Healing process will take time, says trauma recovery expert

MUKILTEO — Events like the recent killings of three young adults in Mukilteo shake a community to its core and healing will be a “very, very slow process,” said Mary Schoenfeldt, who has assisted cities locally and nationally affected by trauma.

“It’s like a deep cut or gash and very slowly that will heal,” she said.

Schoenfeldt, who lives in Marysville, was appointed director of recovery following the 2014 shootings at Marysville Pilchuck High School. Her previous work has taken her to Newtown, Connecticut, following the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School; to Littleton, Colorado, following the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School; and to New Orleans to help with the reopening of a school district in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

As more information becomes public on the Mukilteo shootings, such as 911 recordings of family members frantic for information on their loved ones, it can disrupt the process of healing, she said.

“I can’t imagine anyone will read those without some kind of reaction,” Schoenfeldt said. “It’s just a matter of the depth of that reaction.”

The community should understand that reading, seeing, or hearing more about the event can trigger deep emotions. “Be forewarned that those triggers will come,” she said. “There isn’t any way to keep them out.”

If it brings on tears, “let those tears fall for 15 or 30 seconds. Acknowledge them because they’re not going away.”

There are steps people can take so they won’t be continually exposed to those emotional triggers, she said.

Turn off the news, don’t read newspaper accounts, and don’t listen to the radio on the way to work, she said.

Instead, listen to some favorite music. That way, people may not be taken by surprise quite as often by reminders of painful events.

Trauma can cause the body to produce up to 132 chemicals. “We need to rinse our body, flush it with water,” she said.

Her advice: Avoid sugar and caffeine, drink lots of water, make healthy food choices, and exercise.

People think in pictures so even if they weren’t on the scene they see and create the image in their mind’s eye, Schoenfeldt said.

“Those of us who did not lose a loved one are reacting not only to young people senselessly lost, but also to the possibility that it could have been my child, someone I knew or someone I loved,” she said.

“That’s the basis of community trauma,” Schoenfeldt said. “Our sense of security is shattered. We realize how vulnerable we all are at any moment.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

Community forum

A community forum is scheduled 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Rosehill Community Center, 304 Lincoln Ave. in Mukilteo, on resources available to the community, warning signs that may indicate someone is experiencing emotional distress, and how friends and family can help.

Help also is available to teens and adults affected by the shooting by calling the Volunteers of America Care Crisis Line at 800-584-3578 or online at carecrisischat.org.

Compass Health’s Crisis Prevention and Intervention Team may be contacted from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 425-349-7447.

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