Each year, as February 15th rolls around, I begin my cycle of reaction: Nightmares. Flashbacks. Anxiety. Irritability. Hypervigilance. Anorexic tendencies. Picking at my skin. Crying easily. Constant frustration. Driving recklessly. It's all so familiar, yet there's little that I can do to stop the array of reactions from worming their way into my functioning life.
As February 15 approaches, I long to be Proactive. "This year," I tell myself, "will be different. I will gain control of myself in only positive ways." Then, as if right on schedule, my post traumatic stress symptoms march inward to the beat of yearly repetition. Once again, Proaction has become Reaction.
If you are a survivor of any type of traumatic event, whether it be a natural disaster, a sexual attack, a violent relationship, even the loss of a loved one, you and I are kindreds. We may have different symptomology, but we are inherently the same. We must fight every year to try and win the epic battle we lost on that fateful date that binds us to it forever.
Over the years, I've discovered some small but significant ways to lessen my reaction to my anniversary date, and I'd like to share them with you, in hopes that one or more of them might work for you. I'm not a psychologist or a doctor or a person with any professional qualifications. I am simply a survivor, and in this case, I believe that's enough.
Try 1 or more of the following ideas to help you get through the preceding weeks up through the inevitable day of the anniversary:
1. Find a trusted friend and tell them how you're feeling. Tell a doctor, a friend, a counselor, a neighbor. DO NOT let youself go through this alone.
2. Find positive coping techniques that work for you and use them when you are in distress.
a. Wrap up in a comfortable blanket; put on soft pajamas
b. Light a candle and drink some hot tea
c. Carry a smooth rock in your pocket. When you're feeling upset, reach in and feel it's strength.
d. If you feel yourself mentally "leaving the room" try naming the objects around you (ie. lamp, vase)
e. Carry a small notebook everywhere you go. Write down those negative, scared feelings.
3. Make sure you are eating at least 3 times a day and are getting enough rest. When we are emotionally upset by a traumatic event, our body's resistance wears down. It's a lot easier to catch illnesses that way.
4. Plan to do something positive for yourself on your anniversary date.
a. Get a new haircut
b. Get a massage or a facial
c. Take yourself shopping
d. Stay home with a friend and watch comedies
e. Have a friend "kidnap" you for the day and keep you busy with fun activities
5. Write yourself or your anniversary date a letter. I promise this helps. I've included my own below as an example.
“Dear February 15th,
I can feel you looming. I can feel you in my bones. You're a part of me now. You have been for 7 years.
I used to be terrified of you. I used to cry and bawl and shake and fear you. The terror would start months before you were even in sight. I consciously knew you were coming and I waited for the worst.
I used to be angry with you. I was pissed that you even existed. I was mad that you had such an effect on me and my life. I subconsciously knew you were coming for months ahead of time, and was very conscious of you beginning January 1st. With fists clenched, I waited for you.
Now, I vaguely think of you on and off. It started in mid-January. With less than a week to go, I just feel sad. I'm not even sad in the sense that something so horrible happened to me. I'm more in mourning for the innocent girl I used to be. I'm sorry that she ever had to feel such a loss of control and the feeling of having her safe world disintegrate before her eyes.
It's not your fault that you exist, just like it wasn't her fault it happened to her, just like it's okay to admit that I am her."
Please always remember that although you may feel alone as the sole survivor of a horrible day, you are never alone. Family, friends, and other survivors can be there for you if you let them.
Eden (edensurvivor at yahoo dot com)
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