Coming Home to the Self

By: Annie Kaja Reed, BA, CAS
Counselor, The Refuge – A Healing PlaceFor me, the process of recovery from mental disorders such as addiction and PTSD, is one of returning into the beauty, love and inherent goodness of life. PTSD, addiction, depression and other ways our bodies and minds enter dysfunction shut us off from experiencing the positives about our selves and life. This is part of the viciousness of trauma and addictions that result; they slowly close us off from the very things that will naturally heal us!Working as a counselor and art therapist at The Refuge, it is my privilege be witness and facilitate the process of a client coming home to themselves and stepping back into the light of life.Trauma is best understood through examining traumatic events, experiences, and effects. How stress and trauma affect an individual’s sense of internal well being and meaning-making in relationships and community is highly personal. Traumatic events and experiences, be they long term chronic patterns of abuse during childhood or a random act of violence experienced in adulthood, effect us differently. What is a traumatic event? A traumatic event involves an actual or perceived threat of physical or psychological harm. Traumatic events may occur repeatedly as well as in a single catastrophic event. Trauma is generally understood as a significant and negative event or persistent circumstances that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope. The experience of trauma is characterized by intense fear, helplessness, or horror and the experience and perception of being powerless. Experiencing a trauma creates physiological, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes. The effects of trauma are individual; they can be acute and severe completely incapacitating us, or chronic and thereby producing a gradual diminishment of spirit and quality of life. These effects will vary across the lifetime and best of all, can be healed through therapy, re-engagement with life and self-care.The window of tolerance is an academic idea I like that captures the effects of stress and trauma on the nervous system, our behaviors and coping skills. We tend to manifest two systems of reactivity to stress and trauma, either hypoarousal (shutting down of the nervous system) or hyperarousal (an over-activation of the nervous system). As the nervous system and the spirit shuts down, we experience things like emotional numbing, physical numbing, dissociation (a sense of leaving the body), depression, and maladaptive coping skills that block our participation in our lives. We might turn to alcohol to “calm down”, stay in bed all day, over eat, stop exercising, stop socializing, and disconnect from our emotions. When we are in a state of hyperarousal, we engage in activities, thoughts and behaviors that continue to overstimulate our nervous system such as risk taking, sex addiction, and stimulant use as a way of running away from our trauma and its effects. Both hypoarousal and hyperarousal are ways to not feel. Between these states is our window of tolerance. The window of tolerance is the level of experience or life,  that we can tolerate, including physical senses and emotional experiences.Stress and trauma diminish our window of tolerance, we feel a grief and we run to the bottle, pain in the stomach comes up and we get on the computer to look at pornography. As fear of experience builds, we use more and more maladaptive coping skills to run away from ourselves. This builds behavioral patterns of avoidance and cycling fear thoughts and then suddenly we are caught and frozen in a cycle that we need help to change.

Not only is our window of tolerance shut, the blinds are pulled, and the hurricane safety boarding covers it up and hopelessness tells us there is no way out.

When a window is shut, the fresh morning breeze can not get in. And if the window is shut long enough, it starts to get stuck in the frame. But, sooner or later, there comes a knock at the window – we can pull the blind, duct tape the cracks, even close up the room – but the knocking gets louder and louder until we change. Our real truth starts to usher forth – really, we just want to live and we want to live free. We want to come home, home to ourselves – a home with the windows thrown open wide! We realize we are precious and we can change.

At The Refuge, we specialize in treating the stress and trauma that underlies mental health disorders such as addiction, depression, and PTSD. Our work is individualized and we help you get the windows to your body, your mind, your heart, and your spirit open, slowly and safely. We find that once our clients reach trauma resolution and fully enter recovery, life in all its goodness, light, and love floods through the window. The invitation is to come home to yourself; you can live without fear, you can get clear, live free and love yourself and others.