Solitary confinement and severe torture in Yemen left Ayub with deep depression and debilitating nighttime terror.
Forcibly taken from her family in rural Guatemala as a child, Gabriela endured a decade of isolation and severe abuse. Numbing her physical and emotional pain was her only means of survival.
After a traumatic brain injury caused by a bomb explosion debilitated his wife, Karam was left with the overwhelming responsibility of supporting his family in their new home.
Barati miraculously survived several genocidal massacres in Burundi. Upon resettling in the United States, she was left to confront her devastating trauma and losses.
Growing up with the ubiquitous fear and insecurity of a desolate refugee camp in the Horn of Africa, Negasi believes he never experienced a childhood.
After a lifetime of rejection from his family and community in Colombia, and a violent attack that nearly killed him, Carlos set out to El Norte in search of sanctuary.
Clients’ identifying information has been changed to protect their confidentiality.
Solitary Confinement and Night Terrors: Ayub
Ayub was a university student when political unrest and violence escalated in Yemen. Arrested by security forces at a peaceful protest and detained for months, he was severely tortured, and kept in solitary confinement. Seriously injured and ill from malnutrition and unsanitary conditions, and forced to leave his family behind, Ayub fled Yemen immediately after his release to save his life.
Granted political asylum in the United States, Ayub continued to experience the sequelae of his torture. He feared for his life and was terrified of the dark. He suffered from severe insomnia, and was continuously awakened by nightmares filled with the sounds of prisoners’ screams. Ayub’s recovery relied on the healing effect of someone bearing witness to his suffering, terror and shame. Speaking of his torture in the presence of another — with the safety to express his emotional pain and anger — allowed Ayub to begin his recovery. His sleep improved, his deep depression lifted, and his epileptic seizures remitted. He was able to begin working, and returned to some activities in his field of interest. After years of feeling shrouded in darkness, Ayub could finally begin to see light.
Fragmentation of Self and Memory: Gabriela
Growing up in a Mayan village in Guatemala, Gabriela was abducted from her family as a young girl. She was held in captivity and complete isolation for a decade, and never saw her family again. She survived unspeakable sexual, physical and psychological abuse, and bore children in early adolescence. Her only way to survive this relentless trauma was through dissociation — shutting out thoughts and feelings to protect herself from pain. Years later, Gabriela continues to struggle with extensive episodes of dissociation during which she loses her memory and sense of time. She is frightened by these lapses in consciousness, and feels lost to herself.
Gabriela’s healing has included careful attention to the dissociative survival mechanisms which have come to compromise her safety and well-being. Thanks to the processing of her trauma and the gradual reconstruction of her sense of self, Gabriela’s recurrent suicidality has abated, and her chronic migraines have become less frequent. Gabriela has been able to learn to read and write in Spanish, and is learning English. With her improved literacy, she is better able to orient herself in her new environment. Gabriela has also reunited with her children, and is beginning to rebuild the sense of family which was taken from her so long ago.
Traumatic Brain Injury in Afghanistan: Karam
Karam and his family were targeted by the Taliban due to his interpretation assistance for the United States army in Afghanistan. He was detained and tortured on two occasions, and a bomb was thrown on his family’s home. In the explosion, Karam’s younger sister was killed, and his wife suffered a traumatic brain injury which caused significant cognitive damage. Karam was granted a Special Immigrant Visa, and fled the country with his wife and their two young children.
Once in the United States, Karam became overwhelmed by the combination of his wife’s difficulty caring for their children without the support of extended family, long working hours with minimal pay, and living in a dangerous neighborhood. Karam’s anxiety and depression escalated, as he found himself unable to meet the family’s basic needs. Conflict with his wife and children ensued.
The refugee resettlement agency which received Karam’s family became aware of their worsening situation, and referred them for psychological support. Until then, Karam had not had a chance to speak of his trauma and losses, nor of the severe stress his wife’s brain injury placed on him as the sole provider in an unfamiliar environment. With a place to share his concerns, Karam’s anger began to diminish, and tension at home gradually subsided. Thanks to increased family stability and reduced post-traumatic symptoms, Karam found employment that better provided for his family’s needs. Little by little they began to make friends, establishing a network of social support, and beginning to integrate into their host community.
