This episodes explores Trauma Anniversaries; what they are, how they can affect us, and some ways to get through them.
TW/CW: Brief mentions of the following: sexual assault, domestic violence, depression, anxiety, suicide, and suicidal thoughts. These are not dwelled on, but mentioned as a framework for discussion of coping with them.
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Hi there, I’m Hecate and this is Finding OK, a healing podcast for survivors of sexual assault and abuse. Today I’m going to talk a bit about trauma anniversaries; what they are, how they can affect us, and some ways to get through them.
*Intro music by Ramshackle Glory* 0:17
*Drums, and then uplifting folk/punk chords on guitar* Dalia never showed me nothing but kindness. She would say, “I know how sad you get". And some days, I still get that way, But it gets better, it gets better, it gets better. Sweetie, it gets better, I promise you. And she'd tell me...(Chorus) Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep on loving, keep on fighting. And hold on, and hold on. Hold on for your life…*fade out as guitar chords play*
Trigger and content warnings for this episode include brief mentions of the following: sexual assault, domestic violence, depression, anxiety, suicide, and suicidal thoughts. These are not dwelled on, but mentioned as a framework for discussion of coping with them. Check in with yourself. Make sure you’re all right to continue…ok.
I’m just coming out of a doozy of a week myself. My partner and I refer to it as The Week of Hell, and maybe one day I’ll let him know that that’s a Star Trek reference. Our Week of Hell starts with the anniversary of uh, one of his parent’s suicide, um, then there’s a day of rest. Then there’s the anniversary of my dog’s death, then a day of rest, and then there’s the anniversary of my first sexual assault.
It’s a pretty raw time for us and while it is brutal to have so many clustered together and very near my birthday – in a way we’re glad to just get through them all at once. We both have other hard days scattered about the calendar, but those are the really rough ones.
It’s a week we do our best to make room for as much as we can. We approach this time of year with compassion and a sort of morbid curiosity. 2020 is a dumpster fire year and so he said to me as the week approached, “I wonder how things will manifest this year?” Uh, it’s like a shitty adventure!
Basically, every year we make space for whatever might come up and do our best to be supportive of each other as we get through it. So, the first thing that’s really important to do is prepare, and there’s a lot of different ways that you can do that. Make space for it however you can. Uh, are you able to take the day off work? Do you need to do that? Plan ahead if you need to. Remember, it might surprise you.
Make that day and the days before and after it as stress-free as possible. Avoid scheduling stressful things around that day if you can. Remember you’ll be more vulnerable. Don’t pick that time to move, uh, to take on more responsibilities, or make important decisions. If you have a therapist schedule your appointments mindfully. Do you feel like it would be most helpful to talk to them before that day, on that day, or maybe after it?
Do you need to schedule more frequent appointments for a little bit to get through things? Take stock of how things affect you each year so that you can better prepare and take even better care of yourself next year. Also, remember, healing isn’t linear. This is one of the affirmations from the first demo episode and it’s an incredibly import one to remember.
As you move through the days surrounding an anniversary, remember that it’s temporary. You’re in the middle of it. It will pass in time. When we’re in it, it’s very easy to think that you’re backsliding or losing all the progress that you made. That’s not true and that’s not what’s happening. These days are difficult and being adversely affected by them is normal. The healing process has no definitive timeline and there are hills and valleys along the path.
There are some years it might hit you incredibly hard and lay you low for days or weeks, and other years it might pass relatively easily. Many of us have the quiet goal to someday being so “over it” that we don’t even notice the day or mark its passing. There’s kind of the quiet goal to have it be a day like any other, and some of us may experience that some years. You forget the day and then t occurs to you after the fact that you missed it.
That can be difficult in it’s own way, especially if the death of a loved one is involved. You may feel guilt. Whatever the day is to you as it approaches it’s common to experience building feelings of anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, (and that can be loss of sleep and nightmares) changes in appetite (a lot of the time that’s a loss of appetite) panic attacks, increase in irritability. You may be more prone to emotional outbursts.
Overall, it’s common to feel more sensitive and raw during this time, so be kind to yourself. And if it’s something you feel you can do, let those close to you know what’s going on. You don’t have to give them specifics if you’re not comfortable. Most people understand difficult anniversaries.
The longer we live on the planet the more we tend to collect. The next things that’s very important is to honor it. Something that’s helpful to some people is honoring the day in some way. That can take many forms. For example, if you’re a survivor of domestic abuse consider making a donation to an organization that combats domestic violence and supports other survivors. If you’re able to swing it financially, that’s something that would help you transform a difficult day.
And some other things that you can do to kind of transform the day is maybe plant something if the time of year is right. Make a part of your day bringing more life and beauty into the world. Do something creative, try making something and expressing yourself. Listen to music and dance around like a lunatic. Go somewhere special; somewhere that has meaning; some place beautiful; something that kind of changes up the day for you.
