I recently cared for my estranged mother after her surgery. When I relayed this story to a dear friend, she was shocked but also happy for me and the parental reconnection after so many years of pain and loss.
We then discussed some traumatic childhood events and mused about how it impacted our lives, and where we perceived ourselves to be on our healing journey.
She asked me some extremely profound questions that I found difficult to answer:
“How were you able to pull yourself out of the trauma to become the person that you are today and not let it pull you down? How did you survive it? What drove you to overcome it? How did you keep that momentum to be the person that you are and that you want to help others?”
(Yes, I wrote them all down when she asked me. I wanted to remember exactly what she said.)
Desire to Heal
My friend’s trauma has been life-long. And she relayed that she had to disassociate and live in a fantasy world a lot as a kid. She said it came across as “harmless play or daydreaming” to her family. But disassociating during traumatic events was her survival mechanism.
So crazy. It makes perfect sense that a child would do that. I, however, did not. I insanely decided to remember every moment that I COULD remember as a child, ESPECIALLY if it was traumatic.
I used to describe it as feeling like an adult but in a child’s body. I remember adults saying how “grown up” I acted. Yep - it’s cuz I thought I WAS a grown up. Dammit! And I was MAD at the grown-ups around me for acting like CHILDREN.
Hmm… I’m still a bit …cough, cough.. triggered by that little morsel. Clearly.
That doesn’t answer how I survived it.
I promised her I would journal about it and get back to her.
In my writings, the same theme kept coming up: I had a strong desire to heal.
Strange how trauma or damage shows up later in life. Sometimes you are broken and don’t know you are broken, but life seems fine. Then one day you are in the fetal position over something that happened to you at 5 years old.
When I was a kid, I knew I was experiencing trauma - although I didn’t call it that. But it was clear even then that I was going to need to heal some things.
I think my desire to heal comes from some dark places inside me. My default settings were the need to be liked, trauma bonding, and lots of self-doubt and shame.
I started doing The Work.
Once I chose to dive deep into those dark places, healing was inevitable. The things I didn’t get to choose were 1.) how long it takes and 2.) what, or rather who, it brought up in my life, hence the reconnection with my estranged mother.
I had to do A LOT - years of work on myself - to be able to show up for my mother like that. My boundaries were fully intact, and my heart did not harbor any resentment or ill will. The experience was still intense and emotional at times.
When my mother and I relayed our “positions” to one another after so many years, I noticed I still had some deep pain. I was triggered by some of the things she said.
When I am triggered with a strong emotion, it’s definitely from my past. Because my present is peaceful.
Confronting my past with the intent to heal it was a strength I wasn’t sure I would ever find. But I did it. I figuratively packed up all the trauma that I believed belonged to her and handed it back to her in that moment. And that helped make me peaceful again.
Triggers are just a sign, or warning, that there is more work to do.
“Before you heal someone, ask him if he's
willing to give up the things that made him sick."
Everyone’s Healing Journey is Different
I in no way attest to knowing what is right for someone or have a recipe for wellness that is a one-size-fits-all. I only know what worked for me. And really, even then, I wasn’t sure it worked. It has all just been a trial and error… a life of learning and relearning, a letting go of attachments and things not meant for me… I have definitely done The Work!
We are not just a product of our families. We are a product of what we feed ourselves.
We can be very different people. We can make different choices. We can go in different directions and explore new ways of being and doing. We don’t have to inevitably be our past.
Again, I do not have a formula. But here is a general list of Action Items I did to show up for myself:
Have the desire to heal. I know it sounds crazy, but some people simply do not have this desire. It’s almost as if they let go of all that is ailing them, they won’t know who they are anymore; their identity is wrapped up in their pain.
Remove toxicity. You must remove toxic people and situations from your life. If you have a constant influence of negativity, it is a drain on your joy, and you will continue to suffer. This can be hard to recognize. Notice your behavior when you are in certain situations or with certain people. Is there always drama? Do you feel as if you are always on eggshells around someone? Does the “good time” always end “badly”? Time to clean house.
