Week 1, Session 1: Introduction to the course and the concept of Trauma
Hello everyone! Welcome to the very first session of Bloom - Chayn’s trauma support group! You’re here with us. You’re reading this course note, which in itself is starting the journey towards recovery. Now, together, we can begin our work - in tackling trauma and building up resilience.
(Just a quick note: if you haven’t read the Introduction to the course, why not go back and read it to understand what this course is all about and how it’s structured).
Trauma can make us feel small, that we’re somehow undeserving of attention or love or of a bigger world than what our traumatic experiences have set out for us. With Bloom, if we do our jobs right, hopefully you’ll begin to know that no matter how you may have been treated or what you have been through, that you are defined by so much more than your traumatic experience, that there is always an explanation for the ways that you feel, and there is always, always a way to move forward.
It will take some work, and won’t always be easy, but don’t feel you’ve failed if this change doesn’t happen overnight. Just by reading this course, you can begin to trust your own voice. (It’s about practice, not perfection.)
Now time to make a start!
We go through a grounding exercise at the start of every session, as well. Grounding exercises are a set of strategies that help us when pain or difficult memories overwhelm us - our first “trick” toward wellness! They’re designed as techniques to stay “present” when we feel ourselves “dissociating” or as though we’re outside our own bodies - which is a common coping mechanism and response post-trauma.
If, at any point, you feel uncomfortable while reading this session (or anywhere, in your home or on the go), you can use one of these techniques to bring yourself back and away from hard emotions or physical pains.
Today’s first grounding exercise will be…
Place your feet on the ground and, in your imagination, pick your favorite color to draw an outline around each foot. Start at the heel and, using your imaginary pencil in whatever shade or hue, slowly go up the side of your foot to your pinky toe. Then, make sure you draw around each toe and then go back towards the heel. Repeat on the other foot.
Remember: every one of us is different. A grounding exercise that works for someone else may not work for you. That’s totally fine. We’ll be describing a different exercise each week, so we can find the ones that work best for us.
The goals for this session are:
- Introduce the course - done!
- Start thinking about “trauma”, as we begin our work in recovery
Fun question: We also like to start our sessions with a fun question. As is appropriate for our programme’s name: What’s your favourite flower or plant?
Let's start to think about trauma. It is what this course is about.
One of the main things we know about traumatic events is that they are usually sudden, so what we will try with Bloom is to progressively guide you through the information we want to share with you, so it never feels overwhelming or unexpected. We will be letting you know what we will be talking about in advance of our sessions, too, so you can anticipate what’s coming next.
Also, remember that you can, at any time, step away from this course note and go get some air or a drink of water, and come back to it later. We want you to have full control over your learning process during this course.
With that, I think we’re ready to start! So, many of us are now familiar with the word TRAUMA - considering our own histories - but what does it really mean?
The word actually comes from Greek and its first meaning is “wound”. Even though nowadays we have a more detailed definition of trauma outside of harm or intrusion, wound remains an accurate - if aptly piercing - word in its prescription. A wound comes from the exterior and affects our interior: our perceptions, feelings, and reactions to the world around us. However, we also know there are ways to heal from a wound. And there need be no physical marker or scar leftover in display: to see or to define us.
In the field of Psychology, trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event. These events usually involve a risk of harm or danger to ourselves or other people - either in threat to our life, sense of self, or our personal identities.
One thing to remember is that what's traumatic is always personal, for these very reasons. We are not the same people, and we do not all find the same situations traumatic. A traumatic situation can result in different reactions for different people. We might also have similar experiences to someone else but be affected distinctly. We could have even gone through the same “traumatic event” - such as a natural disaster in your community - but have independent feelings to the others with whom we shared our loss, fear, or grief.
It is not up to others to define or decide whether or not something that has happened to you is traumatic or not. You are allowed agency in your own story and your healing. Trauma is not prescriptive.
