In my last post, I discussed how family members and close friends can support a CADI and help them cope after a serious accident. In this post, I focus on the importance of supporting yourself while supporting a CADI. As a friend or relative of a CADI, you experience your own stress and trauma. You grieve for the victim and his or her family. You also grieve for the toll this takes on the CADI. If you were at or near the scene of the fatality, you may have some of the post-traumatic symptoms we’ve described, or you might feel traumatized by the way in which you found out about the accident. As one CADI said, “This doesn’t just happen to you. It happens to the whole family.”
And there are all kinds of worries. Will the CADI ever recover from this? Will they be arrested or go to jail? How will this affect the family finances? Will the media coverage or social media chatter provoke retaliation? It is not unusual to feel angry as well. You know the CADI did not intend harm, but their actions caused tragedy, and the results are life changing. On top of that, supporting the CADI requires energy — taking on extra tasks, helping to coordinate or plan, and finding the strength to be with them in their pain and suffering.
Secondary traumatic stress is the desolation and anxiety that comes from hearing about the fatal accident and doing your best to support the CADI (or others involved). Secondary trauma can resemble symptoms of posttraumatic stress — emotional upset or feeling numb, difficulty concentrating, worrying, or feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. Your sleeping or eating may be disordered, or you might have physical symptoms like an upset stomach or back and neck pain.
These are all signs that you need to take care of yourself. Seek social support from friends or relatives and take some time away from the CADI to be by yourself or to do an activity you enjoy. Exercise, time in nature, creative expression, meditation, and self-compassion exercises may also be helpful. It is okay – actually it’s necessary — to have boundaries.
Some CADIs express a desire to be left alone, even when you reach out with love. Remember that withdrawal is a sign of guilt and shame. The urge to hide from others can be powerful. The CADI in your life may reach out to you in the weeks or months to come. Healing is a long-term process.
If your secondary trauma is interfering with your life, you might want to talk with a therapist, pastor, or counselor about your feelings and fears. Also keep in mind that, just as the CADI’s anguish affects you, your feelings and worries affect the CADI. By dealing with your anxiety and grief, you will help the CADI cope.
Those who care for CADIs are offering vitally important support. Even small gestures of acceptance, support, and caring can make a huge difference. Thank you so very much for reaching out.