“Shit happens. It can embitter and traumatize us for the rest of our lives, or we can slowly integrate it, moving through its pain as we become simultaneously softer and stronger, wiser and less cynical. You didn’t choose what happened, but you can choose your path now.” — Jasmine Lee Cori
We all need some down time to reflect and foster personal growth and enhance our self-awareness. For those who have experienced trauma(s), utilizing this “down time” is even more essential to their healing. The experience of trauma often leaves people finding that they are easily overcome by feelings of fear, worry, anxiety, panic, and/or sadness. At the beginning of counselling, and even prior to starting counselling, we may not know how to handle these overwhelming feelings. We may find it easier to “stuff” them away and ignore them. While this may help momentarily, it won’t help you heal from the trauma and it won’t enable you to move on with your life. Creating time to heal is a helpful way to work on the difficult experience while also containing those overwhelming emotions.
- Plan a time (no more than 1 hour), in which you will take the time to heal – and make a list of what you could do for your healing during this time. You can do anything you want during this time, such as writing in your journal, talking with a close and trusted friend or family member, reading about trauma and its impact, meditating, working on self-awareness activities suggested by your Counsellor, and so forth. Try choosing at time of day which you know you will most likely be uninterrupted. A time of the day when you feel strong, when your energy is at its highest. NOTE: In the evening or around bedtime is NOT the most ideal time for this type of activity because it is harder to contain afterward and sleep may become disrupted.
- Schedule this time into your day, once or twice per week. Make an honest commitment to yourself to use this time for your healing, and then try your best to stick to the schedule.
- Choose a quiet place where you will have your healing time. Perhaps a room or place where you feel safe, comfortable, and strong. Try to use the same spot each time as this creates consistency – something which trauma survivors have rarely had in their lives. If you are using books or journals, make sure that these things can be kept private from the people you are living with. Make sure to turn off your phone during this time, or talk to the people you are living with to ensure you are uninterrupted.
- Create a ritual around your healing time – doing so will serve to contain it. This means doing something specific and deliberate before your healing time begins and when it ends. After the set-aside hour, the rest of the day is yours to enjoy. The rituals will allow you to move on from this time without the thoughts lingering throughout the day. The ritual you choose will be unique to you. For example, you might want to start your healing time by lighting a candle, and end it by blowing out the candle. An ending ritual could involve closing the book you were working in and putting it away. An ending might involve making a cup of tea for yourself and listening to your favorite music. Ending rituals that get you moving have many benefits, also. These might include doing some stretching, or going for a walk – something that will instill a physiological sensation of calm, or strength. You could even end your healing time by washing your hands, or talking a shower – both of which can be symbolic of washing away what you were just thinking about and letting go for today. The beginning ritual clearly identifies that your healing time has started, while the ending ritual plays the part of clearly identifying you are finished for now.
- It might be helpful set a timer to indicate when your allotted time is up. This way you will be able to better concentrate – and decrease the likelihood that you sit and constantly watch the clock while working through your chosen activities. When your time is up, take an additional 5 minutes or so to finish off what you were doing. Tell yourself that you made progress and that that is enough for one day – be positive and kind to yourself. You have most likely experienced enough abuse throughout your life that you do not need to be perpetuating it by being cruel or harsh towards yourself. If there is something significant that you had been thinking about or working on, write yourself a note for tomorrow as a reminder of what you want to focus on then. Be sure to write it down, as this clearly removes the thought from your mind and decreases the likelihood that you will be ruminating on it for the remainder of the day.
- Incorporate containment strategies between healing times. For example, throughout the day(s) until your next scheduled healing time, if thoughts or overwhelming emotions arise, write them down on a piece of paper and put that paper in the place you are using for your healing time. What you are telling yourself is this: “My healing time is over for today. I understand that this is important, that this emotion has meaning and is telling me something – but this is not the time for it. I will make a note to myself to deal with this during my next healing time, but I will not let it take control of me right now”.
- Remember that a new habit doesn’t take root overnight – it takes time to embody the change and the healing you desire. You may find yourself at first writing many things down throughout the day to “put away”– or you may find yourself repeatedly writing the same thing down, and that is okay. You are now in the process of training yourself to deal with the hard stuff on your terms. Doing so enables you to maintain strong problem-solving skills throughout the day and will assist you in feeling emotionally in control.
…And One more Thing to Always remember:
Be patient with yourself. At first this may be very difficult, so stay in contact with your Counsellor or a supportive friend or family member. The more caring people you have on your side encouraging you the better. Remember that trauma is something that happens to people, it doesn’t define who you are as a person. You deserve to live a life in which you are free from emotional turmoil and upset. Allowing yourself specific time to heal is a strategy that can enable you to achieve that. At first you may feel as though you have nothing to work on. You might just sit and stare at a blank page and feel unproductive. That is okay. Try a free writing exercise: this is where you put your pen to paper and just write whatever comes to mind without stopping. Research shows that by doing this, eventually what is bothering you will come to the surface. Or, you could start by looking at a picture that triggers certain memories of the trauma. You could also talk with your Counsellor about a starting point that fits you best. We are all unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Healing is a slow process – bearing this in mind may help you keep a realistic perspective of your own process.
Healing from Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding your Symptoms and Reclaiming your Life, by Jasmine Lee Cori