You Can’t Erase Your Past
Trauma is unpredictable, and it arrives at inconvenient times. We’ll always be able to find reasons not to address our traumatic experiences, and no time will ever feel like the “right” time to deal with it, but trauma isn’t going to disappear just because we don’t give it our attention.
Start by acknowledging that what you went through was traumatic: this is where healing begins. Sometimes we avoid labeling our experiences as “trauma” because we don’t think that what we went through was “that bad,” and we don’t want to be seen as weak. Sometimes it’s because we think we’re to blame for what happened, or because we’re ashamed. Sometimes it’s because it’s painful to admit that those we care for harmed us. But we can’t heal unless we’re honest with ourselves about how our experiences impacted us.
confronting your trauma can be brutal. Stepping into your darkness can be terrifying, stressful, and bring out a mess of unwanted emotions. Things may even feel like they’re getting worse before they get better. But as you begin unpacking your trauma and sifting through the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that come along with it, little by little, your fears won’t feel as threatening, your pain won’t feel as heavy, and you’ll start to find relief.
You may not be able to erase your past, but you have the power to free yourself from it. Validate your trauma and let the healing journey begin.
Trauma Doesn’t Have an Expiration Date
Just like we can’t ignore our traumatic experiences and expect to heal, we can’t expect time to magically heal our wounds either. Trauma doesn’t work itself out, and healing is not a passive activity that occurs by happenstance; it’s an active process that only takes place if we’re intentional about it.
Intention creates space for your healing. Without intention, you may not give yourself the time or make yourself emotionally available to mend your wounds. Without intention, it’s easy to continue living life as is, waiting for a miracle to happen.
Take some time to think about some of your intentions for your healing journey. Putting your desires into words will bring more focus to your healing, and it can help you get clear about the direction you want to be going.
Think about some of the challenges you’ve been dealing with. Maybe trauma has left you feeling fearful and paranoid, or maybe you’re suffering from insomnia. Maybe you’re feeling lonely because there isn’t anyone in your life you can trust. Next, think about how you want to feel, and what you want to get out of healing. It could be living a more peaceful life with minimal symptoms of trauma or learning to love and trust yourself (or others) again. Maybe it’s being able to revisit your past without intense fear or shame overtaking you.
It’s okay to let yourself dream. When you’re dealing with trauma, your world can shrink and life may feel like it’s limited to your suffering, and it can be a challenge even to envision a way out. You may not get there how you imagine, but remember, healing is possible, and while encountering obstacles along your journey is inevitable, you’re capable of achieving whatever your desires may be. Just try not to be hard on yourself if you’re not progressing as quickly as you want to be. While time alone cannot heal, healing does take time (and work). But the time and effort you put into healing will be time well spent.
Your Emotions Are Your Allies
It can sometimes feel like there’s something seriously wrong with you when you get extremely upset or frightened over something that seems trivial. Others who don’t understand triggers and the toll trauma can take on a person might make you feel that way too. But there is nothing wrong with you—what’s wrong is what happened to you, and your brain and body are trying to protect you from it happening again.
While the pain won’t disappear, once you stop battling yourself and your feelings, the pain won’t feel as severe. Understanding your triggers and how they affect you can help you release your self-judgment. Understanding that you’re allowed to feel however you feel can make difficult emotions easier to sit with. Showing yourself compassion throughout all of it will allow you to process what you’re feeling and experiencing, instead of avoiding it due to judgment and shame.
You are not broken or damaged, and you don’t need fixing. You are hurt, in pain, and you need healing. It is possible to live symptom-free after trauma, but it may take some time. Shifting the way you perceive your symptoms, triggers, and feelings changes the way you live them, and it can help you feel better now, even if just by an inch.
You Weren’t Meant to Heal Alone
Some people don’t realize how hard it is to ask for help, and how much courage it takes for one to open up about their struggles. If someone shuts you down, invalidates your feelings, or dismisses your cries for help, claiming you “just want attention,” know that you deserve so much better. Their reaction is not a reflection of you. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable with someone who has no compassion for what you’re going through isn’t a failure on your end; it’s a limitation on the other person’s end. If someone judges you for struggling, or for not being able to handle something on your own, ask yourself, Is it worth it to continue investing in this relationship?
Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak or incompetent; having enough self-awareness to recognize your limits is a sign of strength. Recognizing your full humanity and letting others get a glimpse of it is an act of bravery. When the world constantly tells us who we should be and what’s acceptable, it takes courage to show up as we are—as our authentic, imperfect selves. I know it may be tempting to keep your struggles to yourself in an effort to protect yourself, but healing isn’t about hiding, containing, or controlling: it’s about liberating yourself.
We weren’t built to know everything, or to figure everything out on our own. We weren’t built to push through our pain in isolation and heal alone. Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed or helpless and things get too heavy, reach out for help and let someone lighten your load.
There Are No Shortcuts
In a desperate effort to feel better as soon as possible, you may be tempted to try everything that appeals to you at once. I recommend taking it one step at a time, one activity at a time, because if you try several things all at once, not only will it be overwhelming, but it’s harder to determine which activity is making things better. If you try one new activity at a time, you can more easily track how each one affects you. Trying to do several things at once can also make it hard to take action in the first place when it feels like it’s too much to handle, or we get so burnt out and depleted early on that we want to give up. Small steps are better than no steps at all, so remember to pace yourself: the activities will be here for you whenever you need them.
When there’s a mountain to climb, the journey may feel overwhelming, and you’d give anything for a lift to the top. But unfortunately, there are no shortcuts, and there is no get-healed-quick solution. Even if you have every resource at your fingertips, you can’t get to where you want to be unless you’re putting the effort into it.
Healing is an internal process, and it only happens when we start showing up for ourselves. On an ever-evolving journey, learning how to do that is an ongoing practice, but each step you take that brings you an inch closer to feeling more at ease, more empowered, or more like your authentic self is an indication that you’re healing. Over time, the little steps will add up to miles traveled. Keep going, and one day in the future, you’ll look back and see how far you’ve come.
Healing Is an Act of Love
When we’re hurting, we may take our anger and pain out on others, causing more pain. When we’re hurting, we may unintentionally hurt people by being distant, or ghosting them, sending the message that we don’t care for them, and they don’t matter. When we’re hurting, whether we mean to or not, we often push others away, but as we discussed in the last chapter, we need our relationships to keep healing.
When our symptoms are no longer consuming us, we have the breathing room to be patient and caring. When we’re feeling better, we’re typically kinder to others (and ourselves). When we’re no longer on edge and constantly overwhelmed, it’s easier to connect with others more deeply, instead of pushing them away. When we’re feeling more grounded, we’re in a better position to be there for others.
Healing is a powerful force. When you heal, your loved ones, communities, colleagues, and even strangers you interact with feel the benefits too. Give yourself the love you deserve by creating space for your healing, then let it flow to the rest of the world.
A Setback Isn’t a Reset
Healing isn’t linear. This journey is filled with ups and downs, and when you hit a bump along the road, it might feel like you’re back to where you started. But as you pick yourself back up and reflect on what happened, you’ll likely find that you didn’t travel backward at all. Obstacles may slow us down, but they don’t transport us back to the beginning of our journeys. Setbacks are temporary, and they don’t take away what you’ve accomplished so far. The valuable insights you gain during the low points will allow you to build on the progress you’ve already made, so that you can keep moving forward. And over time, you’ll build resilience, so when you stumble upon a bumpy road, you’ll have the experience to navigate it like a pro.
Your Story Isn’t Over
Trauma reroutes our lives. It leads us down paths we never expected or wanted, and it can be absolutely devastating to lose yourself and a life you cherished. And yet, as you develop a better understanding of who you are now, you may find that your old way of living no longer serves you. While some of the change trauma brings will negatively impact your life, the growth you experience through healing can positively impact your life.
Growth often emerges out of struggle. When things are effortless, we don’t have to dig deep and push ourselves the way we do when life tests us. Most of the personal growth has come out of the most strenuous and painful times of my life. Living in fear can force the courage inside of you to surface. Feeling overwhelmed often pushes you to ask for support, forming deeper and nurturing relationships. Not giving up when you desperately want to often reveals the inner strength and resilience you never knew existed. Struggling with your mental health can lead you to become more empathetic and compassionate toward others who are struggling. Even though trauma leads to pain and destruction, there are benefits to be found on this journey as well.
While you cannot restore what your life was before trauma, you have the opportunity to create a new path back to yourself—and you may find it’s led you to a more joyful way of living.