Echoes of Genocide: Barati
Barati came from a cattle farming community in rural Burundi. Her husband was killed, and she and her three children were separated when militias descended upon their village and everyone scattered. They did not know who survived and who didn’t until they reunited in a refugee camp a decade later. As part of the genocide against her community, Barati miraculously survived several massacres. After her village’s attack, she was imprisoned, beaten, raped and tortured until losing her full-term baby. All men and boys who were captured were dismembered in front of the women and girls, and dumped into mass graves. The women were rescued just in time. Years later, the refugee camp where Barati and her children lived was attacked, and most residents were killed. Barati and her youngest child survived by being left for dead under a pile of fallen bodies. Her two other children were outside the camp during the attack. After an eternity of waiting, they were resettled together in the United States.
When Barati and her family arrived in California, they were lost and overwhelmed. Barati could not sleep, nor could she stop crying. She was so fearful and disoriented she could not leave their apartment, and her children struggled to adapt, learn English, and secure employment. They were on the brink of physical, economic and emotional collapse, until they found the support of a torture treatment program. Barati began weekly individual psychotherapy, where she was able to tell her story in great detail, and as many times as she needed, in the presence of a caring witness to all she had endured. Her children were also provided with individual and family therapy, and intensive case management helped the family access much needed medical, social and legal support. Barati was connected to a caring physician, and began taking anti-depressant medication to help with her post-trauma symptoms and insomnia.
With time to process her extreme trauma and overwhelming grief, Barati began to heal from her physical and psychological injuries. She described having been dead for many years, and stated that she was beginning to feel alive again. With her emotional recovery, Barati’s chronic back and bodily pain receded, her headaches diminished, and her sleep and mood improved. With increased stability in the family, Barati’s adult children were able to learn English and become employed; could help meet the family’s basic needs; and were able to begin families of their own. Becoming a grandmother, and having a chance to care for her grandchildren as she had not been able to care for her own children, was a deeply significant aspect of Barati’s healing. At last she felt hope that she and her children could build a new life from the ashes they had left behind.
Life in a Refugee Camp: Negasi
An infant when his mother fled with him across the border, Negasi spent the first 20 years of his life in a dangerous, desolate refugee camp in the Horn of Africa. His father was killed in Eritrea’s long fight for independence, and without paternal protection, Negasi was exposed to a lifetime of threat. He does not remember ever feeling safe. He was repeatedly beaten and tortured, and witnessed numerous fellow refugees being assaulted and killed. As far as he remembers, he never experienced a childhood. Never sleeping a full night, and deeply depressed with severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress, Negasi attempted to kill himself several times.
Upon resettling in the United States, Negasi continued to suffer unbearable emotional pain. Though he was no longer in danger, he could not sleep or feel at ease in his new environment. He was unable to regulate his emotional states, and experienced overwhelming sadness, despair, shame, and rage, along with a recurring wish to die. Allowing Negasi to begin experiencing a sense of interpersonal and internal safety for the first time in his life was a primary focus of his recovery. Over time, he began sleeping better, his depression lifted, and his post-traumatic anxiety diminished. After two decades of unimaginable trauma, and just a few years post-resettlement, Negasi no longer visits the emergency room due to suicidality. He has now secured stable employment, and is building a family of his own.
Flight from LGBT Persecution: Carlos
Growing up in a small Colombian town, Carlos was identified as a feminine boy from the time he was a toddler. He was chronically shamed and harassed by male family members, and later by peers and other community members. When he reached adolescence, verbal and physical abuse escalated, and one day he was assaulted by a group of men in the street. He was severely beaten and gang raped, then left for dead on the side of the road. After recovering in hospital, Carlos realized he could no longer be safe at home, and decided to flee to El Norte. He was just 16 years-old when he had to leave everything behind in search of security. It took Carlos months of traveling in dangerous conditions to reach the United States border.
As a result of the many years of insecurity experienced in his family and community, Carlos suffered from chronic fear, severe anxiety, intrusive memories of abuse, recurrent nightmares, and an inability to trust others. Fortunate to arrive in the San Francisco Bay Area where he found pro bono legal support and was granted asylum status, he began working. Despite his increased social and economic security, Carlos continued to suffer from debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress. His attorney helped connect him with specialized psychological support, and Carlos began attending individual therapy.
For the first time, Carlos was able to talk about his life-long experiences of rejection and persecution, and began experiencing hope of being accepted for who he was. Regaining the ability to trust in another human being constituted the foundation of his healing process. Carlos had lost the ability to read and write due to his extreme trauma. With the necessary emotional support, he gradually recovered his literacy skills, and was then able to learn English. With increased feelings of internal and external security, Carlos was able to complete a training program in his area of professional interest. Today, he is recognized as a successful teacher and mentor in his field.