The Covid-19 virus has upended everyone over the past few weeks. While the new normal creates havoc for nearly everyone, I’ve realized a hidden impact for trauma survivors. With each new restriction comes less control over my life, which triggers old fears and sometimes anger. At first, I dismissed these thoughts as silly considering the restrictions haven’t significantly changed my lifestyle. Yesterday I realized why anxiety and anger resurfaced. I feel the same loss of control I felt as a child when my family members abused me, but I also realized I am not a powerless little girl anymore. I am a strong, healthy woman who knows the truth about my identity.
I can choose how I respond to the triggers from the past.
Several years ago, my late husband, John, told me a story that illustrates one way to manage the emotional turmoil the current circumstances create. The town he grew up in has a city park with an old playground. The playground includes one of those old merry-go-rounds which consists of a circular platform with bars for standing. The riders push off the ground to increase the rotation speed of the merry-go-round. Sometimes one person stands beside the equipment to push it to maximum speed. Running on the platform will also increase the speed.
Keep Your Eyes on the Tree
One day, John and two friends (all of them in their 20s) decided to see how fast they could go and still stand up. So the contest began. Each attempt ended with falls, bumps, and bruises. They ran fast, but at some point looked down at their feet. When they did, they fell. After many attempts, John’s friend suggested they focus on the tree that stood next to the merry-go-round. When they kept their eyes on the tree, they did not fall. The speed increased far beyond what they thought possible. Then they looked down, and chaos ensued. Years later, while on a mission trip to Haiti and felt overwhelmed by the darkness that surrounded him. As he prayed for peace, the events at the park came to mind. He heard a whisper, “Just keep your eye on the tree.” He had the sense that the tree represented Jesus Christ, who hung on a tree for us.
As you struggle with old tapes in these uncertain times, remember to keep your eyes on the source of comfort. You are not a helpless child living in a chaotic and abusive world. You are a survivor. You are loved by the one who died for you. Keeping my eyes on Him when anxiety and fear threaten my peace, helps ground me in the present. For me that means turning off cable news, listening to music that soothes, reading scripture and stopping the thoughts that creep into my head before they take root. None of these things change what is going on in the world, but they change how I navigate them.
Changing How You Cope
As a survivor, you have learned ways to manage triggers, but some of those may not be available now. It’s hard to change our way of coping, but not impossible. Draw a picture, write a poem (even if you don’t think you can), stay connected via texting and phone calls. Find an online church service. Reach out and let someone know this is a hard time for you. Above all, be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up because this triggers emotions you haven’t felt in years or months. Change your focus. Keep your eyes on the tree. When you look down and fall, get back up and try again.
We can support each other through this season: Share your coping strategies, your struggles and get support in the comments.