Saturday, January 19, 2013

What My Cat Teaches Me About Trauma

My cat, Jaxx, and I have just moved into our new home. This is my cat’s second move in his life of 5 years. He does not like change. (I do not like change either, but I have become more comfortable with it over time because I have been exposed to so much of it in my life.)

It is Day 2 in the new place, and Jaxx has spent most of his time under my bed, not eating, not sleeping, in a state of hyper-arousal. Periodically he works up the courage (every four hours or so) to come out from under the bed. He comes and rubs up against me and is desperate for physical touch to reassure him he is safe. He will eat a couple of bites of food, then walk around and sniff things for a while. Then he will hear a small noise, and scared will run and hide under the bed again.

These are the lessons my cat is teaching me about responding to traumatic events:

1.       Trauma is different for everyone. What overwhelms one person might not phase another. (I have lived in about 30 different houses and I’m only 30 years old, whereas my cat has only moved twice and is relatively new at this).

2.       When healing from trauma we need to touch-and-go i.e. do a little bit of healing/work then take refuge and rest and regather our strength again. If we don’t allow ourselves to come and go from revisiting the source of the trauma then we will re-traumatise ourselves and make things worse than before.

3.       Supportive networks and safe physical touch are important keys to withstanding and rebounding from traumatic events.

4.       We often don’t feel like eating in the face of trauma so give yourself permission to deviate from your normal eating patterns for a while. Have small amounts of food periodically, especially before attempting to deal with crises. You will need your strength. When Elijah was lying in the desert burnt out God appeared to him and said “Rest and eat”. Those same words apply to anyone facing trauma.

Day 3 after moving house:
Jaxx suddenly got really confident around 11pm last night and starting walking around the house like he owned it. He wanted to go outside, in fact he was howling and moaning, begging me to let him outside. I was worried as he had never been outside at this new flat before, it was night time, and we live next to an area of forest and I was worried he would get lost, but he was insistent so I let him outside. I got up in the middle of the night to check on him, went outside and called for him and he came back and had a good snack of cat biscuits.

Further lessons from this:

1.       If you have been through a traumatic event, trust your own inner sense of timing. Your intuition won’t let you down. Jaxx knew he was ready to go outside, and in fact if I had left him inside when he wanted out I would have distressed him. He knew how much he could handle. You are your own authority on what is best for you.

2.       If you are looking after someone who has been through a traumatic event, you will find there comes a time when you need to let go, and surrender to the universe/God. Perhaps you think the person affected should be getting back into life, resuming work and they are not. You are worried that it seems like they are not getting better. Or perhaps like me and Jaxx, the person is ready to try new things but you think it is too soon, and you are fearful. Either way you need to realise that that fear you are holding onto, is preventing your love being communicated to the person. You need to release it into the power of something bigger (universe, God etc) so both of you can move forward.

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