This content contains affiliate links. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through these links.
It sounds strange, but let me tell you why I read guidebook books to help cope with a traumatic event. Something happened in February that shook my sense of security. I won’t go into details, but a stranger’s actions showed me how exposed I was. I spent a few hours that day in this strange border area between life-threatening danger and perfect health. The uncertainty stretched and stretched until it finally broke. It was never really dangerous in the end, no matter what it looked like in those few hours. Everyone was fine. I was fine. It was over. The end.
But it turns out just because something wasn’t found life threatening doesn’t mean I thought for hours it was just gone. Unfortunately. As a person who prides himself on having no feelings, at least outwardly, this was difficult to process.
I was exhausted and panicked and every time I returned to the place where it happened I had to force myself to get out of my car and go inside. And I had some guilt for what had happened, justified some of it, and some a result of my tendency to take responsibility for the actions of those around me. I was a living twitch.
Like any bookworm, I turned to books to find out what exactly I was feeling and how to make it stop.
When Googling “Books About Coming To A Traumatic Event,” and pretty much every possible combination of those words, The Body Keeps the Score came up dozens of times. I ordered it for my Kindle and started reading. And it was good. It made a lot of sense. But I felt isolated from the stories on the pages. I haven’t been through things that people went through in these anecdotes. I felt like a cheater using the word “trauma” to describe what I went through. And all that talk about feelings made me, an avoidant person, flinch and run the other way.
Today in Books Newsletter
Sign up to Today In Books for daily news and all about the world of books.
Thanks for signing up! Keep an eye on your inbox.
The Body Keeps the Score often emphasizes how difficult it is to do things on your own. How important it is to talk to others. But I didn’t want that. I did not know how. Despite my love of language and how much I believed in its power, I couldn’t put into words what happened or how it made me feel. I needed something that made more sense to me. I liked the way I saw the world and how I connected with it.
At the same time as I was rummaging through The Body Keeps the Score, a week after the incident I found letters to a young poet by Rilke in a used bookstore. I’d heard the title twirled around a lot, so I picked it up. In protest against further reading The Body Keeps the Score, I opened it that evening.
I read it through in one go. It’s not a long book, but I devoured it anyway. I read and reread letter eight.
In it, Rilke says: “We have no reason to distrust our world because it is not against us” and “So you mustn’t be afraid … if a sadness arises in front of you, greater than you have ever seen” “You have to realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it is holding you in its hand and will not let you fall.”
The last one really got me. I relaxed for the first time in a while, just for a second.
I printed out Letter Eight and taped it on my bathroom mirror to read every morning. This made sense to me. Advice to a poet. Advice on writing, yes, but also advice on how to live with a writer’s eyes. Rilke put some of my fears into words and told me it was okay, but with enough distance from words like “trauma” to really listen. The world wasn’t against me. Life wouldn’t let me down
Then finally came my library for Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. In it, Bradbury writes things like “Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a land mine. I am the land mine. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the parts together, ”that’s how I felt at the time.
But Bradbury also says things like “passion often saves the day” and “everything I’ve ever done was done with excitement, because I wanted to do it, because I loved it,” and “the trick is knowing how “To tip over and let the beautiful things out.” These passages, the whole book, made me feel different. The constant panic subsided a little.
Then I read Our Endless and Proper Work and understood why those books had this effect on me. Because these writers loved the world so much. They loved it, passionate about it, bad things and everything. They loved the world so much that they wanted to press it under glass, to turn it off permanently so that the rest of the world could see what they saw.
I got caught in a cycle of negativity, as I believe many of us do when faced with the loss of security that I was experiencing. Had played and repeated one person’s actions until they were all I could see in each one. And while that panic is still there when I think too much about that day, I also think about how Bradbury and Rilke and Hogan write about the world, and I remember it was just a day, it was just , one person, and there’s a whole world out there to try to love the way they do.
Well, by and large, this incident wasn’t that terrible. It could have been much, much worse. I am not saying that this method would work equally for all people, for all trauma. (Also, don’t be like me – talk to someone when you’re going through something.) But reading guidebooks to deal with a traumatic event worked for me. Maybe you are too. Wonder what you love What makes you believe in people, in the world again? Pick up something in this area and maybe, if just a little, it will help you feel that way again.