Touched by Tragedy

On Friday, December 14, 2012 America was touched by tragedy again.  In Newtown, Connecticut 27 adults and children lost their lives and all of their family and friends felt the ripple of fear, anger, loss, and grief.  This type of tragedy unfortunately is not unusual in our society.  Across the country there have been countless mass shootings in the last several decades from Seattle, to Aurora, to Jonesboro and Fort Hood.  These shootings don’t even begin to complete the list of national tragedies.  Each day in America we are touched by other tragedies- a catastrophic weather event like Sandy, forest fires like those in Colorado, California earthquakes, or the loss of military service personnel.

So what do all of these events have in common with a pathological love relationship?  They all elicit a potential trauma reaction in you.  Being touched by tragedy is more than just a little sadness or empathy if you are suffering from the symptoms of PTSD.  When you are exposed to national tragedies your brain registers the event as real, vivid, and live.  Your unconscious brain has a hard time distinguishing what is happening now and what has happened in the past.  When this happens, any event can seem like it is happening to you now.  You begin to sweat, your heart beats fast and your breathing pattern changes.  Your mind flies into survival mode and you may even feel the need to isolate as a measure of protection from harm.

Beyond the physical symptoms are the thoughts that begin to swirl around.  When you are traumatized or triggered, your brain is flooded by emotions and so often these emotions cause confusion and cover up clear thinking.  Your brain links the trigger you are exposed to with the trauma you have actually experienced. So when you feel fear today, you are reminded of your fear from the past.  When you feel sadness today, you are reminded of sadness from the past.  When you feel confusion today, you are reminded of confusion from the past.  These links then drive the thoughts.  Your thinking turns from “that must have been so scary for them” to “I am so scared he will come back”.  Your brain is tricking you.  It might be one of the things about our brain that is “faulty”.  Our brain is an amazing organ and every day it does amazing things.  But when triggered as a result of trauma, it fails us.

Cluster b’s love to keep you out of the present moment.  In your relationship with the cluster b your mind spent many moments outside of the present.  When you were not present, he was in control.  It might have been after a gaslight when he touched you on the arm and your mind when back to the first time he touched you.  It could have been after discovering a text from another woman and he yelled at you for being jealous and not trusting him.  Your mind when back to the first time he ever yelled.  It may have been after he was late for the kids school performance and he brought flowers and a lie.  Your mind went back to the time before when he brought you flowers and a lie.  Each time he took you back, he re-hooked you.  That’s because your mind went back and before you could respond, your emotions had resolved back to peace or calm.  The event was over.  The fear, anger or confusion was over.  You stayed.

Your task is to stay present in recovery.  When you are touched by tragedy after a trauma your task is to stay present.  At any given point in time, you must remind yourself that you are safe and not at risk.  This is mindfulness.  Mindfulness is staying actively focused on the present moment.  It is a skill that is crucial to recovery from a pathological love relationship and it is especially important in getting through triggers related to national tragedies.  You cannot control the outside world but you can control your world.  Take some time for yourself.  Take some time to focus on your environment, whether it be turning off the TV, spending quiet time at home or getting outside to spend time in nature.  Recovery is a process and your healing depends on how well you move through it.  Each day, each week, each year is an opportunity for you to heal-to do better and be better.

My hope for you is peace this year.  And I hope that when peace is disrupted you face it mindfully.