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Tears. Trauma. Tools.

A 2 Z Healing Toolbox was born out of a desperate attempt to DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING! to help me stop feeling so horribly wretched in the aftermath of my husband’s sudden traumatic death in a car accident in 2012. I felt shattered, broken, adrift, detached in every way possible- emotionally, physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically. I was wracked with intense shock, fear, pain, rage, guilt, bewilderment, anguish, anxiety, agitation, helplessness, nightmares, and horrific flashbacks. I really thought my life was over. That the pain would kill me. That there would be absolutely no way to attempt to crawl out of the hellish pit I was in.

The pain was all encompassing. And where had it come from? It was as if I had been walking steadily along with small bumps in the road, and then… somehow… in an instant the entire world spun off its axis and sent me careening into the invisible pit of darkness and despair. Falling… falling… down…down …down… 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 feet. Unable to breathe. Unable to move. Unable to see. Not a THING in the world made sense anymore. One moment I had been living overseas with my small child and professor husband. We were in transition, on our way back to America to “settle” in our home country and our personal belongings were on a container ship headed towards California. The next moment my husband – my friend, my co-parent, my athletic adventure buddy, my travel partner of 17 years, the house chef, the family comedian, the devoted dad, the creative artist and musician, the brilliant young surfing professor… was… DEAD?

Impossible.

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I sat ravaged and completely alone in that pit of pain and darkness for what seemed like an eternity. But as I sat, immobilized, I felt something move. Was I really alone? It was the hand of a small child. My 5 year old son. He was in the pit with me too. Oh my God. I had to get us out of here!! At some point, I screamed to the heavens in agony,

“I HAVE NO TOOLS FOR THIS !!!”

And thus began the search for some sort of toolbox to help me climb up and out. As a social worker, my brain had been trained to research, organize and connect OTHER people to resources in their community. Certainly I could find some tools to help US get out of this deep pit? As a teacher, my heart had been trained to fight for the best for all children so I knew I had to climb – for my son’s sake. I just couldn’t and wouldn’t let him have a horrible childhood. And I couldn’t and wouldn’t live with this much all encompassing pain while trying to help him. So eventually (in the name of helping my son at first because my own will to live was so minimal), I set out in search of recovering my mind, body and soul. One single small step at a time. My internal mantra to every new person, every new experience, every new encounter became:

“HELP US HEAL OR GET OUT OF THE WAY”

Over time, I came to realize that I had two buckets to contend with:

  • #1 GRIEF
  • #2 TRAUMA

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I also came to realize that thousands of other people in the world were holding the same buckets.

In the three years since my husband’s death, I have been welcomed into a remarkable community of inspiring friends, peers and mentors – all of whom have been tackling the hard work of living while experiencing profound grief, loss and trauma. Collectively we grieve our spouses, children, parents, extended family members, best friends, lives, and former selves. We have experienced loss and trauma by accident, long term illness, stillbirth, suicide, addiction, murder, war, abuse, assault, terrorist attack, natural disaster, serious medical condition, and occupational duty. Over time, I have come to realize that most of us actually never “completely climb out”, “fully recover”, “just move on” or “totally heal” FROM grief, loss and trauma. Instead it seems that we learn to live WITH it – to absorb it, manage it, move forward with it, incorporate it, and use it as a mechanism for internal growth. We learn ways to restore a sense of new self, to rebuild and transform new lives.

My interest eventually became not so much HOW we all got here…
But rather…
What can we do now that we ARE here?

  • How can we attempt to recover a sense of self after hopes, dreams, assumptions and core beliefs about life (and death) have been shattered?
  • How can we attempt to restore some sense of balance in our minds, bodies, spirits?
  • How can we engage in every day living while transforming and rebuilding new lives?

What tools and resources are there in the community to help us while we move toward restoration, renewal, rebalancing, and rebuilding?

A 2 Z Healing Toolbox is a collection of 26 powerful tools and resources that counter the negative affects of grief and trauma and may assist in increased healing of the mind, body and spirit. This is the healing toolbox I wish I had been given back in 2012. These tools are positive and practical. They are in an easy-to-read format. They have been studied, researched, recommended by professionals- and tested out by hundreds of peers, mentors and colleagues. See if you can look through A 2 Z and choose a tool that resonates with you. Start with just one. See if you are able to take another single small step today.

  • Spend time with an Animal?
  • Relearn how to Breathe?
  • Ask a friend for a referral to see a Counselor?

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A 2 Z Healing Toolbox can be one of your helpful guides to:

  • promoting your feelings of hope, control, independence, coping and calmness
  • improving your ability to rest, relax, and sleep
  • increasing your levels of oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins (“feel good” hormones)
  • decreasing your levels of cortisol and norepinephrine (stress hormones)
  • rewiring your brain and strengthening its positive neural pathways
  • reducing the occurrence of negative, anxious, fearful thoughts
  • decreasing flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive memories and disturbing images
  • bringing your Autonomic Nervous System (heart rate & blood pressure) under control
  • enhancing your overall physical, emotional, social and psychological wellness
  • boosting your self confidence and self esteem

My hope is that you won’t have to do the legwork to discover what may help you continue healing. My hope is that you don’t scramble to reinvent the wheel- because many grief and trauma resources are already in place for you. My hope is that you can use A 2 Z Healing Toolbox as a guide to begin or continue to RESTORE, RENEW, and REBUILD your new life and move toward healing your mind, body and spirit.

Of course we are forever altered by grief, loss and trauma. Our transformational journeys are non-linear paths, forever changing and never complete. We will never be “over it” and we can’t just “move on from it”. But I have experienced through hundreds of others that we can learn again to see and feel glimmers of light and hope in our newly transforming lives.

And as you get up each day, just know that there are thousands of us walking alongside you and holding you up with tools, resources, support, love, and encouragement along the way.

– Susan

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