Trauma, and let’s face it this past year has had some features of trauma, can cause us to lose a sense of context, events blur together, our sense of when and where things occurred starts to lose its crispness and clarity. Add to that, that we have had a real roller coaster on so many levels this past year, health wise and politically and we have a real recipe for overwhelm. Doing something to gain a bit of separation from the past and the future can help us to feel more present.
This past year has opened the floodgates to a lot current and potential fear and anxiety. And we’re not making anything up, in fact, you just couldn’t have made up what this past year has been like, it gives a whole new meaning to “truth is stranger than fiction. For those among us who grew up with alcoholism it’s a real deja vu all over again as Yogi Berra would say. Life has been unpredictable to say the least, very peculiar and often very frightening. Trust in those in charge has been strained and hopes have been both dashed and met.
If we’re people who have grown up with adverse childhood experiences, like parental addiction, the very confinement of COVID can act as a trigger. Feeling trapped and helpless can return us to feeling trapped and helpless in our homes when we were young. We can be more edgy, anxious, angry or sad, we can overreact to current issues and our overreaction can be more intense than is appropriate or fair. Maybe we ruminate about the past, maybe we get anxious about the future. We run into hidden childhood pain that we don’t know what to do with, pain that we hid from as kids and we want to hide from it all over again. And when the people currently in our lives get to us, we can blame old hurt on them, we can see them as the culprit who is making us feel bad. And we can hold them responsible for our old hurt. Help is on the way but there is still work to do, we still need to keep our wits about us and make choices that will keep us safe, healthy and sane.
In recovery we learn to ask ourselves “how important is it”? Well in this case, very important. So anything we can do to maintain our emotional sobriety during COVID, is a good idea.
We all have our private angst however that inner insecurity takes shape. Taking a deep breath, stepping back and wondering if unresolved pain from the past is getting projected onto our relationships today, can be one way to use COVID for post traumatic growth. In Maintaining Emotional Sobriety during COVID 19, I have a chapter on grief so that these hidden feelings can find a voice. Doing these exercises, yourself and giving them to clients to do can help to shed light and lead to insight and change rather than repetition and passing down pain. Resolving to use these next months to grow from rather than freeze with fear, is an empowering way to start the year.
Our best defense against COVID overwhelm is to take it a day at a time, to stay present, to chunk it down and handle only what we can handle today. Another way to create space and a sense of order during COVID days is to find ways to separate past, present and future. This can allow us to see the events of these years as discreet occurrences rather than a jumble of things happening to us. It’s a way of taking charge of them, of bringing the thinking mind onboard so that we can see things with temporary frames around them.
So as a creative way to accomplish this “seeing the events” of this last year as temporary and looking intelligently towards 2021, I have crafted three timelines. [Review these events at the end of the article along with a link to my website and Covid Video Resources].
One represents you before you’d ever heard the word COVID, one represents your experience right now, today and still another gives you a way to deal directly with your ideas about you in the future, you in 2021 or 2022. As you do these timelines, write a letter to yourself before COVID, a letter to yourself at some point in the future and a letter to yourself today, right this moment. And you might consider when you write to your future self, including some of the lessons that you’ve learned through meeting the challenges of this last year that you’d like to hang onto. These are great exercises to do now while contemplating the new year and while saying good-bye to this very unusual time in history. They can help you to aim towards coming out of this past year stronger and more resilient. The processes should shed light and help you and/or your clients to marshal your strength and claim your post traumatic growth.
Check out these resourceful Covid-19 Video Tips: