In 1991, when I was 17 and living in Tel Aviv with my family, a loud siren woke me from a peaceful sleep. We knew what it meant. We also knew we had to do. I ran, shaking and crying, with my family to our safe room, where we bolted the door and sealed it for protection.
About three minutes later we felt and then heard huge blasts. Our house shook and rattled. I was terrified. I was sure this was a chemical attack, and that we would die. But it wasn’t a chemical attack. It was a conventional missile—and the first night of a war that required us to sleep for weeks in that safe room.
Eventually the war ended, and people returned to their routines. Most people seemed fine, moving on quickly. For me, “moving on” was harder and more complex. My experience landed me, although it took me many years to realize it, in the community of trauma survivors. Although some of us might seem to be managing just fi ne, none of us is here by choice. And the truth is that our reactions are a normal response to an abnormal situation.
Trauma takes things away from us—some of which can’t ever be returned. For some survivors, the losses are tangible, like people we loved or a body that once functioned perfectly. For others, the losses are intangible, like a sense of uncomplicated wholeness or pristine memories of beloved times and places.
Either way, coming to terms with irreversible loss is an essential part of trauma integration and recovery.
Today, I am a trauma therapist, working daily with survivors of debilitating trauma. Most of my clients suffer from complex and developmental trauma resulting from neglect, abuse or exposure to unusual stress in the early years of life. Here are a few things I tell my clients, and myself, on a daily basis.