Dear SVLP Members:

Gift From Within is a nonprofit organization dedicated to those who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), those at risk for PTSD, and those who care for traumatized individuals.

We are looking for true personal stories for a resource called PTSD Etiquette:  A guide to helping friends and family members find the right words to express caring and concern.

We would like to invite members and friends of SVLP to write about about how friends and loved ones were comforting at the time of their trauma, comments from friends and loved ones that were appropriately helpful. Some of the comments might have been unintentionally hurtful and you may have thought to yourself..if only they could have said… When it’s a traumatic event it is not always easy for people to know what to do.

The stories below will help demonstrate what we are looking for:

“I don’t know if it’s being a “Wednesday Child” or simply bad luck but I have been in the wrong place at the wrong time most of my life.  At the age of ten, I experienced the 1964 Earthquake in Alaska and all the strong aftershocks that went with it.  I must say that as a child, I found the whole thing quite entertaining and had absolutely no idea the devastation that would follow.

What scared me the most were the reactions of adults around me, from the radio announcer screaming “don’t panic” every minute and my aunt claiming we were having “the last supper” that night it was hard to do anything but be frightened.  What helped was being close to my family and my dad reading from Tom Sawyer to us every night.  We had no electricity, water or heat except for a propane stove.  At least we had that. Neighbors would come and huddle to stay warm.  If I could suggest anything to anyone about natural disasters and children it would be to try and not inflict the fears of adults onto the kids.

I have not forgotten the warmth of my dad reading that story.  I have children and I’ve learned how to be loving and supportive and how to be there for my son when he was traumatized during his HS years. Three of his best friends who were related were murdered.  He is dealing with this slowly and what has not been helpful from supposed friends is telling him that it’s been five years…he should be over it. Please don’t say things like that. We heal differently and not on your time schedule.   I found helpful information on the Net and books and also found Gift from Within.  I heard Dr. Ochberg’s tapes and for the first time I realize the ending of my story is hopeful. Likewise for my son. PTSD doesn’t have to be a permanent condition. That knowledge is what helps the most.”

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“In 2005, I sought out a therapist for help with my PTSD symptoms. I was tired of coping on my own.   I really had no clue how to go about this or what to look for. I felt vulnerable going to a stranger for help. I found an agency listed in the phone book and accepted whichever therapist they threw at me.  I did not know that I could screen a therapist before accepting one.  The therapist they gave me was an elderly lady who did not have her degree very long.  She had been practicing for about 2 years when I came into her office.  She began, as most therapist do, by taking a psycho-social history from me.   This included brief information from the time I was a young child to the present.  In the course of this I disclosed my childhood sexual abuse and the rape that happened when I was 13.  As soon as I disclosed this, the psycho-social history ended.  It was like she was looking for something and had found it… my history of sexual abuse.

Immediately she wanted me to tell her exactly what happened, how it happed, with whom, etc.  This lady was a stranger to me; as much of a stranger as someone I would see on the street.  I tried to explain to her that I did not feel comfortable revealing these things so early into our time together.  When I said this, she sat back in her chair and changed the tone of her voice in a condescending way and said, “oh, then you must have an agenda for our time together, go ahead, you lead.”  Being unfamiliar with therapy protocol I sat there quietly while I tried to figure out what to say.  I said ,“I am like an onion, you have to peel it layer by layer to get to the core… you can not just slice me open and expect me to reveal to you what is at the core when you did not even take the time to peel the first layer.”

I felt violated by her probing of intimate information before we established a rapport.  It was almost like another rape.  I continued to see her for a few more sessions in which she was still obsessed with my sexual abuse history.  At one point when I again said I was not ready to confront those things she accused me of not wanting to get well.

I would suggest to those working with abuse survivors and/or those with PTSD to take into account the words by William Butler Yeats, “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” I would add that you also tread on our hurts and our vulnerabilities.  We are strong in that we survived and delicate when it comes to our memories.  Take the time to get to know us… the uninjured parts; our strengths, joys, goals, wants and dislikes.  When we know that you are truly interested in us as a whole individual and not just our damaged parts we will be more likely to share with you our tender areas; hurts, abuses, and traumas.  Tread softly please. “CLR

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“My name is Jodi. I have PTSD and a chronic disease. My disease taxes my energy and strength. PTSD affects me emotionally and I tend to isolate myself and become depressed which is not healthy.  At times I find it difficult to reach out and express how I am feeling. My husband and I both work full time.  Sometimes it is all I can do to get through the day at work.  My husband has figured out a way to help me by answering the phone after 8 PM. He knows that my doctor has told me that I need to get all the rest all I can.  My friends and family are concerned and my husband takes these calls and tells them how I am doing. He also tells them that I would love to see them and the best way to contact me is via email. It’s less tiring for me and I can do it during the day.  I enjoy getting out and seeing people. Having friends that encourage me to have fun outside of my daily routines is a blessing.  So I appreciate that they are accepting my situation and still want to be with me. They found a way to do it.”

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“I belong to a support group in Maine and we had an unusual and challenging problem occur with one of our members.  Seems the member was in crisis and had to be hospitalized.   We as a group were uncertain as what our role should be in regards to calling the member, visiting, sending a card, things of that nature.  We have since decided as a group to put together a form that each member can fill out if they like, with information on how they’d like to be supported by the group if they are ever faced with hospitalization.  We have yet to work out the logistics of the form, but we as a group are working on it now.  We were all determined to honor each member’s requests and it’s great working as a group to come up with such a vital piece of information.” Heather

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We would like to invite you to contribute to PTSD Etiquette: finding the right words. We are looking for stories written by women and men who have been through all types of traumatic events. If you are not sure whether your story is appropriate please send us a note. Sharing true stories of what words worked and what words did not will benefit all of us. The stories can be 150-400 words.  You don’t have to be a GFW member to contribute. Please let us know if we can use your first name or just your initials.

Please submit to Joyce and include contact information.

Gift From Within-Email: JoyceB3955@aol.com

URL: www.giftfromwithin.org