Before We Begin:
This is Part 5 (and the finale) of my series: Words From a Decade, my story of trauma and recovery in my own words. To start at the beginning, Part 1.
In 2018 and 2019, I learned many techniques for healing and coming to terms with my trauma. I moved from wanting to transcend it to realizing it was something I will likely always live with, and can be managed. I began writing and creating in earnest. I learned to reach out and talk to people about what I was going through.
Once again, trigger/content warnings include: rape/sexual abuse, verbal/emotional abuse, self harm, substance abuse/overdose, suicidal thoughts. Take care of yourself first.
Thank you for being here.
2018 began with an uplifting feeling of hope and meaning making. I read “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle and was formally introduced to the concept of presence, and eagerly tried to adopt the principles of mindfulness in the hopes that concentrating entirely on the present moment would make the past have less control over me.
January 14th, 2018
“Like the sweetest blessing, 2017’s work has given 2018 to me as a gift. Bliss has washed over me in the form of being present. Showing up in my own life. Blissfully inhabiting each current moment. I think it helps to name the sickness. Some days are bad and I am sick and I can make the choice to ignore it, be mad at myself for it, or take care of myself. I’ve spent so much time not wanting to take care of myself because I didn’t think I deserved it. I’ve spent so much time compressing my trauma because I didn’t think I deserved to mourn it. I’ve spent so much time wondering why this happened to me because I didn’t forgive myself for my part in what was. I didn’t celebrate myself for making the choice to leave. I only wished it would go away. I didn’t want to confront what happened, so I couldn’t accept that it ended. It all hurt so much I couldn’t see that feeling the pain would lead to the path of healing. I am grateful for every day I learn more about this world, and every day I make the choice to be myself.”
This spiritual awakening of sorts was really powerful. It helped me make meaning out of my suffering and believe that healing was possible. It shifted my focus towards healing with fullness instead of “getting over it”. But I definitely fell into some spiritual bypassing, where I thought by having control over my thoughts I could make the trauma go away. I thought if I just said “I forgive him” over and over enough times, it would come true and I’d be free from pain. And deep down, I felt ashamed that that technique wasn’t working. I wanted transcendence, and I was frustrated with myself when my symptoms continued.
June 26th, 2018
“Healing is hardly easy. I make great strides and progress but sometimes it all feels superficial. Like I’m letting things go and saying “I forgive you” but it’s all a mental thing. My heart is still tight. Sometimes I breathe patient presence into it and it rewards me with tears coming out of my eyes. The watery warmth of a heart unlocking. I progress and yet I’m still here telling myself not to be afraid, that my fear of him killing me is not logical. I hear my mind say this but I still feel it, trapped in me, this fear. It’s like how you can lie to everyone else but eventually the truth will make itself known, at least to you — you are still holding onto these scars. I am working towards catharsis. Towards an honest giving up of trauma’s knots around my rib cage. Looking at the world without constantly fearing attack. Relaxing to my core and surrendering. Trusting that things are okay. For now I just tell myself they are, and my mind talks to itself back and forth. Fear and logic. Doubt and mantra. Sickness and health. I breathe into my heart and just remind it I’m here. I’m trying. I’m doing the best I can to set it free.”
I spent a LOT of time by myself in 2018, trying to teach myself that it was okay to rest and trying to meet myself where I was at instead of wishing I was different. I struggled to connect to other people about what I was going through, still feeling different than everyone and harboring shame about my story. I worked with a therapist who used a lot of somatic modalities, and I connected with my inner bodily sensations for the first time, which helped open me up to my own compassion. But I still was seeking progress in the form of transcending my symptoms. Understandably, I wanted the trauma to go away.
