Saturday, July 9, 2011

Trauma, stress, homelessness: the need for community

The essence of healing is the rebuilding of a community, psychologically as true as biologically. We know that much of the hurt of PTSD is the loss of belonging. The hospitalized soldier lies there alone, even while surrounded by others; the survivor of a – it can be of so many things – is overwhelmed by loss. Feelings of grief and guilt, in their endless varieties lurk in the shadows of the mind on one side, scarcely less potent than the oughts and shoulds on the other. The longings seem to be impossible to adequately voice.

Some time ago a friend of mine and I were talking about PTSD. He had been a counselor in a Rescue Mission for a number of years. I asked him what percentage of the homeless with whom he had worked had that condition we describe as post-traumatic stress. He thought for a time, “Forty.” Then, “Perhaps forty-five.”

When we think of those returning from the current wars, how many will eventually be the new arrivals at such shelters? We know all too well what happened to all to many that greeted those returning from Vietnam after the rejections. If you are too young, turn to the blog, “Voices of Veterans.” The characteristics defining post traumatic responses - alienation, withdrawal, rage, often a reversal of values – do not make for the ready standing down of fights. 

A few weeks ago I was invited to what I understand to be a highly effective alcoholic support group. It opened with reading brief statements of purpose in reference to alcoholism. There was no presenter who had the “lead” for the particular night. Rather there was a generously crafted open sharing of a portion of each one’s life that week. It was a re-building of a sense of community, of belonging, of an ability to voice what so often had not been able to put into words. We need to remember that alcoholism may begin with partying, but it is much observed that it climaxes with drinking alone. Unfortunately all of us can draw parallels to PTSD.

 Isolation. The defining of mental health categories compels rigid slicing, but the commonality is more overreaching. I fear that often we of the Church act as if some passionate witnesses can stand up and talk at… For many soldiers, the staging for PTSD may be built on intense feelings of belonging; when ruptured by overwhelming feelings, the reversal is a process as well. It is a growing sensation of belonging, of acceptance, of recognition of what is and what is not, that is the bridge over the troubled waters of woundedness into greater wholeness. It is the Church at its best.

Annelie and I will be marketing a book in due time, the title the same as this blog. Our agreement is that our sense of fulfillment will not be marked by sales, but by the number of small study/support groups that will be formed.

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