A new normal – life after trauma

While I admit the use of the word “normal” to describe anyone is dubious at best, given how Eric Maisel determined The 29 Senses of Normal, which has pretty much made it an empty word devoid of any real meaning, I still appreciate the perspective here in an article called A New Normal: 10 Things I’ve Learned About Trauma written by Catherine Woodwiss.   I found this article through a friend on facebook, who herself had undergone a great deal of trauma in her relatively young life.

While it’s a blog with a Christian theme, I’d say that I’d have to agree with most of what is said here.  I wanted to share some of these ideas with you.  No one escapes this life without some sort of traumatic experience, and even if it hasn’t struck you, it probably has struck someone you know.

Some of the quotes that jumped out at me:

“a major life disruption leaves a new normal in its wake. There is no “back to the old me.” You are different now, full stop.”

“Trauma is a disfiguring, lonely time even when surrounded in love; to suffer through trauma alone is unbearable.”

“in the recovery wilderness, emotional healing looks less like a line and more like a wobbly figure-8. It’s perfectly common to get stuck in one stage for months, only to jump to another end entirely … only to find yourself back in the same old mud again next year.”

“surviving trauma requires at least two types of people: the crisis team — those friends who can drop everything and jump into the fray by your side, and the reconstruction crew — those whose calm, steady care will help nudge you out the door into regaining your footing in the world. In my experience, it is extremely rare for any individual to be both a firefighter and a builder. This is one reason why trauma is a lonely experience. Even if you share suffering with others, no one else will be able to fully walk the road with you the whole way.”

“This is a mystifying pattern after trauma, particularly for those in broad community: some near-strangers reach out, some close friends fumble to express care.”

“In 2011, after a publically humiliating year, comedian Conan O’Brien gave students at Dartmouth College the following warning:

“Nietzsche famously said, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ … What he failed to stress is that it almost kills you.”

And, interestingly, I saw this RSA short suggested on my facebook timeline, which I thought was very, very fitting on The Power of Empathy by Brene Brown:

If you have three minutes, I’d encourage you to watch it.

About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
This entry was posted in A Lamp In the Darkness, adult survivors of abuse, Brene Brown, Complex-PTSD, depression, Grief and Loss, Nietzsche, PTSD, Soul wounds, Trauma, trauma recovery. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to A new normal – life after trauma

  1. bert0001 says:

    Strong and correct quotes, especially Conan’s. Nice video.
    I have locked myself up with my misery, and I know I will probably do that again. That’s bad for the firefighters, and worse for Bob the Builder. But in a way I reached out myself to many Bobs, and asked a hundred questions on how to rebuild the shed now standing. But I wonder who did the firefighting?

  2. Casey says:

    Well, there might have been a part of you that took that role of firefighter on, if no one else was able to.

    I know, for me, in real life, in recent years, I have had no friends nor family to turn to for either purpose. People seemed to busy to bother. Sometimes when I did share, they just weren’t helpful or downright dismissive. My mother has said, “I don’t know what to tell you”. So has my husband sometimes. My mother also said, “I have enough problems to deal with because your sister….” If I shared with my sisters, they’d run to my mother to tell on me. So…it was pretty much useless to turn to family.

    Years and years ago, I was given refuge by my ex-boyfriend’s parents. They let me spend the night when I had no place else to go. I was talking to the mother, and it was the father, who overheard the conversation from the other room, who simply walked in the kitchen and asked if I wanted to spend the night. I was completely floored because he had no reason to help me out, didn’t call my mother, didn’t send me away,didn’t ask why, just let me stay the night because I was in need of shelter. I learned to pay it forward. So, I’d been wanting to give assistance to others.

    I actually enjoyed the role of firefighting for others though (friends and family). I’m good in crisis mode. I’ve always been good in crises…and at the end of life. And at wakes. People let me get close to them at those times.

    About the rebuilding? I’m not sure I’m actually good at it or that people want my help with that.

    I was always trying to brainstorm solutions with my husband. It usually didn’t work out for whatever reason. But then again, there were just things he suggested I’d tried or had already thought of and rejected as a solution. He constantly told me I never took his advice. That’s not his fault. There is a reason my family always told me “no one can tell you anything, and you think you have all the answers.” And in some ways, that is true. I do have all the answers for my Self. I’m just not always aware of what they are. I think we all have an inner wisdom. So this makes it hard for anyone to help anyone else rebuild, since everyone has their own ‘healing style’ for lack of a better phrase. What unlocks this inner wisdom is different for everyone, I think. But as Brene Brown says, it’s not having suggestions that is helpful but that presence. That sacred space.

    To be a compassionate witness is sometimes the best help anyone can give. And hugs. Lots of them.

    When I had friends, I’d be suggesting some things, or I’d put together a gift package of things I’d think might be helpful, including books and things for self-care, but I’ve never actually heard back from people if they actually got any use out of the stuff I would bring them. I always felt awkward to ask, and they didn’t say anything, so…maybe they didn’t like it. I don’t know.

    I also know where all that firefighting got me. Compassion fatigue, PTSD, and hashimoto’s thyroiditis and adrenal burnout. I wouldn’t change things, I don’t think. I’m glad I was helpful. But it’s been time to help me.

    I don’t have friends anymore IRL, just a lot of acquaintances. I seem to have trouble even getting anyone to go out for a cup of coffee with me, so I stopped trying to get close. That used to hurt like hell, but it doesn’t anymore. I realize that’s a gift in itself. I get a break from other people’s trauma for a while so I can heal my own trauma. The relative solitude is good for me.

