The Orbital Model Of Trauma Recovery

Trauma, and its recovery, can feel endless in its consequences, in its constant presence in your life, thoughts and actions long after the original event and its direct consequences have passed.

At times I have been upset at myself for still being affected by it. It’s been more than a decade, more than two decades, I should be over this, I tell myself. But that’s not necessarily how it works.

I’ve found myself likening it to escape orbits. You can’t just ignore the event and fly straight past, the gravity well (or in this case, the trauma well) is going to catch you and make you orbit. If you don’t do anything about it, it’s eventually going to take a hold of you and is going to take up more and more of your time and space. All you can really do is correct course, a little bit at a time, until you escape.

This analogy holds up surprisingly well:

This has made for a pretty good model of explaining to non-trauma-afflicted people why it still gets me occasionally decades after the event, and why it gets better, but never as if it never happened.

I hope this analogy is useful in explaining why events tend to affect people this long after the original incident. Maybe you know someone that has been affected by trauma and you’re wondering about what’s happening to them. This is how it works, at least for me.