When you have been in a horrible accident, incurred a debilitating injury, are coming out of a sexually abusive relationship, or any other traumatic situation, please know that there is hope from within. You’re not alone. You probably already have a small tribe of folks helping you, promoting your recovery. If not, find your team. Yet beyond them, there is someone else who is the absolute anchor on your team in addition to doctors, family and friends, or your therapist.
1) That person is you.
You are your own most constant comforter and healer. Deep inside of you, there is an Observing You whose consolation, affirmation and validation is always available. It is even more solid than you can imagine, because you have known You your whole life. Your own self-soothing will count the most when encountering the darkness. It knows you are not your feelings, thoughts or actions. Those are merely expressions of your experience. The deeper Seer, your true Self, is deep within. Can you close your eyes, and see that Observer right now? Try, for a moment. Other people will come and go -they are not always there. Throughout your entire life, you are the most available comforter, coach and friend, you have. In the middle of the night, you are never alone because You are there with your fears. Your fears are comprised of your memories, thoughts and feelings. Yet they are not you. Don’t let fears overcome you; they are just things you have managed your entire life. Let the Seer be there with you. Say things to yourself a best friend would say: “I’m here for you.” “I understand.” “This feels overwhelming, I know.” “This is so hard.” “We’ll get through this.” Really take it in, allowing both the pain and the comfort. If this is hard to imagine or do on your own, therapy will help.
2) Every moment counts.
Change can occur in any moment. Commit to a framework that in this next moment, your changed belief about your situation will lead to new feelings, then to different thoughts, then to motivation toward alternate behaviors. Don’t wait for outside circumstances or for somebody else to “make you feel better.” People and circumstances only soothe us because we attribute value to them; for example, food doesn’t really provide comfort to you. It’s the belief you have that while you’re eating it, you’ll experience relief. So, you do. Instead, try just sitting. Stay with your pain, console your own sad or shocked feelings. Or try this: in your imagination, allow the most verbal part of you which remembers your trauma to sit next to you on the sofa, to tell their story. Close your eyes. Then listen, metaphorically holding their pain with them. This is difficult and deep work. Success with it stems from research that you do not have to stay stuck. You start believing that there is a way out, that being present in this moment can transform the next moment. Let go of an attachment to having a certain experience or a desire, thinking “it” will produce your happiness. Happiness doesn’t come from things, it comes from commitment, and a state of mind; you live with pain without attaching to pain. Becoming more content arises from letting things be, then allowing them to move through us, not enmeshing with us. Anxiety is a thing outside of you. So is depression. They are not “you” or “yours,” and you are not a victim to their power. They are something that happens to you, and you can manage and prevent them. Every moment you practice these things moves you into the next moment, where you experience more peace.
3) Let go of the past. I’ve treated clients who have lost a limb, who’ve had facial reconstruction, bilateral mastectomies. At first, you cannot believe this is the new you. Allow yourself to go through all the grief stages, allowing your feelings of sadness, shock, anger, disillusionment, etc. But at the end of it, you must let go of the past to resume a life with happiness. Change is inevitable anyway. I thoroughly grieve your loss with you, feel your pain with you, that this is your life now. And yet, (breathe – if we were in a therapy session, we’d breathe together here) embracing what IS will give you peace. Instead of fighting it and wishing for something which can never be, tell yourself “I’m moving on, back into life. This is “my new normal.” Let go. Let go again, and again.
4) Champion for yourself.
Don’t let trauma take you over. It does not have to define you. A good therapist can partner with you to use sense-focused, body-present (somatic), and mindfulness-based tools along with EMDR and other proven therapies (like neurofeedback) to create relief. Talking, combined with therapies that get you back into your body (yoga, quigong, etc.), will move you beyond the trauma and you’ll thrive again. Can you begin to see here, that healing is possible? Right now, not just in the future. Be a bit brave, in this moment. You’ll have to be brave, over and over again. You’ll work it. You can do this. Others have. Living may feel harder than dying, but life can be beautiful once more, full of meaning and connection. Make a choice. Find some gratitude. Take the first step and champion for yourself to begin healing.
References: Dr. Bessel Vanderkolk: The Body Keeps the Score; Michael Singer: The Untethered Soul.
~Pamela W. Brinker, LCSW