“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle.
I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.” – Mother Theresa
I got an email today from someone who read my Feeling Empty blog post who was looking for some help on what to do when you experience trauma and are looking to come back from it. I wanted to share with you some of the things that I shared with her and some additional thoughts as well. This is a bit long, but I think it’s worth the read. If you don’t care about my story and just want the hints on how to get out of your own, then skip to the paragraphs with titles.
I have some experience in that having had the year from hell last year with my landlords going into foreclosure and forcing us to move, the IRS auditing four years of my taxes, finally finding a new place to live and holding my breath for the end of the chaos only to get a call from the sheriff’s office the day after the move was done to inform me that my mother had died unexpectedly. Then I had to fly to Wisconsin to take care of the house and funeral arrangements and came home to a crumbling relationship with my partner of 2.5 years which resulted in a breakup. And I ended up with a chemical depression brought on by taking too much calcium and vitamin D at the same time which I didn’t catch as being out of place until I was beginning to have suicidal thoughts because my mother had just died, and I was supposed to be depressed. Oh yes, and my father had quadruple bypass surgery and a month later had to go back in to have it repaired – and he didn’t tell me until a couple months later. Oh, and did I mention that there was a chance that I might have had cancer in there as well? I was so stressed out from the rest of my life, that I barely even registered that little morsel at the time. It was a hell of a year.
Any one of those items in a single year puts me on the map for being a 10 out of 10 on the stress scale for the entire year according to most medical professionals. Needless to say, all of them at once left me screaming “uncle!” at the universe, begging for mercy. And I’ve spent much of this year in recovery. I couldn’t think straight for a period of time. I couldn’t function at all for some time. I couldn’t make forward progress for a time. And I just didn’t have the energy to do anything but get up in the morning and turn on the TV and sit for hours in front of it. My body was in shock. My energy field was in shock. My mind was in shock. And it took a while to come out of it. It took a year for everything to fall apart. And it has taken almost a year for me to feel like I’m getting back on my feet again. But it’s been a challenge.
So when I tell you that I know what it’s like to experience overwhelm and to feel like you have no path to feeling anything other than overwhelm and complete desolation, I know what I’m talking about. I looked up the symptoms for PTSD recently and I had most of them (which is common for people who have a loved one die unexpectedly). And I’m feeling better now.
Get a Therapist
The first thing I did was to get a therapist. There was so much going on in my life, I just needed someone whose job it was to sit and listen to me as I emptied it out to try to sort out how I felt about it and what I needed to do next. My friends had also had bad years and so weren’t as available as I had come to rely on and this left me feeling lost and alone with no one to talk to. If I needed to pay someone to listen, then that was what I was going to do. And it helped.
Take Yourself Off Duty
Another thing I did was to stop trying to get anything new done. If you know me at all, you’ll know that this was an extreme measure for me – I’m always doing something new. Instead, I put everything on autopilot and dropped a lot of my life altogether. I also stopped trying to “be there” for anyone else. I gave myself permission to just “be there” for myself. I’m the rock in a lot of people’s worlds – the strong one you can always count on. And I needed to count on me for a while.
I found that dealing with all the calls around my mother’s estate was too much for me and so I hired people to make some of the calls for me. I also hired someone to help me with the paperwork. I couldn’t motivate myself to get anything done on the estate after my initial push to put the house on the market and another friend pointed out to me that I seemed to have collapsed the shock and grief of my mother’s sudden passing with the tasks associated with taking care of her estate. That realization helped me to separate the two again and be able to make forward progress on settling the estate. (I’m almost there – the house closes next week, now it’s just the taxes and a couple outstanding investments.)
Stop Trying To “Be Better”
But I think the best thing that I did for myself, and the only reason that I am moving forward now is that I gave myself permission to be broken. I let it be OK that I couldn’t do anything and that I spent more time in front of the television than would be healthy in a normal world. My world was not normal. It had been shattered and me along with it. I needed time to come to grips with that and to integrate the reality of my new situation. I’m grateful that I had the resources to just stop doing for a while and just be with myself. I think this, more than anything else, is what has allowed me to process last year’s insanity so quickly. (And yes, a year to process all that I went through is actually a speedy recovery.)
Eventually, You Need to Stop Telling Your Story
This is the first time I have spoken in detail about last year in about four months. I offer it to you, not from my own need to tell my story, but to illustrate to you what I have been through and come out the other side of so that you can see what you have been through and how you might come out the other side too. One of the things that’s important in dealing with trauma is sharing the experience with others so that you don’t feel alone in it. But once you have gotten your feelings out and witnessed, once you have put your experiences into perspective and gotten a grip on how you are feeling now, the benefits to telling your story diminish greatly. In fact, once you have done the healing part of the story telling, continuing to tell the story actually ties you to the past and keeps you from moving forward. Because we associate certain emotions with our story and those emotions trap us in them every time we tell the story again. So it’s important to stop telling the story once you’ve gotten what you need from it. Stop cold turkey. Don’t even reference it. You need distance from it.
Get Back Into Your Body
One of the things I didn’t talk about which helped me get back on track is something that I do naturally but which I find many other people need to be reminded of and that’s appreciating all the joys your body can offer you. When we experience trauma, often our spirits will leave our bodies in an attempt to shield our psyches from the full effect of the traumatic experience. This results in us feeling out of touch with the world around us, like we’re looking out at the world – trapped behind our eyes, unable to connect. We try to reach out to others to connect with them, but we can’t find our way. This is because we can’t begin to connect with others until we can connect with ourselves again first. We must first find our way back into our own bodies before we can use those bodies to connect with another person. Becoming more aware of tastes, touches, smells, sensations, emotions, sounds, and sights – using all of your senses will allow you to re-engage with your physical body. Once you can inhabit your body fully again, then you can hope to find a way to connect with others.
Call Back Your Spirit Pieces
Another thing that happens in traumatic experiences is that we leave behind a piece of ourselves at the moment of the trauma. A visualization where you call back your spirit pieces can be extremely helpful. If you have problems, then you may need help from a shaman who does soul retrieval work to help you.
This Is NOT All
This is what I can come up with off the top of my head in terms of what might be helpful for you in coming back to yourself from being overwhelmed by shock, trauma, or even just long-term overwork. Every person is unique and your mileage may vary. If you try all of this and it doesn’t help, please email me. I’m happy to help.
Open and Receive
Below is a link to a recording of a chant that might be useful for you as well. One of the biggest challenges of being this disconnected is that we forget to receive. This will remind you.
Here is the text of the chant:
In The Flow – by Kelle Sparta
What Gifts do you bring me?
What paths should I take?
What moments are important?
What offerings can I make?
Take me in, lift me up.
Hold me safe to your breast.
Fill me up to overflowing.
Lay me gently down to rest.
I open and receive.
I open and receive.