I remember doing monster checks under the bed and in the closet when my kids were little. I’d get out the “Monster Spray” (AKA room freshener disguised with a ‘Monster Away Spray’ label) and we’d do an All Clear check; I would guarantee the monsters were gone. In total belief that the monsters were gone, they would exhale a huge sigh of relief, pick a book to read, turn on their night light, and say their thankful prayers.
As I think back on those days, I recognize that the only reason that I could guarantee that the monsters were “gone” is because the monsters were never actually there in the first place. Nothing else has been that simple because I can’t use my Super-Mom Powers to make the real challenges, heart-aches, losses, disappointments and meanness of this world dissipate into a rush of lavender mist as I once magically Monster Away Sprayed their fears. Both of my kids, now ages 23 and 20 have experienced traumas (life-threatening events) of their own since their childhoods, and making the events themselves or the impact of these events dissipate away isn’t possible – even for a woman who used to be known as “Super Mom.”
As a Clinical Psychologist who specializes in recovery from trauma, there are several common questions that every person I’ve ever worked with asks. One of the main ones is, “Can you make it (memories, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, anger, anxiety, for example) go away?”
To which I reply, “No because in order to do so, I’d have to remove the event itself. And, I’d have to remove every external trigger (people, places, things, circumstances) and every internal trigger (thoughts, emotions, memories, nightmares, the fight, flight, or freeze response, for example) go away too. And that is not possible. However, I can teach you about the things that maintain and exacerbate the cycle that puts this domino effect in motion, as well as train you to respond in a way that causes you to - eventually – believe and feel like have your foot on it instead of it having its foot on you all the time.”
“So, you can’t fix it or me?” They ask.