Posted: 16:53 on 20-04-17
By Stuart Leitch, LIFE Recovery Manager
Over the last few years the LIFE Recovery project has grown to include The LIFE skills course, and the Life Recovery Groups (church based support groups for people in recovery). Both provide a space where participants are supported in their recovery in developing life skills and emotional resilience. Participants become part of a healthy and safe community and have the opportunity to grow in their spiritual life. Between both services, we work with approximately 60 people in recovery.
Working alongside and listening to many individuals, we have found that many issues - addiction, mental health problems and anti-social behaviours often have a much deeper root of pain caused by abuse and neglect. Research indicates that at least 2 out of every 3 people in addiction have experienced trauma in their childhood. In many cases, seemingly ‘dysfunctional’ behaviour has been the only way the victim has found to survive in the circumstances they grew up in. Traumatic events and circumstances like sexual abuse, violence in the home, neglect or absent care givers are impressed on ‘emotional memory’. This can cause people to struggle with flashbacks, anger management, sleep, anxiety, dissociation, numbed emotions, eating disorders, relationship problems and destructive behaviours.
Allowing people to explore their emotions of what has happened to them in a safe setting can help make sense of confusing and terrifying memories that have been supressed. Often victims are threatened to not reveal what was happening, told that it’s their fault or that no one would believe them, or just simply to forget about it and move on. This adds to the shame and stigma already attached to these unspeakable events. Being given permission to share is incredibly powerful for participants.
We believe in transformation from the inside out. The provision of a trauma support group is a safe space where clients are listened to, believed, not judged and finally given the opportunity to express how it feels. There is very little provision for trauma support in Bristol, and the support that exists is hard to access and often has long waiting lists. The process of providing support began in April 2015 when my colleague Sophy (LIFE Recovery Deputy Manager) and I embarked on an 8 month training programme for helping people work through trauma, particularly childhood trauma. Since then we have continued to be part of an ongoing training group. In Feb 2017, we launched a pilot 8 week trauma support group for 6 service users here at CCM, with support from an experienced group facilitator.
Results from the pilot group showed aided emotional well-being, reduction in the risk of relapse by building emotional resilience, healthier personal relationships, and reduced depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and dependence on medication.
Project Appeal - we need your help!
The LIFE Recovery project is expanding to include trauma focused client work. This will provide six 8-week trauma support courses each year for 6-8 participants on each course. The expansion will also support ongoing assessment with each participant as well as ongoing connection with their support network. This expansion is dependent on funding and requires £12,000 to run for one year. Please contribute to the vital growth of this service, by donating online.
Lucy was part of the pilot trauma support group and this is her story.
" I joined the LRG trauma support group [to gain support] for ongoing trauma symptoms that hold me back from fully being myself and living a full life. I can honestly say this has been the best decision I’ve made on my recovery journey.
Having been through a lot of trauma throughout my life I found myself stuck, experiencing flashbacks, nightmares and times of extreme emotional distress and panic. A lot of the time I feel detached from my body, like I’m not really there but somewhere else. I had tried different therapeutic support in the past, but never regained much of myself through these. Having a faith in Jesus helped me through a process of forgiving people in each trauma, but I was still left with the emotions and physical pain being trapped in the body.
Up until this point in my life I haven’t had a safe environment to work through what my younger, broken self couldn’t process. [I’ve experienced] things like violent encounters of a person swinging an axe around, being suffocated, knives being pulled and used as a threat, being pinned down. These memories brought up all the emotions with them as well as the physical pain. When all the significant relationships in life have been abusive, frightening and damaging – feeling safe to build new relationships becomes nearly impossible. Day-to-day life was plagued with symptoms that I’ve learnt are all the unexpressed [emotions]: fear, sadness, anxiety, stress that had been locked into my body in order to survive. At times I lost all connection and sense of who I was. I could spend days hiding under a blanket in the corner of my room as this emotional and mental turmoil took over. I had lost all sense that I would ever do anything more than just survive.
Having tried different therapies and church courses in the past I wasn’t sure what to expect from going [to this group], but went along, hopeful once more that I may find some breakthrough. For the first time in 20+ years I’ve had permission to share the things that have traumatised me. Also there is a power in a group where others not only relate to your experience but become part of the restoration process. Restoring trust in others in a safe, meaningful way feels massively significant in the process of reclaiming my life.
From each session I come away with a better understanding of myself…each week uncovers more memories that were too frightening and painful to process as my younger, broken self. As they come up there is hope that each memory, each fragment of the emotional turmoil may be put in its rightful place. After years of trauma the best part of me has been ‘squashed down’ - kept safe – but disconnected – this group made me realise the fun, life-loving me has not gone forever. That’s given me hope!"
Project Appeal - we need your help!
The LIFE Recovery project is expanding to include trauma focused client work. This will provide six 8-week trauma support courses each year for 6-8 participants on each course. The expansion will also support ongoing assessment with each participant as well as ongoing connection with their support network. This expansion is dependent on funding and requires £12,000 to run for one year. Please be part of this vision to grow this service by donating.