, they would rather deal with tragedy in their own detached way. What becomes especially problematic for these veterans, however, is an inability to experience the joys of life. They often describe themselves as being emotionally dead.*

Survival Guilt

When others have died and some have not, the survivors often ask, “How is it that I survived when others more worthy than I did not?” Survival guilt is an especially guilt-invoking symptom. It is not based on anything hypothetical. Rather, it is based on the harshest of realities, the actual death of comrades and the struggle of the survivor to live. Often the survivor has had to compromise himself or the life of someone else in order to live. The guilt that such an act invokes or guilt over simply surviving may eventually end in self-destructive behavior by the survivor.*

Anxiety Reactions or Exaggerated Startle Response

Many describe themselves as very vigilant human beings; their autonomic senses are tuned to anything out of the ordinary. A loud discharge will cause many of them to react with a violent jump. A few will actually take such evasive action as falling to their knees or to the ground, taking cover. Many become very uncomfortable when people walk closely behind them. One person described his discomfort when people drive directly behind him. He would pull off the road, letting others pass, when they got within a few car lengths of him.*

I knew a Sargent who was snoozing while on leave. His five-year-old daughter went “Boo” to dad. He was startled and swung out in self-defense and killed his child with his fist! We never saw him again. He was shipped off to the mental institution. Collateral damage!

Intrusive Thoughts

The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in one or more of the following ways:

  • Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions.
  • Recurrent distressing dreams of the event.
  • Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring (includes a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and associative flashback episodes, including those that occur on awakening or when intoxicated).

Intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.*

Persistent Avoidance

Persistent Avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma), as indicated by three or more of the following:

  • Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma.
  • Efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma.
  • Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma.
  • Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities, restricted range of affect, sense of a foreshortened future (e.g., does not expect to have a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span)

Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (not present before the trauma), as indicated by two or more of the following: difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, and hyper vigilance.

The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.*

Critical Incident Debriefing

To be “debriefed” as soon as possible after the incident can be very beneficial. Helping to prevent the brain from digging a hole for itself! Studies have shown that the closer, time wise, to the incident, the lessening of the possibility of acquiring this anxiety disorder.

What to do if you suspect that you or a loved one might be showing signs of PTSD?

Get help. Go to a therapist and get an evaluation. Talk it out with a Christian therapist. Bring Christ into the memory using inner healing. It is vitally important to receive help. The perceived stigma in seeking help is a huge block in your healing. Please do not allow yourself the misery of thinking about that. Tie prayer with a trained prayer team into your physical and emotional treatment, seeking help for your spiritual health.

Fight-Flight and the Flywheel

When in a hyper vigilant state four hundred percent more blood goes to the main muscle groups to either fight or run away, a caveman survival instinct. The problem is that we cannot fight or run away from the memory. The visual that helped me was of the PTSD flywheel, triggered and then halted by the very hands of Jesus.

Observations

I have observed a recent trend. Parents are bringing their daughters who have been raped as young as twelve and thirteen to the healing center for prayer. They are of course seeing a therapist as well. Most people I see tend to be fifty plus who were raped at a young age and did not tell anyone, until now!

Bottom Line

Some of the above information is gleaned from the web, some gleaned from personal experience, and some gleaned from my new book on PTSD. My main message here is that God can and does heal today.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Can PTSD be totally cured? Let us not limit God. Myself, I would say I am 99.9% healed. There is a remnant of combat trauma left in me, but I am functioning at 100%. Bring God into the picture with a therapist and if necessary medications. Prayer, Prozac (or the current drug of choice) inner healing, prayer, and gentle persistence can help heal the trauma of the past.

With God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:16)

*Adapted from “PTSD Support Services.”

Fr. Nigel can be reached at www.ctkcenter.org or www.nigelmumford.com.


Rev. Nigel Mumford The Rev. Nigel Mumford is an author, speaker, a member of CHM's National Advisory Board and serves as director of Christ the King Spiritual Life Center in Greenwich, New York. Jul/Aug/Sep 2012