Overcoming Consuming Fires, by Gretchen J. Penner, ASW
For two weeks I watched with anguish and concern the consuming fires sweeping through Northern California, taking homes, incomes, and even lives. As a Native Californian, I have never seen such devastation from fires. As I watched the homes and vineyards burn, I was reminded of how my father lost his family farm from a tornado when he was a young man. At the age of 16, he drove his family to safety as the tornado whipped out their home and farm including all their livestock and crops. In one instant they lost their home and their livelihood. Though their’s was not the only farm in this midwest town to be destroyed, they were the only ones to rebuild.
As the fires that recently swept through Northern California come to an end, and people return to their homes, some will find their house still standing, while other will find nothing but ash. Like my grandmother, they will sort through what rubble that is left to try to find any salvageable items. Some will rebuild, while others will relocate. And they will grieve; grieve the loss of loved ones, the loss of their home, the loss of the life they had.
Trauma hits us all differently. Like a fire that destroys some homes while barely scorching others, trauma can leave one person feeling scared, weak, and destroyed, while another will walk away with little to no scars. The difference? It comes down to resilience. Like a rubber band, some people can bounce back even when stretched to the brink.
Experts have studied resilience for years, and have discovered a variety of aspects that lead to resilience including sense of humor, spirituality, and healthy attachments. Researchers have found that those who had a healthy attachment with their parents, are more likely to be resilient when faced with a trauma. So what about those who didn’t have a healthy attachment to a parent? What if their parent was abusive or simply not there physically and/or emotionally? Here is the good news: resilience can still be built. No matter how old or young one is, we have the capability to build resiliency through therapeutic interventions.
Sometimes it takes going through a difficulty to help us build resiliency and discover just how strong we really are. Did you know that the lead of a pencil is the same chemical element as a diamond? Both the pencil graphite and the diamond are two forms of carbon. The carbon in the pencil is dark, dull, and extremely soft which makes it easy to write with. It has little to no value. The carbon in a diamond is one of the hardest surfaces. It is clear, bright, shinny, reflecting light, and has high value. The difference? The carbon in the diamond has been put through the fire; it has endured high heat and pressure.
So I ask you, do you feel like a diamond or do you feel like a pile of ash? If you choose the later, we at the Therapeutic Center for Anxiety and Trauma are here to help. We can help you look through the rubble, find what is still salvageable, and reclaim the peace and joy that has been taken from you. In the process, you can become the diamond you wish to be: strong, brilliant, confident, and valuable.
The author, Gretchen J. Penner, ASW, is currently accepting new clients and can by reached by phone at 619-272-6858 x713, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P.R.(February 2012). An Attachment Perspective on Psychopathology. World Physiatry, Vol 11(1), 11-12.
Shapiro, R.(2010). The Trauma Treatment Handbook: Protocols Across the Spectrum. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York, NY.
Van Der Kolk, B.A, McFarlane, A.C., and Weisaeth, L. (2007). Traumatic Stress: The Effect of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body and Society. Guilford Publications, Inc, New York, NY.