Did You Know…
Contrary to popular belief, the suicide rate is lowest in December. We frequently hear that the rate is higher, that it is a ‘high-risk’ time of year for loved ones taking their own lives. And while many of us have lost loved ones around the Holidays, this isn’t typical. Suicide during the holidays does, however, have a way of giving markers to the event and the time of year. We are presented with cues of the loss all around us. Snow, decorations and smells can all be anchors into a past loss marked by deep grief and regret.
Most of us don’t want to live in this past, haunted by these reminders. We don’t want to be ‘traumatized people’. As men, we are often trained to hold those feelings in, buck up and take care of business and to avoid dwelling on something we can’t change. We often equate trauma with weakness, an inability to cope with natural (and unnatural) life events. Men continue to work, support and protect those around us despite our injuries, both internal and external. This comes at a cost. We die earlier, often of heart attack and are four times more likely to take our own lives.
Trauma & How to Treat It
I hear the word ‘trauma’ on almost a daily basis and the word has started to lose all sense of meaning or coherency. For most men I work with, they will report a lack of traumatic events in their lives, “no, I don’t really have any trauma”. Upon closer examination and a re-wording of past events, though, we are able to derive a clearer picture of elements at play. Many of the same men that report to me “I have no trauma”, also report high scores on the Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaire (ACEs). The ACEs is an amazing tool, it has been used widely enough to give reliable and valid data regarding everything from internal organ issues to arrest, addiction and divorce. By examining the physical/mental/emotional experiences of our past and understanding the impact they can have on our psychology/physiology we can shift the conversation from “I have trauma so I’m weak and unable to do X, Y,Z” to “I have a certain set of experiences that need my attention for me to reach peak performance”. This simple re-wording can create a safer and more approachable therapeutic conversation for the men in our lives.
How To Live With Trauma
I was at a First Responder conference last week in Seattle Washington with my good friends Travis Whittaker and Bud Harper. We listened to a sleep professional (with 9 tours in Afghanistan and a background in boxing) explain how he had reframed sleeping from “weakness” to “performance” by explaining it as a tactical advantage among military services and first responders he presents to. “Tactical sleep” sounds much cooler than “I’m sleepy”, and it describes what is happening in a more profound manner. Sleeping for tactical and situational awareness is pragmatic and gives a performance advantage.
This is how I suggest you reach out to the men in your lives this holiday! Reframe your language from trauma or weakness to a discussion of self-expression and encouragement. This will actually get the guys in your life to open up more to you. Examples include, “what was that like for you?” (don’t presume to know) “Hey man, how’s it going?” (pretty basic) “I missed a lot of sleep after the fire does that ever happen to you, too?” (give permission to admit things have an effect).
While this does not apply to all men, or only men, it is a good framework to operate in with guys who might be a little tougher to draw out or who have been trained to push weakness away.
Happy Holidays and go check in with the men in your lives!
Joshua Miller CMHC
Clinical Director, Maple Mountain Recovery.