Practice firm boundaries. To remove toxicity from your life, you must learn to set boundaries to protect your energy. A boundary can be anything you do for yourself: remove yourself from drama, maybe give yourself a curfew, or simply saying no. You get to decide who is around you and when. It might take practice, but you can do it.
Let go of old stories and beliefs about yourself. The person you were in the past does not need to be relayed repeatedly, especially if you no longer feel like that person. Those stories are always based on a less-evolved version of yourself. Find new stories to tell…
Fill your spare time with positive, loving, and kind happenings. Volunteer! Buy a friend lunch. Offer to walk with your neighbor. Tell the mail person thank you. Say “I love you” to a friend. Be the change you wish to see in the world. You are happier and more balanced when you are present for others.
Build new skills. Learn new things. Start a hobby. Take a class. Find a mentor. Read a new book. When you build your skills and learn new things, you are keeping your mind active and healthy. You are giving yourself the gifts of self-worth and accomplishment.
Give yourself permission to change your mind. Oh, this one is LIFE CHANGING! No matter how far you have gone down a path, you can turn around and go the opposite direction. It's never too late to change your path. If you do not feel safe, LEAVE. You do not have to explain your reason or get anyone’s approval. You can bail at any time.
Practice gratitude. Find reasons to be grateful, especially when you feel hopeless. When things go wrong, find one thing about it that is positive. Work to focus on the good that will come from something you perceive to be unpleasant. Eventually, this will become easier. But I recommend practicing gratitude daily ~ morning and night.
Find safe spaces and safe people. Having a safe space with a safe person helps you get through anything. When you feel safe, you are not afraid to share what's in your heart or on your mind. Feeling safe and heard can make a huge difference in your healing journey.
Practice Being Present & Mindfulness Meditations. Practice sitting, breathing, being still and quiet; practice being in the moment. If this is something you feel you can’t do, then understand that anything can be a meditation. You can sit and watch the fire burn, the flames dancing, the smoke rising. Go for a walk and notice the color of the trees, or the kinds of birds in them, or the way the sun captures the clouds in the sky. Sit and watch a bug crawl along the sidewalk. These are all little ways of taking a moment to stop and just notice the world around you. You can do anything with mindfulness - including mundane, daily activities. Eventually, you will be ready to try sitting, breathing, and being still and quiet.
Be patient with yourself. Be kind and loving when accepting your growth. Growth takes time. Be patient with yourself.
Be patient with others. Listen. Breathe. Listen. Respond. This is a hard concept for most. We need to listen more than we need to respond. Because whatever someone says or does, it is always a reflection of who they are, and is in no way about you. Learn to listen first, then respond and not react. There is power in forgiveness...
Forgive yourself. Holding a grudge against yourself and constantly punishing yourself for something can be heavy. When we own our part in our own destruction and forgive ourselves for it all - we set ourselves free - free of all the thoughts, emotions, and pain that we inflict on ourselves and others.
Forgive others. Doing this is also freeing. I understand how hard this can be, especially when someone has committed an unspeakable atrocity. But when you free yourself of the burden of those memories, your life gets better. Yes, those things happened, and those people are terrible. But by forgiving, you do not have to relive it. You can let go. You can find gratitude. You can thrive.
You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe
deserves your love and affection.
Believe in Yourself and Your Capacity to Heal
I feel I never truly answered my friend’s questions. How can I sum up a life’s worth of healing work in a few sentences? Honestly, I do not know how I survived or pulled myself out of those things. I only know what I did each day to help strengthen my resolve to move forward.
I lived in the present moment with the intent of making the future better. I believed in my capacity to heal.
Everyone has their own healing journey. It’s not linear. And it’s work. But the payoff is so rewarding and peaceful. Healing is a commitment you make every day to show up for yourself. How do you show up for yourself?
Perhaps the Action Item list is too overwhelming, and you need to start more simply. Here is a link to 10 things that will help you in more immediate ways.
Once you are ready to begin a new journey, find support. And if you can’t, I am always here to help. My initial time is free, and I do not require you continue ~ only be open to your Healing Journey.
Be well, Friends