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Along with self-acceptance, Allena has found compassion for her attacker. Wardens from the Department of Fish and Game intended to kill the animal but gave up when they couldn't track down the exact bear. "At the time I thought, 'If this thing would attack me with my dogs nearby, how hard would it be to snag a kid on the way to school?'" she says. "So I'm weighing the thought of "Yeah, kill it; it's a bully," with the understanding that here is this poor, terrified, young adolescent bear, a refugee from all the forest fires we've had. It found a place with berries and a place to sleep—and then this woman comes. It was probably thinking, "I tried to warn her away, but she didn't get it. Then she came into my private place and I had to bite her, and now they are chasing me." That breaks my heart. Yes, I'm pissed off at the little refugee for not trusting me, but I can't blame him."

Alone most days now with her dogs—the second one having been brought home by a neighbor—Allena has found community online by blogging on Open.Salon.com. Writing is allowing her to gain perspective, not just about this incident but about other traumas in her life—a fire that took her home, a horseback riding accident that broke her back. "When you've lost everything, and I have, eventually you get kind of...existential. You simply say, 'This is happening,' because all you have is right now. Your choice is either to accept it or let go and die. And I'm keeping on going."

Dr. Boss' Analysis: Getting to laughter means getting to hope.


Finding meaning, some rationale or coherence about what has happened, is vital for coping with trauma and loss. This is what Allena has done repeatedly—by reframing the issue of her scars, by deciding to offer young girls another definition of beauty, by shifting from a negative perspective ("the bear was a bully") to a positive one ("he's a victim too"). Contrary to "an eye for an eye" thinking, retribution is often not therapeutic, but forgiveness is, because it creates feelings of connection. Allena's humor is another good example of resiliency—once we can laugh, we begin to find hope.

Although the first tendency after trauma is often to withdraw, finding meaning comes from talking with others who are facing the same problem. Online interaction is a great first step, and sometimes it's the only practical way for people who have shared a rare experience—like surviving a bear attack—to find each other. But live, human interaction is ideal, which is another reason for Allena to pursue her desire to share her experiences with girls.

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