Most people would agree that trauma is life-changing, but that statement allows for either positive or negative interpretation. When a traumatized individual decides, however, not to give in to trauma but to examine and learn from its impact, traumatic stress can result in positive growth.
First, let’s define terms. Trauma is the result of a traumatic event that caused intense fear, helplessness, or horror. In other words, a person must have experienced something outside the range of usual human experience. Soldiers, first responders, victims of violence, and victims of natural disasters are some of the people who fall into this category. The sudden, unexpected, or violent death of a family member or close friend can cause trauma as well as sorrow.
Symptoms to look for include mood swings (from tears or anger to detachment or lack of responsiveness); hypervigilance (an excessive awareness of danger); changes in eating habits; changes in sleeping habits; difficulty with concentration or memory; nightmares, flashbacks, or panic attacks; and recurring fear in spite of reassurance. These may lessen after several weeks, but if they do not, a mental health professional would probably diagnose Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The word “disorder” implies an illness or disease, but trauma following a crisis is to be expected. It is the normal response of a fully functioning individual who has experienced something not asked for or deserved. “Treatment,” therefore, becomes not a cure for symptoms but a reprogramming of reflexes, a process of teaching someone to deal with the world in a new way. In a very important sense, we are starting over, receiving an opportunity to reexamine everything we know about ourselves.
Regardless of the terms we use, trauma will not be solved overnight. Recovery may be slow, healing will be non-linear, and patience with the process is essential.
The good news? Healing is possible, and acceptance is the first step. Acknowledging where we are doesn’t define, limit, or paralyze us; it simply marks our starting point. It helps to remember and talk about the event. Writing about it in a diary or journal is a good exercise, because good days as well as bad will be recorded and serve as a way of measuring progress. Gain the support of family and friends. Find others who have had similar experiences. Consider consulting a mental health professional. It isn’t weakness to ask for help; rather, it takes strength to recognize our limitations and act to deal with them.
We cannot change the past, but we can focus on the future and the things we can control. For example, we can take care of ourselves physically with regular exercise and healthy meals. We can find comfort in adhering to a routine; the sameness of mealtimes and bedtimes is reassuring. We can develop constructive ways to release anger. A personal or quiet period – at least fifteen minutes each day – can give us time to pamper ourselves, learn something new, or simply read, pray, or meditate.
Looking for one more patient, non-critical listener? A family pet or stuffed animal can be a reminder of a time when we felt safe and cared for. Even those with a strong spiritual faith occasionally need something tangible to hold.
More good news? Resilient people will heal faster, and resilience isn’t genetic. It is a human quality that can be learned and nurtured. Relying on our support system and considering recovery a challenge rather than an impossibility are ways to enhance resilience. Addressing spiritual issues can give meaning to our endeavors. It is possible to reach the new normal to which psychologists and crisis counselors refer.
The best news? Greater understanding of ourselves leads to greater understanding of others. Experiencing and recovering from devastating events can produce greater compassion for others. Finally, resolving to help others who face similar difficulties may result in a new mission, a fresh purpose for our lives.
Here’s what a recent review said about The Witness:
Friday, March 1, 2013
The Witness – Naomi Kryske
Released July 2012
Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth
You have no idea how hard I’m kicking myself for not picking The Witness up earlier. The Witness is one of the most riveting police procedural novels I’ve read. I was captivated by Jenny and the detectives and officers working hard to keep her safe.
Scotland Yard detectives never expected to find a victim alive. After finding Jennifer Jeffries wrapped up in a carpet, the victim in a line of brutal rapes and murders, they thought for sure she was dead. Then the lead detective, Colin Sinclair, finds a pulse. As London’s doctors work tirelessly to save her life, Colin hopes for the best. She’s their only chance at finding the killer and bringing justice for the families.
Jenny does survive, but she’s been cut apart, raped, beaten, and left with tremendous physical and emotional scars. She identifies her attacker, and now faces the biggest challenge of her life, she must remain in police custody, separated from her family and friends who are back in Texas, while Scotland Yard builds a case and prepares her to testify against the son of a man with plenty of power.
The Witness is a stunning novel. It captures the devotion detectives have to their job, but also to Jenny’s struggles emotionally and physically. It’s impossible not to feel for this poor young woman, and to cheer her on as she learns to move over her hurdles and trust in Colin to know what’s best for both her welfare and the case he desperately wants to close.
This is the first in a series by Naomi Kryske. I simply cannot wait to read her forthcoming novels. She’s an amazing author.