Ways trauma can happen include:
One-off or ongoing events - such as domestic abuse or childhood neglect
Being directly harmed, such as during a racist or homophobic attack
Witnessing harm to someone else, such as animal abuse or how children experience domestic abuse in their household
Living or working in a traumatic atmosphere, such as a toxic and discriminatory workplace
Experiencing physical violence or harm, such as in a car crash
Being affected by trauma in a family or community
This list is by no means exhaustive in terms of the traumas you might have experienced. But hopefully it illustrates the varieties of settings we might have experienced trauma in: through physical violence, or through emotional or psychological manipulation; through a one-time event, or prolonged exposure to a traumatic environment; or even, through witnessing something happening to someone close to you, or in an extreme circumstance, as opposed to something you directly experienced yourself.
Trauma can make us feel:
- Under threat
In addition to these emotions, our experiences of trauma can also be connected to parts of our identity, as we mentioned. This includes if we've been harassed, bullied or discriminated against. An erasure of our identity, wellbeing, and sense of self is an act of violence.
As we get more into the psychology of how traumatic experiences can impact our lives even long after the trauma is over, we’ll be exploring more of these criticisms and emotions in detail.
At this point, you might also be wondering what we mean when we say trauma resilience. That’s what the whole course is about after all, right? And we ARE doing our first day definitions.
We promise that we’ll address what trauma resilience is, and how to build our own resilience in the coming weeks. However, before we cover the science of resilience in course content - and assign our homework, build up our tasks - there’s an important note to highlight:
You’re here, and you’ve already survived. In a lot of ways, you have already been resilient - just by being here: being willing to engage with this course, to process your past, and to confront potential new emotions and fears.
You might experience flashbacks or uncomfortable emotions whenever you’re reminded of the traumatic event, yet, you have also made it through these pains, even if they have been difficult or caused problems.
You have also developed ways of coping with these uncomfortable effects of the trauma - some healthy, maybe others which were not as healthy. Still, this in itself is an act of resilience. You have observed the effect of a difficult feeling, and you have found ways - however you can - to diminish the impact on your life. And now, you’re learning ways to build or ways to let go.
You are all already incredible.
The Bloom sessions are just here to further the work you’ve done already - as an access point for everyone to lead fuller, more vulnerable lives.
It is tiring when we have to do it all on our own. Know you have communities and resources - some of which we will provide for you here.
Now, the work we want to do through these sessions is to first become aware of the effects trauma may have had on our lives, and to bring our attention to the ways we have been dealing with those effects so far. This will be done without self-judgment or shame. Rather, we want to uncover these stories with curiosity and self-acceptance. You are not to blame for what happened, and you are not defined by it. You are greater than your hurt.
This is a core truth - and should never be compromised.
In the following weeks, we will use some practical examples to show you how we can start to manage our reactions better so we can positively impact our day to day lives. Look out for some real life examples in the next few sessions!
And, next session, we’ll be back with content that’s more detailed and in-depth: looking at how our body produces a fear response to traumatic events, and how our body can repeat this response even when no longer exposed to the trauma. This session is intentionally a little bit lighter, as we orient ourselves to the structure of the course and the focus of the content of the coming weeks, but we’ll be here with our facts, feelings, or a greater focus than ever next session!
Thank you for sticking with us!
The homework for this week is…
Have a moment with yourself. Whatever that might be and for as long as you can. You might have a busy life or a busy house. Find a few minutes to do something you enjoy doing like reading a few pages of your book, going for a walk, or just enjoying some quiet. If you are feeling anxious at the start of something new - like this course - or else memories you want to avoid are intruding, try listening to a song you like or watching an episode of your favourite show.
We are going to be working on some difficult content in the next few weeks, so we want you to take a moment to breathe and connect with yourself before we start - and whenever you can!
Remember, this is an investment in your own journey to recovery. Give yourself the best chance to build resilience. You can do this, and we’re in this together.