Most of us at one point or another have faced challenges. If we were to be perfectly honest with one another and ourselves (who just happens to sometimes be the hardest person to be authentic with), we would admit that we have been through some type of trauma. Whether it be past, present, physical, or emotional we carry this experience with us. For many mental health counselors, we with a lot of individuals who refuse to acknowledge their trauma. Sometimes it hurts too much and seems unbearable to address. Others believe if they pay the slightest bit of attention to it that it will take control and they will be defeated. What many fail to recognize is that the power does not lie in the traumatic event. It may feel like that; however, the true power lies in the ability to relive the trauma, accept its role in our life, and move forward.
It sounds pretty, doesn’t it. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was just as easy do to it as it was to say it! No, I am no stranger to understanding that good ol slogan “easier said than done”. There have been many sessions where I sit and laugh with my clients over the conundrum of practicing this. Humor me, though. Think about it. Whatever traumatic even lies in your past, or maybe even your present, this is my biggest hope for you and it lies in 3 simple steps: that you can go from recounting your trauma, to remembering it, to reliving it.
- Recounting your trauma:
f I was to make a terrible joke, I would say that this would be like reading off your least favorite restaurant menu. No passion. No feeling. Just stoically recitation the daily specials on the dollar menu. Good thing I did not make the joke. Moving on. When we recount our trauma, we speak as if we are a third-party member. We state the facts of what has happened from a logical and rational perspective, or as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy calls it “rational mind”. There have been several times in therapy we sit and witness someone recount a terrible life event or experience with this type of expression. As soon this is noticed in therapy, the real work can start and it further attests to the strength of our clients! I also know anyone willing to tell you their story is also willing to heal from it. This leads us to remembering.
- Remembering: Ouch, what was that? I forgot about that detail. I did not realize that I was only 6 when it happened. Or maybe, for you, it was the little pang of fear that you thought you buried that is just now rising to the surface when you talk about it. This is what we like to see in therapy as we continue to explore and put words to the traumatic experience. No, counselors are not psychopaths that relish in your pain; rather, we know that this pain means that the client is connecting with themselves more and is beginning the integration process of healing and recovery. This is a great step in the right direction and it is important to highlight to clients that just because it is uncomfortable does not mean that it should be avoided! But once there is a transition between recounting to remembering the little details, we are just one step away from reliving.
- Reliving: I feel numb. I feel hot all over. I am scared. I am sweating. I am shaking. I am crying. I feel pathetic. I feel alone. I am not okay. All of these are common statements to hear when an individual reaches the reliving phase. It is a full body experience. Flashbacks may occur, tears are present, and it might be impossible to get the words out. It seems awful, but in a lot of ways it is one of my favorite things to witness with clients because I know it means they are reconnecting with their past self and grieving for that person in trauma. They are allowing the healing process to do what it does best: to flow. It can look pretty bad. The trick of it is that it does not mean that it is bad (similar to being uncomfortable).
When we allow our bodies to go from simply recounting to remembering to reliving, you are giving yourself grace and the space to heal. Healing looks different and, in some ways, we never end that process. We must continue to make ourselves a priority and focus on our recovery and life after trauma. You are worth more than you realize. You are worth more than the lies your trauma has taught you. You are worth pursuing peace.
Hanna Cespedes is a counselor working on her PhD at Mercer University located in Atlanta, GA. She is currently working within private practice and hopes to serve her local community through promoting awareness for mental health in all walks of life and breaking the stigma surrounding serious mental illness.