The most well known symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, avoidance of triggers and dissociation. Less obvious, though, and possibly more pervasive are the effects that PTSD has on the ability to have healthy relationships.
Addiction is a coping mechanism. Addiction to drugs, alcohol, prescription pills, business, work, shopping, food, gambling, sex and so on. You can become addicted to almost anything. As Gabor Maté states, in order to treat addiction we have to first understand its purpose.
“It is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behaviour.” - Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts
In 2015 a new law was passed that changes the legal standard of rape for campus assaults from the survivor proving that they said didn't want the sexual advances ("no means no") to proving that the accused obtained affirmative consent ("yes means yes"). The law says that it's not enough that the survivor didn't say no or fight back but that they have to explicitly say yes.
It can be really tough to try to make sense of a past trauma and how it effects you in the here and now. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has a specific set of symptoms, such as nightmares and flashbacks. But the reality of complex trauma resulting from repeated traumatic events is that the effects go far beyond the symptoms outlined in the DSM. One of the first steps in healing from trauma is to understand the problems that you are having in your life and how they might relate back to the traumas. Not every problem originates with trauma, but there are some problems that originate with trauma that you might not expect.
Childhood abuse happened in the past. Unfortunately the effects of abuse don't stay tucked in the past but rather invade your daily life in ways that you might not expect. Abuse is a perceived threat to one's safety and can be physical, emotional, verbal or sexual. When we think of abuse we usually think of physical or sexual acts, but emotional and verbal abuse can be just as devastating.
You are not alone.
Healing from sexual abuse and rape requires working with every part of the trauma experience - instinct, emotion, images, and thoughts.When faced with a life threatening experience, primitive instincts kick in - fight, flight, freeze, submit (see part 1 and part 2 of this blog). These instincts help you survive the encounter, but leave evidence behind in the form of body memories. The cortisol response that was triggered by the original trauma, can be re-triggered any time. That means that if you see a person that reminds you of the perpetrator or smell something you smelled at that time, for example, your body will involuntarily release loads of cortisol and it will feel like you're right back in the moment the trauma occurred. The Thinking Brain knows that you are in the present time, but the Reptilian Brain (instinct) and Old Mammalian Brain (images and emotions) are telling you otherwise. Effective treatment for PTSD and sexual abuse involves all three parts of the brain.
You aren't broken.
Trauma and complex PTSD caused by sexual abuse and rape are underdiagnosed and often misdiagnosed as something else. That's because trauma from years ago can cause so many different problems in adult life, referred to as "symptoms", which don't always fit neatly into a diagnostic box. It has been estimated that of people who seek treatment for mental health problems, as many of 90% have an underlying trauma.
"Just get over it." It's one of the worst things someone can say to a survivors of sexual abuse or rape. And yet how many times have you heard those words? Trauma sticks in the brain and the body and it doesn't just go away. You can push it down and choose not to think about it, but it comes up in your life in unexpected ways and can destroy happiness.
60% of adults report experiencing trauma in their childhood and 4 of 10 children say they experienced a physical assault in the past year. The most well known symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are nightmares, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, avoidance of triggers and dissociation. Less obvious, though, and possibly more pervasive are the effects that PTSD has on the ability to have healthy relationships.
"...Some common symptoms of these illnesses are trouble sleeping, thoughts of suicide, not being able to maintain relationships, feeling worthless, racing thoughts, inability to focus, low energy, and feeling heightened emotions. Bipolar, BPD and PTSD can all cause these problems, but for different reasons."