When disaster re-ignites past trauma, reach out

Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes the cause is visible and sometimes it is not.

The bushfires blazing over much of eastern Australia, including my beloved childhood region of East Gippsland, are sparking trauma for many people.

The losses mount. Lives lost. Possessions lost. Livelihoods lost. Essential services and infrastructure lost. Small rural communities lost. Domestic herds, forests, wildlife, decimated.

When a disaster such as a monstrous fire is uncontrolled, people may feel powerless, helpless, and afraid. The normal everyday coping mechanisms seem inadequate.

We are fortunate in Australia to have fantastic emergency services and trained volunteers who pitch in and help at times like this. Offers of assistance have come forward from all sectors of our Australian community and from overseas. We remain a very lucky country.

We feel deeply for those whose lives have been lost and support is being offered to those who no longer have a home to go home to, or a workplace to go to, or a car to drive, or a friend to visit. It won’t be easy. Everyone will have their own way of working through the trauma and adjusting to their new situation.

The purpose of this post is to encourage you to open your diary, or a notebook of any sort, write the date, and let your thoughts flow. Your thoughts may flow like a meandering river that is near the ocean; let them flow. Let your thoughts out onto the page. Do this daily and more often if you are feeling nudges of helplessness or loss.

I say this because people who have experienced any kind of trauma in their life, may find that the bushfire situation has re-triggered their pain, their loss. “Loss” is not always something tangible or visible. Loss can be a deep sense of emptiness, a hole in one’s soul or heart that we find impossible, perhaps, to fill. We learn to cope and get on with life, but then, a disaster where others are encountering great losses, may reopen our own pain and sadness.

Reaching out for help can be difficult to do. Great courage is required to share with your family, friend or doctor, “Those bushfires have made me feel very anxious; they have opened up old wounds in my heart and in my soul; they have caused me to become very unsure of myself.”  But if you are feeling this way, this is what I encourage you to do. I also encourage you to share your writing with a person you trust. In this way, this trusted person will gain a deeper understanding, and will be in a better position to help you to gain a healthy perspective on thoughts that are racing through and clogging your mind.

Trauma comes and goes, like the waves on the seashore. When it comes, we need to embrace it, share it and know that it will go.

We can learn skills to help ourselves when feeling traumatized and scared. I have felt a sense of loss these past few weeks as the region settled by my forebears in the 1880s, and successive generations, has gone up in flames; has become ash.

But the fire itself was not the main cause of my triggering. No. It was the reminder of the loss of my family of origin due to my eating disorder, decades ago, that sparked fresh waves of sadness and grief. Writing about it helps.

I know I am not alone. Some readers have made contact, sharing how the fire tragedy has re-ignited their feelings of trauma from past losses. I feel deeply for you all. We are in this together.

If you are suffering, I encourage you to reach out to someone who you trust and who will listen to you; someone who will not judge you and who can assist you in accessing the support you need and deserve right now.

Ask yourself, what can I do to help me?

This is a grand time to practice being our own best friend. Yesterday, apart from walking with my Staffy Maisie and grandchildren, I spoke with several friends on the phone and, for a little self-pampering, made an appointment for a manicure. Later, as I sat with a line of women, each of us having our ‘nails done’, I soaked up the small talk around me, laughed at the jokes, and felt a sense of belonging, of validation. I came home feeling lighter and brighter. Everything was not perfect but seemed much more manageable through reaching out and connecting in the world.

Often the little things we do, for our self or others, matter the most. It is always okay to ask a friend, ‘R u ok?’

Write to me about your experience with trauma and loss. Write to june@junealexander.com

 

June Alexander

About June Alexander

I have written nine books about eating disorders since my recovery (my “reconnection with true self”) from anorexia nervosa and other long term mental health challenges in 2006. In 2017, I graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy (Creative Writing). My contribution to the eating disorder field was recognised at the 2016 Academy for Eating Disorders International Conference in San Francisco where I was awarded the Meehan/Hartley Award for Public Service and Advocacy. I am currently a co-chair of the NEDC Steering Committee Evidence of Experience Group, a foundation steering committee member of the annual World Eating Disorders Action Day, and an Advisory Panel member for F.E.A.S.T.

All articles by June Alexander

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