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Can You Recover From Trauma?

Balancing the debate.

More and more, I am seeing the scepticism. The implied scepticism. It comes out in more indirect ways. But talk to people about distress and it is there, leaking out of the conversation: indications that people don’t believe it is possible. You can’t recover.

 Rob Blakey
Source: Rob Blakey

And of course, if it is true, if you can’t recover from trauma, it would explain why people don’t talk about this side to life. Why talk about something you cannot change? It sounds pointless and the pub is open.

I suspect a lot of people carry this belief.

Where does it come from? Experience is responsible for a lot of things. We talk about distress and we see the reaction. We might start by talking about a friend’s distress. Or about distress in general. We might start broad and vague and distant and generally uninvolved in the story of distress. Because is it safe to go further? Is it safe to make it personal?

We need reactions to know. Out we go and share.

Perhaps at the beginning, the reaction is kind and sympathetic. But as the conversations stack up and you are still talking about the same thing, do you feel that you are still talking about the same thing? Do you experience the feeling that you are still talking about the same thing? Am I boring you? Am I tiring you? Am I losing you?

Bored, tired, lost. This is not how we want conversation to go. Because if conversation goes this way, we could lose another person, and we can’t afford to lose another person. After all, that is the trauma. Loss. Loss is the starting point for distress. We can’t go about creating another, creating more.

We learn. We learn not to talk about loss.

We used to believe in the possibility of recovery. We used to believe in the potential of talking. But the snake of cynicism found a gap beneath the door. We decided it’s not safe. We stopped.

How? How do we conduct our risk assessments? We watch and learn.

We are watching the reaction. We are not watching with pen and paper in hand. We are not taking conscious note. There is the unconscious for that. The unconscious is tracking what can be put into words, what cannot, what can be shared, what cannot.

If it is safe to go there, people will go there. People are full. People are full of distressing experiences, trauma. People are spilling, trying to keep it all in, not short of things to say. The shortage is places to go.

Why then do we stay away from the difficult? Because it is not safe to go. It is not safe to talk. There are reactions, strong reactions. We shut up, step down, step away.

Reactions take down a conversation and the strange thing about this experience is that we have gone to the effort of meeting people, we have organised the meeting, we have chosen a time and decided on a place, all with the expectation that we would go somewhere, go somewhere together. We must have the expectation to go somewhere or else we would not create opportunity.

And then, not long in, we find all leads have turned out empty. Conversation has dried up or smoked away. The burgers never arrive.

This happens all the time. It happens when people, in theory, have lots to say. Perhaps there is history, perhaps there is reason to talk. But it is not safe to go.

Rob Blakey
Source: Rob Blakey

With this as the backdrop, it is unsurprising that cynicism grows. We become cynical about the potential of talking, relating, connecting. Perhaps we don’t believe in connection any longer. We believe in fake smiles, phone glares.

Does this happen with mental health?

At the beginning, we find it. We find the phrase ‘mental health’ and look up the dictionary. There are many diagnoses. There are many opportunities for description.

Perhaps at this young point in time, the reaction is kind and sympathetic. We talk about mental health and people are interested.

But as the conversations stack up and you are still talking about the same thing, do you get the feeling that you are still talking about the same thing? Am I boring you? Am I tiring you? Am I losing you?

The questioning becomes a psychological problem. It is the self-critic. It is the problem we are trying to explain.

But we read the world is changing. We read it yesterday in a news article. People are talking. Now is the time to speak up, speak out. Now is the century to share.

And we do it. We talk and talk a bit more, until the day that “mental health” invites this mild cringe. Have you seen it? Then we shut up. Then we go home. Then we watch Netflix “because therapy doesn’t work.”

Rob Blakey
Source: Rob Blakey

The aim here is not to persuade you that recovery is possible. It is a sad but reassuring possibility that we can only describe. We can describe thoughts. We can describe feelings. And we can describe the longer journey of thoughts and feelings coming and passing, forming to present a journey, a story, unfolding whether we see it or walk right past it.

This, the recovery process, involves derailing as much airlifting. It is happening. The only choice is to describe or turn the other way; but turn the other way, and of course, there is no way. Just porn and a bottle.

What if we let the possibility breathe?