We Need to Feel to Heal
Nineteen years following 9/11 and the trauma still lives and breathes—my personal story.
The anniversary of 9/11 arrived as it always does. Only this time, something would be different. I already knew that in addition to avoiding social media (SM) to protect myself from reliving the sadness and grief of that day, I would need to block it completely, usually for days. In time, all the graphic pictures would fall in their ranking and disappear from my view.
As an empath, it is more than unpleasant for me to look at the graphic images of that ill-fated day. I can feel the emotions. And, along with millions of others, I too was traumatized on that day.
I remember one anniversary quite clearly when I saw a picture posted on Facebook of the victims, both falling and jumping to their deaths from the World Trade Center. I, and a few others, took a stand and insisted that the post be deleted. I explained that individuals who had been traumatized from those events could have their trauma reactivated by seeing this image. To help drive my point home, I asked if she would show pictures of a rape scene or serious accident to someone that had suffered through such an event. I prayed her answer was “no.” Whether or not I got through to her, I will never know, but the post disappeared. Maybe she unfriended me. Either way, I was satisfied with the result. I decided that day, the best thing for me was to entirely step away from SM around the anniversary of this tragic day, and I have done that for many years now.
Then, yesterday afternoon, it happened. A friend sent me a text message to let me know that there would be a memorial service in our community. Interestingly, the image with the information came through to my phone three times, while on his end, it said, “not delivered.” If you know me at all, you know I believe nothing happens by accident.
And that’s when it began. The memories came flooding back as if it were yesterday. The first memory that flashed into my brain was of seeing the smoke in the sky from the Twin Towers. I lived just forty-five miles away from Manhattan. My eyes began to well with tears.
Like most everyone, I remember exactly where I was that day. I was teaching. I worked as an applications instructor at a tech school in Princeton, NJ, when word of the attacks arrived. My employer, a retired Marine Colonel, refused to let us leave. I recall yearning for the security of my home. Looking back now, I suspect it was my boss’s military training that motivated his decision to keep us in the building. One fellow instructor was frantically trying to reach his sister. She had planned to be at the Towers that day. Eventually, the treasured sister was found safe, and we were allowed to leave.
Once at home, I watched as the media replayed the horrific scenes from all the crashes over and over for hours, even days. All of it was incomprehensible to my brain. Outside, I could see the fighter jets flying fast and low over my home. Looking up at the bottom of a fighter jet that you know is armed and ready to defend has no comparison to watching a military flight show. My world became surrealistic.
In the days that followed, I learned that hero Todd Beamer, who led the “Let’s Roll” takeover of United flight 93, was a neighbor. Todd, only 33 years old, his wife, and two young children lived about eight miles from my home and attended a nearby church.
As more memories flooded into my mind, and the tears rolled down my face for the next few hours, I realized that I had unresolved trauma. Resolving this would require more than to hide from SM. It became clear that there was much more here than I realized.
I was astounded as I began to understand what it was that I needed. Wow! I help my clients resolve trauma all the time. But what if it is so deeply hidden that you don’t even know that it is there until years later when something happens to trigger it? Did I miss the signs? Probably. Luckily, I know what to do to heal my trauma.
“As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself…
— Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score
Bessel van der Kolk, a leading expert in trauma, asks his patients to notice and describe feelings in their bodies. According to van der Kolk, it’s not always what you would expect; things such as fear, anxiety, anger, hostility, rage, etc. Often, it is simple things such as muscle tension, numbness or tingling, feeling empty inside, and such. Once identified, the work can begin.
What does all this mean to you? If your life isn’t working out as planned, if some things seem to be a constant struggle, if you have a chronic illness or simple body aches and pains that have no other explanation, you could be suffering from unresolved trauma. You may know what the trauma is, or it could be buried so deeply that it may never be identified. The good news is there are ways to discover it and resolve it – processes that are highly effective and relatively simple, and that won’t involve remembering and reliving the experience.
If any of this has resonated with you, then I encourage you to seek help, whether it is with another practitioner or me. Please do it now because life is for living to the fullest and you deserve to be happy!
In closing, I’d like to thank my mystery friend, “E” for allowing me to discover what was hidden. You gave me a gift!