mental health

The Refuge- A Healing Place

I returned home yesterday afternoon from 89 days spent in a residential treatment facility in Florida. I was at The Refuge- A Healing Place in Ocklawaha, FL. While I was there, I participated in two therapist-led groups and a 12 step or similar client-led group each day seven days a week. In addition, I received an hour of individual therapy each week and more on weeks when I needed it. It’s difficult to summarize 89 days worth of treatment, but I’d like to share some take-aways. Text in blocks of color come from the cited sources.

I’m not comfortable going into the details of my trauma at this time, but I have decided that I want to be really open and honest about the fact that I have been diagnosed with PTSD. One thing I learned at The Refuge is that my trauma is real and valid and shouldn’t be minimized. Many things played into my diagnosis of PTSD, but if you need something somewhat easier to digest, please consider my entire experience in the Peace Corps, prior to which I didn’t have symptoms of PTSD. Here is some information from Mayo Clinic about PTSD. I feel like I’ve been inauthentic in the past by using this blog to only talk about my diagnoses of Bipolar Disorder and anxiety and I’m trying to rectify that.

From The Refuge website:

When events occur that make us feel extremely frightened, threatened, or distressed we may end up developing an emotional or psychological wound. Some people may be able to move beyond this experience with the help of friends, family, and an extensive support network. However, many people do not have these resources and end up feeling very alone. This can lead to an increasing inability to cope, function in important various areas of daily living, or maintain regular routines. Often trauma victims feel that no one can understand what they went through and the suffering they experience which can cause them to withdraw from loved ones. Conversely, loved ones may realize that something is wrong with their loved one and want to help but feel confused, rejected, and unsure of what they can do to help.

There is no “normal” way to react to trauma – each person is different. Some people try to repress or forget the event by distracting themselves with other activities. Others may focus on the traumatic event constantly. There may be a drive to remain continuously active to prevent unwanted thoughts from surfacing or an individual may become overwhelmed, paralyzed by intrusive thoughts they can’t get out of their mind. Often individuals who have experienced trauma lose the ability to feel pleasure, leading to a lack of motivation to do much of anything. Some people may feel a sense of emotional numbness while others may experience emotional oversensitivity.

Often those who have survived one or more traumatic events don’t fully realize the impact it is having on their lives. At our PTSD treatment center, we want you to know that you don’t have to deal with trauma alone. We’re here to help you through this troubled time. We see each resident as an individual with unique needs and recognize your desire to belong to a community that understands you. When you become a part of our rehab center’s family, you will begin to replace the negative experiences you have lived through with the positive experiences of re-establishing positive relationships and the joy that life holds. Don’t try to go at it alone. We’re here to help.”

I was in denial about having PTSD for quite a while, but I’ so grateful that I had the opportunity to go to The Refuge and learn more about it. We primarily used narrative therapy, which means I wrote a bunch of letters to people, concepts, and emotions. I wrote a ten page letter to misogyny that I may share an edited version of on here at some point following several unsettling interactions with men on the campus.

In addition to PTSD, I realized with the help of my amazing therapist that I have authority figure issues and specifically people pleasing issues when it comes to authority figures. What I learned is that people only have as much authority as I give them. I am not obligated to do things for people just because they are in a position of authority over me. I can say “no” and it is a complete sentence.

While I knew to some degree that I struggled with Codependency prior to going to The Refuge, I have a lot more codependency issues in my life than I realized. CODA (Codependents Anonymous) lists some of the characteristics of codependents:

  • I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.
  • I minimize, alter or deny how I truly feel.
  • I perceive myself as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well being of others.
  • I have difficulty making decisions.
  • I judge everything I think ,say, or do harshly as never “good enough.”
  • I do not ask others to meet my needs or desires.
  • I value others’ approval of my thinking, feelings, and behavior over my own.
  • I do not perceive myself as a lovable or worthwhile person.
  • I compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others’ anger.
  • I am very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same.
  • I am extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
  • I believe most other people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
  • I attempt to convince others of what they “should” think and how they “truly” feel.
  • I become resentful when others will not let me help them.
  • I freely offer others advice and directions without being asked.
  • I lavish gifts and favors on those I care about.
  • I use sex to gain approval and acceptance.
  • I have to be “needed” in order to have a relationship with others.

I also attended ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families) meetings, and learned just how many of those characteristics I embody:

The Laundry List – 14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic

  1. We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
  2. We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
  3. We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism.
  4. We either become alcoholics, marry them or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
  5. We live life from the viewpoint of victims and we are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
  6. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves; this enables us not to look too closely at our own faults, etc.
  7. We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
  8. We became addicted to excitement.
  9. We confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue.”
  10. We have “stuffed” our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much (Denial).
  11. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
  12. We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings, which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
  13. Alcoholism is a family disease; and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
  14. Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.

I hope none of you ever have to seek residential treatment. But if you do, I hope you seek it at The Refuge. I’ll write more about my experience later, but this is getting pretty long, so I’ll leave you with this for now: You are worthy of love and belonging. You have the right to say no. You can say what you mean and mean what you say.

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