Safe / not safe

After 3 weeks on the road in Australia, it's great to be back in Vietnam, back at home, and catching up with everyone and everything.

One of those 'things' that I have been catching up: the last few episodes of The Walking Dead.

For those who don't watch the show (seriously? There are people who don't watch TWD!?), our rugged band of zombie apocalypse survivors has been lurching from disaster to disaster, losing friends and sustaining plenty of damage along the way. But now they have made it to the safest and most peaceful place they have yet been: Alexandria.

They have high walls to keep them safe; electricity; dinner parties; cookies; rocking chairs on porches.

And it's driving them all insane.

Never in all 5 seasons of the show have they been this safe, and yet they are now divided against each other and acting completely irrationally.

Any psychologist would quickly put a label on this: PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder.

I, meantime, am watching this and thinking how much it all reminds me of many kids here at Blue Dragon.

When we first meet children, they are normally in the midst of a crisis. They might be locked into a brothel in China; or caught up in a pedophile ring in Hanoi; or trapped in a sweatshop in Ho Chi Minh City.

They may have been in this situation for weeks, or months, or years. They may have survived by adapting to a violent and hostile environment, or by learning to manipulate people around them as a defence mechanism. They may have become violent themselves.

When they finally can escape their crisis, that doesn't mean everything is fine now. Just because they are in a safe place doesn't automatically mean their problems are over.

At Blue Dragon, we see young people deal with their trauma in many different ways, and we are extremely fortunate to have two outstanding Vietnamese Psychologists working with us. Just recently I wrote about the incredible resilience we see in the young people we encounter; but of course not all of the Blue Dragon kids make quick recoveries.

For the kids we meet who have been through particularly tough times, such as sexual abuse, it's normal to see them struggle for up to a year: they'll stay with Blue Dragon for a while, then regress and go back to the streets before coming in again. Sometimes they repeat this several times before calming down.

Going back to school is particularly hard for many. Sitting in a room with strangers who have never been through the same life experiences; listening to a teacher who knows nothing of the horrors they have faced; learning about subjects that seem so abstract and useless against the recurring nightmares.

Anyone who has suffered through ongoing trauma can have a whole range of symptoms of stress that live on with them long after the crisis is over. A scent or sound can bring back a forgotten moment of terror. An innocent question or comment can result in sudden anger. Often there is no rhyme or reason to the way they will react to their new surrounds.

Healing is a process that needs time, professional help, and care. And then some more time.

Leaving behind the crisis is not the end of trauma. The scars to be dealt with are often invisible, but they are real.

As The Walking Dead reminds us, getting to a safe place is only the start of healing; the journey to real safety goes on much longer.

www.bluedragon.org