Author of the book Night, Elie Wiesel, in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech stated, “I remember: it happened yesterday, or eternities ago.” This quote holds true for many who have survived terrible tragedies or traumatic events in their lives. Often, survivorship and healing after trauma are long and personalized journeys, individualized paths of learning how to live a meaningful life after surviving trauma or tragedy. Each person’s life trajectory is unique, and however painful that journey may be, hope, renewal, and healing are possible.
The young, frightened mother who huddled in the basement with her infant during a tornado as debris swirled around them; the young man who survived a tragic automobile accident in which friends did not survive; or the child who witnessed a terrifying shooting in her neighborhood – these are all examples of individuals who have survived traumatic events. To hurt emotionally after experiencing a tragedy simply means that you are human. To process the traumatic event, heal emotionally, and move forward in life may be difficult, but it is achievable. When disaster or trauma strike, the immediate impact and after-effects of the event can feel intensely frightening, anxiety-provoking, and often life-changing. Earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis — as well as bombings, shootings, genocide, sexual assaults, domestic violence, child abuse, and traffic accidents — these natural disasters and manmade traumatic events can invoke feelings of fear, anger, anxiety, and grief. Many times, victims and those around them feel a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, as they could not control the traumatic event nor did they have a way to prevent it from happening. They may blame themselves for the disaster or traumatic incident, even though they are not to blame. When feasible, victims and observers of trauma need to feel safe and protected immediately after the trauma occurs to help them regain a sense of safety after feeling so threatened in such a personal and direct sense.
Children, adolescents, and adults may all experience the impact of trauma. Some people may be easily startled after hearing the sound of cars backfiring or doors slamming. Others may have terrifying nightmares or immobilizing flashbacks of the traumatic events during the day, sometimes when it is least expected. Seeing images on television or online that remind victims of the trauma may be difficult for victims to view. Each person’s experience, and each person’s reaction to that experience is unique.
Immediately after a tragedy occurs, people may experience acute stress that is a temporary period of adjustment after surviving a trauma. If symptoms such as hypervigilance, flashbacks, and nightmares continue for a prolonged time period, they may be experiencing symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress. These traumatic events may alter the course of peoples’ lives and can be emotionally painful- but working toward feeling better after surviving a traumatic event is important. Traumatic life experiences can alter peoples’ lives and can be extremely emotionally painful. It is normal to feel emotional pain after something very frightening happens. Though it may take time, recovery is achievable. Everyone’s healing journey is unique, and is customized to his or her own circumstances including the impact the tragedy or traumatic event has on his or her life.
After trauma, some people may seek the comfort and support of friends or family members. Others may find solace in spirituality or their chosen faith. Some may benefit from meditation, yoga, exercise, or spending time in nature. For those creatively inclined, creative outlets such as storytelling, drama, music, art, or writing may be beneficial to themselves and other trauma survivors by releasing and sometimes, when desired, sharing their trauma related story to assist them and other survivors in moving forward toward healing and personal growth. Some may benefit from becoming advocates for other victims of trauma or may find meaning through efforts targeted at preventing future tragedies, disasters, or traumatic events from happening again in the future. Yet others may choose various therapeutic interventions with the help of a caring mental health professional.
Every person who has survived a disaster or traumatic event has a personal story of survivorship. And every person deserves the chance to process that story in his or her own unique way, in his or her own time. Healing from trauma is individualized as well, and each person finds what promotes healing for him or her. Sometimes a goal is to lessen, soften, or subdue traumatic memories so people can live today. Seeking solace, comfort, and sometimes professional help when needed after trauma can be beneficial- and can help people move forward toward a healthier, happier, meaningful life.