Last week, I shared with you one of the most devastating traumatic events to happen to me in a long time. On a summer evening two years ago, my wife Lynn almost died while I was virtually helpless to do anything about it. The incredible men and women of the Two Rock Fire Department saved Lynn that night, she recovered very quickly, and my partner in love and life was restored to me.
I want to continue to share things I’ve learned in the aftermath of trauma. Two weeks ago, following my post on an accident in which I totaled my Corvette, I mentioned five lessons I’ve been reminded of at somewhat great cost. They are:
- I am not in control.
- I forget too quickly what’s really important.
- “The Tortoise and the Hare” is not just for kids.
- If I “know pain”, I can “know gain”.
- I am human and mortal.
Today I want to add five more lessons from Lynn’s traumatic emergency episode:
1. Life is fragile.
It was clear to me, as Lynn lay unconscious in my arms, that it could all be over, that she might be taken to heaven and I would have to say goodbye to her. In that potentially disastrous moment, I recognized again how truly fragile life is. One moment we can be alive and have the people we love with us, and in the next moment they, or we, can be gone.
2. We are all dependent.
I also was forcefully reminded of how dependent I am on Lynn. I like to think of myself as a strong, capable, and independent person. In many ways, I am. But Lynn takes care of so many things for us, some of which I’m aware of, and some I’m not. She works very hard at maintaining our home and managing our finances, which are important and complicated right now. The day after she went to the emergency room, she was taking care of some business matters from her bed in the hospital. I had no idea about all the things she was keeping track of and staying on top off for us financially. I am very grateful that she is so purposeful and committed, as I am, to our life together.
3. Our lives have rhythm.
This lesson is related to the lesson from “The Tortoise and the Hare” – we tend to try to live our lives too fast. We tend to overshoot that core, basic rhythm that each of us has but may be unaware of. When we’re moving fast all the time, we can stop being tuned in to the pace of life that works best for us. It’s a pace that allows us to accomplish what really needs to get done, while still permitting us to take the time to make wise decisions, pay attention to and discern what’s really important, maintain our health, and sustain our treasured relationships. A traumatic event can strip away all that fast-paced, driven quality that keeps us consumed with all the things we’re so worried about. As we recover, we can regain the pace of life that restores our balance.
4. It’s harder to watch.
When my Corvette skidded out of control on Springhill Road, I knew what was happening to me and how I felt in each frightening moment. I could tell whether the injuries I was sustaining were major or minor. Someone looking on could not have known that I was only suffering a bump on the head and a slight neck strain. When Lynn passed out and collapsed into my arms, I had no idea what she was feeling or what was happening to her. I had no way of knowing whether she was in pain, whether she was suffering a heart attack or stoke, whether irreparable damage was happening inside her or if she would be able to recover. There’s a helplessness that accompanies watching trauma occur to someone else, particularly someone we love. It’s not just that we may not be able to stop what’s happening, we also can’t always know the extent of the crisis. This helps make the experiences of secondary victims of trauma – the observers – so potentially shocking, overwhelming, and intense.
5. Surviving can mean dissociating.
Dissociating is the capacity to distance ourselves from present-moment events and feelings. Our innate, built-in survival mechanisms include the ability to dissociate during highly dangerous and traumatic moments. This concept is valuable to a real understanding of trauma and the process of healing from it, and so I want to devote my next post to a fuller explanation of this aspect of our human nature.
My hope is that these lessons learned from my traumatic experiences will help and inspire you to better navigate these hard times we’re in. As I do with my all my patients, I want to reach out to you where you are hurting and in need. I want to let you know you’re not alone and you can have hope as you learn and apply some of these universal life lessons that I too have had to learn so painfully for myself.