Trauma Anniversaries and 4 Ways to Get Through Them
“It’s amazing how a traumatic memory can remain very much alive. It doesn’t behave like a regular memory. The memory doesn’t decay.”– Alain Brunet
I have mixed feelings for the month of March.
For most, it’s the bridge between winter and spring where growth and renewal begin to emerge after a cold and dormant season. The buds on the trees start appearing again, daffodils emerge from the ground, and birds begin chirping more frequently. At least in my part of the world.
But for me personally, March is often a reminder of pain, trauma, and death. (I know – not exactly a pretty picture).
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned about the concept of trauma anniversaries and how they can often bring you right back to a traumatic event that you’ve endured.
On March 28, 1997, I survived a devastating tornado. It’s a date that will forever be imprinted in my mind and is something I carry with me daily – even after all this time.
It doesn’t mean that I haven’t accepted it as a fact or that I regularly dwell upon it. But it has without a doubt left a lasting impact on me that will never be forgotten.
Every year, as March 28th approaches, I think about that fateful night more and more. I think about what I was doing in the weeks and days leading up to the tornado. Then the hours and minutes, even right down to the seconds.
Who knew that something so crazy would happen to me and my family? But I guess that’s how it usually goes. You don’t think something like that would ever happen to you until it does.
As I got older, I started to recognize a pattern.
This same time every year, I began to think about that harrowing day more often. It’s almost obsessive with how much I think about it. I find myself withdrawing inward, as well as closing myself off from friends and family.
And sometimes, flashbacks caused me to feel like I was right back there on that very night, often filling me with intense anxiety, dread, and sadness.
It wasn’t until my therapist pointed it out to me that I realized I was experiencing a trauma anniversary. Coming to this realization was extremely eye-opening for me. It meant that what I was going through was real and I wasn’t the only one out there experiencing this phenomenon.
When I was younger, I was very much in the camp of believing trauma was reserved only for soldiers who endured war. This logic stayed with me even after I went through an extremely traumatic situation!
That’s what the world led me to believe, which frequently caused me to assume my trauma was invalid. But trauma comes in all shapes and sizes and can affect anyone.
Whenever there is a trauma, there is room for a trauma anniversary to take shape.
And it doesn’t just happen to war or natural disaster survivors. It can happen to anyone who experiences death, a sexual assault, mental or physical abuse, a car accident, a traumatic birth, divorce, or even a terrorist attack (please note – this is not an exhaustive list of trauma examples).
Trauma can happen anytime there is loss or distress.
What Exactly Is a Trauma Anniversary?
A trauma anniversary (or an anniversary reaction), is very much like a birthday or a wedding anniversary. It occurs around the same time every year and coincides with the actual time frame of a traumatic event.
But instead of feeling joy that you’ve successfully made another trip around the sun, painful memories, anxieties, flashbacks, depression, and more flood your mind and body. You may even experience survivor’s guilt more heavily around this time if you survived a traumatic event and others didn’t.
Living through a trauma can make you feel completely alone in the world, especially if the only person it impacted was you or a small number of people. But reliving the same trauma every year can be downright isolating.
People often forget events that don’t necessarily impact them, and so it can be especially hard to convey your pain to others without the fear of being seen as someone who is stuck in the past.
But there are ways in which you can make the anniversary of your trauma a little more bearable.
Keep reading to learn some of the techniques that have helped my own trauma anniversaries become more tolerable.
Please keep in mind – everyone reacts to trauma differently.
These techniques may not make you forget what happened to you, but they can at least help you hold, process, and move past your pain.
1. Allow Your Emotions to Show Up & Be Easy on Yourself
No matter how much we may want to, we can’t change the events of the past.
And at the same time, we can’t know how we’re going to react to them in the future. But if you find yourself having a difficult time during your trauma anniversary, recognize that you may feel out of sorts during this time – and that’s perfectly okay.
Allow your emotions to come to pass. Make space for them, feel them, and accept them.
