[Note: This post is half of a two part series; for part one, please click the link below.]
[Full disclosure: On 10 August, 2018, I was stabbed getting into my car, and suffered 6-7 stab wounds in my back, hand, head, and face during a 90 second knife-fight-become-gun-fight. I walked away a survivor; he did not. Afterwards, however, I developed PTSD, and reflected quite a lot upon death and the meaning of death during the many months of my recovery, which is ongoing: this series is the result.]
Trauma can be a very difficult thing, though not necessarily for the reasons that we might think.
When we think of trauma, we sometimes think that the suffering comes from the event itself, or from reliving that event. Although that may very well be the experience of others, in my opinion and experience, there is more to it: What we suffer most from, especially in the case of PTSD- post-traumatic stress disorder- is not the event itself, but rather 1) the inability to normalize ourselves after the event, to shut off the crisis-reaction program that trauma activates within us; and 2) the inability to contextualize the meaning of the event, to determine not only what it means but also what it might mean in the future. In order for healing to occur, both of these obstacles must be overcome; the one without the other will result in a distortion of the healing process. Simply stated, we must learn not only how to master a new and darker set of response patterns within us but also what it means to have come in contact with that darkness at all.
We will discuss each in turn.
Insofar as the first point is concerned, it is my somewhat expert opinion that PTSD would have been for thousands of years an entirely normal mental condition. I say this because all of the effects of PTSD would have given a survival advantage to those experiencing them in our ancestral environment: greater focus, faster crisis-response, etc. As proof of this, I would argue that many soldiers that I have spoken to that have also experienced PTSD note that it only became dysfunctional after returning from war. While in combat, however, their experiences were entirely normal, and useful for surviving in a chaotic environment. Therefore, I would submit that a paradigm-shift is necessary...
Rather than demonize PTSD outright (i.e., "You have a condition because you been broken by that environment."), it is necessary to note that what is dysfunctional is not the condition itself but rather the relationship between the condition and the current environment (i.e., "You have a condition that is no longer functional in this environment.). The first framing of the problem brings into question the strength of the individual; the second framing of the problem validates the strength of the individual while attacking the actual source of the dysfunction- a psycho-environmental mismatch. And of course, we can do this in our own lives when we suffer, even in the case of less traumatic events. There is, after all, no reason that this insight cannot be applied more generally- and it should be.
Insofar as the second point is concerned, it can be very difficult to contextualize the darkness within ourselves when we have been forced to express that darkness in order to survive a traumatic event (i.e., my own knife-fight-become-gun-fight). Whoever believes himself to be immune to that realization is either a fool or a liar, in my humble opinion. There are some things that, once realized, cannot be unrealized; when Toto pulls the curtain and thus reveals the true nature of the Wizard of Oz, there is no unseeing that truth. Traumatic events reveal to us something about the human condition that is rarely discussed in civilized society- though that same darkness informs and upholds much of civilization, if only in distorted or domesticated form-, and that is especially true when the traumatic event involves human violence.
And so how do we find a meaning in suffering, especially in the kind of suffering that reveals to us a darkness that we never knew existed within us? In order to do that, we have to realize that the world is deeper than we know, and that there is meaning not only in goodness but also in darkness. There is nothing so dark that it does not result in at least some good, even if it is a far and distant good that we will never know of. We may never have direct confirmation of that good; nonetheless, we must believe in it. It is a kind of faith. After all, everything is connected, and if everything is connected, then there can be no darkness without daylight.
"There can be no darkness without daylight."
Joshua van Asakinda
This, I think, is a far better paradigm than the paradigm currently held by most psychologists: It moves from the psychology of a victim to the psychology of a victor- which is what a survivor is, after all. There is far too much victimhood in modern psychology anyway; we would do well to begin cleansing the field of that poison, which too often results in exactly the mental fragility that it presumes to treat. An older, bolder, stronger paradigm is necessary. But that is a discussion for another occasion...
~ Joshua van Asakinda