In the aftermath of the massacre in Las Vegas, I am painfully reminded of the early days that followed my own traumatic stress event. It has been three and a half years since my son’s overdose and apparent death, and today, 2 days after the shooting on the strip I am again emotionally disoriented.
There were more than 22,000 music fans in attendance at Sunday night’s music festival. Nearly 600 are injured and 59 have been killed. On Louie B Free’s radio program yesterday, I honestly stated that based on my own experience with traumatic stress, those who were killed may be the lucky ones; As many as 3,300 fans – 15% of the 22,000 survivors, will suffer indescribable mental, emotional, and physical anguish as a result of what they witnessed Sunday. This suffering will continue for years – even decades as the survivors’ physiology adopts to what it perceives to be a clear and present danger.
Of course, the danger is not clear and is certainly not present. But the self-preservation and personal survival mechanisms of the human being will be on high alert regardless. This will happen without the conscious awareness or consent of the survivors. Their brains and central nervous systems are physically changing in order to survive. The threat to that survival, of course – is only in their heads.
Friends and loved ones will continuously suggest and eventually even demand that the trauma survivors “get over it” and “you have to move on.”
85% of the survivors will do exactly this – but 15% will not – despite the fact that they want nothing more than to feel normal again. In fact, because the physiological changes are already underway, there is no chance that these 15% “will get past this.”
Does this mean that they are forever to suffer from the stress of the trauma?
Maybe. I am 3 and 1/2 years in and still working hard to find the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel.”
For now, it is best that all 22,000 survivors mourn the tragic losses and seek professional help for the support that they all need over the next few months. 85% will then return to normal everyday life with few if any markers of traumatic stress. The remainder, however, will continue to inexplicably suffer, much to the chagrin of their families, friends, employers, and unfortunately even their healthcare providers in some cases.
I am not a doctor – I am only a traumatic stress survivor (so far). I am fortunate that my executive assistant insisted that I seek treatment. If it wasn’t for her – I would not have survived as long as I have. By writing this and subsequent articles, I am hopefully “paying forward” her loving compassion to my “soon-to-be” PTSD brothers and sisters.
To my new brothers and sisters, I can only insist that you seek psychiatric help immediately and that you follow their professional guidance with little objection. It would be best to work with a professional who has experience with trauma survivors – if none are available, find a person you trust – and begin the work. Time will not ease the suffering; with suffering like ours – there is no dimension of “time.”
There are four primary pillars to initial recovery:
1) Psychiatry and Medication
2) Psychology and Therapy
3) Mindfulness, Meditation, and Yoga
4) Social Support and Activity
Why start with psychiatry instead of psychology or therapy? Because if traumatic stress is the issue then medication will be required to help compensate for the physiological changes that have already begun in your brain. Your chemistry has changed – without meds, psychological work will not amount to much more than a lot of bills and friends and family impatiently wondering what’s taking so long. I am not a big fan of medication but in the case of traumatic stress, there is no way around it if you desire to feel better.
The meds will take some time to have an impact and your doctor will adjust your dose and the combinations of medication over time while monitoring your progress. Meanwhile, you should be spending time working with a therapist. Hopefully, your psychiatrist will give you a great referral to a professional therapist with experience in trauma. The psychological work is hard – you may find yourself sitting in the parking lot before therapy – terrified to go in because of what you may have to endure in therapy. If so – take someone with you to make sure you get in and out safely.
At some point in your healing, you will have to learn mindfulness. It is simply “awareness on purpose” and should at some point be integrated with meditation and yoga. These exercises or practices are as essential to your recovery as are medicine and therapy. The extent that these ideas are implemented or helpful relative to the other remedies varies widely by the person and the type of traumatic event. Regardless, being fully present “on-demand” is an extremely helpful skill that can be developed via mindfulness, yoga, and meditation.
The fourth pillar to recovery is social support and activity. The support of your family, friends, employer, and spiritual community has never been more critical. The other three pillars can work perfectly well in your favor – but if this fourth pillar is lagging, recovery will be extremely difficult if not impossible. Be proactive in getting your closest loved ones involved in your recovery program. They must learn early on that there is no quick fix for your situation and that you have no control over the timing of your recovery. Most of the 22,000 survivors have already recovered. You haven’t and you won’t for some time. It is only natural for your friends and family to question why your recovery is taking so long. Let them question, but let them do so with the professionals who are helping you. There is enough going on in your life – you don’t need to be burdened with fulfilling the ignorant yet well-meaning expectations of others. Focus on your recovery and on feeling better – your loved ones can focus on understanding your unfortunate condition.
As you progress in your treatment and your ongoing recovery – you will learn to expand your focus and understanding. Additional sources of spiritual support, social therapies such as canine and equine, and a varying combination of meds and therapies will arise as your program advances. Always be vigilant of what is offered and why, but always be open to the professional, experienced advice of your psychiatrist and therapist.
A good question now might be: “How will I know if I am in the 85% or 15%?”
My answer is “You’ll know.”
If after 30 days, you have not returned to near normal state, you’ll know and those close to you will know also.
The next article will focus on the feelings I experienced immediately after my event, and prior to any intervention by my executive assistant, psychiatrist, coaches, or doctors.
I pray for your return to living well.
Contributing Writer at ThriveGlobal.com
Best Selling Author, Heroin – Living and Dying with an Addict You Love
Founder, The Sandalwood Wellness Center, LLC