Jaime, age 48, came into therapy to work on issues from her childhood. Jaime is a single mother who had a history of alcohol abuse, starting from the ages of 15 up to 43. She stated that she had been clean for the past five years, but is now dealing with all of the memories from childhood that she was hiding with her addiction. Memories of her mother hitting her with a belt, threatening her with a knife, and locking her in the bathroom when she was “bad” were returning to her, something that she thought she had left behind her. Jaime began to have flashbacks, feeling as though she was reliving the traumas she endured as a little girl in the present moment. Jaime at first tried to tell herself that she is fine and acted as if nothing had ever happened. However, her anxiety had taken over, as evidenced by her flashbacks, her nightmares, and racing thoughts about the past. Jaime started to think about drinking again, remembering how alcohol helped her numb these painful experiences. That is when Jaime decided that she needs to do something about these symptoms, especially since she did not want to pick up her old habits of using alcohol again.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder. PTSD can occur after someone has witnessed or experienced a traumatic event that involved their belief of being threatened of injury or death. Traumatic events could include sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, car accidents, rape, assault, war, natural disaster, etc. The stress caused by trauma can affect all aspects of a person’s life, including mental, emotional and physical well-being. Jaime’s trauma of being emotionally and physically abused by her mother throughout her childhood has lead to her using coping skills that have been unhealthy for her. Jaime is now learning to use new coping mechanism that are healthy and could lead to managing symptoms more effectively.
I initially provided Jaime with psycho-education about PTSD and what it could look like in the body. The PTSD treatment did not take away Jaime’s painful memories; what it did was allow her to start living her life again. Jaime was able to live with her trauma memories and when the triggers came about, she was able to deal with them. She learned how to keep herself safe without the help of alcohol. I assisted Jaime in creating coping skills that were comfortable for her. Jaime began to write in a journal every day, allowing herself to give her thoughts and feelings some space on paper. Jaime also began a Trauma Group, something that she enjoyed very much. The group showed Jaime that she is not alone and that there are others like her who have gone through painful experiences growing up. Jaime also went back to her Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, in efforts to maintain her sobriety. Due to the positive therapeutic relationship built with Jaime, she began to draw her trauma memories during individual therapy sessions, using crayons and pastels to process her experiences. Drawing was something new for Jaime. As a child, she was not allowed to draw, due to her mother thinking it was “too childish” and “a waste of time.” Drawing became a tool for Jaime to process her shame, guilt, and being “bad” as well. Therapy gave Jaime a safe space to explore different avenues of expression and to integrate her memories from childhood.