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Understanding Your Experience

“It’ll never happen to me.”

~ by Carly Posey

Then it did. Every traumatic life experience is highly personal and unique. We can compare our trauma to others but that doesn’t help — my trauma is not your trauma, nor yours mine. Getting help is what matters, and we are here to help you find the resources you need to cope with the effects of the traumatic event you experienced.

Regardless of the source or nature of the trauma, getting immediate help is imperative, even if you are not experiencing any symptoms. Talking about it while you do not show any signs will prepare you to identify and cope with the effects of the trauma, if and when they occur. You will also be in a better place to recognize the effects the trauma is having on those who are close to you.

p_gall_img1Our youngest son was in one of the first grade classrooms that was attacked at Sandy Hook. Our youngest daughter was also at the school, attending her fourth grade class. But even the older two children who were not at the school that day were affected by the tragedy. Each was affected in a different way and in varying degrees. They all showed signs of the trauma at different times and needed different coping skills. For example, our oldest son needed to have “family meetings”; our oldest daughter grew closer to her younger brother (the first-grader) and our youngest daughter wanted a return to normalcy as soon as possible.

Of course, our youngest son needed the most support. We found that he needed to be in control of his decisions because trauma leaves you feeling out of control and you need to regain the feeling of control; that’s true no matter how young or old you are. Staying active helped him; football and boxing were great stress-relievers. We had to give all of our children different tools to try, and then see which of the tools was most effective.

In the aftermath of trauma, you have to be patient with yourself and be open to trying new activities to help you cope. The whole family experienced trauma and we had to be aware that we were all going to need help. And our story doesn’t end there. It changes often, sometimes on daily basis and we expect it to continue for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, you are never over the trauma, you just learn how to live with it.

You need to understand that your life experiences before your traumatic event will play a part in how you deal with this life changing crisis. Call it “perspective” or “attitude,” you will need to use the tools you have gained when faced with other challenges in your life. It might be helpful to write some of your strengths down and refer to them when you feel helpless and vulnerable. These will help you heal and cultivate hope, which is crucial in the recovery process. Healing requires deliberate actions similar to those a cancer patient takes when battling that disease. It is the same thing with trauma. You have to fight for your health, mental and physical. Hope is a choice and attitude affects everything.

Coping with trauma takes a team of people: a professional in the field of trauma; family and friends; community leaders; and others who have faced trauma and are learning to cope with it. This is why sharing your experience with others will help you. You never know who you will meet, or who will come out of the woodwork to be there for you. You might lose some “friends” but you will gain others. You will also need resources, patience, compassion, sustained energy, and constant vigilance.

The day of the event will mark a moment in your life history to which you will refer for the rest of your life. It may even be a “personal 9-11.” Just as exactly where you were and what you were doing on that day is forever etched in your memory, the same will be true as you move on from the trauma you suffered. It changes your perspective forever. I have found this to be true. Our life doesn’t look anything like it did before the event. The “after” is our new life. Since we have a new appreciation for this life we have been given, we want to make the best of our “after.” This is our only motivation for starting this foundation and offering the resources found here. We want to do everything in our power to urge those who have suffered a traumatic event to get help even before any symptoms manifest themselves.

The traumatic event is woven into our existence and we can choose to let it define us or we can define it. We have chosen to define it, not in a single moment but in all the small decisions, conversations, counseling appointments, and day to day activities that have shaped our focus on turning this tragedy into a positive life experience. This is our hope for you.