Continuing off of the trauma theme with the posts I wrote last week and the week before, this week I wanted to focus on healing. Healing is a big part of life after trauma. Whether you choose to heal or not, that decision will affect your life greatly. How do I know? Because I spent a lot of my life not healing, and now I’ve spent years working on healing. So I can see firsthand some of the effects of both options.
One of the first things that you need to know is that healing is absolutely a choice.
This is the tricky part. You would think that everyone would want to heal from their trauma and so it wouldn’t even be a question; it would just be something that you start doing naturally. In reality, healing is an active choice that you have to make again and again throughout the process. Sometimes, it feels like it would be easier to just stay hurt, because healing is WORK and it’s hard.
There can also be a part of you that doesn’t want to have to heal because it doesn’t seem fair; you weren’t the one that messed up, so why do you have to do the work? And then sometimes, you don’t want to heal because that would mean admitting that the trauma happened in the first place, and it feels like it would be easier to pretend that it didn’t. Maybe you’ve even started to create a new identity around being a victim, and you’re not sure who you’ll be on the other side.
Unfortunately, the only one who can do the work to heal is you. No one else can do it for you. It is going to be stressful and painful. Your brain will probably try to keep you trapped in the past as a safety precaution, making it confusing as well. Not knowing what will happen next is scary and having to process what happened is downright terrifying. But you know what’s worse? Living the rest of your life trapped by trauma brain, guided by fear and a pattern of self-destructive behavior.
Not healing is a choice too.
By not choosing to heal, you’re actually choosing to stay stuck. You’re choosing to continue living your life as one big trauma response. Sure, this might mean that you don’t actively have to process what you went through, but you’re going to be stuck in survival mode. You’ll have to avoid triggers, deal with nightmares or panic attacks and will most likely miss out on some really great opportunities. A lot of the time, when you haven’t healed from your trauma, you end up with a lot of irrational fears which cause you to put your trust into the wrong people and attract toxic relationships (both romantic and non-romantic.) Your sense of self-worth tends to decrease while your (probably unwarranted) shame increases.
Most likely, you’ll start looking for validation in all of the wrong places and start allowing things to happen in your life that should enrage you. You’ll start having a lot of negative self-talk, making excuses for others and blaming yourself for things that were in no way your fault. For many of us, people-pleasing becomes second nature because we’re convinced that if the people around us are happy, the chances of us getting hurt again are lower. This means poor boundaries and actually increases the chance of us being used or abused.
By not healing from trauma, we end up not taking care of ourselves- usually mentally, and sometimes physically as well. Our fear and pain start to run our decisions and we lose track of who we really are and what we want. It also increases the odds that we’ll end up getting hurt- possibly even experience more trauma- again. There’s a quote that says we repeat what we don’t repair. I can’t even express how true that is. From toxic relationships to people-pleasing to trouble connecting physically or emotionally… If we don’t work on fixing it, it will keep showing up. It will mislead you and hold you back, so you never really know if what you’re feeling is your intuition or a trauma-based reaction.
You’re not being brave by pretending to be okay.
Often, trauma victims avoid facing their trauma because they don’t want to be victims. They don’t want to seem weak or admit that they are going through something. Maybe they’re afraid of the blame-the-victim mentality that seems to be common in our world, or they’re worried that it will seem like they’re just looking for attention. But here’s the thing- it’s actually really brave and strong to be able to admit that you’re not okay. To be able to admit that you went through something and that maybe you need help or time or whatever it is that you need. To tell your truth or however much of it you want to share.
You don’t have to be everything for everyone and you don’t need to be perfect. In fact, that’s impossible. You need to take the time to heal you, because again, no one else can do it for you.
Healing is a process.
Unfortunately, there is no simple checklist for healing. It isn’t as easy as, okay if I do this list of things, I’ll be okay again. Everyone will need to find their own path and complete their own journey. Different traumas mixed with different personalities will cause different reactions. You’ll need to figure out what you need to feel safe and whole again. Otherwise, the trauma will hide in your mind and body and you’ll never really be free of it.
