Creating Meaning from Tragedy
Amidst the every-growing bodies of research on trauma, there are few interventions that are unequivocally helpful in survivors’ recovery. One, however, is having a sense of purpose. Another is having a sense of control. The most benefit comes in combining these — find meaning, create purpose, and gain control — by “making lemonade.” The recipe results in greater resilience and fuller recovery.
Finding meaning will look and sound differently for everyone. I will highlight the benefits of building meaning and purpose out of your trauma by way of contributing — to individual people, to communities, to society. However, be mindful as you read; if it is unsettling in any way, or elicits internal protests, then you are likely getting feedback that now is not the time for you to pursue this piece of recovery. Respect that, and know you can come back to this at any time, in any form.
Why Make Lemonade?
One reason is to combat the loss of control that is so devastating at the time of the trauma. Getting involved builds a clear sense of control; the impact of your life in the world is significant, and it is good. With that energy, you help both others and yourself.
Just as importantly, discovering a cause or an individual whom you can assist, will build a sense of purpose. Your survival will become more concrete as your actions ripple into the world. Your survival will likely also feel more satisfying, as it enriches your life and others’.
Precisely how you decide to make your lemonade will depend on many factors.
-Is now the right time for you? Do you have the energy?
-How much energy? Does it make more sense to help from home, via phone or internet? Or does getting outside, outdoors, or being among other people make more sense?
-Is there a someone in your neighborhood you can help? A volunteer project that catches your interest?
-Have you learned something from your trauma that you would like others to know? Is there something you’ve gained that you want to give?
-If nothing specific comes to mind now, can you keep antennae out for things get you energized, or that you very much wish would change? Perhaps you can be a catalyst.
As always, it is imperative to move forward at a manageable pace. Check that the steps you take are small enough to ensure success. Surround yourself with supports (loved ones, and/or a mental health professional) to talk about your experiences in making meaning. Regularly assess how getting involved impacts your recovery; it should be fortifying. If it seems to dysregulate you, it may be better to slow down, or to take a pause.
For those of you who are drawn to the idea of making lemonade, but feel uncertain — dip your toes in, and notice how it impacts your day, or your week. You can decide to take your toes out, or step forward.
Remember: you can do this only because you survived. You are here now, gaining control, and bettering the world with your survival, one step at a time.