Three months later, life in Newtown appears to be back to "normal." If not for the reminders scattered about town, the buttons, the bracelets, the storefront posters, the offers of "healing," an uninformed visitor may never know anything catastrophic had occurred.
For some, these reminders have become a source of frustration.
I hear through the grapevine that many feel the town won't let them get "back to normal." The ubiquitous use of the word "healing" is getting under people's skin. Folks say they wish it would all go away so they could move on.
At one time, I might have jumped on this bandwagon. Recently, however, I've come to see it differently.
The Oklahoma City Muir Building bombing occurred eighteen years ago. It is one of the few other mass acts of violence in our nation in which young children were killed.
I've had the privilege of getting to know a trauma doctor who worked with the affected families. She is still in close contact with many of them.
She told me that the opportunities that afforded families a chance to hear what was "normal" behavior following a trauma were tremendously beneficial not only right after the attack, but also for years thereafter.
The truth is that people tend to isolate after a trauma. Parents are not always going to share that they or their child are not sleeping. It's good for others to beat them to it.
Years later, many Oklahoma City families remarked that although they may not have welcomed or attended the offers of help and healing, in hindsight, they found enormous solace in simply knowing that something was available.
I was also told of the benefits of being part of a tight community when faced with trauma. Unlike Virginia Tech or Aurora, in which many victims hailed from different locations, in Newtown, there are few degrees of separation between someone impacted and someone not.
"Helping hands builds a resilient community."
Building this resilience, though, begins with self-care. Thus, the question becomes, "How can we develop a menu of self-care?"
First, we must be aware of the pitfalls. The three-month mark is typically when the exhaustion, the irritability and the anxiety are heightened. Consequently, so are the risks, which are many.
After the Oklahoma City attack, drinking rose 2 ½ times over that in a control community.
Prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs increased by 22 percent in New York City after the 9/11 attacks.
After Aurora, there was widespread need for trauma counseling among relatives of victims and even those with no personal connection to the shooting.
These cities never went "back to normal," nor will Newtown.
Nevertheless, by providing opportunities for growth, we can and will influence how our new normal will evolve.
Social media, the present-day go-to haven for many, has its pros and cons. Research has found that online communication, such as tweeting and posting, can help people cope with the tragedy, but only if they are balanced with face-to-face interactions. Virtual interactions are not a replacement for real-life support.
On March 14, a panel of Buddhist lamas spoke at Newtown's Adath Israel Synagogue. The event drew a standing room only crowd. It was beautiful. When an attendee asked the panel how the community could best help those most impacted by the shootings, one on the panel answered, "continue having opportunities such as this."
Nevertheless, reminders of trauma alone are not useful and this may be what many are finding so troublesome.
Dr. John Woodall, a local Newtown psychiatrist, has had extensive experience working with victims of trauma -- particularly children. He agrees that reminders in and of themselves only serve to perpetuate the sense of despair.
Reminders, however, that offer a "vision," a way to arrive at a more resilient and more compassionate place, not only help a community move forward, they also offer an opportunity for transformation.
Unfortunately, when remembering Columbine, Aurora or Virginia Tech, the word "transformation" or "resiliency" rarely, if ever, comes to mind.
I recall few enduring efforts emerging from these shootings. Few motivating gatherings or movements reached our nation's attention. Few grassroots groups of promise and of action -- at least not to the degree we are seeing here in Newtown.
These other towns had no guide book on how to best go forward from this type of tragedy, nor does Newtown. What we do have, however, is hindsight and insight from these folks and the far too many others that have gone before us. We would be remiss to not pay attention.
"The most traumatic aspects of all disasters," writes Dr. Bruce Perry, involves the shattering of human connections." Hence, it would be wise to heed the words of Newtown pastor Reverend Matthew Crebbin:
We must resist the temptation to isolate ourselves and our families. We need each other. We need to build bridges across the divides of personality, religion, ethnicity, politics, etc. Isolated people in our towns and cities with little sense of connection to a grander purpose or deeper meaning are far more inclined to use violence of all kinds. In Newtown we have learned that we are all connected. What affects one affects all.
We may yearn for normalcy -- to be left alone, to "go back" to how it was. Yet, there is wisdom to be uncovered through change.
The timing and choice of each individual's path to resiliency will differ which is why it is so essential to offer ongoing options.
If one event, one healing circle, one gathering or one discussion helps just one individual find a way out of isolation or despair, then the cost of the reminders will have been worth the benefit.
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