Having to leave your home in China suddenly is not just difficult, it is a trauma and should not be taken lightly.
Receiving member care from teammates or from the sending organization are both good, and play important parts in the healing process. But no matter how well it is done, it is still not enough. It is important that we treat this for what it is, trauma, and know where to find professional help.
To suddenly go straight from China to your passport country under these circumstances can add to the trauma. Even though people back home are eager to meet you and to get you “home,” most of them have very limited understanding of what it is like living in China under normal circumstances, let alone, leaving suddenly or the experience of being interrogated. It is, therefore, recommended to go to an interim place on the way home for professional counseling and trauma treatment.
When you are under a lot of stress any help is valuable. Having others available who can be the eyes, the ears, and the brain helping you to think clearly, and even the hands to follow up on what’s needed, is essential. If possible, have someone from the sending organization—or a friend—handle as much of the logistics as possible. Have this person contact the counseling center and set up the first appointment.
I recommend that staff from the sending organization arrange for the interim place and have it set up and ready for you when you arrive. Even if you are used to travelling and may even have been to the interim place before, it makes a difference to get off the plane in this safe place and be welcomed with open arms. Being picked up at the airport means that someone else is helping you with your luggage (and with your tired children if you have them) and you don’t need to argue with taxi drivers.
Being taken to a place which feels safe and is prepared for you means much at this time. To find a bed prepared for you, maybe flowers, your favorite sweets, and some comfort food are always treats, but in times of trauma it means more than that. Even if, at that very moment, you are too tired and overwhelmed to notice, thoughtful gestures touch the soul.
Counseling can be very draining. You are dealing with painful, raw wounds. If at all possible, make sure you are close to someone who can keep an eye on you, perhaps staying in someone’s guestroom or in a guest house or hotel close by. If you are staying with someone it is important that it is a home where you feel safe and where you can relax. It should be a place where you know that, if you want to talk, you have someone there to talk with, but also that you are free to be quiet and alone.
It should be a place where you are given the opportunity for good rest at any time you need it. You will need to sleep a lot. It may be that you won’t sleep well at night. But sleeping is important; when you sleep is less important.
Especially during the first week it is important that you are provided with food and that the most urgent things are available--or that you have help to find them. It is not uncommon that people ignore or forget to eat during this phase. So, to have someone making sure that you eat is both important and will help you have one less thing to worry about.
It is crucial that you allow time for trauma treatment. Healing of trauma takes time and comes in stages.
If the care takes place in an interim place it is important to plan for it. It is recommended to allow for seven to eight weeks in the interim place for this phase.
Trauma recovery is a process that is worked on over time.
The first step is to re-establish safety. In order to move forward in healing, it is crucial that this happens. Having had the police knock at the door or worrying about how and when you can leave and whether or not you can ever return makes you feel unsafe. For those having left Xinjiang they have also lived with high military presence for a long time and may have seen local people harassed or badly treated. This causes scars.
Some people find that speaking about their experiences is emotionally overwhelming, it is therefore important to feel safe and regain safety over and over again. In between sessions it is important to allow space for relaxation and something fun, as well as personal time to process.
In the second phase you will mourn. Here you will put words and emotions to what you have been through. Revisiting the situation can be painful and scary, so the importance of feeling safe is crucial.
In order to grieve well, it is helpful to take time to make a list of the losses. Name them one by one and maybe add a word or write what you associate with that word. This can include people, places, food, dreams, or hopes. The length of the list is not important, but the content is. It may be that years later some of those things will seem unimportant, but at this moment they feel important and should be on your list. Not having the opportunity to say good bye to people and places and to grieve well creates deep wounds, which need to be dealt with or they will always be there.
The final stage is to create a new normal. When you have arrived back in your home country or in the place where you will be, and you are starting to get settled, there is a need for the counseling to continue.
In addition to counseling, you need to have people in your life who can be your lifeguards and throw you a life buoy when you are sinking and about to drown. Even as time passes and you have been home for some time—a couple of months, half a year, or even longer—something will trigger a memory and in that moment you are back there. Back to the place you used to call home.
Be patient with yourself.
Just as adults need professional help, so do children, but we will look at that in a separate blog post.
If you or anyone need professional counseling, please contact us and we can provide you with a list of counseling centers.
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