Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is by definition a set of symptoms resulting from a traumatic experience of “death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury or actual or threatened sexual violence.” More broadly, PTSD can also be defined as having experienced an overwhelming situation where your normal coping strategies are not adequate. PTSD symptoms can vary, but most people with the disorder experience sleep disturbances, hyper-arousal, flashbacks, and mood disturbances.
At Bellwood (our EHN Canada facility located in Toronto), we see clients who have experienced such traumas and are struggling with the symptoms of PTSD. For example, our program for hazardous employment groups includes members of the Canadian Forces, the RCMP, the police, EMS, and fire services and would potentially be relevant for other workplace traumas, like operational stress injuries (OSI), something first responders often experience.
To dive a little deeper into the topic, we spoke to a knowledgeable clinician at Bellwood who shared their valuable insights and expertise on PTSD, addiction, and the recovery process.
How does PTSD affect day-to-day life?
As a therapist in the Addiction & PTSD/ OSI program at Bellwood, I’ve found that the traumatic experiences a person faces at work change how a person functions at home. For example, clients often experience alienation and report that they “don’t know where to put their keys in their own homes” or that they don’t know how to relate to normal life or perform day-to-day tasks, like shopping or driving through traffic. They often feel like these tasks are too mundane to be interesting compared to active duty, where they experience high arousal and adrenaline-inducing activities.
How does PTSD lead to addiction?
Sadly, PTSD and addiction often go hand-in-hand. As a result of their alienation, people with PTSD might resort to drugs or alcohol to find relief from the emotional pain, loneliness, and feeling of “going crazy.” They may also find themselves covering up their anger and pretending that everything is alright. Using substances also becomes a way of dealing with irritability, intrusive memories, and nightmares. Often the only time an individual with PTSD feels “normal” is when intoxicated or involved with work. When they’re on the job, tasks are pre–determined and they can focus solely on work tasks – something they believe they excel at.
How is PTSD treated at Bellwood?
Clients that I see often express the feeling that no one outside of work could possibly understand what they are going through or that no one is as “messed up” as they are. Many express the desire to either have been killed (because then, “at least my kids would think of me as a hero”) or physically injured (because then they would receive support from the whole community upon their return home). When a physical injury occurs, the nature of that injury is apparent so it’s obviously not something made up. The problem with PTSD is that it is an invisible disorder and will remain that way until the person realizes that they are not alone and they can accept that their experiences have changed their feelings.
So, how do you treat PTSD? One of our goals in treatment is to reduce or eliminate the emotional disturbances related to traumatic work experiences by learning grounding PTSD treatment techniques and self-regulation tools. Our approach helps establish safety and stabilization — through this process, trust is built. The work is enhanced by successfully identifying and continuously managing environmental and emotional triggers. By employing emotional regulation and grounding techniques, clients can ultimately master their own triggers, lessening the impact on their mental health while continuing the PTSD healing process. Other key features of our program include stress management, anger management, sleep hygiene, resilience identification, and recovery planning.
As a result, major PTSD /OSI symptoms are reduced and clients can begin to realize that when they are triggered, the traumatic experience is no longer happening and they can manage their feelings in more constructive ways. So, can someone recover from PTSD? Symptoms related to the disorder do require long-term care and management as treatment does not “cure” the individual. The good news is, with ongoing trauma recovery support, the client can more successfully deal with life’s problems without the use of drugs or alcohol, and they can learn to put their traumatic experiences through a healthier lens. Over time, clients may learn to refer to their symptoms as post-traumatic growth or post-traumatic success and appreciate their experiences.
Beginning a journey of recovery starts here.
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