Coping With Trauma: A Decades-Long Fight - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Coping With Trauma: A Decades-Long Fight

POST FALLS, Wash – Every time Eric Haines of Post Falls sees a tragedy unfold in the headlines, like the massacre in Newtown, he panics.

That's because he knows what those kids will be going through 30 years from now.

He's one of them.

"I keep these articles hoping - doing everything I can to get through it, weed it out, try to make myself feel better," Haines said, sorting through newspaper articles in his Post Falls living room.

On July 19, 1981, when Haines was just 7 years old, he witnessed his grandmother's murder. 

It happened at his grandmother's house in New Mexico; he was there with his mother and 3-year-old sister when he says his mother's abuse ex-boyfriend, Alex Gonzales, came in armed with a gun.

He chased his mother around the house before she escaped over the fence in the backyard.

"I know he took at least one shot at her," he recalled.

But then, Gonzales came back inside with a new target: Eric's grandmother.

Haines remembers taking his little sister to hide, when he heard noises.  He said his grandmother made it to the kitchen and was trying to get a knife to defend herself, when he heard gunfire. 

"When she hit the floor, I was told I went and got a pillow and put her head under the pillow and sat there by her, and I couldn't help her I couldn't do anything," Haines recalled, tears coming to his eyes.  "I didn't have anybody to say, hey look, are you okay?"

As a little boy, Haines had to walk police through the house describing the horrific scene, and at just 8 years old, testified in Gonzales' trial.

"I remember looking at him, and he looked at me," he said.

Haines bottled up the pain and trauma of that day for decades.  He says his family never talked about it, and he never learned to process all he went through.  To this day, it's affecting his life as a husband and father.

"I blame myself that I could have done something, and the guilt - I know I couldn't have done anything but I still feel that way," Haines told KHQ.   "I have to deal with this because I've lost out on a lot of life."

Clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Van Wye told KHQ it's normal to have changes in your life after you've been through something traumatic.

"The first thing is to understand that what you've been through is very hard and you're going to have a reaction to it, and that's totally okay," she explained.

Dr. Van Wye said there are chemical changes that happen in the brain and body that can stay with you for months – even years.

"They may not be the same at work or at home, they probably don't sleep very well, they can be irritable or sad," she added.  "That doesn't mean anything's wrong, that's a normal response."

She says the most important thing to do is talk about what you've been through, even if you're not sure how you feel.

"The thing we know about people's reaction to a traumatic event is, often times they get better on their own," she explained.  "If you don't though, you're not going to get better on your own."

That's when you may need to call a psychologist, therapist or counselor to seek help, and Dr. Van Wye says it's never too late – even decades later.

"You can't ignore these traumas that these kids go through.  They have to be dealt with," Haines added.  "Don't let them do it by themselves.  Take me as an example."

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