Staying Calm in (What Feels Like) a S#!t Storm, Part II: The Awakening
As we covered in Staying Calm in (what feels like) a s#!t Storm Part I: Resiliency, there are many times in our lives when we may feel like the proverbial rug has been pulled out from under us. And, waking up after a crisis has its share of good and bad implications. On the good side, the danger of the immediate crisis is over. We can't sleep during active trauma, so the brain and body's ability to sleep signals that we know we will live (assume a caveat here for situations like active war zones, chronic persistent trauma). We also have the bittersweet gift of the first millisecond before we enter the realization of our new day. Maybe it was a nightmare? No. We are decidedly in our reality, and it sucks. Be kind to yourself. Call in, hire a sitter, get your best friend. You may need some help today, and that is okay. I hear clients sometimes talk about not wanting to be weak, or not wanting to feel judged. Needing another human being is the heart of our humanity. Offering an other a chance to love us, to nurture us and hold us up when we just can't on our own is offering a gift to those who love us. It is in this space we seek the quiet within. If your storm has curious onlookers (feeling like front page news?) this will be a critical step. Choose people wisely, and be willing to protect your privacy from those who do not have your complete trust. Be less a sponge, and more of a teflon pan when it comes to allowing external influences to impact you and disrupt your internal calm. Things may still feel quite out of control.
At this time, you may be feeling a confluence of emotions. Numbing replaced by flooding replaced by confusion. It may feel like you are disconnected from time. You may even feel suddenly "just fine" then out of the blue, you cant recall how to drive, or which way to turn. This is a time of potential weakening. You may lose your appetite, your focus, or you ability to regulate. Waves of grief or shock may wash over you. When this happens, allow them to come, knowing they are natural coping mechanisms, and will pass. Even though you may be tempted to, please do not isolate yourself. Even a pet (especially a pet?) can be a huge comfort as you navigate this part of the storm.
This is the time to assess your safety. Depending on circumstance this can look very different. If you have been a victim of a crime, reestablishing security will be important. For instance, if you experienced a home invasion, returning to your home and taking active steps such as changing locks, and installing security can all be helpful. Asking a friend to stay with you for a bit may also help you rediscover your connection to your home. Even asking your local police to do frequent passes can lend a feeling of more security as you adjust and heal from the trauma.
In any crisis, the victim of the crisis determines their needs. Someone may need housing, while another person may need to make sure they have access to medication. Do a quick assessment of your needs. Are you leaving a marriage? Where will you live? What are your resources? What do the children need? If you are leaving a violent relationship, this will be a dangerous time, so safety will be your priority. Once you have outlined your needs, you can begin the process of meeting them. The out of control feeling may begin to wane.
Some of the somatic repercussions of trauma can include racing thoughts or disorientation. For relief, a counselor may suggest cognitive or grounding strategies to help you slow down and reorient. Outside of the therapist's office, using writing or art or music to help you process will help with healing. Here's the thing: Your task will be to process in a productive way. Now, for sure some of the initial processing may not be very productive. There may be a lot of "why doesn't he love me?" or "why did this happen to me?" But eventually, for survival, we will get tired of writing, drawing, or listening with this as the theme. Eventually, we have movement. We move out of the exquisite pain of trauma, and into the pain of a reality that is changed forever from what it was before. Our sense of control builds as we feel the storm pass and return to or create new routines. Through our routines we re-establish a life tempo that carries us forward.