After 14 months of strict isolation and quarantine, vaccines are finally rolling out across the country with snowballing momentum. As of April 19, every American age 16 and older is eligible to receive a vaccine to protect against the COVID-19 virus.
And I urge each of you to do so. As soon as you are able to get an appointment, get vaccinated, not only to protect yourself and those around you, but also to prevent the risk of returning to quarantine in the future.
Just last week, I drove an hour north of my home to get my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. As someone who has been strictly confined to my home for the last 14 months because of my immunocompromised health, I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to seeing other vaccinated friends in small and safe ways. It will be a huge reprieve for both my mental and emotional health.
But my reason for this article is not to convince you of the importance of getting vaccinated, although I most certainly hope you do so. My point is to address where we go from here. As many of us start and complete our vaccination cycles, what does life begin to look like on the other side?
All of us undoubtedly have gone through immense hardship this last year. Many of us have endured deep loss, heartache, loneliness and trauma as well. Some of those experiences may be public knowledge — things we’ve shared on social media or within our circle of family and friends. But there are also many situations this past year that we have faced in isolation — things perhaps no one even knows about yet. Whether a single event or multiple hardships, we must find a way to grieve and process our loss in order to move forward into a healthy future. But how do we do that?
As we get our vaccinations and slowly and safely begin to gather in small numbers with others who also are vaccinated, I suggest we make room for our stories. We open up. We start talking with one another. We start sharing our heartaches, our losses, our fears. We collectively grieve.
“I suggest we make room for our stories. We open up. We start talking with one another. We start sharing our heartaches, our losses, our fears.”
I know well the consequences that come with holding trauma in your body long-term. As an LGBTQ person who now lives with an invisible disability, I implore you not to plow through the pain in an attempt to resume life as you knew it before the pandemic struck.
Holding trauma in your body long-term can have severe emotional, mental and physical affects down the road. It is important to cleanse our bodies and our souls by sharing our grief with one another. Revisiting painful memories and experiences is hard. But holding them captive within us is even harder.
We all have something to share. Let us heal together what we couldn’t experience together in the moment. Let us hold space for one another. Let us listen. Let us shed tears. Let us finally embrace one another and hold one another close. This is what will help us heal. This is how we move forward past all the pain and anguish this last year has brought us.
Some of our experiences may be shared and may even feel quite humorous in retrospect (like running out of toilet paper), while some may be scary (like not being able to find groceries when you went to the store). Some stories will hold deep pain (like losing a loved one to COVID or other illness or accident), and some will hold the lost hope of making memories (like having to cancel a trip/birthday party/wedding/graduation you’d been planning for a long time). This is our collective suffering. But there also may be other trauma you’ve experienced that no one else has felt — trauma that is uniquely yours. There is space to share and hold both.
“Let us heal together what we couldn’t experience together in the moment.”
If you’re not able to start seeing other vaccinated people yet, start by journaling. Pour things out of your heart onto paper. It is always a helpful way to release and heal. Paper is a great listening companion to the pen and is always a safe confidant.
If you’ve faced serious trauma (or perhaps even multiple traumas) this past year, you may also want to consider starting therapy if you haven’t already. Most therapists are offering sessions online, so you don’t even have to leave your home to get the help you need. Professional help with the right therapist will certainly help you through this time of transitioning to a new normal.
Whatever you do, start talking. Start sharing. Start confiding the hidden things you’ve harbored away in order to just survive. We all have them. I know I do. My wife and I have faced several major life events this past year that we’ve weathered alone. We, too, need time to vent those experiences from our souls.
So let’s make an agreement to do what it takes. Let’s be intentional in seeking out safe spaces where we can share our painful stories. Let’s create safe spaces for others to share theirs. Let’s lean on one another and heal together.
If we’ve learned nothing else this past year, it is that we are better together — stronger together — and that we can survive anything if only we do it together.
This column was originally posted on Baptist News Global.