Thursday, March 11, 2010

PTSD and the Crisis of Faith: Part Two of Two

 Hello Friends:

I promised a post to follow up on PTSD and the Crisis of Faith: Part One of Two, where I talked about why a loss of faith is part of the whole PTSD package of symptoms.  And here it is ... much later ... my attempt to synthesize the basis of the loss of faith and how to reclaim it.  Jumping in where I left off, the general stages of recovery from PTSD (again, as taken from Trauma and Recovery by Judith Lewis Herman) are:  (1) establishing safety, (2) reconstructing the traumatic story (which includes remembrance and mourning), and (3) restoring the connection between the survivor and her community (reconnecting with ordinary life)

To add a little more information to stage three, our topic of the day, here's what Herman calls the "Role of the Community", which boils down to recognition and restitution"Sharing the traumatic experience with others is a precondition for the restitution of a meaningful world.  Once it is publicly recognized that that person has been harmed, the community must take action to assign responsibility for the harm and to repair the injury."

Now this is where it gets a little murky for me.  I do not think that "community" has to mean a panel of people from the grocery store, the PTA, the local church, your condo association, and the guys who salt your driveway in winter.  These people are certainly "community" in the largest definition, but there are a vast number of relationships that could define a person's community.  Your community includes your family, your friends, your therapist, your coworkers, your bowling league, and ... you guessed it ... your on-line blog buddies!  While many of us would love to have the people who caused our trauma be denounced publicly, made to own up in a court of law, fined, imprisoned or what have you, that is only one possible scenario for how the community could acknowledge our trauma, and work towards restitution.  At least in my view.  Assuming my interpretation of community is correct, then this is how recognition and restitution might play out ...

Recognition.  The role of the community is to listen to your story, to believe it, and to validate it.  You might only share the long version of your story with your therapist, your SO, or your sibling.  Then you might write an article, create art, or write poetry, and thereby share some part of the story with people on-line, in a class, or at a workshop.  You can do like me and blab at length in a blog format.  Ideally, people respond with appropriate emotions, either anger or sadness or what have you, and let you know they believe your story.  On some level, these people need to let you know that they realize you were hurt, and they recognize your pain.  Now obviously, everyone is not going to do each part of this.  This is the feedback you get from your community as a group.  Hopefully, after going through this process in our own unique ways, you and I will feel like our story was recognized and validated in some fashion by those we chose to share it with.

Restitution.  The community needs to acknowledge who is responsible for the trauma, and then somehow try to work to repair the damage.  So first, as I see it, the community must make it clear that they understand who is responsible, and that you and I are not to blame.  Just hearing those words from my therapist was a help, but then to get them echoed from my SO, sibling, a close friend, a few people in a chat room, and even more, is what really helped me solidify the idea that I as a child did not deserve to be abused.  I think the "community" then needs to respond with some sense that, having seen our hurt and knowing the cause, they desire some kind of fairness or justice, just like we do.  One possibility is having the community contribute to our healing in some way (by supporting our choice of doctors, our choice to use or not use medicine, allowing time off or leave for recovery, by being there with an ear, lending a hand when needed, or whatever support looks like to you and me).  Restitution might also be something bigger; a relative dedicating their 10K run to a domestic abuse shelter in honor of you, or your friends attending a march to raise awareness for child abuse, etc.  Whatever form it takes, it shows us, the survivors, that our community intends to see the injury repaired, however that might be possible.

Finally, finally, I come back to the actual point of the post.  So what, indeed, is the relationship between that recognition/restitution and our relationship with our higher power of choice?  As I noted in my previous post, part of what deconstructed the survivor's faith to begin with was a sense that the world does not have (for C-PTSD) or no longer has (for PTSD) any true justice, any real order, or any deeper meaning. Whatever "system of meaning" was in place was dismantled. "Why me? The arbitrary, random quality of her fate defies the basic human faith in a just or even predictable world order. She is faced with the double task of rebuilding her own "shattered assumptions" about meaning, order, and justice in the world and also finding a way to resolve her differences with those who beliefs she can no longer share.  Recognition and restitution are necessary to rebuild the survivor's sense of order and justice."
And there you go.  And this is essentially where I gotta stop because my brain hurts.  I can now see how connecting to the community will get recognition and restitution to happen, and I can see that these would indeed help rebuild my sense of order and justice.  But will this naturally lead to a redevelopment of a sustaining faith?  Exactly how does that happen?  Oh crap, I think I'm going to have to hit the books and come up with a part three, aren't I?  Part three of two.  Snort.

I would love love love your comments on this post.  What does recognition mean to you?  What would restitution look like?  Do you think any of this would help you reconstruct a more meaningful world view?  Would that positively impact your developing a 'sustaining faith'?  How?  Very curious.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

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Amy said...

Hi Morpho--

Just thinking how much I love your blog, and how much I really want to give Stress Cat a hug. And some catnip.

As usual, your analysis of a key point of mental health recovery is insightful and poignant. One cannot underestimate how intensely and personally powerful it is to receive recognition and validation for suffering. To tell your story to someone, and have that person say "I hear you, I understand, and you did nothing wrong" is an indispensable step toward mental health. By the same token, telling the "wrong" person can be devastating. One must choose her or his "family" wisely.

So glad you're back.

The Blue Morpho said...

Hey Amy - Thanks for reading, as always. Feel free to send Stress Cat virtual catnip. It would be good for him to see that catnip can come from caring, interested friends, and isn't just a miracle or once-a-year event. He gets confused, sometimes, about where good things come from, and if he's really worthy.

"By the same token, telling the 'wrong' person can be devastating." This is sadly true. We do have to consider how people might react, and the consequences if they react 'poorly'. It is very disheartening, since it continues to make victims of us, and continues to put us in the position of justification. Still, I at least have found a lot of good from speaking of my illness to my 'community'. Yet, as you see, I still blog under Blue Morpho, not my real name. So how much am I really risking? It's not even clear, or perhaps blogging under a second name is simply an illusion of anonymity. I just don't know. But I am certainly tired of hiding this stuff. That's for sure. I can tell almost anyone I have an anxiety disorder, but the full story of how that came about, the abuse and more, that is kept closer.

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