Stages of Relief After a Traumatic Period

1 Aug

I had this idea months ago and wanted to take the time I needed to process everything before I wrote this. Honestly, I still don’t feel fully prepared to do this “correctly,” but I don’t know that I ever will, so take this for what it is: an exploration.

If you’ve been with me a little while, you know that the pandemic was traumatic for me in that it seriously hurt my business. I went from being self-employed with the flexible schedule and “workplace” design that are perfect from my chronic conditions, to losing this joyful career that I built from scratch and going to work as (per how the boss referred to me) a “desk girl” in a fast-paced medical practice. The boss provided me with my most necessary modification–a standing desk–and my most necessary need–a paycheck. I was absolutely grateful, and I worked my ass off, but I’ll go ahead and say now that I did not like that job at all. It was miserable.

After 11 months (I’d set a new record as the longest lasting desk girl at 8 months), I had enough speaking gigs finally coming back for my business and enough financial aid from the Small Business Administration’s pandemic programs that I was able to quit the job and return to being self-employed. I had my best life back at last!

I’m no stranger to hard times. There are a few periods in my life that were awful and I pretty much don’t talk about them. One was being in an abusive, controlling relationship when I was 18, 19, 20.

20210801_153237.jpgWhen the hard times are suddenly over, well, it’s actually not that sudden. There is what I will call “stages of relief” to go through. They go something like this for me:

  1. Celebration. This is the big hurrah! It happened! It’s amazing and exciting! I won the lottery and the prize is my life!
  2. Initial believing. At first, it doesn’t feel real. The first few days it doesn’t feel real at all. When I quit that job this year, I was having bad dreams about stressful things happening at work, for days. Eventually they stopped. Eventually that constant stress I felt while working there began to fade. I called it The Unclenching.
  3. Full-picture slap. Now, it’s happened, and I believe it, and I’ve unclenched, which includes at last dropping all the defense mechanisms I had in place to get through the tough times. One of the most powerful defense mechanisms is denial. So at this point, I actually see how awful it really was. All the things I glossed over about that relationship, or that job, or that situation because it’s what I had to do to get through it suddenly shed their gloss and there’s a way big “holy crap” happening.
  4. Dealing. Defenses are down. The situation is seen for what it truly was. Now I’ve got to deal with it. Talk it out with a friend. Dig deep for forgiveness and detachment. Grieve. Go through whatever process I need to in order to come to terms with it, feel all the feelings, and move on.
  5. Improving. With the analysis and work of coping being some semblance of complete, I now pull from that analysis my own flaws that I can work to improve. I might have been turning a blind eye to something I shouldn’t tolerate, or I might have been ignorant of what “unacceptable” should be. I might have made poor decisions that got myself into a bad situation. Whatever it was, it’s something to learn from, to be a better person in the future, to myself and also towards others.
  6. Gratitude. Finally, I can lean into the full spectrum of gratitude. Grateful that it’s over, for one. I can also reflect on what good there was within the situation and be grateful for that. This includes being grateful for what I learned. And of course I am so very grateful for how good my life is now.



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