I’ll admit from the start, this is not an easy post to write. We never know when something tragic will occur in our lives. During this holiday season, we are all moving about, shopping, decorating, and putting together our menus. This time of the year is full of joy for many, a period for celebration, but that doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen. Last week the church I grew up in was set on fire by an arsonist. The reasons and motivations are complicated and difficult to understand. In the end, the action has already been done, it can’t be undone, and the important thing is how to cope with the situation.
On the very same day, a mass shooting took place in San Bernardino, California. Again, we can never predict or fully grasp these terrible events. There will be a host of emotions that surface, some that you may not comprehend or even be aware of. You may feel angry, sad, lost, apathetic, shocked, and sad all within one day. For me, I felt very sad, but also sympathetic for the arsonist because I believe he must have been in pain to express his anger in such a destructive manner.
Over the next few weeks, your feelings will oscillate in unknowable ways. You think you “shouldn’t” feel this way or you don’t want to feel that. Well, our emotions are important. They are there to serve a purpose, so I encourage you not to push them away so quickly. I know that it’s hard to face them at times, but avoidance will not serve you in positive ways.
So how can you begin to heal after experiencing a tragedy?
Experience your emotions when you feel them, pay attention to them, and don’t judge yourself for what you are feeling. Trust me, I get that certain emotions are uncomfortable. When things are painful, we run. I have to warn against this strategy. Those feelings will resurface in other ways. We are looking here to find healthy ways to deal with horrible events. If you’re angry, be angry; if you’re sad, be sad. Don’t get down on yourself, or others that are dealing with hard stuff, for what comes up.
Reach out to others that are going through it. Support during difficult times is one of the most important coping skills you can have. There are also healing properties in the idea of the common human experience. Knowing you are not alone can be extremely helpful. Find someone to share your feelings with and rely on one another for accountability. Check in regularly and you will likely form a deeper bond through this experience.
Acknowledge the ways this is affecting you. Are you having difficulty concentrating or finding it hard to fall asleep? Maybe your appetite has been affected. I had difficulty focusing for a while after I saw some of the photos of the damage that was done by the fire. If you notice that you feel teary eyed easily, that’s good to note as well. These symptoms are likely normal reactions to a traumatic or upsetting event, but if they continue for too long you’ll want to seek professional help. Changes in our functioning can be important indicators about what’s going on inside.
Look for joy this holiday season and find the positives in your life. It seems impossible to be able to find happiness during times of tragedy. But there is truly always something you can find that is going well, a positive experience, or a ritual that fills your heart with joy. This is not meant to discount your feelings, but to help you move forward and prevent sadness from completely overtaking your life. You might have to get creative or work around the circumstances. For example, the church members are meeting in the fellowship hall for church services and are still able to be together to worship. It may not be ideal and could bring up certain emotions for members, but they have found a way to rise from the ashes and come together as a community.
Allow yourself to be present with your friends and family. When you are spending time with those that you love, be present. Focus on the feelings in your body, engage in conversation, and pay attention to what’s going on in the moment. There are times in your life that you will not want to miss, and you don’t want to be off in another world when you have the opportunity to enjoy your present situation.
Life is unpredictable. It’s one of the best aspects of life, but also one of the hardest. Many people feel hopeless when tragedy strikes. There is always a place for hope in your heart. Remember, in order to have a rainbow, there has to be a storm.
If you are facing a difficult time in your life or having trouble moving past a tragic situation, there is help available. Please call me for a free consultation at (832) 827-3288 and I can provide information about counseling and the healing process.