Painful memories at a certain time of year
What are some wise ways to deal with the anniversary of a traumatic or painful time? Three years ago, I had a tragedy in my life that I have mostly managed to work through. But around this time of year, when the date of it rolls around, it creeps back in to my consciousness in subtle ways. Unfortunately it happened over a holiday weekend that is widely celebrated where I live – people are generally off from work and school, and often ask each other “so what are you doing over such and such holiday?” I would like to be able to answer without flashing back to memories of being in the emergency room, etc. Thank you.
To begin with, it is totally understandable and natural to revisit traumatic times when their anniversary rolls around. It is also possible to put away pretense and respond authentically when someone asks, “so what are you doing over such and such holiday?” A reply such as “it reminds me of some rough times I went through recently so I am going to be rather subdued” would be an honest answer that does not divulge much or put the owness on someone to “fix” you.
When flashing back to memories, I suggest being gentle with yourself. There is a lot of intensity stored in traumatic experiences. If we can be gentle when memories emerge and allow feelings to move through our bodies (in much the same way water moves through a riverbank), it can ease the trauma and allow it to dissipate. When we push it away or run from it, that can intensify it and freeze it in place. I say this with great tenderness because there are certainly times when we are overloaded and need escape from intensity.
Can you hold in compassion both the part of yourself that yearns for relief and reprieve from intense memories and the part that still lives in trauma and wants reassurance and acceptance. I have found that bringing my attention to my breath helps lot.
I so hear you, and I can relate to how you feel. You are definitely not alone. Anniversaries of tragedies or losses are such commonly challenging times for people during which the pain is revisited in very powerful ways. The environmental similarity of the season connects us with the incident all the more clearly. All to say – this is so natural. A close relative of mine had one of her husband’s relations die by a freak drowning accident during a family reunion 2 years ago, and the anniversary is a time of deep mourning for all of them.
I can also see why revisiting the pain of the tragedy is not what you would choose in the midst of a festive holiday season. If it were me, I’d feel disconnected from my celebratory community. Alienated at some level. Given the anniversary itself combined with the contrast of the holiday season, I’d want to be able to offer myself some resources and inner kindness. I’d want to recognize that of course this is challenging. What would bolster and nurture me? Stop, Drop & Ask can be really helpful with the inquiry. There may be support groups, or a workshop or retreat, or a caring friend who truly “gets” me and the situation. There are many options.
I’d like to offer also the flip side of grief, which is that it connects us with the preciousness of life and our loved ones. It deepens, softens and transforms us. It grows our capacity to love and accept life on its own terms. There is a wonderful video a friend of mine, Nancee Sobonya, Produced named The Gifts of Grief which can be found at giftsofgrief.com. Through powerful, authentic stories, it shows the beautiful journeys that grief can open. In it she references Rumi’s poem:
I saw grief drinking a cup of sorrow
and called out,
It tastes sweet, does it not?
You have caught me, grief answered,
and you have ruined my business.
How can I sell sorrow,
when you know it’s a blessing?
So when grief arises, perhaps it can be held in your heart as an opportunity to know yourself more deeply and to grow, rather than as an unwelcome visitor. You can practice Stop, Drop & Ask in those moments, and see what messages arise. What wants to be known? I broke my arm very severely when I was twelve. Whenever that trauma arises, there is a reflexive contraction. Then I open to that scared child energy, and hold it in the space of my caring heart. This has been a profound doorway into building self-compassion. I hope this helps, and I wish you the very best as you meet this challenging energy.