To my sweet friend,
If you are reading this, I assume that you, or someone you love, have experienced trauma. Before I dive in, I want you to know, from my heart, that I am sorry. I wish things were different. However, I also tell you from deep in my heart that your life can be better. The life you dream of is right here, completely within your grasp, just waiting for you to grab it.
When people hear that I am a trauma survivor, they don’t always understand quite what that means. When I explain, they are often shocked. The story itself is shocking. They also find it hard to believe that a person who has lived through what I have can be so successful, optimistic and healthy. Truth be told, sometimes I’m surprised, too. They will often tell me that I am lucky, or what a special person I am to have conquered and overcome the trauma, as if my past was France and I am Napoleon. The reality is neither. I am a person who has suffered, then out of that suffering made terrible choices. I have hurt myself and others along the way, but I picked myself up, repaired what I could, and mourned what was irreparable. Healing is work and it takes time; anyone who tells you differently is selling something. Yet, it does not need to be so painful, and the richness of life waiting for you on the other side is so worth it.
While everyone’s path to healing is different, there are often common threads, such as…
• Shame. Often we cannot even pinpoint where the shame starts. We may not even realize how strong and present it is, but it is there, influencing decisions, dictating terms, pulling our strings like a puppeteer. We feel ashamed of our bodies, the food we eat, the choices we make. Our jobs, our sex lives, our feelings all become sources of shame. What a heavy, heavy burden that we carry, mindlessly and needlessly.
• Flashbacks. Traumatic memories are stored differently in our brains than other memories, and it can be difficult for our minds and bodies to tell the difference between past trauma and current pain. It can feel like the horrific event is happening right now. Your body may enter shock, or activate your “fight or flight” response. It may feel like you have lost control, like your body has betrayed you. Though all of this is completely typical for a trauma survivor, it usually makes the one living it feel completely insane. Let me be the one to tell you: You are not insane. You are a completely normal person responding in a completely normal way to a completely messed-up situation.
• Terror. The idea of looking directly at what has hurt us is so scary. Not only the event itself, but what we fear it implies about us and our realities. Are we bad? Did we deserve it? Where was God in all of this? Where was my family? How could someone that loves me hurt me so much? Am I weird? Dirty? Different? Unlovable? What will people think? Add to all of this worry the completely daunting task of healing and it is tempting to just let sleeping dogs lie. But deep inside there is wisdom that knows that we are meant for better things and it gently moves us towards health.
• Awareness. As we move farther away from it, we can see with greater clarity the traumas we have survived and their impact on our lives. As we learn more about the impact of trauma, the symptoms we experience make sense. Over time we are able to be gentler with ourselves around past choices that did not serve us, and learn how to make choices that do.
• Work. I said it before, but this one is worth repeating. I didn’t wake up one day feeling hunky-dory. There was no Christ-like character to place their hand on me and pronounce me healed. It just doesn’t work that way. You need to spend some time remembering, processing, feeling. And you know all of those healthy, healing things that people talk about? You have to actually do them! Your inner wisdom will guide you in finding what works for you; your job is to work it.
• Change. At some point you will start to notice a difference. You will feel less stressed or anxious. You will be able to identify your feelings and needs, and even ask to have your needs met! You will start to see the patterns in your life and take steps to make them healthier.
• Joy. That’s right, I said it. You will have joy in your life, a joy that you didn’t realize existed, or if you did, never believed you could have. When we are not studiously avoiding our emotions, and are able to embrace the full range, it is amazing the level of happiness you can experience! You can show up fully in your life, unashamed, and take what is rightfully yours: true peace and happiness.
These steps are by no means all-inclusive, and they rarely show up in exact order. As you go about living fully, you will float in and out of these steps at different times. Yet, each time you experience a step, it gets a bit easier. Like an old sports injury that was devastating when it happened, though the ache is never completely gone, it will grow less painful. Through this experience, you will see how strong and resilient you are. You will fall down and pick yourself back up. There will be screaming and tears, but also singing and laughter. You will re-discover your beauty and innocence. You will feel proud of your hard work and proud of the person you’ve become. Through it all, know that you are not alone. There is support to be found in friends, family, therapists and healing groups, like Vital Cycles. And though I may never meet you face to face, I am ever and always cheering for you.
Wishing all of the joy you can hold,