(First published January 14, 2019)
There is a facade many of us parade behind to cover up past traumas. We want to show that we’re normal when actually we’re struggling. But what happens when you can’t hide it anymore? It takes a lot of effort to hide your true self, spinning your wheels to do so while not really living. And in fact, that spinning continues the act of being traumatized. You aren’t fully living if you are holding yourself hostage to an event, a past, a memory. Even some relationships don’t work out because people sense there’s a falseness, even if it’s only subconsciously noted. What to do? It might take stepping outside of yourself, learning to release the trauma, and helping someone else to in turn help yourself.
Personally, I hid my own frailties because I wanted to fit in and be like everybody else, and not be known as a wounded soul. I thought everybody else was “normal” except me. I grew up a bit dysfunctionally. Many people can claim that and it’s not fair to compare dysfunction stories because just as the situations vary so do the intensities and sensitivities within each of us. No matter the level of suffering or abuse, the fact is that we are hurt. When you are in the midst of trauma you are strictly in survival mode, and not in any kind of relaxed state of living. Yet, you want everyone to think everything is okay with you. You want to show your strength when in fact, you’re still brushing off your knees from falling even if the trauma was years ago. But hiding behind all of that, you continue the feelings of trauma and don’t deal with them, and thus, they don’t go away.
There are many ways trauma can affect people. And again, comparing levels of trauma is not important, who has it worse or had it worse. It means nothing to measure emotional pain. Pain and suffering are just that. Only we are able to feel the intensity of our own pain.
If you watch the documentary, The Distant Barking of Dogs, you will see the evidence of extreme trauma in action. Simon Lereng Wilmont, the film’s director and cinematographer shot this documentary near the front lines of the war zone in the Ukraine. The story follows a 10-year-old boy and his grandmother living their lives while being surrounded daily by the effects of war. There are scenes with the boy, Oleg behaving as any small boy does, playing with a kitten, joking with his little cousin, Igor, and cuddling with his grandmother, but all is not well.
Simon Lereng Wilmot’s dedication is evident as he filmed this family’s story over a year‘s period of visits, on-location. He documents the sweetness of the young boy and the frailty of his grandmother as they both try to brave it out. Oleg still tries to do kid things even though bombs are bursting nearby and gun shots are being fired in the distance. His grandmother is not able to take them to a safer part of the country and so bears the burden of keeping a happy face for Oleg while stuffing her own fears of what could happen to them both. When the grandmother’s health starts to breakdown from all of it, she visits a doctor for advice. The doctor tells her that if she can’t move out of the conflict area, then she’ll just have to adapt to this bad situation.
Even when Oleg goes to school there’s no escape from the looming doom. Teachers instruct the kids with drills on evacuations and other tips to stay safe. You imagine they are at every moment in a constant state of fight or flight. Close-up shots of Oleg show glimpses of his fear while in his outward actions he just tries to go about the day.
Surviving trauma is the greatest two-word phrase. If you have survived it and you are no longer in the midst of whatever caused it, then that is Step One to recovery.
Step Two is making sure you are okay. Whether it be tending to your medical needs, or seeking some psychological counseling, taking care of yourself is the most important thing you can do. And it isn’t a selfish act to focus on your self-care, as your wellness will be benefited by those around you.
Step Three is gaining acknowledgement that the trauma has happened. That might be telling your doctor or counselor, a trusted family member, spouse or friend. Just having a kind listening ear to confirm that what happened to you is true, and that they believe you and are there for you. That can be very healing in itself and it’s something you can’t do for yourself. Taking it outside of your experience and telling someone else, “Look, this is what happened to me and it was bad.” If you hold all of that in, then it can’t be released from your mind, body nor your long-term experience.
Some people might say, “Just get on with your life. Why do you keep talking about that?” I’ve heard it and I know when I repeat my grief it’s because it was that bad and I don’t want it to be forgotten so it won’t ever happen again. So keep expressing it if you must but choose the right venue, such as a therapist’s office. Even your closest of friends might not be equipped with the tools to help you. And they might run away because of it. Or they might say the one thing that you don’t need to hear so it’s best to keep it to the professionals.
Step Four, sometimes legal action needs to take place to resolve the trauma or moving away such as you wish could be the solution for Oleg and his grandmother. Sometimes prime actions need to take place to get away from the situation, if possible. Healing in a safe place is the fastest road to recovery. There might not be bombs bursting around you as in Oleg’s case, but there could be highly explosive emotions that can also threaten a life.
Step Five, once you are safe, acknowledged, and at least on your way to healing, then helping others can be the best final step. By helping others in perhaps the same type of situation that traumatized you, can be a way of symbolically shutting the door on it ever happening again. It’s a way of confirmation too. When you help someone that has been through what you have been through, you both confirm each other’s experience. You make it known and agreed upon. And you both feel heard. Helping someone else through a bad time gives you an opportunity to speak about what you know, advise others on what you have learned, and can lead to finding a solution for all.
Change happens best by those that know the subject most. There is also a satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment when you help someone that has suffered what you have. It can create a sense of overcoming and stomping out whatever it was that hurt you. And that is very liberating. It can also be a way of working through whatever residual affects you might still have, and help the other person recognize things that they might not have noticed about themselves.
Truth be told breaking down that shaky wall covering your trauma is the best thing that can happen, albiet when the time is right. Recovering from trauma should be gradual and need not be rushed just to say you’re over it. But for now, you can work on being ready to heal. Otherwise, you won’t be fully open to receive good things with that high wall up to protect you from the possible bad. It’s kind of like blocking the good forces of the universe because you aren’t being authentic to anyone. Even the universe doesn’t recognize you. Drop the camouflage and you will actually be kinder to yourself.
Here’s to hoping this post helps someone. Always seek professional advice in these matters. I’m not a licensed professional so this post simply includes suggestions.