Lawyers Journal

Breaking through the pain of Sept. 11

The attack of Sept. 11 was an attack not only on a building, a city and thousands of our fellow citizens, but on our sense of living in a secure, predictable world. Most of us, having witnessed something so inconsistent with and disruptive of the world as we knew it, were truly traumatized to some degree. We experienced one or more symptoms of acute stress (e.g., hypervigilance, irritability, difficulty concentrating, intrusive images, crying), and learned that these were normal and would fade within a month or so.

Unlike most traumatic events, Sept. 11 is one that has not spared any of us. Perhaps more clearly than on any past occasion, we are all grieving this year. Both acute traumatic stress and grief reactions are normal in the short run. They become clinical concerns when they persist and significantly interfere with daily functioning. Even normal reactions, however, are not adequately handled solely through avoidance or a stiff upper lip. It has been observed repeatedly that traumatic and grief reactions last the longest for those who never had the opportunity to share their experience and feelings with others.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a consequence of unresolved acute stress and is generally more severe when the traumatizing circumstances continue over time, such as soldiers in continuous combat, months or years of sexual abuse, etc. Because terrorism may become for us an on-going source of stress, as it certainly has for those affected directly or indirectly by anthrax, thoughtful attention to our lives may help us cope.
Human beings have an amazing capacity to adapt. Already we are finding that it helps to return to active lives and routines in order to re-stabilize our own internal psychological structure. We are realizing that how we think about things affects how we feel, and can use our rational capacity to remember that life was never permanent, unchanging, or completely safe, and that we have survived past disasters, though not without casualties.
As many have already testified, trauma and loss can bring about some positive results once we have made our way through the acute pain. We may acquire more confidence in our capacity to face any challenge. Our values may turn away from the superficial and toward those things that are much more important. We may have a renewed appreciation of friends and loved ones, and of our larger family, since in so many ways we are all in this together. We may more fully experience and appreciate living each day, and take note of the little things that are usually unnoticed.
Finally, adversity provides an opportunity to find greater meaning in what we choose to do. Often, those who get their lives back on track after tragedy are those who find a way to transform pain into something constructive. Many of the lawyers who have found their way to LCL in recent years have already been wrestling with the issue of finding meaning in their work, and making choices in line with their own values. This is a very difficult task that requires creativity, flexibility, and sometimes sacrifice. Perhaps our altered perspective on life and our place in the world will provide new incentive and inspiration.This column was provided by Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers

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