Time & Tragedy

Another conversation I had recently was: How long should it take to recover from a trauma?

In late 2018 I made a new friend. She didn’t know much about my history or what had happened to me, and after a few “friend dates” I opened up a bit about my manic episode that occurred in fall of 2015. 

I don’t think she could have had any idea just how comforting and validating what she said to me next was. “Wow,” she said, “That wasn’t that long ago. You must still be struggling with that.”

I felt like I was constantly beating myself up for not being about to just “get over it,” for having nightmares about it, for trying so many different remedies. But how long is three years, really? It’s actually not too long in the grand scheme of things. 

I have a professor who speaks about how there is no aspect of American life that hasn’t been touched by slavery. And then he points out, for people who think that slavery was “long, long ago”: the average lifetime is eighty years. The Civil War was 160 years ago, so only two lifetimes ago, really. Many people still remember living through segregation. Historical trauma. 

They say time heals all wounds, but it’s probably more accurate to say time makes them hurt a little less. Some people make up math or rules, like it takes half the time you were in a relationship to recover from a breakup, or that it takes six months to get used to a new house or a new job. In reality, there are no formulas. And usually, we don’t really “get over” traumas as much as we just learn to co-exist with them. 

Sometimes you’ll be doing better, what you think is much better, with your grief over a parent’s loss, and then, like the short film “Her Resolve” points out, you suddenly see your dead dad’s favorite brand of beer on the grocery store shelf, or some other memory or image triggers you again and the wound comes back as fresh and painful as ever. 

I love this quote from one of my favorite shows, Better Call Saul, about getting over trauma:

“When will this be over for me?” 

“Well, here’s what’s gonna happen. One day you’re gonna wake up, eat your breakfast, brush your teeth, go about your business. And sooner or later, you’re gonna realize you haven’t thought about it. None of it. And that’s the moment you realize you can forget. When you know that’s possible, it all gets easier.”

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