DABDA in Trauma Recovery

When I first began the journey of recovering, I mourned her… the loss of who I was.  For a long time, I felt as if my best friend had suddenly died because right before the trauma had happened to me, I had done about a year’s work of self-esteem work and I had come to love myself.  I didn’t know if she would ever be able to come back.  So yes, I mourned.

Trauma will cause abrupt emotional upheaval in a person’s mind and sense of well-being.  Trauma is not only life-altering, but is potentially mind-altering as well.

Surviving trauma is in many ways a grieving process.  The Kübler-Ross model, or the five stages of grief (DABDA), postulates a series of emotions and coping skills present in nearly any negative life-changing event and personal loss.

“It didn’t happen to me.” Denial is a natural avoidance coping skill.  We don’t want to admit the trauma happened.  We’d rather pretend it’s business as usual, average, daily living.  We can go through the motions of denial living for as little as a few days, to a lifetime of living in denial.  Denial is a truth-suppressor and a secret-keeper.

“WTF????”  Anger is one of the emotions I hold dear.  Channeled positively, anger can move mountains and change the world.  But to a trauma survivor, it doesn’t feel productive or positive.   It can feel confusing because anger is the secondary emotion.  The true root of anger in trauma, is fear of how it could possibly have happened.  When this stage happens, try to release it productively.  Write about what happened.  Talk about what happened.  Scream about what happened.  Be angry, document what you remember, and make it work for you.

“It wasn’t that bad.” Pulling the wool over your own eyes is unhealthy.  If you’ve ever seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail,  the Black Knight skit is a humorously accurate example of how someone can continuously be battered, and still say ’tis just a scratch until there’s nearly nothing left of them.  When you begin to feel complacent about what happened, it’s a good time to talk to your support system to pull you back to reality.

“I can’t live like this anymore.” It’s expected to experience sadness and cry for what happened.  We have tear ducts for a reason.  Our bodies aren’t built to bury feelings.  Crying it out is very cleansing.   However, sadness that lingers or thoughts of self-harm should always be assessed with a counselor or psychiatrist immediately.  There is no shame in therapy or medication to get through this phase.  Yes… it’s just a phase, and it will resolve much easier with help.

“I am a survivor.” Acceptance that it happened involves a lot of self-work, and how you view yourself as a whole.   It may have changed your entire life- from the way you dress, to your thought patterns, speech, and how you interact with others.  You might have a whole new set of bells n’ whistles diagnoses such as anxiety or PTSD, plus an entirely different set of friends, a different job, a whole new life.  And that is normal, because trauma changes us.  We will be different.  But we do reach that stage ultimately to embrace the new us, and love ourselves, with acceptance.