August 7th, 2018
“It hurts to become. Moving through something is so much harder than moving around it. I became skillful in the art of evasion, avoidance, gripping tight to denial without looking down at my hands. Mind constantly entertained to avoid feeling my heart’s ache. It is so hard to allow myself to feel it. My brain wants me to think I’m making no progress, or things are even getting worse, but I know the change is happening. I let things touch me and I cry sometimes. The parts of me I am shedding are doing a hell of a job staying. I know my mind is twisted up in this dance of remembering and unlearning, where random memories of my life come rising up from the depths at the most random of times, where dreams keep me running from inevitable homicide, where it’s hard to remember the past year let alone the past week. But it helps to remind myself that I am brave for even doing this work, I am brave for continuing to function, I am so accomplished even when I feel like I’m drowning. I’m proud of myself. And somewhere deep within me opens up with a splash of sadness as I realize how hard it is for me to actually feel the self-love I mentally preach to myself. How hard I cried when I thought about accepting love from others because I haven’t been doing that, not really. Shame has been woven into my veins but with each moment of self-kindness, every offering of self-love, I begin to water it down, let it flow out my eyes. Things feel difficult right now but change is happening. The layer of pain is moving and beginning to be released. The structure took years to build and it will take years to deconstruct. But then from the ashes I will create something beautiful for myself. Of myself. At the end of what was, what will be shall arise. That peace, that love, deep within me. What already is. Spreading through my cells like the rising tide. I am patient and I have hope.”
This is probably one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. I was coming to terms with the fact that processing trauma and healing takes time and is difficult, but it’s still happening. I started working on releasing the shame I held for being traumatized. I started showing myself compassion.
October 6th, 2018
“The pain hits in waves. Like the air i breathe is triggering these days. The blurred remnants of my blood woven memories press down on my flesh, sitting in my skin like weighted veins. If I could just feel them again, I could purge them. If i could just remember. But my body and brain have been protecting me from the torment of those moments for years now. It is so hard to get them to let me in. I don’t even know how to really try.
I just know I’m sick. I know I’m functioning. Well. I’m doing. I’ve been doing and I have measured my success on this doing. It’s easy to say I’m happy when people ask. Floating on the surface of my complex psyche. I have to let people in and I will figure out how. I can’t be alone with this. It’s too heavy. I need to set it down.”
This is how trauma feels when you have no one to share it with. Heavy. Confusing. You know something is wrong but often can’t remember things that happened or identify what triggered you. It’s disorienting and hard to deal with, and shame can creep in when you just want to be “normal”. I wanted to let go of my constant doing and hyper-productivity, but then what would I have? It was scary to rest with the feelings living inside me.
My feelings of isolation and longing for connection had built up from my independence I clung to. I needed to be seen and held in my pain, but vulnerability was terrifying. So when struggles came up, I isolated myself when all I wanted was connection. I was too afraid of other people’s reactions. I was still holding shame.
Although it was a challenging year in many ways, 2018 wrapped up as one of the most productive years I’d had healing-wise. I went deeper within and faced my trauma, and started to learn self-compassion and acceptance over escaping and shame. I opened up to my boyfriend and we grew and strengthened our relationship despite being long distance. I finally gave myself permission to rest, cry, be alone, and have boundaries. It felt like letting out a deep breath.
January 1st, 2019
“It all feels like rebellion because it is. Healing is a radical act because it proves I won’t accept not just others treating me poorly, but myself treating me poorly. Self-care isn’t an indulgent, ego-fueling practice, it’s a a self-reminder that I deserve to be cared for. So many things are not what they appear. Slowing down appears non-productive, but running in circles doing doing doing is a way of ignoring the deeper needs and feelings of my soul. Slowing down says I deserve to feel how I feel, I am allowed to be who I am.”
In the last two years, I finally started learning that rest is necessary and actually productive in the healing journey. I realized how much I like to run around in my mind and body, keeping busy to avoid feeling and processing what I’ve been through. I didn’t feel safe enough to rest with my reality. But like the chicken and egg metaphor, what comes first: resting enough to feel safe, or feeling safe enough to rest?
January 19th, 2019
“Thinking about dependence, interdependence, and independence. The pain I’ve experienced and caused due to dependence has made my heart put up a protective wall to keep me safe. I have overtly and subconsciously embraced a fierce independence, where no once can really touch me. Within this Independence, I have had space to heal. I have learned how to say “no”. But this isolation has also taught me that we need people to be let into our hearts if we want to feel supported and loved. I think back to all the people who have been there for me and I feel so grateful. People have seen me through everything I’ve gone through. It’s hard to reconcile these two ideas in my mind, that people are the ones who hurt you so much and also the ones who heal you. But every relationship is a mirror and teaches you about yourself, good or bad. All things take time.”