That being said, there are a few guidelines that you can use to get started. Things like admitting that something bad happened to you, even if you’re only admitting it to yourself. Letting yourself feel it and process it. There’s a high probability that you will never understand why what happened happened, and so sometimes healing involves letting go of that need for understanding (personally, I think this is one of the hardest parts).
Take the time to focus more on your physical and mental self-care.
Things like making sure that you’re eating well, sleeping, moving your body and finding things to do that bring you joy are an important part of the process. You can also try things like journaling, meditating, affirmations, or maybe even talking to a therapist or support person in order to process your feelings.
Setting firm boundaries with those around you will also be key in making sure that you are not continuing down a toxic road surrounded by people who will take advantage of your state of mind. Figure out who ‘your people’ are- the ones who will support you and be there to help build you up rather than tear you down when you can’t make them your number one priority all of the time. I can’t express enough how much the people you surround yourself with affect you. If you allow yourself to be surrounded by negative people who make you feel bad about yourself or who make you feel guilty for trying to focus on you, it will be so much harder to heal. You need to make sure those around you are rooting for you.
Sometimes healing means unlearning certain behaviors.
Often times, either during trauma or immediately following, we learn certain behaviors that allow us to survive. Sometimes, these behaviors make us feel safer in the short term, but after a while, keep us trapped. They start to prevent us from being able to move forward or grow. Things like holding yourself back or avoiding any extra attention. Hiding from the world in order to feel safe, refusing to participate or to step out of your comfort zone. Things like trusting another person or being vulnerable. You don’t have to apologize for who you became in order to survive, but sometimes you need to recognize what habits are no longer serving you.
When it comes to how long it takes to heal, there is no set timeframe.
It depends on the person, the trauma, and the work done to heal. (Most of the people I’ve spoken with have told me that it’s taken years, but that it is achievable!) I’m happy to report that I’ve pretty much healed from a lot of my trauma, but I’m on year four of healing from the last one and I while I’ve definitely made a lot of progress, I’ve still got a long way to go. I’ve learned that you need to be patient and celebrate all of the tiny victories along the way. Be proud of all that you’ve overcome so far and know that you have what it takes to make it to the other side.
How do you know when you’ve healed from trauma?
I wish I could tell you that once you’ve healed, you no longer think about it or carry it with you. Unfortunately, for most of us, trauma is something that you will carry with you forever. It isn’t something you ever ‘get over’. However, once you’ve healed, you can go longer stretches without thinking about it and when the thoughts do come, they don’t carry the pain. You can acknowledge that they happened without feeling the fear, anger, panic or hurt. Sort of like a mental scar.
You don’t ever really go back to who you were before the trauma. Sometimes you might miss that person, (and that’s okay!) but that innocence doesn’t just come back. However, you are able to regain some parts and mix them with the new wisdom and strength and lessons that you’ve acquired. The trauma no longer controls you and you’re able to feel safe and empowered in your own body and mind.
Healing is hard.
There are days when it feels so exhausting and like it’s not worth it. You’ll feel drained and stupid and foolish and you’ll want to give up. On those days, it’s okay if all you did was breathe. There’s a certain comfort in living in your trauma response because at some point it became familiar and our brains love the familiar. But, I’m telling you right now, the work and pain of healing is so worth it. Because the other side- the part where you get to thrive and live in all of the glory that is you in spite of what you’ve been through- it’s so fucking worth it. The key is to take it one day at a time. Even a little bit of progress is still progress.
And if you’re still hungry for more, here are other articles I’ve written on trauma and the healing process:
- Trauma is not your fault but healing is your responsibility
- Trauma Secrets: Healing Without The Audience
- Healing isn’t linear
- Triggers: They don’t have to own us anymore.
- You have to want to heal in order to heal
- An introduction to understanding trauma