Spend time with the people you love most. *deeper voice* Treat yo’self. Whatever that means for you. And, try singing. Use your voice expressively. It can be very empowering to use your voice and very therapeutic, and even if it’s just in the car by yourself *laugh* Use you voice. It’s not about celebrating a problematic day, but about honoring and acknowledging its significance to you in a healthy way.
These are suggestions, but don’t do anything that feels wrong to you. The most important way you can honor this day is with honesty. Honor yourself by letting yourself feel whatever it is that you’re feeling. Make space for it. And that bring me to support systems…
Make sure your support systems are in place and available. We already talking a bit about making sure you schedule therapy thoughtfully. If you don’t have a therapist, make sure you still have an emergency support number to call in case things get extra rough this year. The support of friends and loved ones is important. Even if you don’t feel comfortable talking to them about your trauma or pain, spending time with them or just being around them can be very healing.
If you struggle with addiction make sure that you have access to any meetings or groups that you attend, and reach out to your sponsor if you need to. Keeping a journal is incredibly beneficial, even if you don’t usually do that, writing out your thoughts and just getting it all out onto a page might be just what you need. It’s worth a try, even if you don’t make a habit out of it. It can be really helpful. Just, word vomit…Everyone’s support system is unique, and just ask yourself, what’s yours?
You know, maybe take a pen and a paper and write it down. What does it look like? And if you have friends or loved ones you feel comfortable talking to, it’s worth letting them know that this is coming up and making sure you can talk to someone if you need to. All said and done, If you just need to curl up into a blanket burrito…that’s ok too! It’s a time honored tradition!
As for how this year was for me, I want to be honest about that in case it’s helpful to hear. It was a rough one this year. I started feeling an increase in anxiety and depression a few days beforehand. I started losing sleep and wouldn’t be able to calm down at night enough to sleep during the night. I’d have circling thought patterns. One surprised me and was about something completely unrelated. One night I thought for the first time in a long time about something from the past that makes me feel great guilt and pain.
I wasn’t able to shake it and that led to a spiral of depression, self-loathing, hopelessness, impostor syndrome, doubting the validity of my own experiences and trauma, and even some vague suicidal thoughts. On the anniversary of my dog’s death I stayed up the entire night before having flipped my schedule and being uh, unable to sleep.
I grabbed an hour long nap and tried to make the weekly 9am Zoom breakfast meeting with my Father and Sister. But, when I went downstairs I started feeling physically ill. I texted to cancel and went back to bed just not even having the energy to figure out if it was indigestion or a panic attack. I then slept until I woke up long enough to last minute text cancel my weekly therapy appointment uh, in the afternoon.
*sings* Dumb! I only realized afterwards that she’ll be unavailable for weeks and I just cut myself off from an important support. I did my best to meditate at least a little bit each day. But I think I missed a day in there somewhere. I binge watched TV shows all night and curled up into a ball and slept the days away.
I didn’t shower and didn’t even have enough energy to brush my teeth for a few days there. If you find personal hygiene is all of a sudden a massive struggle it can be an indication that you’re depressed. Teeth brushing is a big red flag for me personally. Ask yourself what yours are and take notice. Being self-aware helps you take care of yourself.
It’s been a rough time but my partner and I were open and honest with each other. I told him what was coming up for me and he held me while I cried a bit. We stepped in for each other walking the dog on certain days, gave each other space and quiet when it was needed. Sometimes you just need to be left the hell alone and that’s important to communicate to partners, especially during this time so that you don’t hurt each other’s feelings.
Honest, open communication and clearly identifying your needs if you can and expressing them is a game changer – for your entire life and every relationship, but also in this particular situation. So, to sum it up a few days before our Week of Hell I started feeling it. Things got rough. I did my best, and even though there are some things I could have done better I’m not going to dwell on that. It is what it is.
I sat with it and felt what I was feeling when I needed to, and I indulged in distraction and escapism when I needed to. It’s a few days later now and I’m already coming out of it and feeling more energetic and optimistic. I feel like I’m getting back to where I was. It was an interruption, but I made space for it because I knew it was coming, and I knew it was unpredictable.
Whatever your day is for you, it’s a part of your life, a part of who you are. And who you are is awesome. Make room for it however you can and however you need to. But stay in touch with yourself. Make sure you have the support that you need and take care of yourself. You got this.
Thank you so much for listening. Please write in with listener questions and episode requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. I would absolutely love to hear from you and please let me know if you’re interested in being on the show. This podcast relies entirely on crowd funding and you are the ones that are helping me make it happen. Thank you. A link to the Go Fund Me can be found on the podcast website and I share links routinely on my Facebook page. Please feel free to friend me. Hecate F. Okay *spells name* Thank you so much for your continued support. Please share, subscribe, and donate if you can. This has been Finding OK. Black lives matter. Take care of yourself.
*Outro music by Ramshackle Glory* 15:19
*fade in to folk/punk chords of guitar* Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep on loving. Keep on fighting. And hold on, and hold on, hold on for your life *echoes into brief silence*…(Chorus and full band) Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep on loving. Keep on fighting. And hold on, and hold on, hold on for your life. *triumphant and uplifting music plays till end*