Survivors of Crime & Emotional Trauma

“I can’t sleep at night. My body shakes uncontrollably. I can’t stand to be alone but I don’t want to be around people either. Every night I scoot the chest of drawers in front of my bedroom door, but I still don’t feel safe.”

 Merideth is a single, Caucasian woman in her early 30’s. Over a year ago, she was held at gunpoint and forced into a small room during a robbery at her place of work. In the recent past, Merideth was the manager of the restaurant but now she finds it difficult to even walk into the building.

Effects of Crime

Victims of crime experience physical and psychological trauma. The physical trauma is easily identified by the victim and others through cuts, bruises, or broken limbs. These wounds may heal in days, weeks, or sometimes in months. Emotional trauma comes alongside the physical injuries but may be less evident to those besides the survivor. Though victims suffer in both ways, we will focus on the psychological trauma in the aftermath of a crime.

Crisis counseling and supportive counseling are essential in helping victims recover from their traumatic event. Early on, victims need to be reassured that they are safe and that they are not to blame for the traumatic incident.

 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Over time, if a survivor continues to have significant difficulty recovering their symptoms may develop into post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Previously, most thought PTSD was reserved for combat veterans. We now know that PTSD occurs in many situations where a person feels overwhelmed and in danger.

The National Center for PTSD offers these common symptoms:

  • Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive memories or nightmares
  • Dissociative reactions or flashbacks
  • Persistent negative beliefs and expectations about oneself or the world
  • Persistent distorted blame of self or others for causing the event
  • Feeling detached or estrangement from others
  • Hypervigilance
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Problems in concentration
  • Irritable or aggressive behavior

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

While PTSD does not always occur in those who have been victimized, it is likely to occur on some level for each survivor. There are effective therapies to successfully treat PTSD and it’s symptoms. One such treatment is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro, PhD. The EMDR Institute, Inc. states that EMDR “is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories.” After successful treatment with EMDR, a survivor will experience relief. Their emotional pain and reaction to triggers will be reduced, their negative beliefs will change to become positive, and their physiological reactions will lessen. Read further information on EMDR and find a trained clinician at emdr.com or emdria.org.

 

References

http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/PTSD-overview/dsm5_criteria_ptsd.asp

http://victimsofcrime.org/help-for-crime-victims/get-help-bulletins-for-crime-victims/trauma-of-victimization

http://www.emdr.com/general-information/what-is-emdr/what-is-emdr.html

 

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Carol Lozier MSW LCSW is a clinical social worker in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky. Ms. Lozier has spent over twenty-five years counseling children, adults, and families specializing in issues of trauma and adoption- including survivors of abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and child trafficking. She is the author of The Adoptive & Foster Parent Guide: How to Heal Your Child’s Trauma and Loss and Devotions of Comfort & Hope for Adoptive and Foster Moms.  

Penguins

I have this affection for penguins because they remind me of our basic need for community to survive.  I was watching a show about penguins and learned they have a communal system to survive the harsh freezing weather. They huddle together and the penguins on the outside stay on the outside to block the wind while the rest are huddled to capture body heat.  After a certain time the outside penguins rotate inward and new ones take their place on the outside.  They continue this rotation through all the difficult weather.  As individuals, they would never be able to withstand the storm; however as a community they survive by sticking together, literally holding each other up. They are able to survive and thrive until better weather arrives.  For the past five years my friends have done this for me on a personal level. They spent the night with me when I was too scared to sleep alone in the house. They came to get me from the house when I didn’t want to leave. They brought me food when I wouldn’t eat. They prayed for me when I couldn’t and didn’t want to pray for myself.  It is natural to want to isolate ourselves during painful times, but it is likely we wouldn’t thrive or arguably survive long if we were to do that.  I literally think I would have just died if my friends had not sheltered me and carried me through so many of the storms. 

If the ‘incident’ had happened (that is how I refer to the kidnapping/sexual assault/attempted murder) at a different point in my life, I would not have had the friends or support to help me survive.   I did not want to ask for help because I viewed it as weakness and I thought I was strong enough to manage on my own.  Only when I felt like I was drowning did I become vulnerable enough to admit I was not surviving. We all have trials during our life and much like the penguins in bitter cold, we were not made to endure them alone.  We were made for created for community and although I was single and lived alone, I had an attentive, loving, nurturing community of friends.  

My family was amazing too. My Mom and Dad called me every day.  My brother and sister checked in with me and prayed for me.  They sent encouraging emails and stood ready, at a moment’s notice, or with my permission, to fight the battle for me and stand in my shoes.   What a priceless blessing to be surrounded by those that not only love you but who are willing to sacrifice for you and would gladly take the pain in your place. I grew up in a family where I knew I was safe.  If I got hurt it would be a race to see who got to the perpetrator first.  My sweet mom who stands less than five feet included.  I did not expect the similar fierce devotion from my friends, but would not be here without it.  When I say that I would not have survived I do not mean I would have done anything to harm myself – I am far too vain for that.  What I mean is that my body would have shut down from the grief and fear I was drowning in daily.  

