Sunday, May 17, 2015

Is It Always True: Mitzvah L'sapper?

Recently a close friend, who also happens to be a therapist, asked me an important question about recovery from trauma.  

She asked about Holocaust survivors, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, many who moved on and created new lives for themselves without talking much about the traumas of the past.  
 In many cases silence, avoidance, and “forgetting” (repression) is precisely how Holocaust Survivors survived and thrived, post World War Two.

My friend also mentioned Vietnam war veterans who also suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They were encouraged to seek therapy and talk of the traumas of war and
many of them ended up committing suicide.

My friend asked, Is it always true, “Mitzvah L’sapper??

We know that in treating trauma we must be very careful in how we do it. 

When the trauma is still raw and painful, when we still feel like a victim, talking about the trauma can be re-traumatizing, for ourselves and those around us. 

For a survivor of ongoing abuse, a trained trauma therapist is vital in healing the long-term effects..  Cathartic quick fix therapies, just don’t work long term in healing trauma.  

The saying, “slower is faster” is absolutely true when processing traumatic memory.  

First and foremost, we must have safety in order to do the work.  Feeling safe is a prerequisite to processing trauma.  
In my expeirence growing up in my litvish, yeshivish family, we never got to the point where we could feel safe in the post Holocaust world. 

 I was told more than once as a child, that the Holocaust could happen again, any day, in America, and that I shouldn’t feel safe or think I could ever trust a non Jew.  

“Today he will be your best friend and tomorrow he will kill you” is the message I grew up with.  

This fearful message is a denial of Hashem’s close presence and influence in our lives. 
I am not blaming victims for their fears. It is simply the reality, that victimization causes fear and denial.  
Fear and denial block us from connecting with ourselves and from feeling God's presence.
 Hashem does not want us to live in fear.  There is no mitzvah to be a victim.

 The ability to contain the memories and feelings, to keep from becoming overwhelmed and flooded,  as well as the ability to stay grounded in  the present, are also necessary prerequisites to trauma work.  

These are learned skills which take practice over time, and are easier said than done. 

A support system of close nurturing people who can help us hold the memories, as we remember and process them, is also vital.

Then, and only then, can we visit the trauma in very small pieces always returning to safety, grounding, containment, and nurturing, before we tackle the next piece.  

When we sit at lail  haseder we are touching our past and our present in the same moment.  
We are at the point where we can hold our past proudly.  We were slaves, but now we are free.  We know that without our past, without Hashem, we would not be the incredible, indestructible nation that we are today.  Our past becomes our strength, and no longer a gaping wound. 

Our past formed us into who we are.  
My past formed me into who I am.

I was a victim of child sexual abuse. I was shamed and humiliated. But now I am free and proud of how I came out of that situation, and of the person I am today.
My survival was and is a miracle.
I could not have done it without Hashem's help.

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