As a mental health professional who has themselves experienced trauma and have been in the active process towards healing, the journey has been met with many teachers. The following have been some of the learnings I have developed along the way. My hope is that you may be able to connect with them and normalize the turbulence and uncertainty and celebrate the milestones.
1. Embrace change : Change, a trigger of uncertainty and lack of control, is difficult to cope with, especially for those who’ve experienced trauma. They are likely to interpret the novelty as dangerous and threatening. Personally, shifting self concepts have been the most jarring for me.
Throughout my healing journey, I struggled with understanding who I was, what identities I could fit into, and which spaces I could take up. I was no longer the person I was prior to the traumas I endured. I was not yet the person I envisioned my healed self being. I felt like an amorphous mess. I grieved the loss of the familiars of past identities as well as the “would haves” of those past selves. Just as I would settle into a new identity, self concept, a new shift would occur forcing another pivot. Another grieving cycle.
I felt limited by my traumas. As a collective, we have developed an idea of what trauma survivors look like, how they interact with the world around them. And more often than not, the image is not a pretty one. By challenging the collective narratives, I also began challenging my own limiting beliefs of my capabilities and focus on what felt good or - at least what felt “less bad”. I mean this less in an immediately gratifying way but rather in the sense that what I gravitated towards provided a sense of wholesome expansive pleasure.
It is often thought that once we find who we truly are, we can settle in the peace that comes with certainty and authenticity. But as we continue to learn and grow with each milestone and experience, our self concept continues to grow and evolve in tandem. The lesson of accepting change has allowed me to depend less on limiting labels and more on an expansive presence.
2. Expert of own life : There’s a reassurance in expertise. A sense of desperation to know the truth that we are seemingly missing. As much as I wanted to put my trust into health professionals, at the end of the day, I needed to remember that they too are human with quite the limited access to me (including my body, my habits, my circumstances). One powerful lesson I learned is that the client is the expert of their own life. Having been in my body my entire life, I give myself the power and trust that I am a pretty good, accurate and reliable reporter of my existence. This does not mean not seeking professional opinions but rather, having the ability to be an active part of the collaborative process and advocating for oneself and one’s needs.
3. Depending on community : Living within a society that favours independence, that cautions us away from being over-reliant and inconveniencing, we have developed a siloed community. But as social beings, we are wired for connection and our fear of dependance has created an isolation that is not only limiting our healing process but also our potential and wellbeing. When moving away for the first time, I made an intention to seek out community. I was met with the most welcoming, relatable, and non judgmental group of people. Being engaged in a support system allowed me to flourish and, in turn, encourage each other towards healing and growth. I found asking for help to be a strength and discovered contributions of my own that made an impact of its own.
Of course, we must consider who we are allowing in our space and in which ways they have access. Setting boundaries and communicating openly allows us to maintain connection with those in our lives rather than creating separation.
4. Healing is not linear : When I finally had it all together, I felt on top of the world and relieved that I finally reached my healing goal. Or so I thought. Every so often I would be hit with a setback that sent me into an anxious spiral. “I’m regressing”, I thought. “It will never end…” And so it went. Over time, I learned to surrender to the process. I can have bad days, weeks, months, but this does not define me. I also realized that these bad moments could be just that and that they did not need to forecast the following moment. I learned to prepare for the setbacks with various tools. Making sure my basic needs are met, spending time in nature, practicing various forms of self expression and spending intentional time with myself to reflect have been just a few of the self care activities in my toolbox.
Healing can at times be more than expected. But there is plenty to learn along the way. Through the ups and downs, a guide can also be a helpful support through the process.
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