I have a friend whose young daughter narrowly escaped a tragedy this past summer. Around the time of the event, the mom could speak of it relatively matter-of-factly, with only the slightest tremble of the hands and tightening of voice belying the pain and fear beneath.
For the first few months, mom strayed strong. She distracted the child and went on about life. She held the trauma of the near-tragedy at arm’s length with only periodic glances that confirmed its existence. She was okay.
And then the child got sick. Nothing major, just a normal fall childhood illness, but it triggered the fear of losing her child in the mother.
She was facing what she couldn’t before.
The first time through, she didn’t know if her daughter would be okay. That was unfaceable at the time.
This time through, she knows that her child will be okay and so the pent-up emotions are released.
And now she can face them.
Often we begin to face things only when we feel safe.
Maslow talks about how basic physical and psychological needs must be met before self-actualization can occur. When faced with trauma, our basic needs of safety and security must be met before we can address , face-on, the emotions at the root of the pain. If you try to face it too soon, while your existence is still precarious, your mind will grip and refuse to let go. If you fail to face it, choosing to keep your gaze averted, it will become like a cancerous growth, slowing releasing its toxins.
Acknowledge that trauma is often too big to process all at once. Think of it like untying a knot, teasing away at it until it unravels completely. Be patient with yourself. It’s tempting to pretend to be healed because of the calendar. But the mind doesn’t understand time. Stay with it as long as it takes.
Recognize if you are turning away from the whole of the pain because it is too big to bear. Be gentle with yourself, Do not force it, yet do not ignore it either. Face it in time. Total lockdown is no way to live for long.
Look for ways to help increase your feelings of emotional safety or security. These must be met first. Look for tangibles that prove you are okay. Have a back-up plan. Find people that have your back.
Breathe. Pain has a way of shutting down the breath, as though the trauma whispers in with each inhale. Allow the breath to flow, releasing tension with each exhale.
Recognize that healing is a process, not a switch. It comes in waves, following the pain. Just because you do or not feel a certain way right now, does not mean you never will.
In the first couple months after my ex disappeared, I didn’t feel much. I was scared to open the dams, not sure if the impending emotions would be too powerful to bear. I was still in shock. trying to make sense of it all. And, I was trying to push it aside so that I could attend to the necessities of life.
But I knew I couldn’t do that forever.
I booked a short stay at a meditation and yoga retreat with the intention of opening the dam with the professionals there as flotation devices. I left all of the distractions (which I was so good at using) behind and steeled myself for the face-off: woman vs. trauma. Go.
It was pretty unimpressive. A few trickles of loss. Some tears. Some aching void.
But nothing on the scale I feared.
Because I wasn’t yet ready to face it. Again, trauma doesn’t speak calendar. It doesn’t respond well to scheduled appointments.
It likes to show up on its own time.
Even though I didn’t engage in an epic battle with my trauma at that time, the trip was valuable. I learned that I could let the pain in, that it wouldn’t flatten me. I learned that I could work away at it a little at a time. I learned that I couldn’t force healing on my terms. And I learned that my responsibility was to address the pain when it did arise (which was never at a convenient time).
It’s easy to see pain as a bad thing. But maybe it’s a sign of healing, an indication that you’re ready to address it.