Traumatic grief, part 4 of 5

Uncover, discover and discard

Have you ever dug to the back of your fridge and found something in there that was once a food item, but it’s turned into a creepy-looking science experiment? Guilty as charged. When one of those little fuzz-filled jars is hiding at the back of the fridge, we need to (1) uncover it by moving other things out of the way, (2) discover what it is—even though sometimes it’s hard to tell, and (3) discard it—pronto. Sometimes I look at those things and think: How long has that been in here? Then I look at the expiration date. Wow. If anyone else was standing beside me at the time, I might be embarrassed; but since it’s just me and the jar, I give it a quick toss into the trash can and all is well.

In today’s post, we’ll learn about some of the things that trigger the PTSD symptoms found in Traumatic Grief. And at the end of this post, we’ll learn about the three big healing steps for Traumatic Grief: uncover, discover and discard. Each step brings us closer to our destination: Peace.

Let’s return to counselor and Traumatic Grief expert Liz Taylor and her insights as we continue our tour of Trauma Town.

The sights, sounds, smells and timing of trauma
People with Traumatic Grief have PTSD-like triggers—things that trigger the symptoms common to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which include flashbacks, hypervigilance, nightmares and being easily startled. Liz tells us: It might be a [sound or a] smell. Liz was abused by her father. When she heard someone rattling the change in his pocket or smelled Old Spice cologne, that would scare her, and she would go into her fractured mind. (We’ll cover that issue—the fractured mind—later in this post.) The effects of that are very, very deep, almost at this unconscious level.

Sounds of war
When a guy comes home from the military, hearing a car backfire sends him into that memory of being shot at.

Hurricane trauma
The same thing happens from hurricane trauma; seeing the trees move, that’s a precursor to the hurricane. Liz and her colleagues worked with some people who’d been through Hurricane Katrina. Burning popcorn smells like burning flesh. The smells and sounds of water would trigger flashbacks. Sometimes some of the most insignificant things—like rain, sounds, smells…. The visceral body reactions are amazing.

When people respond with immediate dislike for you
In groups, I talk to them all the time about people’s immediate dislike for you, [people who suddenly feel] uncomfortable in their own skin. [Their] reactions are due to memories of something that feels [disturbingly] familiar. They haven’t connected the dots to it.

Liz believes that probably nine out of 10 people are hiding some kind of Traumatic Grief. You never know their story. We become masters at hiding the pain. People get triggered by what others say. We have to be aware.  

Time of day and weather conditions
For many people, PTSD triggers are connected to the time of day or weather conditions of the original trauma. That happens day or night [—the triggering of PTSD symptoms]. Sometimes their traumas happened in the dead of night. It depends on when the trauma happened—whether it was raining or was in the dead of night.

The watches
I had a client who had three sons. She wouldn’t let any of them wear watches. It made her nuts. During therapy, she had a flashback that that *tick,* *tick,* *tick* was what she was hearing when she was being molested. When she understood where that fear came from, it got fixed. That takes some time.

Peaceful Readers, is there something in your life that you haven’t understood, and you’d like to do some digging to understand it? Does the sound or smell of something in particular scare you or make you extremely uncomfortable? A great counselor can help you uncover the origins of this fear and discomfort as part of The Healing Journey.

Denial, disassociation and healing
I think this next truth from Liz explains many things. After you read it, please pause to reflect on it deeply.

If it’s a traumatic event, I have a vested interest
in not feeling it, because that’s the only way I feel safe.

Yes, a traumatic event or series of events can feel like a haunting—something you absolutely must hide from in order to protect yourself.

At the beginning of the next paragraph, I’m going to restate the important truth from Liz that we just read, so you can experience the smooth flow of information on our tour of Trauma Town.

The fractured mind
If it’s a traumatic event, I have a vested interest in not feeling it, because that’s the only way I feel safe. That’s the fractured mind, where you have a lot of disassociation: In my mind, I leave the room. I’ll be sitting there and [this person] may sound like or smell like or act like somebody from my past or I’ll have a flashback. I actually emotionally leave the room.

When I’m little, my mind will fracture. I will have part of my childhood buried, and [I’ll choose a pretend person named] Barry [who] will come in and take me out of the room so that pretend person can feel the feelings. [Another time, it may be a pretend person named Mary, etc.]

When I’m in a treatment facility for drugs and alcohol, [the goal is to] reintegrate my selves to the adult [self] who can now take care of all this, without relying on these pieces of my mind. [The client can understand:] “That was then. I’ve processed through it.” And now the adult self can come in and I learn how to deal with any new traumas that come up. As it happens, I can deal with it.

The waterfall ~ an image of dealing safely with new traumas
I’m a big guided imagery person. (Please read the addendum/warning in part 2.) [I have my clients] close their eyes, and imagine walking along the river bank and they can hear the rushing water—the powerful sounds of a waterfall. If I get close to the sound of the waterfall, that’s the way it feels when I’m in the middle of a flashback. Liz talked about the natural fear of falling in and drowning. I have to stop those feelings somehow. If I can walk down that little mountain and see the waterfall [right in front of me], I can walk behind [it] and stand under it and feel the water washing gently over me. If I’m dealing with a trauma as it’s happening—the tears, the ability to breathe—that’s the waterfall washing gently over me. I’m crying. It’s washing over me. I’m looking at it right in front of me.

If I stuff it and wait 20 years,
it’s going to be harder to uncover, discover and discard.

Healing from traumatic grief: Uncover, discover and discard
Peaceful Readers, when I met with Liz, the statement she just made grabbed me. I asked her to repeat the end for me: uncover, discover and discard. You may remember it from this post, when I wrote about The Long Good-bye.

This is what those actions—uncover, discover and discard—mean to me.

♦ Laying down The Heavy Baggage of Denial
♦ Bringing secrets into the light
♦ Admitting what happened

♦ Remembering the trauma—looking it in the face
♦ Expressing and dealing with the feelings
♦ Acknowledging the impact

♦ Reframing the experience by seeking and finding the truth about who I am
♦ Saying good-bye
♦ Leaving the trauma behind and walking forward, in healing and peace

Peaceful Readers, have you been in denial about your need to grieve a loss or trauma? If so, all three of these areas—uncover, discover and discard—will apply to you and what you need to do, whether or not your loss/trauma meets the definition of Traumatic Grief (which includes PTSD-like symptoms).

Coming next: The final part of this post ends with an important list from counselor Liz Taylor: The Five Myths of Grieving.

Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: Daniel 2:22

Song for Healing: Enjoy this song to the very end. The words at the end are the key to why I chose this song for this post: “King of My Heart” by Kutless.

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