Don’t think you’re weak because you’re not healed.
Painful experiences and trauma are triggered at the most unanticipated times. I still drive past McDonalds where I took my mentees to catch up on life and offer guidance, and I feel a deep sadness. I leave work and often have the urge to dial my friend who passed away, as I used to do during my hour-long commute. A noise wakes me up from my sleep, and my mind races with flashbacks (it happened again last night). My initial reactions are to think these feelings are silly, and to repress them.
Healing isn’t getting over what you went through; it’s learning to live with the new normal. Now when I experience sadness, triggers, or “post-traumatic stress,” I have a couple of friends in my community that have allowed me to call, text, or stop by. Your friends are not going to heal you, but they will listen to you tell your story. Each time you share your feelings, you take another step toward healing and knowing how to more effectively manage your loss.
How Your Group Can Help Those in Trauma
You may not have experienced a traumatic episode that affects you day-to-day or week-to-week. In this position of emotional strength and spiritual depth, though, you can help those in pain and trauma with some basic sensitivities. Here are three intentional ways you can help those in your community dealing with difficult experiences.
My small group provided me a target on the calendar each week. I knew that if I got to Sunday afternoon, I could verbally process with them, and they would listen, pray, and individually check on me. I didn’t need answers. But, I did need the group—each group member—to hear me and grieve with me. What they needed from me was to not keep my emotions bottled in.
Remember the details.
People remember the details of their traumatic experience to great detail—the anniversary of when it happened, where they were, what they were doing, what time it was. How many times have you heard someone say, “I remember exactly where I was when the plane hit the World Trade Center”? I’ve made it a habit to reach out to the family of my lost friend at special times—six months after we lost him, on his birthday, and when our beloved Chicago Cubs won the World Series, for example. You can be sure that if someone has gone through something traumatic, a simple text saying, “I’m thinking of you today,” or a coffee invitation to check in will be a salve on an open wound.
I’ve had newer friends step in to cover some of those gaps that have been left from my past community shifting over the last year. I know things won’t be the same. In this extended time of transition and healing, I have hope for the new memories we will make and traditions that will be started.
Give assurance and speak the truth.
At times, I have defaulted to a defense mechanism response of “It’s not a big deal,” or “I know I need to just get over it” to protect myself from reliving pain. When I vocalize these responses, by God’s grace every time I have had a friend gently (or, not so gently in cases when my attitude requires it) correct me and assure me that my feelings are not out of the ordinary and I’m not healing “too slowly.” One friend said, “You are not allowed to be hard on yourself over this.”