Before you lost your father, May 19th had no significance. Before the car accident, August 8th was just another summer day.
There’s no Hallmark card for this type of anniversary – it’s anything but happy. It’s the day on your calendar that takes you back to a time of suffering. It’s a day that – to you – signifies nothing but pain, hurt, fear or death.
The anniversaries of traumatic events can be traumatic themselves. It’s so common, in fact, it has a name: “anniversary reaction.” The response is unique to each individual, but common symptoms are described as “an increase in distress around the anniversary of a traumatic event.” Some people feel sad; others get anxious. For some, it is a mild feeling of sorrow. For others, it may involve significant physical and mental reactions such as panic attacks or stomach aches.
For others who have struggled with substance abuse, these days hold the potential for relapse. Faced with heart-wrenching memories, it can be difficult not to resort to old coping habits. If you have any stressful dates saved in your mental calendar, it’s important to develop healthy ways to handle them. Don’t let that anniversary also become the date you gave up your sobriety.
If you have an anniversary approaching, try the following:
- Make Plans
It might be tempting to avoid people altogether on this day, but it is often helpful to make plans so you have other things to occupy your time and thoughts. Don’t let yourself sit and dwell on the past.
- Hold A Memorial
If your day marks the anniversary of losing a loved one, perhaps you can make this a day of memorial. Celebrate their life. Visit their grave. Make a donation in their name. Volunteer for a cause they believed in. Make an effort to spend time with others who knew them. Do something to remember them in a positive way that involves healthy activities.
- Remember This Too Shall Pass
Anniversary reactions typically last from one day to a few weeks. Keep in mind it’s temporary. While it feels eternal in the moment of anguish, there is a light at the end. Most people have a tough couple of days or weeks around the anniversary, then gradually come out of it.
- Take Good Care of Yourself
When you’re tired, hungry or dehydrated, it’s even harder to cope with trauma. Get plenty of sleep. Eat your fruits and veggies. Get some exercise. When your body is feeling good, your mind is more likely to follow suit.
- Get Support
It’s common for people to try to get through these reactions alone. Why? Often, they are frustrated or ashamed that they’re still traumatized by the event. They don’t want others to know they are still struggling years later. But it may be that a lack of support during the original event is what’s causing a worse reaction now. Getting the support you need can provide healing. It can help you cope with the original pain and the residual reaction you experience on its anniversary. Reach out to friends and family. Find a therapist. Call your sponsor. Attend a meeting. Join a new support group.
Additional Reading: 7 Sure-Fire Ways to Screw Up Your Recovery
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