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:
- Often you think you’ve escaped, you’re free, it doesn’t influence you anymore, until the loop catches you and you’re back in the pits. This is normal, you’ve gotten further than you did previously, but the trauma well still has you.
- It’s impossible to say if you’re on a very long orbital path, or out of its influence. All you can really do is keep extending it. At some point, they might as well be the same.
- It consumes you and takes up more and more of your time if you don’t work on it. That doesn’t have to be a lot of work, but trauma tends to be an excellent compounding factor on usual Life Happenings™.
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.