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What Helps Me Process My Trauma

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I am a school shooting survivor, and for a long time I found it incredibly difficult to describe what it was like to experience trauma. That is, until one day it hit me. Trauma is like a hole in a wall. Please, let me explain.

• What is PTSD?

You are in your home, your fortress, your safe space. Somebody enters your home, maybe it’s a total stranger, or somebody that you know and trust. That person then punches a hole in your wall. You are upset and angry at first. Then it hits you how bad the hole looks. You have to cover it up. You have to fix it. You find a beautiful picture. You strategically place it over the hole to cover it up. You think it looks great, but people start to ask questions about why there is a picture hanging there because it’s just a weird place to hang a picture. It looks out of place. You tried to cover up the hole, the trauma, but people begin to see through it. They begin to see the pain. You tried your best to deal with it on your own, but you decide it’s time for help. You call the best carpenters and painters. They fix the hole. It took some time, like, a long time. But, the hole is gone. It looks great to everybody else. Nobody can even tell there was a hole in the wall, but you will always know there was hole in that wall. The trauma will always be there.

The person or thing that caused your trauma took away your sense of safety. It hurt you. It made you feel all kinds of feelings that you didn’t want to feel. I have found with trauma you will often go through at least four of the five stages of grief. The first four stages are denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. The final stage is acceptance. You may never accept the trauma. And that’s OK. I often find myself cycling between the first four.

My trauma broke me. I have many symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some days I can manage it on my own, and some days I cannot. I want the trauma to go away. I don’t want to have nightmares and flashbacks and anxiety anymore. But, that trauma will be with me for the rest of my life. That is very difficult for me to accept, which leads to me cycling through the first four stages of grief constantly.

The school shooting was the hole in my wall, the biggest hole by far. I am “fixing the hole” every day. It’s taking a long time to fix this hole in my wall, just over five years now. The wall may never look perfect ever again, and that’s OK. I will always know there was a hole in the wall. I won’t ever be able to forget that. But, there are so many people who will help you clean up the drywall dust, and help you paint, and hang new pictures.

Some days you don’t feel like trying to fix it, and that’s OK too. It’s OK to sit there and stare at the wall with anger. It’s OK to be sad about it. It is OK to feel your feelings. Feelings are important.

And if you experienced trauma of any kind, I am so sorry that there is a hole in your wall. But please don’t forget that you have an entire wall that you can fill with paint, and pictures, and shelves with nicknacks. Please, don’t let the hole bring the whole wall down. Please, don’t let your trauma destroy the rest of your beautiful, amazing life. The hard times won’t last forever.

Getty image by Rawpixel

Originally published: March 28, 2023
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