This is how trauma affected my body, emotionally and physically. The experience led to a short-term increase in my stress hormones, raising my heart rate, depriving me of sleep, and taking away my drive to eat. Short-term, this is a good evolutionary strategy because it allows a person to focus resources on fighting or escaping impending harm. But long-term, and unchecked, this is deadly because this stress response causes an evolution in hormones that, over time, leads to inflammation, wear and tear on the body, and higher risk to many physical health conditions.
Things are gradually improving. The day after the attack, our home was flooded with flowers, cookies, and other treats as our support system kicked in. We were visited by a steady stream of family and friends who sat with us in the backyard, remaining physically distant, as we all reflected on Everly’s life. Talking about the event helped.
I also started using the techniques that I have learned from my ACEs Aware training to build resiliency in myself and my family. I made sure to exercise the next day. Although I was exhausted from not sleeping, going for a run helped to clear my mind and made it easier to sleep. I forced myself to eat healthy food, even though my ‘”fight or flight” body was not hungry. I pulled out my phone and meditated, using my favorite meditation app. My wife and I even chatted with our good friend, a psychiatrist, for an informal backyard therapy session.
My family will be okay. My heart rate continues to normalize, and I can feel a calm returning to my body. I am lucky. I have a loving family and a great group of supportive friends, another dog with whom to snuggle, and immediate access to mental health care.
I do not want to minimize the loss of Everly to my family, but if this is the body’s reaction to the traumatic loss of a pet, imagine what one would feel over the sudden loss of a human loved one. Imagine the effects on the body of living in an abusive or neglectful household or one in which a parent or caregiver is incarcerated. Now also imagine that this trauma is continual or long-lasting. Further, imagine that the victim does not benefit from the resiliency factors I have.