Unresolved Trauma Creates The Walking Wounded Who Live Amongst Us
Yes those pictures are of the same man.
This week the death of the great David Bowie has been a real loss that I will be writing more about later but last month the world lost another great rock and roll front man, Scott Weiland, the lead singer of the Stone Temple Pilots, to what appears to be the results of a lifetime struggle with alcohol and drugs. There may be many of us who look at this and think, “Well another entitled rock star leading a life of debauchery—what do you expect?” Having followed him for many years I am surprised he lived as long as he did for he struggled mightily with drug and alcohol addiction and bipolar disorder. Yet what I didn’t know until the past couple of years was also another piece of his story that we don’t hear as much about. As a boy, I believe around 12, Scott was the victim of a terrible episode of sexual abuse and rape by a much older boy. I remember having heard him interviewed about this at the time he was releasing his autobiography but just actually saw it a few days ago and it was startling.
Although I believe that all of us therapists deal with trauma, the past couple of years I have started working more with trauma and have almost completed my certification in TIR, Traumatic Incident Reduction, which is a way of working with people to help them not just reduce their symptoms around a trauma but actually help them resolve their incident. And what I realize is that there are many people walking around affected horribly by one trauma or another that they are desperately trying not to think about. Or the even sadder situation is when people have tried to reach out to get help from professionals and all this has served to do is to stir up the symptoms around the trauma and the best that usually happens is a reduction of symptoms or maybe some learning of coping mechanisms.
Scott Weiland had been to multiple rehabs, he had talked in the interview about addressing the issue of his abuse with his psychiatrist but when I watched him crying as he told the story during this interview it was clear how much he was still in the incident and how much it appeared to still be haunting him. He looked like the walking wounded, a term originally coined for war veterans who, though not physically injured, carried emotional pain from PTSD. Now I didn’t know him personally and I don’t know much more than I observed about this issue or his treatment, but I sure believe TIR could have helped him as I have witnessed it help so many others.
A very interesting research study was done in the 90s called the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study and what can be learned from that is powerful testimony about the profound and sometimes incredibly negative consequences that can affect people decades after adverse incidents in childhood. When looking at the results of the study one of researchers was quoted as saying, “I saw how much people had suffered and I wept.” The researchers discovered a direct link between childhood trauma and adult onset of chronic disease and mental illness. What they found was that 2/3 of the participants report at least one event defined as abuse, neglect or exposure to traumatic stressors. 1 in 5 report three or more and 1 in 6 report four or more. A score of four or higher makes a person 7x more likely to become an alcoholic, 10x more likely to have injected street drugs and 12x more likely to have attempted suicide, among many other health problems.
I see trauma hanging over my clients heads every day.
And what is clear to me is that we have done such a poor job of educating people about how trauma affects people and how the consequences of trauma can stack up and create such continued pain in people’s lives. Obesity, addictions, depressions, anxiety, divorces, and yet people think “well that is in the past, that doesn’t impact me now” or “It’s better to just try to forget it and not think about it. “But just as Ebenezer Scrooge can see the chains weighing down the ghost of Jacob Marley I can see the invisible chains that many people drag behind them because of traumas they have suffered in their pasts.
The problem is that the part of our brain that kicks into fight or flight mode is very good at kicking in when we are in danger but it is not so good at sorting out the things that remind us of danger we once faced from things that are not so dangerous in the here and now. And this part of the brain is also very poor at listening to logic. This is normally good. We want that part of the brain to kick in the adrenaline so we can run when we see a bear and not wait around for logic to assess if in fact a bear means danger to us. But not every animal in the forest is a bear, there are birds and deer. So it is with other situations that play out in people’s lives. The logical brain may tell a woman that this man she is with who is raising his voice isn’t abusive and won’t hit her but that fight or flight part of the brain sees a loud man and can’t distinguish this man from her father who yelled and beat her and problems ensue. Unfortunately she and her partner may not see the invisible chains like I do. Or maybe they seem them but they don’t understand why logic can’t win. Trust me it can’t. The right treatment is needed and TIR can be one of those right treatments. Unfortunately just talking or containing do not reset the brain.
So don’t be surprised if we eventually start to talk more about the ACE study and treatments that really work to address the underlying issues and trauma that so often lurks beneath the surface of addictions, obesity, and a host of other health problems. And then maybe we can really help the walking wounded rather than just tell them how to manage their symptoms or to tell them to stop acting badly. And maybe we won’t have to lose so many talented people with so much to offer like Scott Weiland. And if you think you may also be dragging around your own chains from past trauma please know that help is available and TIR can be a good place to start. To learn more about TIR you can read more at tir.org or you can contact me to set up an appointment.
For more information on grief counseling click here.