As I watch and read the stories of victims of the recent flooding in Central Texas, I know many are telling their stories over and over. Many volunteers trained in Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) are purposefully spending their time listening and asking questions to help victims tell their stories.
Survivors of a sudden event like a natural disaster, the unexpected death of a loved one, finding out they have a terminal illness, etc. often struggle to “make sense” of their new reality. Even though these survivors might need long-term care, a part of the immediate (and long-term) care involves them telling their story in a safe environment.
Even though a critical traumatic event might only happen once and over a short period of time, the reactions to the trauma can include “shock, denial, anger, rage, sadness, confusion, terror, shame, humiliation, grief, sorrow and even suicidal or homicidal ideation. Other responses include restlessness, fatigue, frustration, fear, guilt, blame, grief, moodiness, sleep disturbance, eating disturbance, muscle tremors or “ticks”, reactive depression, nightmares, profuse sweating episodes, heart palpitations, vomiting, diarrhea. hyper-vigilance, paranoia, phobic reaction and problems with concentration or anxiety”. (APA, 1994; Horowitz, 1976; Young, 1994).
Story telling is a powerful tool that has been used across cultures for many generations. Around a fireplace, a hearth, or a kitchen table, the telling of our stories has provided continuity and transition throughout time. A high-ranking marine officer reported in personal conversation, that post-traumatic stress disorder was unknown among the military until the Viet Nam war because of this powerful telling of stories. Before that time, soldiers were transported to and from war in large transport ships, spending weeks or even months crossing the ocean. During the days of their long journey, it is reported that they played cards by the hours and told their stories over and over and over again. Being safe with others who understood their story and “giving voice” to their fears, pains, terrors and hopes, provided a healing transition for those military personnel returning from war. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3877861/)
Story telling is not only healing for survivors of critical or sudden traumatic events. Also survivors of complex or recurring trauma can find healing in telling their story or even hearing their story told over and over.
We experience this as parents of a child we adopted from foster care. We have learned the importance of telling our son his story, allowing him to ask questions about his story anytime he wants, and patiently working through any reactions he has to the story.
Do you have a story you need to tell?
Many who have experienced trauma suffer greatly because they keep their stories hidden deep within themselves. Fear, anxiety, lack of trust, etc. keeps them from sharing their story. If that’s you or you know someone who fits this description, here are three ways you or they can tell their story:
- Verbally share your story with someone safe. If not a trusted friend who can simply listen and help you navigate your story, then a competent counselor can help. Hearing the audible sound of your voice telling your story helps your brain to reorganize and make sense of the trauma. Usually telling the story just once isn’t enough. So, finding a person or maybe even a few persons that are willing to hear the story more than once is important.
- Journal. Writing your story down on paper or on a computer also helps get the story out of your mind. Personally I think writing the story the old fashioned way, with a pen or pencil on paper, is the best. Something about feeling the words as you write them.
- Blog. Blogging has become a common way for someone who has experienced trauma to tell their story. Not only does the blogger get to share their story of trauma, challenges, and overcoming, but they also many times find community. Blogging allows others who have experienced a similar trauma to connect. Of course, some traumatic events might be too personal to share in such a public forum, but many are very appropriate.
Like the soldiers returning from war before the Viet Nam era, we need to take time to tell our stories. And, we need someone safe who will take the time to listen to our story. Which do you need to do today?