    I usually just see other adults for about 20-30 minutes when I drop off my daughters to friends’ houses. So, instead, I just make do with my online community and a few pen-pals. It worked out well when I was moderator of a message board. I was able to do some online peer-to-peer support (and share resources for various things), but then, after 5 years, the message board had to close down.

    Anyway…I hope you won’t lock yourself up with your misery in the future, but I know for many of us, the instinct to withdraw is strong. I am not sure why in the midst of our own crisis, it’s hard to reach out, but it could be because we think there isn’t really anyone there that can handle the depth of our pain. I know there was only one person I was able to share that darkness with, and he kind of handled it in a kind of ‘tough love’ way, which was understandable and good and sucky (he didn’t have the answers for me, though at times I wish he had). I wanted and needed compassionate witness but sometimes I needed some harsh truth.

    Wow, this turned into a short novel. Sorry…

    Thanks for sharing.


    • Casey says:

      Oh, yeah…and part of my healing journey is listening to audiobooks on healing so that I can get that kind of compassionate presence anytime I need. It’s actually quite wonderful. I like to listen to Jack Kornfield a lot, because he’s got such a comforting voice. There’s others, but he’s in the top spot…

  3. “a major life disruption leaves a new normal in its wake. There is no “back to the old me.” You are different now, full stop.” I love this, because this is how I see my life now. I don’t want the old me…believe me. It wasn’t pretty! A new life is where I can be more myself, where my authentic being can manifest, where I am in tune with what I was supposed to be in tune with.

    And I LOVE that video – thank you for sharing that. I have always understood that empathy, not sympathy, is where true connections happen…and the video shows me in a simple, direct and easy manner how and why this works.


    • Casey says:

      I’m glad it resonates. And yes, I totally understand “I don’t want the old me”. I don’t want the old me, either. I like the new ‘upgrades’, And yes, being authentic feels so much better and its easier to maintain. Life’s stresses don’t change, but I am not as troubled by them as I used to be.

      I loved that video, too. Real compassionate presence is needed, starting with ourselves and then moving out to others. It’s interesting to me that I had to learn how to be compassionate with my own pain, because there were many times when I didn’t feel I deserve compassion. But we all do.

      And it’s a good reminder to me as well. I don’t need to ‘fix’ anything for anybody and I don’t need any ‘magic words’. I can just be present for them and ‘hold their space’.

      Blessings to you, too, Paul.

  4. My friend’s sister said, after surviving vigorous treatment of cancer (correct, this is how I want to say it), that the hardest part was the quiet aftermath. Support came full-on in the throes of it but people just thought her “cured” when the cancer was said to be gone and fell by the wayside. While I know it was only the beginning of a new normal for her, and deep recovery of wholeness is a long, long road.

    • Casey says:

      I think that can happen too, where people don’t think they need to stay close over the long haul. I am not sure we know how to support each other long-term. Some people want to pull back from someone with cancer because it reminds them too much of their own fragility. They distance themselves either early on, or like in your sister’s case, after the worst was over.

      You’d think, when someone has a close call with death, that you’d want to keep them close, but no. Life resumes, every one of us gets too busy to call, stop by, write a letter, etc. We get caught up in our own lives.

      I’ve been saddened by this, but I can’t even get people to meet me for coffee, so it’s been hard to build connections that go beyond spending 20 minutes talking to the parent of my daughters’ friends in the foyer of their homes. I learned I had to turn that ache in my heart off, and simply be grateful to have 20 minutes to talk at all. I don’t know how to get close to people that keep me at a distance.

      There is one woman who has actually invited me to sit down and have a cup of tea once in a while, and she’s invited the girls and I to stay for dinner. Sometimes I just want to cry it’s just so nice to be invited in to stay a while, you know? They are from another culture, though, so I think that explains the difference. They don’t mind cooking for four extra people.

      I do know there were people in my life who were suffering from terminal illnesses that I wanted to be close to all the time. My grandfather was one. Fortunately, he was admitted to the hospital I worked at, so every day, after work I’d go and visit him. Even though that last week was a doozy – one time he swung his arm out to hit me (he was really delusional by then, which was sad, since he used to be a very intelligent, funny man). But it was poignant to witness my mother spoon-feeding my grandfather.

      When my grandmother started sliding into dementia, I and my daughters were the only ones she 1) recognized/remembered and 2) was lucid during our whole visits. We’d talk about things that happened years and years ago, because that’s what she remembered most.

      I wanted to share this story of my friend Barb…a short story about her life…and end of life…and…yeah…I learned a lot. She was the first person I was close to that had cancer…


      • Balancing too many plates at the moment to say much more, afraid I’ll break something. Fielding responses where I’m guest authoring this wk, too.

        “because it reminds them too much of their own fragility. ” Wise. And your empathy is amazing.

        Happy to know more of your story each time.

        • Casey says:

          I totally understand that. Where are you guest authoring? Have fun with that. =)

          And thank you. My empathy is something that has both been very good AND a little too intense for me to handle at times. As I’m growing, I’m realizing I can take on more of a compassionate witness without being swept along by my own feelings.

          If I’m wise, it’s only because I’ve been asked to revisit lessons I didn’t get the first time around.

          Take care,


      • On expectations:


        This was the post that launched A Holistic Journey almost a yr ago.

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