I started doing EMDR therapy, which quickly helped me unravel the manifestations of trauma in my mind, heart, and body. I began to see how the independence I had adopted allowed me to heal from the damage of codependence, but it also kept me from feeling deeply and connecting fully with others, including those I loved and felt closest to.
April 13th, 2019
“For so long, the goal was to evade fear or annihilate it. To never have the racing heart, the swimming mind, the sinking feeling of doom. The goal was to rise above all this, to never feel the touch of terror. Because of this viewpoint, I would be upset at myself for having anxiety and fear responses to triggers. I would call myself damaged and crazy. I would do what it took to escape the feeling and i would beat myself up for having it at all. Things have changed. I am learning to embody my strength by accepting the anxiety that comes up, caring for myself every step of the way and not letting shame convince me this is somehow my fault”.
By learning more about how trauma works, I began to give myself grace and compassion for my symptoms, instead of trying to fight or escape them. I was finally at a place where I could learn to accept what I was going through and allow myself to feel it, because I was actively working on rejecting shame. This is the place much of my writing comes from: not eliminating the pain of symptoms, but not shaming myself (or you!) for having them. Acceptance.
August 8th, 2019
“Isolation is devastating. Cried so much feeling like a defective human for having an avoidant attachment style and feeling disconnected from my heart space to the point of struggling to feel love at all. It makes me so sad and like no one would understand me. Everyone seems to empathize with the person who needs more love, not the one who can’t seem to provide it. It’s not my true self but when I tried to let myself be vulnerable that love got used against me.”
It’s one thing to mentally know you want to connect to people and be open and loving. It’s another to feel safe enough to actually do this. This summer I learned that in order for connection to happen, both parties need to be present, not just physically, but energetically. And in order to be present, you need to feel safe. And when you’re coping with trauma, you might need additional help or methods to find that safety. And stressing yourself out or staying really busy will not be an effective method to find that safety. I’m very grateful to have had the same boyfriend since September 2016 that stands by me, has never shown me a red flag, and is committed to making me feel safe and loved. Within the container of our relationship I’m able to do this work of opening myself up and learning to trust love and safety.
In June, I moved back to the Pacific Northwest to be with my boyfriend, who had been doing long distance with me throughout the entire time I lived in California. On the high of moving and changing so many aspects of my life, I neglected a lot of my self care practices and struggled to get adequate rest. I worked a job that required a ton of mental and physical energy. The stress built up until it hit a breaking point when, after a panic attack, I dissociated to the point where nothing felt real and I didn’t feel like a human for a full day. I was so stressed that my mind had “left” my body. It was terrifying. I knew something had to change. In October I started working a low stress job in the service industry. I started to come back home to my body and write consistently.
In the last few months of this decade, I’ve settled into a routine of rest and work that feels right and encourages my healing. I go to therapy, exercise when I have a lot of energy, maintain a healthy relationship and friendships, read a lot of books and write constantly. I’ve loved growing this online community of survivors and feel like I’ve passed from the stage of loneliness and isolation into one of solidarity and empowerment. I’m so grateful to be supported as I continue to grow and share my life- the good and bad.
Over the decade, I’ve had my heart shattered and put back together beneath a nearly impenetrable wall. I’ve worked on taking down the protective wall and learning to trust. I’ve had times of isolation where I began to regain autonomy and times of connection where I began to feel safe with others again. I’ve coped by self destructing and I’ve coped by self healing. I’ve learned more about my nervous system and how to support it than I ever thought I would. I learned that being a survivor is not being defined by your victimhood, it’s being defined by your resilience. I’ve learned to speak my truth. I’ve learned I’m not alone.
Moving forward, I seek to be ever more present in my body, to look within and respond to life with patience and grace instead of reacting with fear. I intend to continue to prioritize my well-being while finding a place to rest in community and relationship. I plan on staying vulnerable, grounding myself in the knowledge that letting myself be seen by others is courageous and important.
Thank you so much for being here. I am infinitely grateful for the support and solidarity.
To a new decade ❤️