Hurricanes, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Organic Healing

How has the hurricane season effected you? How has it effected your loved ones or business? Your home? Are the hurricanes just destructive forces that threaten our shores and lives or do they hold a greater meaning? Indeed, the hurricanes have much energy around them, and they just keep coming. The way in which they persist is interesting, awesome, and frightening, reminding us we need to look no further than nature for the greatest power on earth, she can take from us everything – in the flash of a storm.

Considering this, there has certainly been a fair amount of tension in our collective culture lately. This includes a lot of talk in the mental health and healing arts communities about PTSD. That’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – basically intense mental, emotional and physical signs and symptoms due to trauma, varying from subtle to disabling. Over the years quite a few patients have come into my clinic telling me they have it, or that their doctor says they may have it. I’ve heard from others that their therapist or psychiatrist says they have it, or that it may at least be a factor in their psychology.

How has this so-called disorder become so common in our culture? Is it because of the incredible pace that we live at? Is it because of the modernization of the world that we now live in that we are more subject to traumatic experiences? Is the world more volatile? Or, are we becoming more sensitive? Are the hurricanes part of this and are they making it worse? Is it a combination of all these factors?

Perhaps PTSD is just a modern label that’s been given to describe a deeper, more feeling response to life. Perhaps there’s nothing new. Perhaps there’s nothing wrong. Hasn’t there always been jarring adversity, shocking and challenging difficulties, in other words trauma of one kind or another? Yet somehow, doesn’t it seem as though things are really building up, getting backed up in some way? Is there not, lately, more experienced tension – inwardly and outwardly?

Our 2004 hurricane season presents a good example of this dynamic. A lot of us in the southeast have had the recent opportunity to deal with not only the threat of powerful storms raging through our lives, but also the opportunity to re-experience every natural disaster, storm, and hurricane season we’ve ever been in before. This includes the anticipation and fear building up to the arrival of the hurricanes, the tension while making preparations, the recall of all the mental and emotional steps taken during the previous hurricanes, the stresses with cleaning up afterwards, the visceral memory and feeling responses to each hurricane – all of it.

Re-experience? Yes, re-experience. This is a natural, functional capacity of what it is to be most human – have a strong connection to ones past with a deep capacity to reflect upon that past. It is one of the qualities that separates us from most other life on the planet. However, there is much more to consider about this. Because of the modern tendency to be somewhat in denial about, or somewhat disconnected from, our deeper reflective and emotional worlds, over time, the incomplete processing of previous traumatic events greatly amplifies the emotional charge that is brought on by successive or later traumatic events. Therefore, a traumatic accident as a child, added to a traumatic relationship in college, added to a traumatic death in the family at mid-life, added to a collective trauma such as September 11th, added to a recent traumatic experience in a hurricane – it’s possible the residue of what was incompletely processed in all of these events comes up and gets experienced in some way with the latest event. This is certainly part of being a human being, and it is certainly a major part of why things feel backed up – and PTSD.

The re-experiencing of previous trauma simultaneous with recent trauma explains why so many modern people are absolutely overwhelmed by intense emotional experiences. Any experienced event in the present that is similar to, and reminds us of a previous event in time, has the potential to engage the memories, feelings, and thoughts from that past event. This can be very challenging and even somewhat destructive, yet this re-experiencing is part of our humanity, a built in aspect of being most human, and it presents us with the opportunity to re-assimilate old material and heal old wounds in a deeper way.

As an acupuncture physician I must ongoingly be considering this in the scope of my treatment plans and prescriptions. In the context of Chinese medicine, all levels of our being co-occur in time and space. Therefore there is no psycho-somatic or somato-psychic dynamic. A physical reaction to trauma does not cause a mental or emotional problem. An emotional or spiritual reaction to trauma does not cause a physical pain to develop. No one aspect of our being causes another aspect of our being any disharmony. We don’t have different aspects of ourselves that experience life separately, including trauma. The mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical, is all experienced simultaneously, as co-occuring aspects of the same phenomena. (However, we do need to talk about aspects of ourselves as parts – so we can talk about it!)

This may make it somewhat more clear as to why traumatic experiences can quite easily overwhelm someone. To be in one place at one moment in time and yet experience the cumulative energy and emotion of more than one moment in time – creates an intense focus within an individual to say the least. Usually there is something unfinished, something that needs attention, some form of communication about a lesson, that’s creating this cumulative focal point of energy. Like a hurricane, this way of being is part of nature’s plan, clearing away the old to make way for the new growth. We must be mindful of the fact that not all aspects of hurricanes are destructive.

Chinese medicine, a healing art and organic medicine, so beautifully treats these overwhelming emotional reactions to life that are now called PTSD. I feel fortunate as a practitioner of Chinese medicine to have had the benefit of comparing, cross-referencing, and applying many different medical models to compliment what I’m doing with acupuncture and herbal pharmacology. These forms of treatment can greatly assist and gracefully guide patients through the many aspects of processing trauma, providing essential support for navigating through the inner hurricane of our humanity. There are channels that specifically address the time issues, as well as ways to treat and moderate the overwhelming emotions. We’ve had great success with not only PTSD but also many accompanying issues such as panic attacks, anxiety, depression, addiction, OCD and more. Of course, physical pain or disharmony that accompanies any of the above mentioned issues improves as well, after all, these physical symptoms are just the co-occurring aspects of the same phenomena!

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