Crisis and Trauma: When the Present Collides with the Past
On May 6th, 1976 right around 9pm the ground began to shake. I lived in northern Italy and I was six and a half. I was at home with my 3 year old brother and my grandma. My parents were on their way home from work.
The building we lived in shook for what felt like an eternity. I didn’t know what an earthquake was but I knew that houses were not supposed to shake. Because of her age, my grandma froze and the three of us huddled in the dark kitchen, until my father came to get us.
I remember the yelling, the rushing, the panic. We didn’t have time to take anything with us. That night we slept in our car in a nearby field with lots of other families. I can still remember the confusion, agitation and the sense of being displaced. One moment we were at home safe; a moment later our house was no longer safe.
Over the years, I seldom thought of this event. Then 20 years ago, during a small earthquake in Ashland, I sprinted out of the classroom, to the confusion and amazement of my friends and professors. That experience was still in my body!
Fast forward to September 8, 2020 when our valley went through the Alameda fire. After we had to evacuate our home, those memories came back vividly – the sense of loss, displacement and confusion. It was fascinating how my system was offering those older memories as a way to hold them, witness them and heal them.
Back then, the adults were busy figuring things out and no one was explaining to the little ones what was going on. We needed someone to say that we were okay, that it was going to be okay, that eventually we were going to go back home, that our feelings were okay. When my 6½ year old self appeared, I chose to slow down, to listen, to tell her those things she needed to hear back then.
It is so easy to dismiss past experiences when we are dealing with a brand-new crisis, but our body never forgets. Our body remembers through sensations. It tries to keep you safe.
This year we are dealing with crisis upon crisis. It would be surprising if it didn’t bring up emotions from the past. How can you slow down and listen to your body wisdom, so you can heal and keep moving forward? Practice the 4 A’s of Internal Emotional Attunement:
Awareness — through a daily mindfulness practice you can become aware of your body. Examine with curiosity, but without judgment, what you are feeling. Travel to your past for the memory that first made you feel unsafe.
Acceptance — the practice of accepting whatever we feel. Deeply feel your feelings. They don’t make you less than. They’re not a reason to experience shame. Your feelings are legitimate. Welcome them, since they are trying to give you important information about yourself. But don’t get stuck there…
Attention — giving the part the attention she needs. When a Part of you is speaking, pay attention to it, like I did for my 6½ year old self, by stopping, listening and telling yourself what you need to hear.
Attunement — connect the past with your immediate needs. Try my Tea Time Exercise. It’s a wonderful tool for creating internal harmony.
Be patient with yourself as you practice these things. It takes time to hear what your body is trying to tell you. I’ll be sharing more articles this month about handling crisis. I’m finding it’s a need for my community and myself. To ensure you don’t miss any self-leadership tips you can subscribe to my monthly newsletter and please reach out to me on my Facebook page.