Sweeping your feelings under the rug and creating a hard exterior only makes matters worse. You may become angry, extremely depressed, or act out of your normal character. There is absolutely a time to process all of these emotions, but you don’t want to become your emotions.
If you learn to sit with your emotions, you’re more likely to process them and move past your trauma.
But most of all, be easy on yourself and give yourself some grace. You’ve been through a lot and are doing the best you can.
If you’re having an especially difficult day, take it easy and rest. Oftentimes, when we’ve been in survival mode for too long, we may feel tired and lethargic. Know that this is normal and that this time should be handled with the utmost care.
2. Commemorate the Trauma & Those You May Have Lost
Oftentimes, trauma can mean you lost someone close to you or that you lost something important to you. It may be a friend, family member, pet, or even your home.
No matter what was lost, a trauma anniversary can be a tough reminder that a particular someone or something is no longer with you. That in itself is incredibly painful, and to place memories of a trauma on top of that, your thoughts and emotions can easily spiral out of control.
Use this time to remember the event or to honor the person you lost.
It may mean going to the place where the traumatic event occurred. Or it may mean you visit the gravesite of the loved one that you lost. You might even start a tradition of doing something that the person you lost enjoyed doing themselves.
Whatever it may look like to you, commit to memorializing the trauma or the loss of someone so that you know wasn’t in vain. It will give you a sense of purpose during this difficult time when all may seem meaningless.
3. Use It as an Opportunity for Healing & Growth
While we all wish bad stuff didn’t happen, it’s likely that we all will encounter some form of trauma at some point in our life. Instead of wishing and hoping it will never happen, when and if it does, choose to use your pain as a time for healing.
Learn and grow from your trauma rather than letting it destroy you. It will be hard and difficult at times, even when you think you may have it all under control.
But it is during those times of difficulty in which we grow and our true character takes shape.
Growth and healing are techniques that will vary from person to person, but ensure to take some time for self-reflection during the process. For me, journaling, exercise, yoga, and therapy have all been true life savers throughout my trauma journey. Each of these practices helps get me out of my head and into the present moment – which is all we truly have.
4. Ask for Help & Talk Through Your Pain
Sometimes, just talking though something can work wonders. This holds true for the little things as well as the big stuff.
And it’s no different when working through trauma. If there are others that experienced your trauma with you, talk about it with them. They are most likely the only ones who can truly understand where you’re coming from. And they may be in the same boat that you are.
Or perhaps seek out the company of others who have experienced the same or similar trauma as you. Facebook Groups can be a great resource to find people who have experienced similar circumstances. Actively engaging with those you can relate to can help you feel not so alone in your pain.
Are you or anyone you know the victim of a tornado? 🌪️
If so, consider joining our private Facebook group, Tornado Warriors, to share your story and connect with others you have experienced the same tragedy.
Being a tornado survivor can oftentimes feel isolating, but this group provides you with a safe place to talk about your own, unique experience. Plus, you’ll be welcomed with open arms!
And last but not least, consider talking to a therapist. Especially if you feel you have no one else to talk to.
It can be hard to admit when we’re struggling and that we need help. But there is no shame here. I’m a huge advocate for therapy as I’ve been going since I was in the tornado. Check out my post on “6 Easy Steps for Finding a Therapist” to get started looking for one today.
Trauma anniversaries are very real and should not be overlooked by trauma survivors of any type.
If you’ve ever found yourself having difficulty processing your trauma at the same time every year, you may very well be experiencing a trauma anniversary. The first step to alleviating your pain is recognizing any struggles you may be having and implementing healing techniques that work for you.
This list is not a one size fits all, nor is it a comprehensive list of all the ways to overcome your trauma.
Rather, it’s a list of ideas that has helped me the most through my experiences, as well as being the easiest for me to implement. When it comes to trauma, I definitely like to make it as easy as possible since I am usually in a heightened state of fight-or-flight.
I hope you find some of these techniques helpful in getting past your trauma anniversary and wish you peace and healing in the process.