Death is a hard stop.
We know in our heads that human bodies are fragile and vulnerable. The possibility of death co-exists with life. Our own life. People we love. People we know. It is not possible to live with that knowledge at the top of our awareness so it moves to the background, a knot of fear in our gut that we avoid feeling.
Then death comes close and it stops us in our tracks.
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Someone near to me experienced that this week. A chain of events, of actions, inactions, all led to a moment. A moment in which lives changed forever. A young man who died. A mother who lost her son. The people who were with him the last hour of his life.
It feels unbelievable that this commonplace chain of events had this tragic result. If only this … If I had … If I hadn’t … If I knew … In our conscious mind we can work it through and know we did not cause it.
We have trouble accepting it because we so desperately want a different outcome! Our mind compulsively ruminates about what we could have done differently. What he could have done. Should have done! The cold clench of fear knowing it could have been two lives lost. It steals our breath.
There is a truth here. A tragic accident with a result that cannot be changed.
It is helpful to understand the basics of trauma response
There has been a trauma and it is normal for our system to respond in a range of predictable ways.
Just like with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), the brain needs to heal.
Our nervous system and brain have their own intelligence and it is helpful to align ourselves with that.
It is natural for us to be in shock, for our experience to be up and down, go from chaotic to numb, tears or anger, feeling shut down or swamped with intense feelings. Our response feels out of our control. It reinforces feelings of fear and powerlessness.
We might sleep for hours or not be able to sleep.
Flashbacks are images of the event and can be intrusive and upsetting. This will resolve with time.
Events like this are highly dysregulating to our nervous system and can show up as catastrophic thinking and disturbed sleep. It can feel like our thoughts are torturing us. Thoughts of previous trauma may be triggered in addition to present events.
Trauma is somatic, it happens in our body. We need to heal through our body.
Healing happens on many levels and through many layers of the mind body. We have many ways to nurture healing.
There are steps we can take to support ourselves in staying present, allowing the trauma to move through and support full recovery and healing.
- Make room in your schedule for sleep and healing
- Pull in your support networks to be with you. Ask for help. What you need will change moment to moment.
- Insulate yourself from further trauma in the days immediately following
- Go for walks, get a massage, eat nourishing food, have a friend stay with you while you sleep. Ask for what you need.
- Create as much stability as you can. Yes to mindless tv, comfort food, Epson salt baths. No to alcohol and drugs.
The circle of support flows from those less affected towards those more affected. We are all affected by tragedy. People in middle layers give to people in the inner layers and receive support from outer layers.
Don’t lay the burden of supporting you through this on the person in the center. Let support flow in one direction, especially as they get through the toughest first days after the event.
Supporting Your Body
- We all resist pain. Tightening up against overwhelming pain contributes to it being stuck in our body.
- Move your body to encourage energy to move. Walk, dance, yoga, relax, breathe, reiki, massage, swim.
- Sweeping Breath or Blue Star deep relaxation practices
- Drink plenty of water.
- Breathe fresh air. Walking outdoors in a safe, peaceful setting is ideal.
Tools and Supports
- Box breathing for a quick reset when you are feeling hyper aroused or going into panic
- Tapping and Tracing to release catastrophic thoughts
- Sitting With Energy Feelings and Sensation
- Inquire: Am I Safe in this moment?
- Standing Down for 3 Minutes
- Learn more about your mind body nervous system in these playlists Start Here
Avoiding powerlessness with the power of anger and blame is natural. We want so much for this to not have happened. Notice if you are lashing yourself or someone else. Use the above practices to tune in to the feeling and energy of it. Use tapping or tracing on the thoughts. As you can, open yourself to feeling the anger and also the grief and sadness.
Kindness and compassion are key to getting through this and to our health and happiness. Continue to work with letting go of judging and resistance to your experience as it is right now. We are human. We are not perfect. We have regret. Try these:
What Does the Heart Know Hugging Ourselves Deserving Kindness
Healing after a traumatic event is a process with ups and downs. Learning about trauma and your system helps you to know how to best support yourself and others closer to the tragedy, to know the extremes of normal response, and to know it will not always feel this devastating.
We will never be the same. A hole has been ripped into the fabric of our life. We struggle with accepting this new reality that should not be! And yet it is. A sudden, tragic death knocks us off our feet. It can plunge us into the depths of despair and fear. Give yourself permission to ask for help. Bring your hand to your heart and feel the warmth. Allow yourself comfort and compassion. These are difficult times.