Covid, Trauma, and Grief…Oh My!
Covid has reigned terror in both the foreground and background of us all. During this collective traumatization, many of us have also been subjected to re-traumatization, the process by which current events reflect past overwhelming experiences, and our bodies struggle to tell the difference. This includes not only events which we can remember, but preverbal events where we might have been neglected or starved of the proper emotional stimulation.
The word #trauma gets bounced around so much that the definition can seem almost ambiguous. I find that trauma is best understood as how our nervous system remains postured against a threat that has since passed. We posture to flee, to fight, or to freeze. We do this whether the threat is real or imagined, physical or emotional. Experiencing trauma is not synonymous with being traumatized – we all store our internal experiences differently.
As many of us have waited in angst for the #coronavirus to affect our direct communities, we have already begun posturing to flee (productivity energy, like spring cleaning), to fight (irritability and finger wagging), and to freeze (lethargy and “laziness”). Being an interdependent species who are wired for connection, the threat of social isolation can perhaps overshadow any physical danger posed by the contagion. We are the most dependent species on the planet. We rely on caregivers to feed and protect us for nearly two decades. Because of this, our brain remains wired to prioritize efforts to belong over other survival needs. Without each other, we die. Being starved of physical touch, of regulating nervous systems, and of access to visual cues of the facial muscles around the mouth, nose, and cheekbones, our system begins to believe that death is imminent.
The electromagnetic field of our hearts extends 6-8 feet outside of our bodies. What a confusing message to receive that closeness is threatening, when we’re designed to be close. Our nervous systems naturally ping off of each other, creating a calming state of co-regulation. In the absence of this connection, we can be left untethered. Masks covering important muscle groups in the face can activate our deepest experiences of #neglect or feeling as though we’re not enough and simultaneous too much.
As we grapple with trying to make sense of our internal and external landscapes, we’re often knocked off our feet again with waves of #grief. Grief and trauma are not synonymous, though they can and do exist in tandem. Grief is the death of something, whether it be the life of a loved one or the canceling of prom. These macro and micro losses require our understanding that our lives are forever altered in some way.
Although we will not return to “normal”, we will find a way to go on with life. The acuity of our #traumatization and of our grief will lessen, but it will always be there. We grow with it as we find a way to connect to a sense of vitality, purpose, direction, and belonging. We can realize that we can embrace painful moments without being destroyed.
Written by Adrienne Loker, LCSW, EMDR Certified Therapist