My best friend died from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident one month before his 21st birthday (and two months before mine). Although others I have loved made their transitions when I was younger, none impacted me like his. I felt that the proverbial rug, my foundation, had been pulled from under me. The day he left was the day my life without him was born. I literally had to learn to live all over again. “Janet, you must get up now and use the bathroom.” “Janet, it is now time to brush your teeth.” “Janet, get in the shower.” There was an inner voice instructing me what to do because I was no longer on automatic pilot in order to perform even the most mundane tasks.
When I was 42 years old and celebrated the 21st anniversary of his transition, I acknowledged myself for having come of age in the context of living without his physical presence. The experience of it was now mature, and I honored him while celebrating my own fortitude in surviving this personal trauma.
The dictionary defines “trauma” as: (a) an injury (as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent, (b) a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury, or (c) an emotional upset.
What if you consider that your traumatic experiences are dynamic, living things? That they are born, live and transition, just like any other living thing? For example, if you lightly prick your finger or are annoyed because the supermarket lines are too long, those traumas are relatively minor and are born, live and transition out very quickly, sometimes in a matter of nanoseconds. Others, like the death of a loved one, may take much more time. I have found that assigning an age to something that has really impacted me has helped me garner a deeper understanding of myself, the impact of that experience, and a true level of patience, understanding and kindness for my own healing process – in other words, true compassion for myself.
The dictionary also defines “compassion” as: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. One example of an act of self-compassion – that sympathetic consciousness we can summon so readily for others – would be to allow ourselves to take whatever time we need in order to heal from whatever happened. Oftentimes we berate ourselves for not getting over things as quickly as we think we should, but just whose time frame are we adopting? It’s obviously not our own, or else the impatience wouldn’t be there. We are so quick to advise others to be patient and let things be okay as they are, yet we don’t extend that to ourselves. It’s like leaving your body and viewing your life from a critical point of view when you would be better served by staying in your body and living your life in the manner in which you live it, without explanation or apology.
Remember to take whatever time you need in order to heal from what happened. For example, if you find yourself crying and missing someone three years after their transition, the experience of living without your loved one is three years old and would be considered, basically, a toddler. And wouldn’t you be patient, understanding and kind to a toddler? Then why not be patient, understanding and kind to yourself as you grieve?
If you’re grieving a recent breakup that is no longer as painful as it was initially, perhaps that event is already middle-aged, or it might be very old and will be transitioning soon. How comforting it would be to describe it in those terms and appreciate how far you’ve come.
You may believe like I once did that in order to move forward successfully, you must simply forget about traumatic things that have happened, that giving them attention keeps you stuck in them. I lovingly submit that giving traumatic experiences the attention they need, just like a growing child, assists them in reaching maturity. By allowing them a voice, allowing them to safely express themselves, they don’t get stuck. They naturally move forward towards healing and wholeness, and you move forward towards healing and wholeness right along with them.