Ten Tips for Healing and Hope after Trauma
BY Kathy king
1. Allow for shock and numbness. These are common reactions to trauma and serve as temporary protection while we struggle to cope with something that is outside of our normal experience and expectations. When we suffer a severe upset, we need to give ourselves time to recover. It is important to finds ways of staying connected to the world. Sometimes all we can do is breathe, just breathe. As we focus on our breath, we are more able to stay present. It is also helpful to keep records of people who called, decisions made and required, etc. as these may later be lost to conscious memory.
2. We must learn to be gentle and patient with ourselves. Our life is changed forever and it will take time to learn to live with a new reality. Things will never be the same and we need to accept a world that is suddenly different. Healing and recovery are a gradual process, they do not happen in a straight line, and they will continue as long as we live.
3. Recognize we have been impacted at a very deep level. Trauma reaches the inner depth of our spirit or soul where we can become frozen, blocked, hidden, or fragmented. The task of healing is to bring those parts back to life, clarity, presence, and wholeness. Grieving is an active process and can be draining. It is important to keep our life as simple as possible as we learn new patterns and reconnect with sources of energy.
4. We take care of our security needs by grounding ourselves with safe and familiar people and places as much as possible. Support groups can be very helpful - trauma survivors and bereaved family members share a bond beyond words. It is important to include family doctors and professional helpers in our supportive community for mental and physical health. We must remember to drink lots of water and get enough rest.
5. We know there will be ebbs and flows in the rhythms of our journey. Times of intense sadness will lessen; times of peace and joy will begin to manifest. There will be times of learning, times of emotional reactions, and times of growth and integration. The depth of our sorrow is a measure of our love. It never dies but takes on new form and expression. It is important to be open to the blessings and acts of kindness and hope that others offer.
6. New information can help us better understand our own process and realize we are not alone. While everyone’s experience is uniquely personal, there are common patterns of response and recovery. It is important to learn to recognize our triggers so we are not overwhelmed by them. Journaling can be a way of tracking our thoughts and feelings. Remember that unexpressed grief can linger and show up as general dissatisfaction or disappointment with life. Expression helps us through to the other side.
7. Be prepared to deal with a full range of emotions. Be aware of feelings without judging them or ourselves. We may feel alone and confused. We may be angry at the unfairness of what happened or that our pain is not recognized. Guilt is common because we like to think we could have prevented what happened. We must learn to distinguish regret from unrealistic guilt. Grief and joy can and do co-exist. When we suffer deeply, we are less likely to take life for granted. This can allow for new and fuller appreciation of the light that shines through our shadows.
8. Integration is the link between learning and feelings, of mind and heart. By allowing ourselves to feel our pain in doses, we can slowly open to new meaning. It is important to find our own pace. Telling my story over and over can be part working of through it. As we find words and give voice to our sufferings, it is possible to turn pain into energy for change. Grief can become a crusade, tragedy a transformation, loss a legacy
9. A spiritual practice is beneficial as we search for our own meaning in what happened. We can explore creative processes that touch our spirit and soul. These include music, rhythm, poetry, prayer, nature, silence, and meditation. We can practice affirmations that feel appropriate and right. Some examples are: “This too shall pass.” “Today is a new day.” “Every challenge in life can help me grow.” As we continue to live, we still have the right to experience peace and love and to follow our own heart’s journey.
10. Embrace rituals and ceremonies that reflect our process of releasing, remembering, and reconnecting. We need to find ways of honouring and protecting our memories. These can include pictures, church services, family rituals, public celebrations of remembrance, published tributes, spending time with nature, special memorial projects. It is important to plan ahead for significant anniversaries so we are not taken by surprise.
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sum, so must you know pain.”
Khalil Gibran, The Prophe
“…we don’t have to accept a life where we allow the emotional scars to disfigure. Instead, we have the choice to embrace strategies that will diminish the pain and enhance our appreciation of what we have left and what is still possible for us.”
Jill Brooke, Don’t Let Death Ruin Your Life
Other References: Alan D. Wolfelt, Healing Your Grieving Heart Healing Your Traumatized Heart