Trauma and Recovery

Well, friends, just thought I’d check in and give an update on how I’m doing.

I’m still pretty surprised at how calm I’ve stayed through this whole thing. Yesterday, I was a bit irritable (pile only 3 hours of sleep on top of the stress). I didn’t go to work until 2 and instead talked with my housemate for a while and with some neighbors (who are friends of the neighbor where the incident occurred). My housemate talked to our next door neighbor and told her what happened. She said, “Oh, we heard that noise, but we just closed our window. I guess we weren’t much help.” Last night, a friend took me out for a casual dinner (which I needed) and I was able to get my mind completely off all of this for a while. Quite unusual for me, I’ve been craving a lot of protein and somehow eating meat is helping me feel grounded.

I got 10 hours of sleep last night and could still sleep another long night’s worth. I had an uneasy feeling in my dreams last night. Like I had done something stupid and forgotten about it for a while and now I needed to correct it before something bad happened. Jerry Seinfeld showed up and started leading me around New York City. When there was a car parked in our way, he got in, walked through it, and got out the other side. I was unsure of the whole thing. Today, it’s raining here and it feels like that rain is washing things away. The cleaners are over at the neighbor’s place, scrubbing and getting rid of the blood-stained items. Their cats have been found. I dropped some flowers by. (It seemed just too weird to have gone through that together and not have some small acknowledgement of it.) Something inside me is melting off too. I don’t feel quite so on edge. I’ve been getting teary when I think thoughts of gratitude. I called the detective and left her a message asking about blood test results on the victim to see if I should go and get myself checked out for any diseases and then, as I started complimenting her and the Boulder police force and the way they treated us, I got all choked up.

It’s really interesting watching my mind work with this experience, especially since I know so much academically and personally about trauma and recovery from it.

During trauma the brain doesn’t store information in the same way as normally. The incidents, when later retrieved from memory, often seem disconnected from one’s known time line. They show up as sort of floating, groundless images. Part of the work of recovery is telling the story starting from before the trauma happened all the way through until after it was over to help the mind link everything together and integrate it.

I’ve been really glad that I wrote everything down when it was fresh, because my memory of it is already getting to be spotty and the more I tell the story, the more it feels like the story replaces my memory. Also, the constant retelling of it sort of deadens its impact. Kind of a weird mixture of blessing and curse.

Another reason I’m glad I wrote it down is because it has been so helpful for me to reread and reread what I wrote. I can see it all right there and have decent information to help me deal with all of the “What If” questions that are knocking around in my mind. (It’s awful to think of trauma happening to people like young children who do not have the capacity to understand it.) Plus, rereading my story is like I’m witnessing myself and moving the experience from unreality to reality. And I’m really grateful to all of you that have witnessed it too. Up until this morning, I found myself needing to tell everybody about it and telling them probably way more detail than they really wanted to know. Not really for sympathy purposes. But while my mind is trying out the story this way and that, seeing how it’s going to integrate it in with who I think I am and why these things happen and how they work and all that, I also need to be protected from people’s expectations of me. I was distracted enough by the images and thoughts that I needed folks to know not to get disappointed or upset with me if I wasn’t performing up to par.

But even that need is easing now. I’m feeling less and less like I need it to be the first thing that everyone knows about me. I’m less preoccupied by the vivid images I’m stuck with. Mostly, I just need to know that people are proud of me. (I don’t know why that would be so especially important in this situation.) Still, it has been hard for me to take in praise. The only folks that have been able to touch me in that way have been my friend who is a war combat veteran, my CPR instructor, and the police detective (who practically offered me a job for being so capable). I want everyone to know, though, that I’m appreciative for your efforts to reach out to me even if I seemed a little numb at the time. When I’m thawed out more, I will look back and remember it and be glad it’s there. (One of the biggest influences in how quickly and easily people heal from trauma is how the people around them respond.)

The good news is that my mind, as busy as it is, still hasn’t been able to come up with any way that I really fucked up. I talked to my CPR instructor (a former EMT) and he said that, based on the time between the shot and our arrival and based on my description of the scene, the man had already likely bled out and all that was still functioning was his autonomic nervous system when I showed up. Had he been laying flat, he likely would have bled out entirely before I came over.

So, overall, I’m feeling OK about what I did. I’m glad that I went over even if I didn’t save anybody’s life because I think that someday it will matter to someone that at least somebody showed up. And everybody has a first time that they have to figure out how to apply what they learned. Next time (let’s hope there are no guns involved in that one), I’m going to be much more likely to click into gear faster and hesitate less.

Here are some of the resolutions I’ve come to: Even though the cops probably wouldn’t have been able to find him and get to him in time to help him had I called when I heard the shot, I’m a lot more likely now to call in any strange noises even if they don’t annoy me personally. I’m a lot more likely now to not be confused by so much blood, even if it’s dark out. I’m somewhat more likely to take charge of the situation in such a way as to more fully size it up (and to ask for a flashlight if its dark so I might notice something like a gun and to give the victim a more thorough once over as to find something like a bullet hole) before I let myself wander in confusion. And, hopefully, I’ll remember to wash off any blood before removing my gloves. (Here’s hoping I have them.)

There is a philosophy that to get someone’s training to kick in when they are in the fear state, then you must train them in the fear state. (This is the philosophy behind military training and self-defense courses like Model Mugging.) Well, I just got some of the best training I could ever want for being able to save someone else’s life someday.

Edit: The detective called back. I’m clear on the communicable disease front. Apparently, there was an exit wound (that was smaller than the entry wound). The cleaners today mentioned that they didn’t find a bullet. I wonder where it ended up.

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