19 Aug 2020
I want to start off by telling you a story…. It was a cold wintery day when a woman puddled through the snow into my office. She looked tired, withdrawn, and completely exhausted. How she presented didn’t match her outfit however, she wore many colors, prints, and fun jewelry. Taking a look at her I could just tell that she put a lot of effort into how she presented to the world. Within the first few minutes of hearing her story, I could tell that she has experienced trauma in her life, the kind of trauma that most people don’t survive.
The more she shared about her childhood abuse, experiences with addiction, abusive relationships, and currently her abusive marriage, I felt a sense of compassion rise within me. To be able to bear witness to her pain and darkness felt like an honor. Week after week she consistently came into my office with the same withdrawn look on her face, tired of fighting against the world. I knew then that my primary job was to sit, be present, and create a safe space for her to process. It took many months for her to start to see that she didn’t deserve the treatment she was receiving from her husband, stepchildren, and the way she viewed herself.
We worked tirelessly on healthy versus unhealthy relationships, how trauma affects her body, how trauma responses are normal and natural since our bodies want to either fight or fly away. We worked on rebuilding her from the ground up.
I remember, it was a sunny spring day and she walked into my office and said she was finally done with the abuse at home and with her marriage. To know that she had built up enough courage and self-esteem to know that she deserved better warmed my heart.
This next phase of treatment was my favorite. I saw a completely different side of her; that withdrawn look on her face dissipated, and she had a look of true resilience. She was able to look me in my eyes, she sat more upright on the couch, and even once in a while, had this beautiful smile that I knew would light up a room.
Once we created a safety plan on leaving, she got an apartment with her daughter, left her husband, got a second job to pay for her apartment, and was finally safe. We worked together for another year on her independence, how to create healthy relationships, and how she can start to love herself for the first time in her life. Currently, she is thriving, she finally is at a place of happiness and fulfillment.
When I think about trauma, I realize that for my client and really for all of us, 2020 has been a rough year. We are all experiencing some form of trauma, we might be feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty coping.
First, I want to explain what I mean when I say we’re all experiencing a trauma. It is defined as a stressful event or incident of a threatening nature, which is likely to have a pervasive impact on anyone who is experiencing it. A traumatic event is characterized by a sense of horror, helplessness, serious injury, or the threat of death. Trauma can be cumulative, or it can be a one-time event, it changes how we view the world and it changes our brain.
COVID-19 is considered a trauma, it has left our country feeling a loss of control and insecurity about the future. When we feel we are out of control over our lives, internally and externally, we start to panic. Given the epidemic, we had to practice social distancing, wear masks outside of our homes, and be mindful of our exposure to the outside world. This was specifically isolating for all of us given we could not stick to our routine schedule or socialize with friends or family. On top of the isolation, this was also triggering for a lot of us because our bodies went into fight or flight mode. We felt like we were always on the look-out for danger because we were concerned about getting sick ourselves or our friends or family members getting sick. We also felt we were in danger because we didn’t have hope for the future because there wasn’t any certainty in what professionals were reporting.
Our ability to cope and adapt to this “new normal” was not an easy task for anyone. We as a nation were just getting our barring’s until we experienced the news about George Floyd. This on top of what we were already experiencing, was a whole different type of trauma. This left our nation feeling scared, unsafe, victimized, and hopeless. If you are struggling with intense or painful reactions or experiencing changes in sleep patterns, an increase of anxiety or depression.