Trigger warning: The following blog post discusses the dynamics grief and trauma. If triggers occur and you need support, please refer to the hotlines provided on our page of Resources for Survivors.
So many times, we talk about grief as if it is an event. Like it’s something that happens once, and then it’s done. We are given arbitrary time frames in which we must make it through the grieving process. We are told when it is time to “move on” and “get over it.” We are expected to follow the unwritten societal rules of grief.
But grief doesn’t follow rules, and it isn’t a one-time thing. This is even truer when the grief comes with trauma — when someone dies abruptly or when life changes suddenly. When the concepts that we had about how things were or how they should be get shattered. When our love maps are ruined by sexual assault or our sense of good in the world is crushed by an act of violence.
In these times, we grieve. We grieve the loss of what our brain had perceived as fact when trauma shows us the world differently. We grieve the people we lose when they complete these acts of violence toward us, against us, or around us. We grieve our youth, our sense of safety, and our sense of good. We grieve what could have been and what “should” have been.
We expect all of these things to come and go quickly after our losses, but it doesn’t work that way. Life is a little like a slinky, winding around and around rather than progressing in a straight line. And trauma is a black line down that slinky, hitting every coil without following the curves. We go through life fine for a long while feeling fine, then we hit that line again, and the darkness floods in. It feels like it comes out of nowhere. It feels random. It catches us off guard.
Grief can show up at lots of times. Sometimes it shows up on anniversaries, during specific seasons, or at major life events, such as your first kiss, a graduation, your wedding, or the birth of a child. Or it can be triggered by nothing at all. Either way, when grief hits, it feels like it will never go away again.
Trust me — that darkness is intense. That storm is overwhelming. It will pass, but it will also likely come back. However, it’s important to remember that this dark line doesn’t make up the whole slinky. We have lots of unmarked days, too. But we have to make it through the dark times to get back to the light.
It may seem like grief will last forever, but it won’t. Take a breath. Drink some water. Eat something. Talk to a friend. Go for a walk. And give yourself time. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to still feel whatever you feel. Grief doesn’t follow rules. We just have to make sure we give ourselves space to process our grief in order to begin healing.
The light only comes when we continue to walk. So keep going. Better days are coming.
Rebecca Shriver is a Licensed Certified Social Worker. She received her Bachelor's in Child Development and Family Studies with a minor in Communications from West Virginia University in 2013. She continued her education at West Virginia University in order to obtain her Master’s in Social Work. She is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy. During her social work practice, she has worked in mental health crisis and therapy settings. She is involved with SHIELD and Survivor Tribe on both a personal and professional level. She is dedicated to empowering and advocating for children and survivors of abuse in her community.