As we go through our lives after a traumatic event, we may feel like we’re over it on the surface, but our body remembers the stress and may repeat it. This can be triggered by the time of year, specific smells, triggering circumstances that remind you of the trauma, and more. This post is about how to hold space for yourself during a traumaversary — the anniversary of that traumatic event.
Trigger warning: This post discusses trauma, including abuse and death of a parent.
Every year, on the anniversary of a traumatic event, it’s important to take time to reflect on what happened and to work towards healing. Even if you’re not consciously anticipating the anniversary, you might be feeling more stressed, irritable, or anxious than usual. There are many things you can do to help yourself recover from trauma, and I highly recommend therapy if you can access it. It’s important to note that I’m not a clinician or mental health professional; when I speak about trauma I am sharing my own experiences and what has been supportive for me.
This is a topical post for me because March is one of my traumaversaries. In March 2018, I left an abusive partner. He harassed me via text message, phone call, and social media when he found out I had an escape plan, and he even had a friend stalk me on his behalf when he was out of town. In the same week, my stepdad was taken to the hospital and died of lung cancer complications. The result was that I shut down to my most basic survival levels, got myself out of the house and into a new apartment, and turned off my brain for a while. I didn’t really start healing for months, and though I am so much better four years later, it still feels really heavy at this time of year.
Notice the Signs of Your Traumaversary
The first thing you can do to hold space for your trauma healing when it comes to your traumaversary is to be aware of the signs and symptoms that your body and mind are doing a lot of work. As mentioned before, you might be more anxious or stressed than usual, or you may be very sleepy or experience an increase in chronic pain like fibromyalgia flares or migraines. Processing trauma, even if it’s mostly subconscious (hello, weird dreams!), is hard work.
Trauma healing, like many aspects of life, is cyclical. We heal on the surface as best we can and then months or years down the road we discover that there’s a new layer of issues to unpack to continue our healing. I believe that if we attempted to unpack and heal it all at once, it would be too overwhelming, so I’m on board with this layered approach. Each time you go through the cycle, you bring with you the experience and healing you’ve had since the last anniversary.
By the time we’ve experienced the traumaversary two or three times, it’s pretty easy to remember, “Oh, right, it’s March! That’s why I’m so stressed.”
Remember the Past on Your Traumaversary
Remembering the past is important in order to understand the present and create a meaningful future and a path forward to healing. This can be difficult when we’re trying to forget, or when our memories are painful.
I really, truly want to be over the trauma of four years ago. But I’m not over it, and probably never will be 100% over it. Each time I experience this traumaversary, though, I’m better off than I was a year ago, and that’s an excellent marker of progress.
It’s also important to remember that our past doesn’t have to define us. We can choose how we respond to our experiences and make choices that will help us move forward.
One of the things I struggle with is that I’m really good at processing information intellectually. I know that I am safe and that I will never have to see my abuser again. I know that the abuse was not my fault. But the chronic stress and fear of being in that relationship for so long has left a lasting memory that I can’t just logic away. Much of my trauma comes from feeling overwhelmed and helpless, which makes it really hard to move forward and heal without being willing to dig in and process the less logical parts.
Take Stock of your Traumaversary Healing Progress
Take some time for yourself to process the events of your traumaversary and your growth since. This can be done in any way that feels comfortable for you, whether it’s talking to a therapist, writing in a journal, or just sitting with your thoughts.
One of the ways I keep my focus on healing is to celebrate the small wins since my traumaversary, the ways that I’ve healed and taken action to move forward.
In the context of leaving my abuser, those wins look like:
- Asking my partner to do things for me without fear
- Not keeping track of favors done for one another
- Not apologizing for my feelings or for being in a bad mood (I still apologize, but he always reminds me there’s nothing to apologize for)
- Realizing I’m in a safe home now
- Deleting the Facebook memories from my marriage
- Quitting my job and becoming self employed and actually thriving
- Believing in my writing and talents
In the context of losing my stepdad, those wins look like:
- Smiling when I see a cardinal, because they remind me of him
- Not freaking out over our heater going out this past winter (I found out he was sick when I called him about my heater in 2018, so it’s a trigger)
- Lighting a candle on Father’s Day for him
- Not looking up the obituary date because it’s okay to not know the exact date he died (I was dissociating pretty hard at the time)
Traumaversaries are hard days and periods to get through, but you are moving forward each time you experience them.
Create a Traumaversary Support System
It is important to remember that you are not alone in this journey. There are many people who care about you and who want to help, in your community and/or online. Make sure you have support available to you when you’re struggling with memories or feelings related to your trauma, including friends, family, or a support group specifically for survivors of abuse or those who have experienced loss.
I speak very openly about my abuse story on my social media, and many of my connections online were there with me when I was leaving. I know that they are supporting me, and I have a few close friends I can connect with if I need to talk something out. I also have a great therapist and a truly wonderful partner who always makes space for me to talk about my traumatic experiences without any judgment.
Having even one trusted person you can talk to when things get really hard as your traumaversary approaches is so important.
Plan for Future Traumaversaries
It can be really helpful and compassionate to plan for your traumaversary in advance. By marking it on your calendar (maybe even with some reminders in advance), you can plan to take time off of work, set expectations with yourself and others about your emotional needs, and either schedule a therapy appointment or put together a playlist for Netflix (or both). Your needs for your traumaversary might vary. You might need to scream into a pillow, go for a run, cry into a pint of ice cream, set up a group chat with your best friends on deck to cheer you up, or throw a party.
My traumaversary is celebratory now, even among the hard parts and the processing and the therapy and the crying. I celebrate that I took an incredible step to escape a relationship that was destroying me, and I celebrate who I am today because I was able to do that.
I assign a date to my traumaversary — March 17. It’s the day my abuser left to visit his family and I consider it the day I left. This year, I marked it on my calendar in advance and am taking the day off. I’m going to celebrate my healing so far, and I’m going to be so eternally grateful to the version of me who was strong enough to leave. That was some HARD. SHIT.
If you need soft and cozy on your traumaversary, plan for that. If you want to go to a rage room, or plan a creative day where you make art about your feelings, plan for that. Anything goes.
It is my hope that these five ways to hold space and plan for your traumaversary help you as much as they’ve helped me over the past four years. Taking time for yourself will help you heal, and establishing a support network can help you connect with others who have been through similar experiences and can help you know that you aren’t alone. I am so proud of you for everything you’ve done and all the ways you have healed since your trauma happened.