Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Trauma and Divorce
This is my father, Leon Crooks, traveling through Italy during World War 2 with his Chemical Battalion
My dad was in World War II. He served in the army, in a mortar battalion that spent lots of time at the front line…in fact, I have been told that only one other army unit had more time in front line combat than my dad’s battalion. That was because Dad’s battalion was regularly sent to the front of areas about to be invaded, assigned to do the advance work in preparation for the foot soldiers to advance. Dad’s battalion had a very high casualty rate. And he was witness/participant in some very awful things, including his arrival at Dachau the day after it was liberated. .
One day in the final years of his life, Dad and I were talking about his life, and how he handled the adjustments back to civilian life. Dad described how his brother-in-law and sister had taken him into their business for a while, which included a lot of traveling and working with dogs. As Dad described the experiences, he said, “Back then, nobody had ever heard of PTSD, though we did talk about guys that suffered ‘shell shock.’ I guess a lot of us had PTSD and just didn’t know it. Working with those dogs like that probably saved my life.” It was a very touching moment, revealing dad’s reflecting on and trying to absorb in retrospect all that he had experienced. He also said that he got to tour Europe…he just had to walk everywhere! And that, looking back, he doesn’t know how in the world he and his men did all the things that they had done. It was a very tough and demanding experience in many ways.
I was thinking about our conversation, and some of the things I know about divorce and the people who have gone through it, as well as my experiences with grief (both my own and those I have worked with), and realized I have probably never written a blog that ties the struggle of and recovery from divorce to a PTSD type framework. And yet, often those are certainly both traumatic experiences for the individuals who go through them. I did a quick search (yes, ME, I really did!) one of the first search results I ran across was this website---www.helpguide.org---which had an article about PTSD that I thought was useful to share. Their description was very striking:
When you experience a threatening or traumatic event, your nervous system responds by triggering the fight, flight, or freeze response. After the danger passes, your body usually returns to normal. But if the upset doesn't fade and you feel stuck with painful memories and a constant sense of vulnerability, you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As upsetting and disabling as PTSD can be, it’s important to realize that you’re not helpless. There are plenty of things you can do to alleviate your PTSD symptoms, reduce anxiety and fear, and take back control of your life. …any event, or series of events, “that overwhelms you with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and leaves you emotionally shattered can trigger PTSD, especially if the event feels unpredictable and uncontrollable.
The site goes on to talk about the lingering painful memories, loss of sleep, avoiding certain places or activities that trigger memories and several other characteristics of PTSD.
It certainly resonates well with the experience of divorce as well as grief, wouldn’t you say?
I think that is especially true of the person who suffered the shock of a spouse saying he/she is filing for divorce - and if you've ever seen the scene in Hope Floats - when dad is saying goodbye to his daughter - a scenario well depicted and acted by Mae Whitman and Sandra Bullock. (Click here to view the video clip on Youtube: Hope Floats)
The website’s description of PTSD is applicable in lots of situations, including a serious accident or illness, the loss of a limb or ability, and also the experience of having your parents divorce. Traumatic events are a part of the lives of many of us, in one way or another. The shock, pain, losing and regaining equilibrium, and finding ways to move beyond the trauma are issues most of us face at one time or another in our lives.
I think the first step in working through trauma is to simply realize and acknowledge that you have suffered a trauma, i.e., I have been traumatized. It is not just a simple parting of the ways in many cases; it is a traumatic event that completely reorders one’s life!
The site then goes on to describe some of the things that can be helpful in overcoming. Their suggestions include physical activity and exercise, learning relaxation techniques to apply in overwhelming times, taking advantage of healthy relationships with others, as well as working to develop a more healthy lifestyle. If you are really struggling with these kind of symptoms, you might want to go to the website to read more.
I find that being part of a healthy church and maintaining a healthy relationship with God can be one of the most healing resources you can find. I'm not recommending that you should pursue your religious side to the exclusion of the other helpful treatments. I find that those who do so can often end up in denial and never facing their grief and loss head on. On the other hand, those who pursue all the self-help remedies and never address their need for God are also operating with less than complete wholeness.
Nevertheless, one of the great hallmarks of God in the scripture is that he is the Great Physician, the one whose specialty is healing broken hearts and inner wounds. Sometimes he does so through caring friends. Sometimes by speaking directly to our hearts, or through scripture. And sometimes he uses the means that exist in the world around us. But today, I simply want to suggest that if you have experienced some form of trauma in life, recognize that GOD was neither surprise nor traumatized by what you experienced; he will help you move forward, one step at a time.