For a general idea, look to this chart of Phases of Collective Trauma Response for guidance.
So, for 2018, most communities will only get about part way to three-quarters of the way through the chart.
Trauma is never wanted. By definition it is overwhelming and most of us just want to "get through it" as quickly as possible and "get back to the way things were." Yet, trauma also by definition is transformational. One of the most challenging aspects of experiencing trauma is the fact that there is no getting back to the way things were.
Trauma radically changes lives.
That radical change also is immensely stressful. Everyone handles stress differently, and many people struggle to handle stress in healthy ways. Stress increases exponentially as the size of the group impacted increases.
Sadly, in the months and first years following mass critical incidents, for some communities impacted by trauma the road to restoration will be entwined with a significant increase in incidents of domestic and intimate partner violence, abuse and addictions of all kinds, leaders becoming burned out / depressed / fatigued, and households moving away. So, for some, the phases of restoration last much more than two years.
See, in many cases, the critical incident – whatever it is – is only the start of what's hard. Many people grossly underestimate the challenges that follow:
- Physical exhaustion after the heroic phase
- Spiritual, emotional, and psychological uncertainty & unfamiliarity during the disillusionment phase
- Philosophical challenge of holding two truths at the cusp of the rebuilding phase - that horrific experiences occur and goodness still exists
- Spiritual, emotional, and psychological challenges of encountering how you act in your most exhausted, irritable, and depressive states, and whether there are new things for which you now need to seek forgiveness or attempt to repair with your loved ones and neighbors (this all can unfold throughout all the phases)
- Relational challenges when members of your group do not all process, grieve, mourn, heal, or rebuild at the same pace
How can groups counter these challenges best in the months ahead? Beyond the important practices of attending to healthy self-care, here are several helpful questions that can help your members find their footing, one helpful step at a time:
- What do you need right now?
- What was a moment of relief, a helpful hand, or a breath of fresh air you experienced today?
- In what ways are the people you're responsible for (in your household, classroom, ministry group, etc.) interacting with a caring adult an average of every two hours during the day and evening?
- What is one way you can participate in adding some good into the world today, either right around you or beyond?
While these questions do not immediately solve the hard circumstances of becoming restored after disaster, they do help to orient you and your group. With these questions, survivors frequently find another step forward, and, gradually, those steps add up to be a way through. If you have not practiced asking yourself questions like these before, you will find the questions are especially helpful because the answers to the questions change over time. While in the beginning, answers may be mostly biological – for example, you need to get out of harm's way, you need shelter or food, you need a place to rest, and you appreciate that someone brought you food or asked how you were doing. Then, what you need right now may become the need to plan or build or recreate household habits that help your family or housemates encounter care on a more regular basis (especially if those practiced lapsed during the immediate shock of an incident). You also may find that what good you can add in beginning is a great deal with the help of an adrenaline rush, or is very little because of your sense of shock. In the middle, the good you can add may only be to care for yourself or those immediately around you. Then, as you feel more restored, you may have strength to add much more good into your community.
The months ahead will be challenging for many communities around our country. Practice care. Care restores.