Overcoming Treatment Trauma

Treatment trauma?  Seriously?  Sounds like an oxymoron, right?

As a trauma survivor, don’t we all strive to heal from our trauma?  We know we can’t do this on our own, so treatment often appears to be the best option.

I chose to enter a treatment program last spring because I was mentally and physically ill.  I had endured multiple hospitalizations for life-threatening intestinal issues.  But the overwhelming, deciding factor to go into treatment was my choice to recognize that I was not able to follow basic rules in regards to caring for myself once I was released from the hospital, nor did I care to follow these rules.

I definitely needed help.  More than that, I seriously needed a break from life.  I needed a schedule, a break from working and maintaining my household, and a buffer from everyone that was wondering what the hell was wrong with me.

To be honest, I felt instant relief the first day I entered the treatment program.  Just admitting to myself that something was wrong and that I could not fix it was an “ah-ha” moment.

The first couple of days of in-treatment are usually focused on learning the rules of the treatment center, adjusting to the schedule, figuring out where everything is (coffee, room, conference rooms, therapist’s office) and getting to know the other patients.

Once you are mildly adjusted, the real treatment begins.  I hit my first treatment trauma wall the day I was introduced to my first process group and therapist.

Our therapist asked us to introduce ourselves and give a brief explanation of why we were there.  Well, that was simple, “I am here for trauma treatment.”

“Could you tell the group a little more about your trauma?” the therapist replied.

“Well, it probably began when I was adopted.”  Apparently, that was a loaded statement.  The therapist assigned to my group specialized in Complex Developmental Trauma, especially in regards to adoption, and his wife ran a special support group at the treatment center just for adoptees.

The therapist gently explained to me how my adoption was the root of my trauma.  I had no idea.  I had learned to tell people about how grateful and fortunate I was to be adopted.  I had also learned how to deeply, and deceptively, hide my feelings of being unworthy.

I began to sob uncontrollably.  Worse yet was the involuntary shaking that took over my entire body.

This ability to cry at the drop of the hat, or just start shaking for no apparent reason stayed with me the entire time I was in treatment.  Several of my adjunct therapists at the treatment center reassured me that this was healthy and normal.  I learned to accept it, but it also embarrassed me.

I was able to work through my grief while I was in treatment, but the shaking stayed with me for months once I returned home.  I never knew when it was going to happen. Sometimes I could identify a trigger and sometimes I had no idea why I was shaking.

Eventually, the shaking stopped and was replaced by night sweats.  There did not appear to be a medical reason for the sweats.  My psychiatrist determined that they were due to my internalization of my trauma.  He prescribed a relatively new drug, Prazosin,  to treat the symptoms.  The drug is normally prescribed for high blood pressure, but several doctors found that it also had helped patients with night terrors.

Perhaps the most lingering symptom I have had since leaving treatment is an overwhelming sense of shame.  I’m not always able to define it.  Sometimes it is event specific, but most of the time it is just an overwhelming sense of being different from everyone else around me.

I decided to do some research on the correlation between trauma and shame and discovered that shame is directly correlated to trauma, especially if one has gone through treatment. “If one pursues a therapy that looks at trauma, and becomes aware that one is traumatised (sic) then a whole lot of other shames emerge” (Vivian Broughton, Shame… and Guilt… and Trauma, http://www.vivianbroughton.com/, July 2016).

Some of the shame I experienced was: the shame of being traumatized, shame of weakness and vulnerability, shame of not being able to heal myself, and shame of my survival strategies.

I realized that this shame was the source of all my physical symptoms.  When I get stressed out about going somewhere, meeting new people or going to an event where I don’t know anyone, I start to sweat profusely.  When I feel overwhelmed by a project, my job or financial struggles, I freeze.  When I freeze I look for some way to escape the feeling of being frozen (cleaning my house, obsessively watching TV or checking social media, or having a glass of wine).

When I don’t force myself to figure out why I am feeling shame, it works itself out in my sleep.  This results in nightmares, night sweats, and clenching my muscles when I sleep. I wake up exhausted and in pain.  And this results in more shame, and the inability to physically function.

I have found only one cure for this vicious cycle of shame; writing about it.  Somehow the act of defining it for others removes the intensity of the feeling.

This is definitely a work in progress.  My psychiatrist said to me, “it must have taken a lot of energy for you to hide your trauma?”

I hope that sharing my story will encourage others to share their stories.  There is no doubt that we live in a world that subjects us to the opinions of others all over the world. However, I have found that the community of trauma survivors is made up of loyal, and fierce warriors (men and women).  I am honored to be a member of this community and my healing progresses each day as a result of the support I receive.

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