Split in Two by Trauma

A recent article in Wired addresses the aftermath of the devastating 2017 fires in Northern California. The Tubbs Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California history, killed 22 people, destroyed 5643 structures, and has cost over $1.3 billion so far. The piece features an interview with Sharon Bard. Sharon had been on vacation in Eastern Europe at the time, and found out via emails and aerial images that her home had been destroyed. Can you imagine losing everything you own due to forces beyond your control? Unless you’ve gone through it firsthand, you would only have a vague inkling of how it felt. Even if you had experienced it, you would have difficulty putting it into words. Sharon speaks of feeling “split into two pieces,” and not wanting to face it or knowing what to do.  And that is the nature of trauma.


A Textbook Definition

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, attempts to define trauma (via triggers for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) as an event involving exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation. The exposed individual must either experience the event directly, witness it in person, learn that it occurred to a close family member or friend, or experience repeated exposure to details of the event. This works as a textbook definition, but what about Sharon Bard’s case? She describes getting “hysterical over something very tiny,” being “on constant overload,” and not being able to “process new information.” These are all manifestations of PTSD. We might have to take another look at that definition.


The Nature of Trauma

Trauma is essentially undefinable. The fact that an experience is too horrible to really put into words is exactly what makes the event traumatic. It would be helpful here to look at the work of Sigmund Freud via his follower, the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Lacan believed that language structures our conscious and unconscious thoughts. In other words, language is the way we bring our experiences into order. When we experience something too awful for words, our brains freak out, trying to find a place for that event. Furthermore, the mind will keep returning to that experience, desperately looking for a way to organize it.


Finding Your Voice

To overcome trauma, the mind needs to find its voice, which can be extremely difficult. However, it’s the job that therapists are trained to do. In her book, The Unsayable, Lacanian psychoanalyst Annie Rogers writes of how she helped a young trauma survivor find her voice through playing the cello. The Wired article speaks of the large-scale efforts being made to connect survivors of the fires to mental health care professionals through websites and apps like MySonomaStrong.com and Sonoma Rises. Through therapy, people like Sharon Bard have learned how to process their trauma, as well as coping skills to deal with the aftermath.


If you or someone you know has suffered a traumatic experience, sitting in silence is not the answer. The expert staff at D’Amore Healthcare has helped hundreds of people with similar struggles find a way to process their trauma and live free, mindful lives. You don’t have to do this alone, so give us a call today. Trauma is as real as your breath, use it to fuel your best life yet.