The Trauma of 9/11
“There was a terrorist attack this morning and a plane crashed into a building in New York City. Students with family members currently in New York City or Washington DC may come to the office.” That was the short message read by my high school science teacher after a note was handed to him by a messenger. It sounded like a scene from a movie, not something that could have actually happened. Without any other details, I wasn’t sure what to think. The school never gave us an update and our teachers acted like everything was normal. As the day went on though, the whispers started in the hallways of our school. The students who had gone to the office never returned to class. Only after taking the bus home from school at the end of the day did I learn the enormity of what would happen. Only spending the entire evening watching the news coverage and seeing my mom cry on the phone did I realize that our world would never be the same.
Where were you when the world stopped turning? That’s the question Alan Jackson’s song asks, and it’s a question that most likely every American adult can answer. What happened that September morning was unimaginable before that day. We were so shocked by this event, that it overwhelmed our normal ability to make sense of the news and the world around us. We watched news story after new story trying to make sense of what we were hearing. Many people gave blood in hopes there would be people needing the donations. Volunteers came from all of the country, each person wanting to do their part to help return this country to normal. But “normal” would never be the same.
Was Terrorist Attack Traumatic for Those in the Middle of the Country?
Yes, the terrorist attacks were traumatic for those in New York City and Washington DC. However, the trauma of just hearing about the attacks or watching coverage of them was very real for many people throughout the country. I use a fairly general definition of trauma in my practice. The word “trauma” refers to any negative event that overwhelms you’re typical ability to cope. Given that definition, it’s easy enough to see how 9/11 was a trauma for our nation, not just the individuals whose lives were taken or who saw the damage first hand. Kids across the country knocked over towers of blocks in therapists office. Full grown adults became anxious to leave their houses. And can you imagine how it felt to get on a plane when air traffic first resumed?
If you felt traumatized by 9/11, you were not alone. If every year on the anniversary you feel a bit sad, you are not alone. If your memories of that day are crystal clear, you are not alone.
How do we Acknowledge the 9/11 Anniversary?
There is not right or wrong answer here, and clearly you’ll respond differently if you lost a loved on in the attack. In general though, my advice would be to acknowledge your emotions. Talk to a friend. Every year on the anniversary I personally take at least a few minutes to think about my memories and acknowledge my own sadness. On September 11, I may think about the way things have changed. Then, I remind myself of how much good there still is left in the world. My mind turns to the positive-both the small but beautiful moments that followed September 11th as well as all of the amazing things in my own life. I think about how the world mourned with us, because we as a human race love each other beyond the boundaries of any one country. I think about all of the wonderful gifts I have in my life. There is a lot going on in this world right now that I disagree with, but at the end of the day I’m still proud to be an American and I’m grateful for everything I have.
I encourage you to find your own balance on the anniversary. It’s ok to be a little sad and to acknowledge all of the emotions that come with this big day. You may also find it very helpful to then focus on the positives in your own life.
Jessica is a therapist in and the founder of Aspire Counseling in Columbia, MO. She specializes in helping teens, college students & adults who feel stuck in the past and held back by the negative experiences they’ve endured. I have several very skilled therapists that I work with who also believe in your power to find healing from their past and reclaim your life. If you would like to speak to us about how counseling might help you move beyond surviving and toward thriving, please contact Aspire Counseling by e-mail or by calling 573-328-2288. You don’t have to stay stuck. Healing starts here.