Katara: I can help guide your healing process, but whether you get better or not is up to you. I know what it’s like to go through a traumatic experience. And I promise you, if you dedicate yourself to getting better, you’ll recover, stronger than ever. The mind can be a powerful ally, or your greatest enemy.
Korra: I am trying to understand why this happened to me, but nothing makes any sense! I’m tired, Katara. I’m so tired.
Katara: Korra, I know you feel alone right now. But you’re not the first Avatar who’s had to overcome great suffering. Can you imagine how much pain Aang felt when he learned that his entire culture was taken from him? But he never let it destroy his spirit. He chose to find meaning in his suffering and eventually … found peace.
Korra: And … what am I going to find if I get through this?
Katara: I don’t know. But won’t it be interesting to find out?
Very upsetting, frightening, or traumatic events that happen to us, or that threatened or hurt someone we love are very powerful incidents that affect daily life. They are usually defined as experiences which are life threatening, or where there is a significant threat to one’s physical or psychological wellbeing. For example: physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; neglect; war experiences; outbursts of temper and rage; alcoholism (your own or in your family); physical illnesses, surgeries, and disabilities in your family; loss of close family members and friends; natural disasters; accidents.
When these kinds of things happen, we may not “get over” them quickly. In fact, we may feel the effects of these traumas for many years, even for the rest of our lives. Traumatic events result in frightening, distressing, and sometimes disabling emotional symptoms such as phobias, anxiety, depression, delusions, flashbacks, and dis-associative behaviour. Sometimes we don’t even notice effects right after the trauma happens. Years later we may begin having bothersome thoughts, nightmares, and other disturbing symptoms. We may develop these symptoms and not even remember the traumatic thing or things that once happened to us.
Some things that may be very distressing to one person hardly seem to bother another person. If something bothers you a lot and it doesn’t bother someone else, it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. People respond to trauma differently. The impact of an event may be related to the person’s mental and physical health, level of available support at the time of the event, and past experience and coping skills. As much as possible try not to trivialize your feelings about what happened to you, because you think others have or had it worse than you. Every experience you have is personal to you and how you feel about it matters.
As likely as it is that traumatic events can have debilitating repercussions, it is also as likely, that we make a conscious choice to ignore what happened. I know for me, I told myself that it did not happen. Just matter of factly, and very firmly, told myself that it did not happen. Unfortunately, in denying myself the opportunity to deal with the event, my emotions sought an outlet. And in the end it was not a healthy one. I turned all the anger, pain and confusion over what happened me, inward. Because I was ashamed and told myself that I was to blame, I was not very kind to my self, my mind or my body in a myriad of ways: binge drinking, obsessive compulsive behaviour, smoking, disrespecting my body, having unhealthy relationships, etc. The list is long. I’m sure you can imagine.
The year before I quit drinking, I started thinking and talking about what happened, but only when I was pretty intoxicated. Seemed like the story was trying to get out and be dealt with. Perhaps my authentic self had had enough. For whatever reason, when I finally quit drinking and started actively dealing with all the things I believed were at the root of the reason for my addictive personality, I had to come to terms with what happened. I did. I still am. It was a big step learning to accept what happened. The second step: not thinking that it was my fault was a lot harder, but the more love and understanding I showed myself, the easier it was to let go of self-blame. The third step: Learning and growing from the entire experience, is a work in progress. It will take some time but I know I will get there.
“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” C.S. Lewis
Love and light,
In coming terms with a traumatic event, Mary Ellen Copeland, Ph.D recommends that we begin with the following:
- When you are traumatized, you lose control of your life. You may feel like you still don’t have any control over your life. You have to take back that control by being in charge of every aspect of your life. Others, including your spouse, family members, friends and health care professionals will try to tell you what to do. Before you do it, think about it carefully. Do you feel that it is the best thing for you to do right now? If not, you should not do it. It is important that you make decisions about your own life.
- Talk to one or more people about what happened to you. Make sure it is a person or people who understand that what happened to you is serious and that describing it over and over again to another person is part of the healing process. It should not be a person who says something like: “That wasn’t so bad;” “You should just forget about it;” “Forgive and forget;” or “You think that’s bad, let me tell you what happened to me.” You will know when you have described it enough, because you won’t feel like doing it anymore. Writing about it in your journal also helps a lot.
- You may not feel close to anyone. You may feel like there is no one you can trust. Begin now to develop close relationships with another person. Think about the person in your life that you like best. Invite them to do something fun with you. If that feels good, make a plan to do something else together at another time, maybe the following week. Keep doing this until you feel close to this person. Then, without giving up on that person, start developing a closer relationship with another person. Keep doing this until you have close relationships with at least five people. Support groups and peer support centers are good places to meet people.
- If you possibly can, work with a counselor or join a group for people who have been traumatized.
If you are having difficulty dealing with a traumatic experience this website offers tips on managing psychological trauma and can point you in the right direction: https://www.psychology.org.au/publications/tip_sheets/trauma/
This is Post T, in the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2015. My 26 posts are inspired by the quotes from Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, two Emmy award-winning animated television series created and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The setting for both series is in an Asian-influenced world of martial arts and elemental manipulation. The shows drew on elements from East Asian, South Asian, and Western culture, and (aside from the kick-ass story lines, beautifully developed characters and exceptional storyboards) are where I found a wealth of inspiration and perspective on my own life.
The rest of my A to Z 2015 posts can be found here.