Trauma is the experience of a situation where one is either harmed or threatened to be harmed or witness to someone else’s harm or potential harm. How we cope with the exposure to the life-threatening situation can define trauma. Some individuals may have no ill effects and carry on life as usual. Other’s struggle through with physical symptoms such as having an intense overactive startle response, difficulty sleeping, and flashbacks that include the replay of images and sensations experienced during the event.
I’ll share with you an example of my own minor trauma that happened a couple of weeks ago. I was at the community centre pool watching my two children age 5 and 3 participate in their swimming lesson. At the beginning of the class, the instructor had them in the water, and I was observing from about 10 feet away. Later on, she gave each of the 5 children a “water noodle” and headed off to the other side of the pool. I was watching and noticed as the instructor was helping another child, my 3 year old was bobbing up and down in the water, struggling to stay above. As the realization set in that she was in trouble I froze… I didn’t know how to respond, who to tell, do I run across the deck? Should I whistle? (I have a really loud wolf whistle) I did stand up and start pointing at her, calling out “She’s in trouble!!” But no one seemed to notice.
It seemed like FOREVER… when finally another instructor of a class next to my children’s noticed her- picked her up and put her on the edge of the pool. There was no crying involved, and her own instructor spent time teaching her how to turn around and reach for the edge of the pool, should she ever fall in again.
As for me, my heart was racing, my thoughts were racing, I wanted to tell anyone who would listen to me about what happened, I was shaking, and on edge for about a week. At night, when I was trying to fall asleep I couldn’t get the image of her bobbing up and down in the water out of my head. I have nightmares of her drowning. This is trauma. What I would call a “little T”. Everyone ended up ok in the end, a “big T” would have been if she had to be resuscitated or worse (which I don’t like to even entertain the thought of).
Fortunately, I have some calming and resourcing skills I teach clients who have endured traumatic events, and knew I had to employ them for my own well-being. It’s possible to recover from trauma and the amazing part of trauma recovery is that in some modes of therapy it isn’t necessary to go back and relive and describe the horrific details. Through my own work I’ve been able to reprocess the trauma; it’s still disturbing to think about, however, I can do it without shaking and reliving the intense sense of panic.
The long-term effects of trauma can interfere with the quality of your life. If you avoid situations or circumstances due to fear, if you have difficulty sleeping, or are plagued with images and flashbacks of traumatic events, therapy can help you develop coping resources and overcome the negative effects of trauma. It’s possible to create a life worth living after trauma.