Take a Moment to Commemorate…
Amidst many American national holidays in June, honoring people’s struggles to be resilient in the face of ongoing hardship and heartache – the well-established (1910) Father’s Day on June 20 (and fatherhood can be challenging!), the more recent (roughly 1970) Gay Pride Day (now LGBT+ Pride month of June), the brand-new Juneteenth National Independence Day (celebrated since 1865 but enacted as a federal holiday last week) commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans at the end of the Civil War…
…the date of June 15 may have slipped under the radar for many. On that day two weeks ago, the state of California eased many of the restrictions on people being able to gather and hang out safely with other people. My friend Stacey told me of her 12-year-old son (fully vaccinated) suddenly being able to attend an in-person day camp on film production and participate in meets with his swim team, after 15 months of “playing” with his best friend only through video games and texts. 0-100 in 24 hours.
She described the odd challenge of needing to re-set the nervous system, shifting from ever-present anxiety to leaning into joy.
It will take many months for most of us to reset our nervous system as we re-emerge from the pandemic. And for those of us still living with daily harassment, racial injustice, homophobia, it may take more than a few months to find the joy in a new normal.
I’ve often posted here the practice of the Coherent Narrative, a reflective journaling tool widely used in trauma therapy to help people place the experience of any disturbing event in the context of a larger life narrative. I also teach the Coherent Narrative in all of my workshops on transforming adversity into learning and growth. Here’s the link to the free guided practice video walking you through the Coherent Narrative. The full practice is below.
I suggest taking the time to use the Coherent Narrative to commemorate the many moments of resilience you have experienced through the last pandemic year, re-setting your nervous system and laying down a foundation for confidence navigating the re-emergence into the “new normal.”
EXERCISE: COHERENT NARRATIVE
This practice leads to being able to reframe an entire event, or series of events, or a lifetime of events into what’s known in trauma therapy as a coherent narrative. A narrative that includes the trauma as part of the story, but the trauma is not the whole story. When a person can come to a new larger sense of identity and purpose that includes the trauma but is not entirely defined by the trauma, then the trauma can take its place in the story without determining the rest of the story. This keeps adversity boundaried within the larger life.
The coherent narrative is a large practice. I would spend 30-60 minutes creating the coherent narrative, allowing enough time for the reflections and insights to naturally deepen. And journaling, doing a written reflection, is a more objective way of processing experience than talking things through with another person. We’re less likely to be caught in emotions; we can focus on the learning and the meaning.
To begin, identify one specific event you want to work with. Just one. I do strongly suggest for practice choosing an event that you did already cope with; you’ve already processed and learned from the experience. It’s in the past. At least at the beginning, it’s important to work with something where there’s not much risk of being re-triggered. Then you can apply the practice to more and more challenging events.
Here are the prompts for the written reflection:
This is what happened; these were the consequences.
Conscious, compassionate connection helps hold the space for this reflection. Mindfulness and self-compassion can be especially helpful here to be able to come to that observer awareness and acceptance and relate to the event somewhat objectively rather than caught in the trauma response.
These were the resources, practices, tools and coping strategies I used at the time.
Brilliant strategies that kept us alive. Honest awareness and acceptance, so no shame-blame. Claim credit for what you did. Also recovering strengths and resources you did have at the time.
These are the resources, etc. I would use now if I could do this over.
Because there has been new growth and new learning. This step integrates that learning. And rehearsing trains, pre-wires the brain for resilience next time.
These were the lessons I learned, growth I experienced, positive meanings I found.
Taking time with this because this IS the turning point into post-traumatic growth. This is the step that can reduce pain and resignation. You can feel more empowered, recover strengths, develop more self-control, experience more pro-active learning. You can come to believe that you can cope because you did cope.
You have already survived whatever you are working on in this exercise. You can claim handling this much and foresee the day when you will grow and learn and be able to handle anything.
I am no longer afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.
– Louisa May Alcott
This is what I now appreciate because of the event.
This last step is a bit of a leap. It’s not just coping well in spite of the event. Post-traumatic growth is more than coping. It is using the experience of trauma for learning, redeeming, thriving. It’s acknowledging the growth and learning because of the event. This step may take some time also. But it is the hallmark of fully recovering from trauma.