Coming Back from Trauma; Processing Grief
It was spring break. The kids were excited to get away for some outdoor activities and I was looking forward to the much anticipated family time.
We had just arrived in Grand Junction – the first stop in our thoroughly planned road trip to Moab – to visit a dear friend we hadn’t seen since the pandemic hit (with an outdoor picnic, of course).
But as we pulled up to greet her, our well intentioned, joyful plans turned stoic when she came running out to ask us if we had heard what was going on in Boulder.
Almost simultaneously, my phone began buzzing with notifications about community school lockdowns as I continued to listen to her explain what happened.
For a moment…the world seemed to have went into chaos and yet, it felt like it completely stopped at the same time.
It simply didn’t feel real.
Now that’s been a few weeks, the gravity of what happened that day in March at the Boulder King Sooper’s is slowly sinking in.
It’s been nothing short of traumatic. And if I am in need of healing from the grief I’ve been experiencing, you may be as well.
The following is a q&a I recently did on trauma and healing as we all begin to process what happened to 10 beautiful people in our community and how we will live with this devastating event the rest of our lives.
Can trauma be experienced even if you are not involved in the actual incident?
There has been extensive amounts of violence and unrest we’ve collectively witnessed throughout this past year, resulting in grief for many of us.
Whether we were there ourselves, knew someone who was involved, were in the vicinity of where it took place, or just watched it on television, we can all experience trauma from it. And the closer it was to hitting home (such as knowing someone who experienced it or it happening in your own town), the more traumatic it can be.
How do you know if you are dealing with grief from the trauma?
It’s different for everyone, however, there are some common symptoms and behaviors.
First, it is not atypical for your brain to go into a protective mode in which you rationalize why you aren’t outright (or shouldn’t) be grieving.
You may compartmentalize what happened in order to clear your mind enough to go to work, get the kids to school, and put dinner on the table. This is helpful to continue functioning at first (but keep in mind that it doesn’t mean you have processed what happened).
You also may have feelings of guilt due to not being at the incident or for being grateful you or anyone you know weren’t hurt.
In addition, anxiety, depression, and mood imbalances are frequent emotional effects as well as feeling overwhelming emotions at unusual times.
Can grief and trauma show up physically?
Many times, I see this with:
- unexplained pain
- sensitive stomach/digestion distress
- sleep disruption
- stress hormone imbalance
as well as other odd symptoms that aren’t easily explained.
My practice in naturopathic medicine is mindful that unprocessed feelings or emotions (from recent times to long ago) can be a source of many health issues.
How can grief and trauma begin to be processed?
During and after trauma it’s normal to feel numb, not believe things actually happened, and be overwhelmed with it all.
Don’t turn away from these feelings!
You may find that all of a sudden you are taken aback while driving, or want to cry during your daily run, or even have a mini-breakdown at work. This is a clue to lean in.
It’s ok and healthy to feel vulnerable at times – our entire community may be feeling just that right now so it’s even more understandable if this happens.
Listening to your own thoughts and to those of others and reflecting on what happened can be one of the most therapeutic things you can do.
Find space and time to do this by:
– fully feeling any fear, uncertainty, and vulnerability (there is nothing “wrong” with these)
– writing about your feelings
– talking with others
– walking and thinking
– writing a poem or playing a song in honor of others
– lighting a candle in respect
And if you have more energy that needs to get out, try getting involved in a community project or support local organizations that you believe in. Turn the negative into something positive.
It’s okay to still be in shock of what we experienced just a few short weeks ago. Our community has been shaken, our safety and wellbeing questioned, and our goals for the future uncertain.
But we can get through this – by honoring what happened and processing our own grief…one heart at a time.
For those in the Boulder or Denver-metro area who need support dealing with grief (from the recent events or from past experiences), please call me at (720) 340-0193 or send me a message here for us to connect.