The process of recovering from trauma is often a long and difficult one. It can be hard to know what to expect or how to measure progress, but the four stages of trauma recovery and healing can help guide the journey. The first stage is safety and stabilization. This process involves creating an environment where the person feels safe and secure, both physically and emotionally. This process could include finding a therapist, developing healthy coping skills, and managing triggers.
The second stage is remembrance and mourning. This stage involves acknowledging the traumatic event or events that occurred in the past, as well as any feelings associated with them. It also includes processing any grief or loss that may have resulted from the trauma. The third stage is reconnection with self and others, which involves rebuilding trust in oneself and relationships with other people. Finally, the fourth stage is integration and transformation, which consists in taking all the lessons learned during recovery and using them to create a new life for oneself.
Safety and Stabilization:
Safety is an essential part of the trauma recovery process. Without feeling safe in your body, environment, and relationships, it can be challenging to process traumatic experiences. Creating a sense of safety that allows you to relax enough to trust the therapeutic process is essential. This does not mean guaranteeing perfect safety, as this is impossible; instead, it means creating sufficient safety that allows for progress in the healing journey. Creating safety can involve many different things depending on the individual’s needs and circumstances. For some people, this may include finding a safe place to live or developing healthy boundaries with others. It could also involve learning to recognize and respond appropriately to triggers or developing coping skills to manage stress and anxiety. Whatever steps are taken toward creating safety should be done with care and compassion for oneself. With enough effort and dedication, it is possible to develop a sense of security that will allow for further healing from trauma.
During my own trauma journey, the safety stage was both short and simple, and also long and complex. The simple part took a couple of weeks and meant simply feeling secure that I would survive my injuries. The doctors had informed my family that I would likely not. One of my brothers had flown into town with a dark suit in his luggage for my funeral. I lived and the next stage in regaining safety was more complex given the overwhelming pain I experienced for months. It is difficult to feel safe while in pain, which is why pain relief is so important to full recovery.
Acknowledgment and Grief:
Acknowledgment is an essential step in understanding and healing from traumatic experiences. It is necessary to recognize that something has happened to you and was not your fault. Acknowledging that something has happened can be difficult, especially if you have been trying to deny or ignore the experience for a long time. This stage involves gathering information about what happened, talking to others who have gone through similar experiences, and seeking professional help.
The acknowledgment stage can be difficult as it often involves facing uncomfortable truths about yourself and your situation. It may involve coming to terms with the fact that you were wronged or hurt in some way, which can be painful and overwhelming. However, this is an essential step in the healing process as it allows you to understand what happened and how it has impacted
your life. Acknowledging trauma is also necessary to cope with its effects and move forward with greater resilience and strength.
In my case, I acknowledged what happened quite easily - it was a massive train derailment. Not my fault and there is nothing I could have done. Acknowledging the extent of my injuries was another matter. I held on to the unrealistic hope that my bones would heal in a couple of months and I would be back to my old self. It took a very long time to accept the painful reality that healing would take years, that I would have many future surgeries, and that my body would never truly be the same.
Recovery for me also required that I allow myself to grieve. I felt guilty grieving because I had lived when eight others had been killed in the accident. But gradually I realized that gratitude and grief are not incompatible. I deserved to grieve my own pain and my own loss of independence, and I could do so without dishonoring those who lost their lives.
Reconciliation, Rebuilding and Reconnection:
Making sense of your response to trauma is an essential step in the recovery journey. It is a time to recognize and honor how your mind and body jumped in to help you survive.
This process should be done under the guidance of a competent professional, as it can be triggering, tender, emotionally overwhelming, and panicky. The goal is not to feel good about the traumatic experience but rather to make peace with both your immediate response, as well as the longer-lasting effects of the trauma. A deep understanding of how our bodies and brain try to protect us can be the key to learning how to “dial down” that hyper-vigilance when the danger has passed.
It is important to remember that this process takes time and patience. It may involve revisiting painful memories. It may also include exploring new coping strategies or developing healthier relationships. Ultimately, the goal is to create a safe space to explore these experiences without feeling overwhelmed or judged. With the right support system in place, this process can lead to a greater understanding of yourself and your responses to trauma, which can ultimately lead to healing.
My process of reconnection was focused on honoring my body and re-learning to use it and listen to it in new ways. This broken body screaming in pain was the body that saved me, and there were things I could do to take back control. Recovery only came with patience, dedication to physical therapy, medication adherence, and the humility to embrace yoga, deep breathing and various other mindfulness techniques that I had previously belittled. But very gradually, I regained a sense of agency over both my body and my life.
Integration and Transformation:
Integrating the experience of trauma is the capstone of the healing process. This involves taking the lessons learned from the traumatic experience and finding ways to incorporate them into your life in a meaningful way. Maybe this involves a new commitment to family and friends, or to helping others, or perhaps it’s a new job or new hobbies or just new habits.
Transformation is recognizing how you have grown and changed as a result of the trauma and being intentional about deploying the new coping strategies that you have developed as you go forward in your new normal.
In conclusion, safety, acknowledgment, reconciliation, and integration are essential steps in the healing journey after experiencing trauma. Safety is fundamental. There is no recovery without a sense of safety. Then, acknowledging that something significant and traumatic has happened is necessary for accepting and honoring your experience. Understanding your response to trauma can help you make peace with it and develop healthier coping strategies. And fourthly, integrating the experience of trauma into your life can lead to a greater understanding of yourself and your responses to trauma, which can ultimately lead to healing.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, overcoming trauma requires us to learn to be compassionate with ourselves. Survival is hard. Post-traumatic growth is a real phenomenon, and you deserve to feel a survivor's pride.