She sits in the chair and begins to breathe in deeply. Her emotions are being flooded, and I can visibly see that she is trying to hold in the anger and rage so that she won't explode. We call this the zero to sixty effect. Over time, we watch as she learns to go from zero to sixty to something more like zero to twenty-five.
Emotional trauma recovery can be intensely scary. Most of the women that we see in the safe home are dealing with some form of substance abuse and addiction. These addictions are a coping mechanism to numb the pain that is felt from the years of abuse that was suffered. It seems easier to numb the pain rather than face the frightening reality.
Because we ask for sobriety at Amirah, emotions that have not been felt for a long time, if ever, can come rushing all at once. This is overwhelming to say the least. So what is the goal for us at Amirah when it comes to a woman's emotional trauma recovery?
The key is to help each woman discover how to regulate her emotions while committing to working through the painful journey of emotional trauma recovery. We have yet to meet a woman that actually wants to do emotional work and address the trauma she faced. Most women will put on a tough front and say something to the effect that this was in the past; she shouldn't have to talk about it now.
But the reality about any trauma, whether it is the trauma of sexual exploitation or any other traumas we endure in life, if we do not walk through the painful reality of these things, they will rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune times in our lives.
I remember when I was a pastor sitting with a woman who needed to talk through the grief of her miscarriage. As I was sitting there, listening to her pain, I realized my face was getting flushed, my heart was racing hard, and the pain of my own miscarriage was present - all because I had shoved that pain deep down inside for a period of time, rather than dealing with the reality of it. By God's grace, I was able to get through that appointment and somehow be a listening ear to the woman in pain, but I knew after that meeting that I had a painful journey of my own that I still needed to walk.
If you face the painful memories and deal with the reality and truth of what happened rather than numbing it or pushing it aside, this process helps a person to be able to regulate their emotions rather than feeling everything all at once. While we might laugh at #allthefeels, the reality is that no one actually wants to feel everything all the time. We do not have the capacity as humans to do that.
Walking through the pain of the past, seeing the truth of the moral injury that was there, and allowing the truth of the present to speak into your life - this is the goal all while regulating emotions back to a normal gauge in the process. While I can type that sentence with ease, the truth is that this is one of the hardest things that each women at Amirah has to do. The painful reality that we deal with as staff is knowing that some women will leave their program and safe home prematurely rather than walking this road. As I said before, no one wants to do the emotional work, but the hope is that they will. Because when they do, they add one of the largest pieces to their whole-person recovery, and will be able to laugh with joy, cry with painful truth, and have peace about who they are now.
This post is part of a series on The Goals of Whole-Person Care Recovery.