The Other Side of Reason – Reflections from afar
Involved in a bus accident that took the lives of six people, David Gibson has been battling through PTSD
for over three years. In an effort to better understand himself and to communicate with others, he turned to writing.
His first book was The Other Side of Reason: A Journal on PTSD, available now via petrabooks.ca.
This column continues that text.
[Reflections from afar]
I am the one who has inherited your eyes.
I have heard what you have seen.
I am the witness to your experience.
You are no longer alone.
I know you’re scared. Don’t be.
Because the world really is beautiful.
Winston Churchill, once said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
Perhaps it is important that our contribution of our traumatic experiences do speak to, and leave some merit of insight, instead of remaining silent and hidden within ourselves.
There has been ongoing debate in the trauma literature about effective treatment for people exposed to trauma, calling into question the longstanding belief in the beneficial value of speaking about, and working through trauma. Is expression of trauma the sole pathway to integrative and healthy recovery, or does talking impede healing for some survivors? Does avoidance and silence have adaptive roles as coping mechanisms? What roles do silence and voice play following trauma?
Two opposing viewpoints exist in the literature regarding coping with and recovery from trauma — talking is healing, and talking impedes healing. The answer, while passionately argued by opposite sides of the trauma field, may ultimately be told by the survivors themselves, who have endured periods of both silence and expression.
Expression in this context explains both the internal dialogue in which a person may engage (one’s expression of the quality and impact of the traumatic experience to oneself in one’s own mind), and in the expression of the experience with others. This expression may not always take a narrative form, but may instead be non-narrative forms of behavior. In contrast, behavior aimed at inhibiting, repressing, suppressing, ignoring, or refusing to focus on the traumatic experience is termed “avoidance.”
Avoidance can also be a self-preservation mechanism to enable both the mind, body and soul the necessary time to heal and process the reality of the traumatic experience. Yet the paradox of this silence and avoidance is that it may also rob people of their self-identities and sense of self leaving the person caught between the past and the present, with little sense of the future.
Trauma expression is thought to help the people gain a greater understanding of oneself. Insight and coherence is believed to encourage healthy coping and recovery from trauma. Narratives of one’s life experiences and memories have been demonstrated to help individuals assign meaning to their lives, clarifying and solidifying identities, which promotes integrity. Interventions for people living with trauma are often similarly geared at self-disclosure regarding one’s experience, often in the hopes of creating a cohesive narrative.
One of the most healing aspects of writing that I have come to benefit from is the process of transformation and resolution that comes when incomplete, unprocessed, and unresolved traumatic experiences are given new significance by a wiser self that speaks a new ending to an old story.
When you change the story you created, I believe you change your life. I created the story and brought these memories together, and now my past is different from the past I had before.
After all, a memory is what you are now, not what you think you were in the past.