Today is the fourteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, something our country will never forget. I’m imagining that you may have had an experience similar to one I have had several times this week, that of finding yourself in a group of people, sharing where each person was and what they were doing on that fateful morning. The trauma caused by what happened fourteen years ago still affects us. Those who lost loved ones that day or those that were close to the trauma are of course most affected, but to some degree all of us still affected which is why we find ourselves still talking about it.
Anyone who has experienced trauma of any kind knows that healing always takes longer than expected. Those who have experienced trauma also know that when the anniversary of the trauma comes around, even fourteen years later, the waves of fear, anxiety, helplessness, and sadness will often return. This is not a bad thing, as it can provide an ideal time to talk again about the trauma, and talking about it is an important key to healing.
As a pastor and psychotherapist I have had the opportunity to work with many victims of trauma through the years. They have taught me that there are three essential tasks that promote healing from any kind of trauma or loss, one of which I have already mentioned. The three essential tasks are: feeling, talking, and trusting. If you are striving to recover from any type of trauma, this is what you will want to do repeatedly, and if you are helping a friend or family member recover from trauma, you will serve them well by creating a safe space for them to feel, talk, and trust.
The feelings following trauma are overwhelming at first. They can come like waves that feel as though they are threatening to drown the person who has experienced the trauma. The key to working through these intense feeling and to beginning the process of healing is to simply accept the feelings and let them flow. If the feelings are blocked the healing is blocked. Feelings are never right or wrong, they just are and they need to be expressed.
The next task involved in healing from trauma or loss is talking with others about what one has experienced. There are really only two choices here-we can either talk things out or we can act them out. If we don’t talk things out, we will likely act them out by being irritable, violent, withdrawing or possibly turning to alcohol and other drugs. It may be helpful to remember that beneath much of the negative acting out behavior we see in the world is trauma or loss that has not been healed.
Feeling and talking are made possible when we have people in our lives that we can trust. We need to seek these people out if we are in recovery from trauma and avoid isolating from others-a common temptation when we are hurting. Finding a trusted person who will simply listen is key to healing any kind of trauma.
When I work with people who are recovering from trauma my task is simply to create a trusting space where they can feel and talk for as long and as often as they need to. You can create safe places for others as well by being available as an attentive listener for those around you who are hurting. Listening and not judging are key.
Most of us know someone, maybe even ourselves, who has experienced some kind of traumatic loss. What would it take for us to help create places of trust for all of us to feel and talk? For those of us who are involved in faith communities, schools, community programs, etc. what would it take for us to create more places of trust, places where people who have experienced trauma could openly feel and talk things out, rather than acting them out?
The waves of fear and sadness related to September 11, 2001 are diminished for most people, simply because time has passed. There is a saying that “time heals all wounds.” By itself this saying is incomplete, though. Healing does take time, but time alone does not heal all wounds. What does heal all wounds is feeling, talking, and trusting–again, and again.