1. Trauma permanently changes us.
This is the big, scary truth about trauma: there is no such thing as “getting over it.” The five stages of grief model marks universal stages in learning to accept loss, but the reality is in fact much bigger: a major life disruption leaves a new normal in its wake. There is no “back to the old me.” You are different now, full stop.
This is not a wholly negative thing. Healing from trauma can also mean finding new strength and joy. The goal of healing is not a papering-over of changes in an effort to preserve or present things as normal. It is to acknowledge and wear your new life — warts, wisdom, and all — with courage.
2. Presence is always better than distance.
There is a curious illusion that in times of crisis people “need space.” I don’t know where this assumption originated, but in my experience it is almost always false. Trauma is a disfiguring, lonely time even when surrounded in love; to suffer through trauma alone is unbearable. Do not assume others are reaching out, showing up, or covering all the bases.
It is a much lighter burden to say, “Thanks for your love, but please go away,” than to say, “I was hurting and no one cared for me.” If someone says they need space, respect that. Otherwise, err on the side of presence.
3. Healing is seasonal, not linear.
It is true that healing happens with time. But in the recovery wilderness, emotional healing looks less like a line and more like a wobbly figure-8. It’s perfectly common to get stuck in one stage for months, only to jump to another end entirely … only to find yourself back in the same old mud again next year.
Recovery lasts a long, long time. Expect seasons.
4. Surviving trauma takes “firefighters” and “builders.” Very few people are both.
This is a tough one. In times of crisis, we want our family, partner, or dearest friends to be everything for us. But surviving trauma requires at least two types of people: the crisis team — those friends who can drop everything and jump into the fray by your side, and the reconstruction crew — those whose calm, steady care will help nudge you out the door into regaining your footing in the world. In my experience, it is extremely rare for any individual to be both a firefighter and a builder. This is one reason why trauma is a lonely experience. Even if you share suffering with others, no one else will be able to fully walk the road with you the whole way.
A hard lesson of trauma is learning to forgive and love your partner, best friend, or family even when they fail at one of these roles. Conversely, one of the deepest joys is finding both kinds of companions beside you on the journey.
5. Grieving is social, and so is healing.
For as private a pain as trauma is, for all the healing that time and self-work will bring, we are wired for contact. Just as relationships can hurt us most deeply, it is only through relationship that we can be most fully healed.
It’s not easy to know what this looks like — can I trust casual acquaintances with my hurt? If my family is the source of trauma, can they also be the source of healing? How long until this friend walks away? Does communal prayer help or trivialize?
Seeking out shelter in one another requires tremendous courage, but it is a matter of life or paralysis. One way to start is to practice giving shelter to others.
6. Do not offer platitudes or comparisons. Do not, do not, do not.
“I’m so sorry you lost your son, we lost our dog last year … ” “At least it’s not as bad as … ” “You’ll be stronger when this is over.” “God works in all things for good!”
When a loved one is suffering, we want to comfort them. We offer assurances like the ones above when we don’t know what else to say. But from the inside, these often sting as clueless, careless, or just plain false.
Trauma is terrible. What we need in the aftermath is a friend who can swallow her own discomfort and fear, sit beside us, and just let it be terrible for a while.
7. Allow those suffering to tell their own stories.
Of course, someone who has suffered trauma may say, “This made me stronger,” or “I’m lucky it’s only (x) and not (z).” That is their prerogative. There is an enormous gulf between having someone else thrust his unsolicited or misapplied silver linings onto you, and discovering hope for one’s self. The story may ultimately sound very much like “God works in all things for good,” but there will be a galaxy of disfigurement and longing and disorientation in that confession. Give the person struggling through trauma the dignity of discovering and owning for himself where, and if, hope endures.
8. Love shows up in unexpected ways.
This is a mystifying pattern after trauma, particularly for those in broad community: some near-strangers reach out, some close friends fumble to express care. It’s natural for us to weight expressions of love differently: a Hallmark card, while unsatisfying if received from a dear friend, can be deeply touching coming from an old acquaintance.
Ultimately every gesture of love, regardless of the sender, becomes a step along the way to healing. If there are beatitudes for trauma, I’d say the first is, “Blessed are those who give love to anyone in times of hurt, regardless of how recently they’ve talked or awkwardly reconnected or visited cross-country or ignored each other on the metro.” It may not look like what you’d request or expect, but there will be days when surprise love will be the sweetest.
9. Whatever doesn’t kill you …
In 2011, after a publically humiliating year, comedian Conan O’Brien gave students at Dartmouth College the following warning:
"Nietzsche famously said, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ … What he failed to stress is that it almost kills you.”
Odd things show up after a serious loss and creep into every corner of life: insatiable anxiety in places that used to bring you joy, detachment or frustration towards your closest companions, a deep distrust of love or presence or vulnerability.
