Many years ago, following a difficult divorce I found myself in tears, talking to a friend who asked me some important questions. He asked me when I last ate. I couldn't remember. He asked me when I last slept. I couldn't remember. He asked me how much weight I'd lost in the last month. Everything but my skin and bones I replied. He shook his head and said that if I didn't start taking better care of myself I would end up — well — in a special jacket in a rubber room taking basket weaving at the local psych ward. So began my journey to healing, and discovering what it means to be OK and live in the moment.
We have all experienced trauma. Even if you have never been abused or lost a loved one to old age or unexpected death. If you think long and hard enough, you will remember moments that knocked you off your feet. Moments where one moment life is good and you're breathing just fine and the next — you can hear the blood rushing in your ears. You suddenly realize you are on the ground, flat on your back as if a steam roller just ran over your chest.
At the time of trauma, in order to survive, many physical things are happening in your body. Adrenaline is pumping through your system. Your body responds by fight, flight or freeze.
For example, you turn on the television and witness the events of the 9/11 tragedy. Even if you didn't know a single soul in New York, the Twin Towers or the airplanes you may have been deeply impacted by what you witnessed. Did you fight or get angry and want someone to pay? Did you want to flee or begin stocking up on supplies for your survival shelter? Perhaps, you reacted by freezing in place; just sitting and unable to stop watching. Every person reacts differently and may react differently at different times.
What you do afterwards to heal from trauma is important. Initially, something you can do is find a way to process the event. Processing will help you sort through questions and thoughts that may be overwhelming you.
There are limitless ways to process traumatic events. You can
Write about it.
Talk about it to a friend or professional.
Sing or paint about it.
Just think about it.
It's interesting, that after many large traumatic events, we will often hear an amazing song written by a musician or singer song writer at the time of the event. I believe our minds try to make sense of the senseless by organizing it into paintings, poems and stories that give us comfort.
According to the United States National Mental Health Organization,after experiencing trauma, it's important to surround yourself with supportive friends and family who will listen and help you process events. Loving family and friends will increase your chances of healing faster and avoid Post Traumatic Stress Disorder issues.
Know that you do not have to be strong all of the time. When you are having a bad day you can:
Set aside or plan time to cry.
Take a long walk or hot bath.
Sleep a little longer.
Cook healthy food. Avoid caffeine and stimulants when feeling anxiety.
Get exercise — work up a good sweat.
Take a break, step outside, and take some deep breaths.
Reduce other life stressors. For example, if your house is a little messy let it go unless cleaning comforts you.
Be aware of survivor's guilt
Sometimes when we survive an event and another person doesn't, we may feel guilty about being happy. Give yourself permission to be happy. Allow yourself to have good and bad days without judgment.
Be aware of anniversaries of traumatic events
Sometimes on the anniversary of a death or other trauma, you may be triggered on or near that date.
If you find yourself triggered by music, events, smells and sounds long after the event you should seek professional counseling. For example, I will never forget the first day a plane flew overhead after they were grounded following 9/11. I was in a local big box store when a plane flew over the tin warehouse roof. Because it was the first, and we hadn't had any flights for so long, people ducked under tables or ran for the exit. Some just froze. Fight, flight or freeze. That was understandable so close to the event. If hearing a plane causes feelings of anxiety far beyond the initial months, it might be time to seek a professional counselor.
Be gentle with yourself. Understand a trauma is physically exhausting. Remember to breathe and choose a few new techniques for relaxation. Try Yoga or Meditation. Remember, it's OK to cry. Know you don't have to be strong every day. Tomorrow and Time, the great healers are on their way.
Shannon Symonds, Author of Safe House due to be released July 2017 by Cedar Fort, has 15 years experience working as an Advocate for victims of domestic and sexual violence while raising 6 children in Seaside Oregon. She loves to write, run and Laugh