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Prevailing Over Trauma

June 28, 2011

On the surface, everything seemed fine.  Barbara’s husband was a police officer.  She worked as a nursing assistant and cared for their two children.  But inside their home, Barbara and her two daughters were experiencing emotional and physical violence.  It took years for Barbara to have the courage to leave her abuser because she was afraid that he might kill her or her children – a threat he made regularly with a gun in his hand.

It was when Barbara’s children reached adulthood that her life started a downward spiral.  The depression she had struggled to manage while living and working as a single parent became debilitating.  For a while, Barbara self-medicated with alcohol and then prescription medication.  Before long she lost her job and then her apartment.

“I hardly sleep,” she told me when she first moved in to Calvary.  “I can’t seem to calm my mind enough.”  I wasn’t surprised to hear that from Barbara.  Sleeplessness is common among those who have experienced trauma.  The “fight or flight” response in our brains doesn’t turn off so easily if we have experienced extended periods of fear and anxiety.

At Calvary, Barbara began meeting with our staff therapist.  Weekly sessions combined with treatment for her depression have made a world of difference.  The process hasn’t been easy, but for the first time in years, Barbara is starting to regain her sense of control over her own life.  When I met with her last week, she told me about a job opportunity and her hopes for an apartment once she has saved for the security deposit.

Judith Herman writes, “traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection and meaning.”  At Calvary, we see this in the women who come to us for housing and services.  There is a tremendous amount of healing necessary to regain a sense of identity and trust in themselves and others.  But it happens.  “I’ve got my hope back,” Barbara said.

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