Never underestimate the power of a phone call, a visit, or simply sitting quietly with someone who is recovering from an overwhelming experience.    You may feel like what you are doing is small, but I promise to the person in need it is an enormous gesture.  For example, imagine you are drowning, unable to breathe or tread water, and someone comes along, even a stranger, and puts out their hand…it is nothing to them, it is a simple quick act that takes very little time. Yet to the person on the other end, it is the difference between life and death.   

Care for Others

Grief

My father was an Army Chaplain, so our family moved quite often. Although we visited incredible places and met some wonderful people, I felt the pain of continually leaving home, losing friends and missing valuable time with extended family members. I married Tom Leedom a few days after my High School graduation from Black Forest Academy, in the beautiful little village of Kandern, Germany. He was funny, kind, gentle, well-loved by all who knew him, and one of the most handsome men I had ever seen in person. I felt like Cinderella marrying her Prince.

Life seemed like it would be a wonderful fulfillment of wishes I had never dared to dream.

Instead, it became a series of nightmares that haunt me to this day. Within a year our first child, Joshua Thomas, was born. Soon after, my 23 year old husband was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. We endured weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. For months Tom couldn’t drive our car or even walk in a straight line. It was heartbreaking. I remember one afternoon watching him carry our trash to the curb. I don’t know how many times he staggered and fell, so determined to do a man’s work.

After three years of tedious rehabilitation, Tom’s doctors became optimistic about his prognosis and suggested we grow our family. We added another son, Christopher Joe. A month later another brain tumor was found. Tom died the following year; he was 28 years old. I was a 23 year old widow with two young sons, ages five and one. A year and 3 months later I married Ross Brodfuehrer, a tall and handsome man with a gentle spirit, brilliant mind, quick wit and a love for me and my boys. He adopted Joshua and Christopher and we became a family. We added another son, Benjamin David and daughter, Elizabeth Anne.

Cinderella had found another Prince and was off again to the ball. Or so I thought.

A few years later my brother’s infant son, Dan Campbell McCall (III), became ill following a routine surgery. We watched in horror as his tiny body shut down and died. Then, when my Christopher was 17, he was killed in a car wreck. My world shattered and the music of my heart stopped. Five years later my dad, my hero, was killed when his tractor rolled over on him. It might as well have crushed me, too.

Although it’s been a few years since these people have been in my arms, at times it feels as though they just left. Thirty three anniversaries without Tom. Twenty birthdays without Campbell. Fifteen birthdays and Christmas mornings without Christopher. And eleven Father’s Days and without my dad. Yet, here I am living (well most of the time) and breathing. I hate to admit itbut there are days when I do well just to exist. Still, I put one foot in front of the other and try to do the next thing. I have a wonderful family to do life with. The God who created them loves me and treats me like a beloved daughter. He is helping me collect the shattered pieces, carefully, as though each one fell from a delicate chandelier.

My experiences with grief, loss, and recovery motivate me to help others recover from the effects of their own heartaches. I hope there is some way I can help you.

 

Debbie (McCall) Brodfuehrer is a Grief Recovery Advisor in Louisville, Kentucky. As well as being widowed at twenty-three, Debbie’s seventeen year old son and her father were killed in tragic accidents. Combining personal experience and extensive training, she walks alongside those in the early stages of grief and educates bystanders in ways to effectively support the grief-stricken.

Collision

Unless you have experienced the life shattering effects of trauma there is no amount of studying, reading or researching it will give you any idea of what it is like to live it. When your life collides with a traumatic even it leaves you confused and desperate to get your life back. What may take a long time to learn is that you never get it back – not the way it was before. You have the opportunity to experience post-traumatic stress or post traumatic growth.   I want to offer you every opportunity to eventually get to a place that we can call post traumatic growth. It will come, eventually. For me, I was determined not to lose anything else to the man who attacked me and desperately started researching how to best work through trauma. I will share with you what happened to me, symptoms I experienced, what helped and what didn’t. The one thing I will tell you is DO NOT discount the magnitude of what is going on with you internally with the biomechanics of your brain, the nervous system, do not feel ashamed, embarrassed, or weak because of any of your responses.

I have asked some people I respect to share articles with you on many different topics. Please feel free to contact us with request for articles on specific topics. We all respond to trauma differently and we may all benefit from different tools for healing. God bless you as you travel down a path to a renewed life that is not defined but refined by you Owning Your Moment. You do not have to walk this path alone.

Listen to my Self Defense vs. Self Protection Podcast

– Sharon