The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. ~ Ernest Hemingway
Channeling our pain into something positive after a traumatic experience can make all of the difference in the world, but it isn’t about finding your way back to before the trauma. There is no going back, but if we allow a shift in ourselves, our beliefs, and our perceptions, we can grow beyond the trauma. While you are on this journey of growth, you have to accept that your history will never change. However, bringing meaning to that trauma can change everything. It can give us a greater sense of purpose, improve our relationships, and allow us the hope of functioning more healthily.
First, to begin healing, we have to allow ourselves to go through all of the awful feelings that we want to disappear. I spent so many years avoiding the trauma, hoping that it would just disappear. I tried to delete it like a hard-drive and start over. Sadly, our brains don’t work that way. You have to not only face that pain but grieve the loss; the loss of your childhood, the loss of yourself. You have to let go. I learned to allow those memories to wash over me.
Being triggered used to mean I would shut down, avoid anything that could cause those moments in my mind, the racing of my heart, the flush of heat that coursed through my body, and the shallow breath. In those moments, I didn’t see the memory – I was in it. My coping mechanism for these moments involved counting to four over and over. T repetitive – ONE TWO THREE FOUR – drowned out everything in my head. It was as if my brain plugged the ears and filled the space with LA LA LA until there was room for nothing else.
Openly allowing grief connected to the trauma and loss will enable me to see the event as if I was looking at a photograph or watching a film. This process had given me the ability to see things as an observer, not a participant.
Today, human beings barely allow themselves the chance to grieve anything. We are a hurried species, beaten into submission with words and phrases that deny us the right to comfort ourselves through a trauma, ignoring that we have a right to feel, to emotional responses to anything that moves you, the good and the bad.
For me, I learned that in drowning out the traumatic events did not only push all of the pain from those events, it also silenced all of the positive things. I was spending so much time focusing on ignoring the pain and suffering that the happy times and good memories were in hiding as well. I am learning to embrace the suck if you will, it doesn’t mean that I have to live in that moment for the rest of our lives. It implies that acknowledging ALL of the events. I was able to recall more positive events and memories. Whenever a flash of trauma hits me, I allow it space and then try to remember something good that happened around the same time. For example: in 1994, my first husband beat me until I was knocked unconscious. When a feeling from that memory comes up, I allow it some space, acknowledge that it happened, but then I remind myself that I survived it, and currently, I am not in danger because of it. Then I recall something around the same time that happened that brought me joy, as I write this, the memory of lying in the grass with my dog. I am on a soft blanket, and there is a bright blue spring sky. I can smell the lilacs in the air, seeing the condensation running down the glass of iced tea. I can hear the horse shuffling around in the field. It is just a small thing, but it is a good thing. Accepting my demons to exist has given space to all of the memories to live within me.