By Johan Kloppers
When a person experiences trauma, it is something that cannot easily be forgotten and in most cases a person will have to learn to take a new path, change the way they think and, in a certain sense, learn to walk again.
Any incident that makes you feel overwhelmed, alone and scared is a traumatic experience and does not always have to be a physical event. It is more about the impact such an event has on you as a person and also how you move forward afterwards.
Trauma and something like the pain after the death of loved ones, lies deep inside every person – it’s like a sore tooth that you try to avoid while brushing your teeth, but every now and then you forget and the pain returns. One’s life changes irrevocably in the blink of an eye and each person deals with trauma in a different way. The amount of time each person needs to process the trauma also varies.
Everything takes time, but even time needs time
When you experience emotional pain, whether as a result of loss or any other traumatic event, you will be able to move forward as time goes by and it may even seem as if you “got over it”, but the fact is that you’re only moving forward with your pain.
It is also important to know that your body keeps track of the pain you are feeling – even if you think you’ve already processed the trauma or you are trying to process it.
The reason why it is difficult to deal with trauma, to think less about it or try to forget about it and why you still experience the emotions and physical sensations, is because it has a cognitive, emotional and sensory impact on you.
Surviving traumatic events doesn’t make you a winner. A person who has survived trauma isn’t someone who pretends with fake smiles or a make-believe busy schedule, but someone who is able to think, live, laugh and love normally again, as they used to do before the traumatic event. Following a traumatic event, you have to decide whether you want to simply breathe or if you want to live.
There are so many emotions when a person’s loved one is murdered, when someone is left behind with a disability, when rape has taken place, or any other losses were suffered due to a crime.
So much is taken away from you and so many unwanted and negative things are added to your life. One’s life changes irrevocably.
Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to work through the phases of trauma in their own time and manner. However, emotional support remains of utmost importance for someone who was affected by crime, although while their life is seemingly returning back to “normal”.
When a person is able to reach the stage of acceptance – which also differs from one person to the next – it is possible for them to go on with their lives and to live the part of their life that they still have left to its fullest. They regain the ability to take on responsibilities and start communicating with people. Their vision of the world starts to broaden, enabling them to consider others and making a difference in other people’s lives – whereas they were previously focused on their own existence.
How long does a normal grieving process last? There is no definite answer to this question and it’s something every person experiences differently, just as the reaction when receiving the news of the death of a loved one isn’t the same from one person to the next.
Every person handles it differently, and every person will go through the process in a unique way. Usually the person has to go through the dreaded first anniversaries – the first birthday or Christmas where the loved one is not present, the first anniversary of a marriage or date of death, and so on.
It is generally accepted that the average grieving process takes about two years. Be patient with yourself, and know that some days are going to be a lot harder than others. You may feel better on a given day, only to wake up the next day and feeling totally shattered again. It doesn’t mean you’re abnormal – it simply means you are an ordinary human being with normal human emotions.
No part of your trauma and/or loss is a choice – we have no control over it. There will be longing and there is no way of changing the past. The only thing you have control over is the here and now. It is so important to realise that what used to be (yesterday) is gone; that which is (now and here) is precious; and that which is still coming (tomorrow) cannot be controlled. Be who you are, feel what you feel, act the way you feel you should and just be your unique self.
Johan Kloppers is a victim support counsellor at AfriForum’s Trauma Support Unit.