Transitions and Trauma Recovery: Go Slowly!
We all know that trauma survivors like things to move S-L-O-W-L-Y. Quick changes, sounds, sights and feelings can spin us out of control, which is a feeling we’ve learned to mistrust and hate. After trauma, of course, we seek to control our world and surroundings so that we feel safe. This means we put in place coping mechanisms that can look odd to the outside world – and at the very least, restricting and conflicting.
I’ll give you an example: In my own trauma recovery I developed a rather obsessive-compulsive (yes, I admit it!) need to control time. You see, during my trauma time was a huge factor. An element that I could not control, time was very often the arbiter of my pain. As the moments and hours crept by the pain increased. I became addicted to watching the clock as if by doing that – watching – I could somehow get a grip on and control what I was experiencing. Doing this imprinted those traumatic moments very deeply in my mind.
After my trauma (since, of course, that whole watch-the-clock control thing didn’t work out), I couldn’t shake my need to know what time it was, how much time had elapsed and how often I could use time to my advantage versus the disadvantage it had been. For example, I had to plan things out to the very tiniest second. I bought a slew of watches (Exhibit A, the one to the left – doesn’t it look innocent?) so that I could at any and every moment know exactly what time it was. I had timepieces attached to handbags, body parts, clothing and walls. Whew, it’s exhausting just remembering the anxiety.
Letting go of any of your secondary coping mechanisms takes, er, time. Plus, it’s a task and process that needs to be undertaken with respect, honor, forgiveness, compassion and understanding. When you’re working to transition out of any behavior, belief or other action remember:
1 – Going slowly adds to your power and control. It’s common for coping mechanisms to get out of control and actually place you in danger. As you transition out of them doing so slowly and methodically can allow you to increase both your internal power and commitment to the change.
2 – Reach out for support. There’s no reason why transitions in trauma recovery have to be isolating. In fact, they can be immeasurably easier if you tell someone what you’re trying to accomplish and why. Often an outside perspective and input can help reinforce your inner work.
3 - You began this behavior, put in place this belief, took this action to make yourself feel better. Whenever we take away something it leaves an empty space — which needs to be filled. Whatever you’re removing needs to be replaced with a strong, safe, confidence-building and empowered belief, action and, most importantly, feeling. Before making the change discover the replacement so that you can make the transition smoothly.
Trauma recovery happens in processes and stages, in the small moments and the big triumphs; in the enormous feelings of failure and tiny miliseconds of belief. Taking your time to transition through each phase of every part of recovery actually helps you own that piece. By the end of your healing journey, you will be very rich indeed.