When the chaos becomes norm



A week ago on Thursday, 9/13/2018……..

It was like a regular late afternoon. I finished the 4 pm session and ready for my 5 pm session. Suddenly, my phone rang, and I ignored it to start the 5 pm session. At 6 pm, as I said goodbye to the clients, there was plenty of message on my phone, including one cancellation. This was when I realized that there was a gas line explosion in Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence. My office is located on the town line of these three towns and, thus, the cancellation.

What followed after the phone calls were surreal. In the beginning, I didn’t think it was a big deal but walking into the parking lot outside of my office building to see at least ten police cars and fire trucks and the helicopters flying above me. At this point, I know the severity of the situation, but I still didn’t think it would have the impact on me because I didn’t know my apartment used natural gas. It was until I got home (and not to mention the 2-hours drive in the regular 10-min commute) and saw my neighbors were all in the parking lot that I realized how severe the situations was.

We all stood in the parking lot and waiting to be clear to go into our home. Suddenly, someone announced that the light would be turned off in the entire town. Next thing I know, the lights were out, and the whole town became dark. I was on the phone to try to find a place to stay for the night while putting an overnight bag together.

Driving to my friend’s house was surreal. The 93 highway was like a big parking lot while everyone tried to get out of the town. I sat in the car and just felt a sense of disbelief. All I can think was how fortunate I was to have a destination to drive to and to have someone to give me a shelter.


Present day, 9/20/2018

It’s been a week since the gas explosion in the Merrimack Valley area. Life seems to be back to normal for most people. This week, all the clients came in asking about my coping with the damage (which I am truly grateful). There are also some clients in these affected area suffered from anxiety. Some of the clients who have the past traumatic events were reminded of the past trauma, and their trauma symptoms worsened due to this incident.

As I have gradually settled back to my regular daily routine, I can’t help but think about the chaos a week ago. I reflected on the process from unaware of what’s going on and continued with my routine, to realize something severe has happened, to find the shelter to get through the night, and then, the anxiety and concerns of “when can I go home and back to normal?”

It seems so surreal, and I still can’t believe the chaos I went through. However, I also noticed that, by day 3, as much as I wanted to go home and back to the normal routine, I started to find the rhythm to survive the chaos and uncertainty by day 2.

This experience made me think about my clients who suffered from the childhood family trauma. I thought about all of my clients, as a child:
………trying to comprehend what’s going on;
………trying to find a way/place to get through the night;
………getting used to chaos and uncertainty gradually become a norm

As an adult, I am cognitively and emotionally fully developed. I can’t help but feel heartache when I thought about my clients, as children, went through the same experiences as I went through, especially the person who created the chaos to them were most like their parents or primary caregivers, who were supposed to provide stability.

Children, without full cognitive, emotional, and brain development, growing up the chaotic household might find the whole chaos incomprehensible and as a result, growing up believing turmoil and uncertainty is the norm of life.

Children only know what’s given to them. When the norm of life seemed to be chaos and uncertainty, they think that’s what life is supposed to be. When the parents who are supposed to provide protection and stability brought confusion and uncertainty, they believe they are the problems that caused the turmoil and uncertainty.

In this incident, with all the chaos, fear, and confusion, I can understand that “I am not the problem” and “I don’t cause the problem.” The adults grow up in the chaotic family environment might continue to believe “I am the problem,” and feel “chaos, anxious, and uncertainty,” while continually trying to strive for absolute stability and shelter.

As I settled back into my regular life, I found myself having a deeper understanding of how chaos becomes norm and creates traumatic experiences.

If you are experiencing the anxiety, fear, irritable, difficulty sleeping, and hypervigilance in the coming days as the result of this unfortunate situation or triggered the past trauma, please seek help. The difference between a child and an adult is that: you can ask for help now, and some professionals are trained to help. You don’t have to be fearful and anxious in the dark by yourself.



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