If you haven’t experienced a significant trauma (I’m grateful you haven’t!), then making a statement like: “It’s Thursday,” probably sounds really dumb. For those of us who have experienced trauma, especially when facing long term effects from it, we know that sometimes we need that kind of connection to reality. Trauma, even in the immediate moments following the event, can significantly alter our brain chemistry. One issue with that is time.
Do you actually realize how much an awareness of time grounds you?
Probably not. Unless time suddenly seems … strange. Then, you realize that the lack of connection with time has also made you feel a little like you are floating.
I know there are those who consider this to be a positive thing, that our focus on time is problematic. And in a sense, letting go of our grasp on time can be beneficial. When we can leave our watches at home and focus on people rather than appointments, this is a good thing. It is a reminder that people matter. That is not what I am talking about.
Whether you are task oriented or people oriented or somewhere in between, you do live within the confines of time. The sun rises. The sun sets. The moon orbits around the earth. The earth orbits around the sun. You do live within that construct whether you want to or not. Trauma can create a struggle to recognize the day to day passage of time, however.
Days blur together; night becomes day and day becomes night. Lack of sleep contributes to this, of course, along with several other factors we don’t need to dig into right now. A week passes and we wonder how; it feels like we are still in the midst of that first moment when we experienced the pain. I know time flies, even for those who are not experiencing trauma. Please understand though that you can still recognize that a progression is taking place. In the midst of dealing with trauma, a person doesn’t see progression the way they would if they weren’t stuck. And being stuck makes things feel even deeper and more hopeless than they would if you could at least see a way forward.
When you have relived the same sleepless night for years on end, you lose track of what day, what month, even what year it is. But it doesn’t have to be years before it causes distress. Even a couple days with nights marked by nightmares and/or flashbacks can begin to make someone feel hopeless.
But there is hope.
First, for those going through the trauma and losing all sense of time, please know you aren’t alone. Your fellow trauma sufferers know what it’s like. Friends seeing someone going through this, be there for your friend. Keep in contact with them and spend time with them. Trauma sufferers, don’t push your friends away. They may not understand, but they do care. They might say something that feels utterly insensitive; remember, they are probably just uninformed. If you need a moment, take a moment, but come back to them. Kindly, gently educate them. I know you’re exhausted and the last thing you probably want to do is be an empathetic teacher. But I promise it’s worth it. The friends who want to hold to their own understanding will and won’t stick super close; the ones who want to truly be helpful will appreciate you taking the time to let them know what works and what doesn’t. This will let them better model for others how to be a good friend in these times.
Next, calendars are your friend. Pick a time each day where you will mark off a completed day. Yes, I think this is a good time for a good old fashioned print calendar. Don’t want to buy one? Make one yourself. But being able to mark off those days gives you a physical connection to the reality of the passage of time. Reminders on your phone are a great way to help you stay connected as well. You can set the date and time of your reminders so you don’t have to rely on your own sense of time and your memory to make sure you do what you are hoping to accomplish. And those who aren’t experiencing the trauma, guess what! You can help too! A random text now and then just to say: “Happy Tuesday!” can have more of an impact than you know. Don’t be pushy; don’t do it every day. That gets annoying. But something along the lines of: “Are you having a good Saturday?” can also be a comfort. And you can do this without assuming your friend is having a struggle with time. Most of those texts I have received have been from people who didn’t realize I wasn’t sure what day it was.
Lastly, don’t use your struggle as an excuse. Everyone around you has something they struggle with; a large portion of them you will never know what that struggle is. Yes, it’s hard to function with those questions about time, but you don’t have to be a victim of circumstances. You can use this. You can become a better friend by letting this improve your ability to give friends all the time they need. When you go to coffee, just sit and enjoy being with your friend; don’t worry about how long you spent with them. Believe me, people need friends who can just be with them without making them feel like a time drain. And friends who aren’t going through the trauma, don’t be the reason your friend can use this as an excuse. Validating their feelings and struggles doesn’t have to involve explaining away problematic behavior. This can involve something as simple as being real with them about your own struggles. Acknowledge for both of you that your struggle is different than theirs (even if it happens to be similar, it is different), but still share with them. You know your friends; you know if they are having a day where they truly cannot handle hearing about what your struggles are. But don’t hide your pain because you are afraid of how it will impact them. Often the times we are most able to handle our own troubles when for a few moments we are pulled out of them.
All of these steps must be surrounded by prayer and a focus on God and His Word. Your traumatized friend may not be a believer and is pretty turned off to all things God. That doesn’t mean you don’t come at it with a focus on Christ. Your goal should always be to share Christ with them; it just may come in doing life with them and loving on them, forgiving them when they screw up, showing them what grace REALLY is. Prayer is absolutely critical whether they are a believer and you can openly pray with them or they are not a believer and you have to be careful. That prayer may need to be a silent partner in your approach, but it is powerful. The Word of God is so effective. Share principles even if you can’t open your Bible with them and share. Thankfulness and focus on the positive are examples of Biblically sound principles you can share without having to preach.
Be patient. With yourself and with your friends. Life is a learning process.