I’ve been working to understand more about trauma, and in this I am coming to realize that I have been possibly misunderstanding mental illness. When my father died of an alcohol related illness, most notably through his heart, but also most likely through liver and brain degradation as well, I blamed his drinking. I understood alcoholism as a disease, and I believed that he made bad choices continually until he passed a point of no return, where he became too sick to help himself.
But after his passing, I discovered things about him that fully surprised me. I began to connect the dots to his seemingly bizarre decisions, and through some findings, as well as my own contemplation and studies, I am not sure I can continue to accept his life as having been diseased. I think rather, his life was lived according to pain mitigation.
And isn’t that what we seem to often do, either going toward or away from pleasure or pain? The religious have devoted their lives and theology to understanding this phenomenon. The Buddhists call it the problem of attachment, and the Christians call it an unhealthy love for the world (or flesh); I have spent over a decade finding solace in these two systems. But after my tragedy, I now look to science as well, because I feel desperate to understand my history.
That said, the science of trauma is new, and so we don’t fully understand why some of us get addicted, or become disproportionately violent, lustful, or greedy. The disease model ties these negative patterns into selfishness, but I realize now that simply undermines trauma, which everyone to some extent has. I realize today that writing off bad behaviour as selfishness does not facilitate healing.
We do not yet know how to work with this sort of pain, and therefore we do not have a comprehensive view of how to mitigate it. What ends up happening is a fast downward spiral that is riddled in confusion and misunderstandings, and can lead to death itself. We do not seem to have the tools yet for the sufferer or their loved ones to properly navigate it. My work today involves finding ways to heal from trauma, which for the most part involves treatment rooted in Nonviolent Communication.
In the final analysis, we just want to be seen and heard. This I believe is the surest way to heal from trauma. If we can honestly look back through our histories during a situation that ended badly, and imagine having been given the space and empathy to have been understood, we probably could have averted a lot of chaos and heartache.
Therefore, I take great comfort in knowing that the solution is not as abstract as it might currently seem, and it can be put to use at any time. I think about my dad’s life, and I wonder what could have or would have happened if I practiced nonviolent communication with him. But I do not let my mind slip into remorse, because I didn’t know this structure at the time. I simply go about my remaining time on earth doing my best to maintain the space and empathy needed to practice this form on whoever might need it. I find a blessing in my curse, and am excited to contribute to this new field of trauma therapy.