Writing this article was a lot harder for me compared to previous articles I have written. Not because The Gift: 12 lessons to Save Your Life by Dr. Edith Eva Eger is a bad book, no, it is because this book has opened a couple of doors, some of which I have kept shut for many decades.
Everyone, young or old, will experience various things throughout life. You are born, you learn, you play and hopefully grow up as a valuable adult for society, your friends and family. This path is not always a straight line, it is often with detours before getting to “a” destination. And those detours? They can be fun, like taking a few years off to travel, do some volunteering or perhaps be a stay at home parent. Some detours you stumble upon are often not voluntary. Things can happen that change your course, like an accident, sudden sickness, an early death from someone close to you or some other traumatic event. This will not only cause a detour in your life, but it can make you stop with something entirely and ponder why it is even worth living. In these dark moments we can seek help and comfort in others… or… you can reach out to a professional.
Seeking professional help is often seen as a big step to take. Not only do people – who need help – see it as a sign of weakness, in some cultures seeking professional help for your mental wellbeing is considered frowned upon. Also not everyone wants or is capable of thinking, let alone talking, about their traumas.
I consider myself as one of those people. It has not been until recently that now decades later, my own traumas are resurfacing. It almost came to a point I considered ending it. If there is any sign that you are not doing well, this is that sign. With a gentle push of my spouse, I sought out help and am currently under the guidance of a therapist. It took over a year to mention my traumas, to give it a name and express how it made me feel. However I was not able to talk about it after that one session, recollecting was just too much. Knowing that I love to read, she gave me the assignment to read The Gift by Dr. Edith Eva Eger.
When I was young, my coping mechanism was: “it could have always been worse”. This was sufficient to bury my own traumas for years, but it was not anymore. In the book Dr. Eger mentions this coping mechanism and apparently it is used by a lot of people. She mentions that it is a bad coping mechanism, because it does not leave you any room to process your own traumas. Everyone experiences events differently. In the book she continues with various other examples, using stories from patients she has treated herself. From survivors of war, victims of attempted murder and rape. Again reminding you – the reader – that yes, it could always have been worse, but it does not take away that what you (read: they) have experienced, is no simple matter one should downplay.
With every chapter, story and anecdote, she explains what happens to you the moment these traumatic events occur. She also gives simple yet powerful tips on how to put these events in perspective and how to process them better. One of the stories hit home for me. Even though it was nowhere as extreme as what her patient has experienced, I could feel the pain, the panic, the resentment and the will to not carry on anymore. But… she also explains how this was a freak occurrence, that the patient dealt with it to the best of her ability in that particular situation. Dr. Eger picked apart the entire scene, step by step, not saying what she could have done differently or better, but where the emotions come from, which resulted in the trauma remaining fresh and painful even after years have passed. She then showed how you could manipulate that memory, also step by step, so that the feeling this traumatic event triggers no longer hurts that much and will consume less of your (mental) energy. I have re-read that specific chapter dozens of times, using the same tips and applying them to myself. After a couple of days, repeating the process, I began to feel lighter. I slept a bit better and felt more energetic.
Now let me make one thing clear, this book is by no means a replacement for proper therapy. For me however it opened some doors, took away some of the edges and helped me in the conversations I now have during my sessions. If you are someone stuck in a similar situation, not knowing how to express yourself or how to take back some of your freedom, this book might be the perfect gift for you.