Coping with Trauma — 28 November 2003
How do we heal? 9/11/01

The pain most people have felt since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 has at times felt intolerable. This national tragedy has impacted all feeling, caring human beings throughout the world. The wound is so enormous, how do we begin to heal?

First came the shock and the disbelief. “It must be a terrible accident, it couldn’t be intentional. – Or could it? Then came the hurt and the anger. “How could so many innocent lives be lost?” “We must find the perpetrators and revenge our losses”.

Then came the grieving. The empathy, love and caring for all those who were lost, their families, their communities. We then united in memorials and prayer.

Some chose the route of heroism. They abandoned their lives and went to help with the rescue operations. They worked tirelessly and furiously challenging their human capabilities in the face of the brutal reality.

In our pain we crave more news and greater details, while at the same time needing a reprieve from it all. Some people report knowing that continuous television viewing and reading accounts of the disaster only compounds their emotionally shaky state, -yet they feel compelled to hear, see and read it over and over again.

Repeated exposure to trauma often numbs us. It is a protective mechanism that spares us from being incapacitated; while at the same time hinders our competency. We may feel less able to function, and our memory, motivation and effectiveness may become seriously compromised. That is normal, yet frightening. Many people feel fatigue, depression, loss of hope, intense fear and insecurity about the future.
“Will we ever function well again, smile and laugh, feel safe, secure and free?”

Healing is a slow and painful process. Recovery from trauma and restoring normalcy are daunting tasks. They do occur, but require time. It is a process- not an event. People often ask:”How long will it be before I feel as I did before?” The answer is: “As long as your system needs to resume emotional balance.” Though it varies from person to person, and though much of the recovery process is involuntary, there are some ways to facilitate our journey to wellness.

® Expect your feelings to fluctuate from deep intense emotions to numbed or uninvolved ones. Honor all of them.
® Talk about your thoughts and feelings as often and as long as you need- to feel relief. Talk is healing.
® Write about your thoughts and feelings. It is a way that helps some people discharge their pain.
® Force yourself to resume your normal routine, even if your emotions feel raw. In plunging into life’s activities, your system experiences relief.

® Do something loving and caring for someone else.

® Return to self-nurturing activities. Do what brings you peace; reading, music, exercise, crafts, etc.
® Spend time reassuring children and others that the future is positive, it helps them and you to regain emotional balance.

Be aware that fear, loss of hope and restricted freedom may be secondary goals of the terrorists. Acting free, hopeful and safe defeats their evil intentions and strengthens us.
Albert Camus put it this way: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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