Fortunately, I am blessed with a job that allows me to spend a lot of time reading and researching, training and continually learning. I study about trauma and violence. I study about loss and I study about healing. This constant opportunity to learn has allowed me to grow-physically, emotionally, and spiritually–in more ways than I could ever imagine.
Besides the constant opportunity for growth, I am also blessed with the opportunity to witness courage in action on a regular basis when I meet with trauma and abuse survivors. Time and time again, I listen to their painful stories of survival and I am often left feeling awestruck at the courage and resiliency most have displayed throughout their entire lives. Although the work is difficult and frustrating at times, the opportunity to watch a person transition from victim to survivor to thriver is nothing short of miraculous.
A couple of months ago my coworker and I had the chance to attend a two-day trauma training led by a survivor with one of the most horrific stories of abuse that I have heard. Listening to this incredibly courageous woman talk about her life was mind-blowing to me. How does a person survive and eventually thrive after a lifetime of trauma? Needless to say, I was jotting notes like a madwoman throughout the two days trying desperately to soak up every piece of knowledge that I could. Words like believe, authentic, capable, creative, mindful, balance, trust, listen, resilience, and restore dotted the pages in my notebook.
I was exhausted yet extremely refreshed after those two days and was looking forward to putting my new-found knowledge into action. My coworker (who happens also to be one of my besties) was feeling much of the same. We left the training renewed and recharged but we kept going back to one thing over and over. . .HOW? How do you help somebody restore their life? How do you really help someone affected by so much pain, find peace? How do you tell somebody how to do something when the how is different for each person? We have had this discussion countless times since then.
Despite the endless supply of resources available (we have been through a lot of them), we concluded that there is no magic pill. There is no quick fix and there is no definitive how-to manual on how to heal from trauma (even though there will be plenty of people out there who will tell you that there is.) You see, we realized that there can NEVER be a fool-proof guide because each of us are so different. We each have our own pain and our healing journeys to take. We must look inside ourselves and figure it out. Therein answers the question of how to heal. We know ourselves better than anyone else, therefore, we all have to find our own “how.” When you can find it within yourself to dig deep to ask that question, your healing can begin.
I have been thinking about this again, especially since my last blog post. It’s easy to talk about what to do but how to do it is a different story. It doesn’t matter what I write about if I don’t back up my words with some action steps. I can tell you that finding joy and being thankful has helped me on my healing journey but if I don’t tell you how I did it, the words don’t mean much. I thought about it some more and tried to figure out how to tell you some of the “hows” that have worked for me (and still are today). Here’s what I came up with so far:
- Talk to other people. Find a counselor, an advocate, a friend, a family member, or clergy– just find someone. There is always somebody willing to listen, whether you think so or not. I seek out safe people who I can talk to and listen to. We may not solve everything in our conversations but I always feel restored after a good-talk.
- Read. I read all of the time. I read several blogs, I read stories of hope, I read news articles, I read books of all sorts. I take it all in and use what makes sense to me on my own healing journey.
- Run. Running has been one of my saving graces over the last several months. Once you can push past the uncomfortableness of the first mile or so, your mind clears, and you are transported to another place–temporarily free from the past. Clarity comes quickly. I have never came home from a run feeling worse than before I ran. Never.
- Seek Authenticity. When you eliminate all of the insignificant fluff out there and demand only what’s real, your outlook changes for the better. Think of what matters to you most and go for it. An authentic life means owning your story no matter how painful. I can tell you that it is so completely soul-refreshing when you can get there. Healing is automatically propelled forward by leaps and bounds when you accept your past for what it is–nothing more, nothing less.
- Breathe. A dear friend gave me a little ceramic sign that says “Just Breathe.” It sits on my desk and I look at it several times a day, especially when I am struggling. A few deep, very mindful breaths makes a tremendous difference for me every single time.
- Be Grateful. Gratitude doesn’t have to be grandiose or complicated to have a positive effect. A couple of months after the crash, I started a gratitude journal, basically to try and keep myself from wallowing. I made a deal with myself that I couldn’t write everyday that I was thankful for my family and friends because that was too easy, I had to look for something else. One day, the only thing I had on my page was that a certain presidential candidate had made the “binders full of women” comment (I was desperate at the time, give me a break.) I got a good 30 minutes of nonstop laughter that day scrolling through the hundreds of internet memes that soon popped up. That laughter brought me out of a deep pit of grief that day, if only for a while.
- Allow joy. Shortly after the crash I read a book that talked about finding joy despite your pain. I couldn’t grasp it fully at the time but decided that if something joy-worthy happened, I would try to let myself feel it–even if it was only for a moment. Those brief moments led to longer ones. The longer ones led to moments of clarity (and still do) that kept me inching forward down my restorative path. Again, the joy moments don’t have to be huge. Look for the little things. A great cup of coffee, a smile from a stranger, a TV show that you love, a delicious meal, a breath of fresh air, time with family or friends–you get the idea..
- Give. Take some time to give of yourself, even if it feels like you have absolutely nothing left to give. I read this repeatedly in a devotional and although I was totally annoyed with the message at the time, I decided to play along. Much to my surprise, it worked. When I wasn’t so me-focused I was able to move forward faster than if I had remained in my completely selfish state. Reach out to someone else in need–focus on someone or something other than yourself–and you will be amazed at the healing that takes place.
- Be mindful of yourself. Pay close attention to how you are feeling. Learn what makes you feel comfortable and promotes healing. Figure out what doesn’t work and let it go. There is a lot of trial and error during the healing process. Keep at it. If you try something and it doesn’t work, try something different. Learn your emotional triggers. Learn what makes you sad, and what brings you joy. Being mindful of yourself helps you to grow and with growth comes healing.
- Reflect. I spend a lot of time in silence, reflecting on my journey. I pray, I walk with my dog, I let my mind wander, all the while looking back–not to relive the pain of the past but to look at how far I have come. This is not easy to do. After the crash I forced myself inside my head once and for all. It was ugly but I survived and came out much stronger than before. At one time I screamed for noise, and now I crave the silence. Get inside your head, it’s okay to face your demons. You are so much stronger than you know. There is absolutely nothing we can do about past events other to acknowledge them and move forward.
- Take care of your physical needs. Most days, I try to eat decently, stay hydrated, get outside, exercise, and get some rest. It doesn’t always happen (sleep has been big issue since the crash) but I try. I even started seeing a wonderful massage therapist. The days that it all falls into place are the days that I feel the best. Feeling good physically can go a long ways towards your emotional and spiritual health. Do something good for yourself. You will be glad you did.
Please remember as you move forward that healing from trauma is not easy. Quite often, it flat-out sucks. It’s painful, messy, uncomfortable and is very hard work. But, if you are reading this, you have obviously survived your past. There is nothing left to do now but take that healing journey. Look deep inside yourself and figure out your “hows.” The sacrifice is great but the rewards are so much greater. Find your how and take a leap. You can do it. You are courageous. You are a survivor.