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  • Writer's pictureHeather Koubek

Never Forget is a tricky proposition for our healing

The upcoming 20th anniversary of 9/11 started having it’s impact months ago. Anticipation is heavy. I see there are new documentaries with unseen footage, unheard 911 calls that are circulating. I am working with clients who have either suffered great loss that day, worked the human remains retrieval and debris removal or were physically in NYC. Some have lasting physical damage; some emotional. They are silently preparing. Most are unaware they are doing so.

Traumatic memories are not experienced in words, but with intense emotions and uncomfortable physical sensations. As I have talked a lot about in past posts, when we are experiencing a trauma in real time, our frontal cortex or intellectual brain shuts down. The somatic or emotional brain kicks into gear. This is a wise move- we simply do not have time to think or analyze if we are in danger. We must react swiftly and efficiently.

When we experience a traumatic memory, it is therefor not done with our intellect, but rather our emotional brains. Our emotional brains, bless their hearts, work very well under direct risk. But they have the narrative of maybe at toddler. Therefore, when a traumatic memory is triggered, it is experienced as physical sensations and overwhelming emotions- i.e. without many words. These are experienced without direct connection to any event, seemingly out of nowhere and attached to no concrete or present danger. It is safe to say that traumatic memories make us feel unhinged.

As we approach the anniversary of a traumatic event like 9/11, our emotional brains begin to feel unsafe. This is not registered by our intellect. It is just felt, by our minds and bodies. In return, our brain sends signals that we are in current danger. A cavalcade of physical and emotional symptoms begin. Stress hormones are released. Inflammation increases. If we have old injuries or chronic conditions they will exacerbate. If we have an acute injury, healing will be halted as inflammation rises and our circulation is diverted to the organs that are most in use during a dangerous situation. Our immune response is diminished as stress hormones do their thing throughout our systems. We can feel anxious, sleep deprived, fatigued. We may lose our appetites or eat ravenously. These responses usually begin way before an actual traumatic anniversary date.

We humans sometimes think we must honor a traumatic event, especially when we lost someone close to us, by suffering it over and over again. It is my assertion, having had loss in my own life and having worked with many who have lost, that it is possible to honor ourselves along with those who have passed. We must understand and accept that re-living these events happens to us whether we are conscious of it or not. We must care for ourselves with extra vigilance during these times, because our emotional brains can be in charge. That means the toddler is driving our bus. The toddler means well. The toddler senses danger is coming, and sends the necessary signals to our system to prepare. They want us to be safe throughout the storm. The impending traumatic anniversary is that storm.

When we can connect our visceral reactions to an upcoming concrete event, we begin to engage our frontal cortex. We are encouraging the toddler to communicate with the adult parts of our brains- the parts better able to assess direct and present danger. The part that is able to use words to describe what we are feeling. We are reminding ourselves that this dread is not a free floating monster coming out of nowhere to consume us. It is an old friend who is trying to warn us, unaware that we are safe now.

If you experienced direct trauma from 9/11 or the events that followed, be mindful of how your physical and emotional states are right now. Be kind to yourself. Engage in the bombardment of memories that will be everywhere, in your conscious and sub conscious mind, on your TV screen with great care and with active caution. You are not dishonoring those that are lost by managing your own pain and memory response.

Once you can associate the heavy stuff you are feeling with the event, there is a light that is allowed to enter. There is healing in this place. Your healing is the greatest honor you can give a lost loved one or a painful memory.

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