Trauma. Such a complex, little word. The sad part is, so many people don’t recognize they have suffered trauma. We have decided that trauma is what happens when you go to war, get assaulted or are violated. We see it as some huge event. But, trauma isn’t some ‘event‘, it’s what happens inside your body when you are exposed to a threat or your basic needs are not met. Trauma is different for everyone. One person, may experience an event and having appropriate coping skills be able to safely navigate it. Another, may already be coping with a multitude of stressors, their “cup” is empty, or their coping skills are poor to begin with. For them, that means when those who were supposed to treat you in a specific way, either through action/abuse or inaction/neglect, and it goes beyond your capacity to soothe, it creates trauma.
I’ve come to think of my healing as the journey of an addict. I think I will always be in recovery to some extent. Eye always weary, scanning the environment, looking for slips in my behaviour. When life is easy to moderate, I can stay above water. But, recent events remind me that when the stack gets bigger and bigger, every one of us has the potential to bow under it’s weight. As I was in the midst of my great awakening, one foot firmly in front of the other walking away from all those unhelpful coping mechanisms and distraught nervous system, life kept adding hurdles. First, I realized how prevalent depression, anxiety and poor coping or unhealthy thought patterns are. It seemed everywhere I turned another friend or family member was dealing with it. I wanted to save them all. It hurt when they didn’t take my hand. But, I learned to let it go. Until it was too close and too much.
Normally, I have practices in place to help when external energies are negative and it is disturbing my inner peace enough that I feel my nervous system kicking up and negative spirals start appearing. Typically, I pull back from whomever or whatever is causing the negativity - break from social media, unfollow someone, take space for myself. When I’m in my space, I ground and do a mindful practice where I envision myself in an orb of blue electricity. The orb only allows in positive or neutral energy, while allowing all energy to exit. I use this orb to remind myself that I am safe from another’s negative energy. I control what I allow in.
As well, I have a list (in my head) of practices that I can do which will change my emotional state. I can pick one and if it doesn’t work, move on to another and another until I find something that changes my state. A simple practice, but one I do forget at times, is to just sit and visualize a time when I was really happy/enjoying life/at peace, just to feel that particular positive emotion. Your body doesn’t know it’s just a memory, it thinks you’re actually experiencing it and when your emotions change, the rest of your state changes. I sing or dance or draw or paint - Creative - if you don’t have a list of things, start one and be sure to include items from each category. Creativity expands our minds and is tied to so many of our chilhood experiences. Get bubbles and have fun sending them out into the universe. Play. Be childlike and look at the world in wonder. Exercise - yoga, take a walk, do a workout, go for a bike ride - physical fitness/movement is so good for your body and mind. Education - personal or professional development - I am always taking courses and learning something new. When we accomplish something it makes us feel good about ourselves and expands our minds. Spiritual - pray, meditate, or take time in silence. We underestimate the value of silence. Prayer doesn’t have to be to God (for me it is) but to whatever you believe or to simply the notion that there is more without knowing what “more” is.
My trauma no longer haunts me. I am not woken to extreme terror, a bundle of sweat, unable to sleep. I am not easily upset and when I do get upset, I do the work. I sit with myself and reflect - Why do I feel this way? What past event is this linked to? Am I seeing it clearly or is it clouded by my unhelpful coping mechanisms? Is my spirit depleted? Am I giving and not taking time for self care? Is there a stack…….and if so, how big is it? What negative coping habit do I need to work on. What type of self care do I need to do?
This stack was big. My husband was dealing with severe depression. He had a very traumatic life, including his parents and older brother dying in a 5 year span when he was in his early twenties. He had carried his depression really well, but now, it was at a critical point. After healing from trauma - anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and complex-PTSD. At first I ran away, I was too newly recovered, the familiar embrace too inviting. I had fought so hard, going back was not an option. As time went on I had to come back. I couldn’t keep distance between us because it was only hurting him more and worsening his depression. I thought I was strong enough to carry the weight with him. I thought I could get close to that level of negativity and as long as I did self care I’d be okay. At some point, it gets really difficult.
I was returning to my previous job, when I had a meeting where I was told they were changing my position (demotion), taking away a thousand dollars a month in salary, didn’t want “OLD” Tanya but wanted “NEW” Tanya, being told we don’t clock in at 7 and out at 3, we stay late and more. I was devastated and though I feel I’ve handle it well, I always question myself. Am I ruminating? Am I stuck? Am I dwelling? Is the level of hurt I’m feeling appropriate? Is my response appropriate? With this one, I questioned whether or not my value system aligned with my employer’s. I asked for clarification - My new pay is on which scale? Details on the position, including expectations and hourly requirements, since “we all stay late” is pretty vague. The response didn’t help. The stack grew. No clarity on the hours. OLD/NEW Tanya was in reference to my health and wellness, not performance - phew, thank goodness!! I was stunned. I was off on stress leave which was partly their fault! How dare they bring up my medical situation, not to mention, discriminatory. I was coming back the following week - who does this? Who has a meeting and completely stresses the returning employee out? The clarification included a note about the salary and how it would be unfair to deduct $12,000.00 and after looking at the appropriate scale, it would be closer to $8-9,000.00. WHO DOES THAT? Who doesn’t come in with the correct information, but arbitrarily says $12,000.00? Then, disability, doctors, all the crap that piles on because of that one thing. Stress of what now, where do I go, can I return, how, do I pivot into a new industry, do I try a different job in the same industry, the market sucks, stress, stress, stress…….and not only on my plate, but my depressed husband‘s too. Who now feels the need to save me. Who spirals down deeper. Who takes me with him, little by little.
Even those of us who have healed are not safe. Regression, relapse, just like any addiction, those negative coping habits, anxiety and depression are always looming somewhere in the wings. Each day, you work at it. Each day, you remind yourself how much your love yourself, and I do. I really, truly love myself. That doesn’t mean that when push comes to shove or when the mountain stacks against that you don’t get overwhelmed. You hear the “you’re a loser,” comment pop out of your mouth and quickly, remind yourself you are not. But that is the slip, you’ve said it. You feel the anxiety rising. You experience small panic attacks, where you just want to walk away from your grocery cart in the middle of the store because you feel like you can’t handle one more thing. You want to go somewhere safe. You push through. You breathe. You remind yourself you are safe and you got this. You breathe. You become present. You relax and carry on.
My calm colour is soft, baby pink. The colour of apple and cherry blossoms. My favourite place is next to the water, listening to the waves scamper across the beach. I flood my mind with images. I listen to sounds of the waves, cue up a recording of the shoreline in front of my brother’s house when I can. I crawl into the safe nest of the present and feel free again.
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