There will be days when you feel like a quivering, cowardly shell of yourself, when despair yawns as a terrible chasm, when fear paralyzes any chance for pleasure. This is just a fight that has to be won, over and over and over again.
10. … Doesn’t kill you.
Living through trauma may teach you resilience. It may help sustain you and others in times of crisis down the road. It may prompt humility. It may make for deeper seasons of joy. It may even make you stronger.
It also may not.
In the end, the hope of life after trauma is simply that you have life after trauma. The days, in their weird and varied richness, go on. So will you.
Catherine Woodiwiss, “A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma” (via qasaweh)
"It is a much lighter burden to say, “Thanks for your love, but please go away,” than to say, “I was hurting and no one cared for me.”"
We need more trauma-informed… Everything.
Go read this. It’s really important.
Be kind to one another.
The apparently unstoppable Dame Maggie reads.
I’m actually going to steal a dear friend’s story here. Mr. D., my friend, used to work at a bookshop in London. Lovely as this gentleman is - and he is the nicest, sweetest man you could ever hope to meet - he simply never got around to reading the Harry Potter books. Not out of any snobbish anti- feels; they just weren’t his bag and he never got them on his brodingnagian reading list. Consequently, he was unfamiliar with the films as well. So one day, Maggie Smith walks into the shop and asks him where the Potter books are. He shows her and asks if she’s enjoying them. “Enjoying them?” she says. “My dear man, I’m living them.”
oh. my heart.
Dame Maggie is all that is wonderful.
Why you should be in passionate horny love with Elizabeth ‘Nellie Bly’ Cochrane
- Born in 1864/65, Elizabeth, one of 15 children, was always ‘the rebellious one’. Fierce as fuck from an early age, she testified against her abusive stepfather in her mother’s divorce trial.
- In 1880 she enrolled in a teacher-training college but had to leave after her first semester due to lack of funding - then moved to Pittsburgh to help run a goddamn boarding school.
- This is where we get to the good shit. Age 18, she wrote a letter-to-the-editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch bitchslapping the everloving fuck out of a sexist ballsack of an article entitled ‘What Girls Are Good For’.
- The editor was so goddamn wooed by her razor-sharp tongue that he RAN AN AD asking her to identify herself. Elizabeth owned up, and was hired instantaneously, her badassery radiating from her pores and intoxicating all within a twenty mile radius.
- Working under the pen-name Nellie Bly, Elizabeth kicked the butts of morons everywhere, writing articles aimed at social justice, particularly labour laws to protect working ‘girls’ and reform of Pennsylvania’s divorce law, which greatly favoured men.
- Not content with changing the world from behind her desk, Elizabeth became a founding mother of investigative journalism. She was expelled from Mexico for exposing political corruption, and henceforth wrapped in cotton wool by her editors. Infuriated by their mollycoddling, Lizzie left them a note essentially telling them to fuck themselves and hot footed it to NYC. She was still only 23.
- Within six months she was hired by Joseph fucking Pulitzer himself, and continued her batshit crazy investigations uninhibited. Her very first assingment had her feigning mental illness to expose repulsive conditions in Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum. Her cutting report was so fucking horrifying, compelling and persuasive that it triggered public and political action, leading to reform of the institution.
- In the next couple of years she had herself thrown in jail and hired by a sweatshop, all for shits and giggles. Oh, and to uncover incomprehensible injustice, cruelty, poverty, and the concealed, heinous treatment of the vulnerable and voiceless.
- But was pioneering journalism, social revolution and batshit badassery enough for our Liz? Like fuck it was. On a whim Nellie did what any self-respecting 25 year old woman in the 1800s would do - she emulated Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, and did it in 72.
- Millions followed her journey, and its appeal to a semi-literate populace resulted in greatly increased newspaper readership. So while travelling the entire globe (IN THE 1800s, AS A WOMAN) by ship, train, burro and balloon, she helped the world to read.
- Having essentially conquered the entire goddamn universe before hitting 30, Nellie retired, and wed 72 year old industrialist Robert Seaman. Their marriage was a happy one, and after his death she took over Iron Clad Manufacturing Co.
- But Lizzie was a writer, what would she know about the metal industry? Well, she INVENTED the steel barrel that became the model for the widely used 55-gallon drum and turned her inherited businesses into multimillion-dollar companies, so apparently a fuck ton.
- Furthermore, she set a precedent for working conditions, ensuring her workers had good pay, gymnasiums, staffed libraries, and health care, all completely unheard of at the time, while still writing to further the plight of the Suffragette movement.
- Nellie may have died age 58 of pneumonia, but HBICs live on forever.
Um, holy shit.
Wow. Why the hell have I never heard of her before?
Because she’s not a man.
Badassery at it’s finest.
Who wouldn’t want to see that?
I believe I may have feelings about a Black Widow movie.
That would be BAD. ASS.