Over the past few decades, I have been on a healing journey through which I have grown from victim to survivor to thriver.
I am here to tell you if I can overcome the trauma I lived through as a child, you can overcome yours. Healing is possible. But it takes a commitment to do “the work.” This article describes a bit about my story followed with four practices that, when done regularly, can help you heal.
My parents were active alcoholics throughout my childhood. They both had some type of mental illness, as well. They divorced when I was four years old. My younger brother was born with a severe physical disability. My older sister had bipolar disorder. Screaming, name-calling, and throwing objects were regular parts of our family interactions. Mom used to say things like, “you’d be so pretty if you lost 20 pounds.” As I grew into my teenage years, she called me “a whore.” When I wanted to buy a pick-up truck, she called me “a dyke.” My Dad sexually abused me at a very young age, and I didn’t realize until I was in my late twenties that it was inappropriate for my Dad to show us Playboy magazine photos and make sexual jokes in public. I spent much of my childhood feeling not good enough and wishing I would die. To escape, when I was 11 years old, I started smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and smoking weed. I also ate my feelings, and to this day, continue to struggle with maintaining a healthy weight. Numbing kept me alive.
In my mid-twenties, anxiety, depression, and alcoholism were killing me. The emotional distress became unbearable, and I signed myself up for a residential treatment program for adult children of alcoholics. I stopped drinking and doing drugs. Fast forward five years, and those old feelings of wanting to die surfaced again, I felt defeated. I had not come this far to give up now. I also was mad as hell. I didn’t deserve what I had endured. And yet, I was responsible for “doing the work” required to get better. I was done with feeling miserable and hating life and myself. There had to be another way.
You might be asking yourself, what does “doing the work” mean? Shared below are some of the critical practices I adopted and used on a regular basis that helped me get through to the other side of this ugliness. I hope they will help you, too.
Here Are 4 Practices for Healing from Emotional Trauma:
Love and Accept Yourself
Start by paying attention to how you talk to yourself. What words are you using? What is the tone of your voice when you “say” them in your head? Can you pick different words? Be kinder and gentler with your tone. Awareness is the first step and lovingkindness is the goal. Engage your adult self to talk to your child self. What does she or he want and need to hear? What terms of endearment can you use (e.g., honey? sweetie pie?) Find something that works for you and use it. Allow yourself to feel the feelings you have been running from for so long. Grieving what you lost is a normal reaction to a very abnormal circumstance.
Turn Anger into Action
When you find yourself being mad as hell because you wake up to the fact that you did not deserve to be treated the way you were, turn that anger away from yourself. Whatever coping strategies you used to survive worked. You survived. Now, it’s time to move forward, to learn how to thrive. Use the energy that comes from being mad to propel you to create a new version of yourself. Do not accept unacceptable behavior from others. Set boundaries. Figure out what is ok and what is not ok for you, and stand up for yourself. Let go of people and situations that are keeping you stuck in the old, unhappy you, doing the same thing over and over again. Know that it will be messy and hard sometimes. Do it anyway.
Rewire Your Brain
A lot of research has been done that explains the effects of trauma on our brains and how we can re-wire our brains through practices like meditation. I find walking in nature, watching the ocean, pushing color around on paper, guided meditations, digging in the yard, practicing yoga, and other forms of exercise help tremendously. Rick Hanson’s online Foundations of Wellbeing Program has been extremely helpful for me. Here is more information if you are interested in doing some learning from the comfort of your own home.
Perhaps I should have put this one first in the list of practices. I know from my own experience that this was the last option I was willing to consider. My back had to be up against the wall before I would or could admit I needed help. Or that I deserved to invest in myself and my well-being. All that said, I wouldn’t have been able to do “the work” without the support of an experienced therapist, a doctors who understood the calcifying effects of trauma on the mind and body, and friends. Being traumatized as a child leads us to not trust, shy away from the love that we crave so desperately, and to try hiding our true selves from almost everyone. Part of the healing process is shining light on the dark places where we were wounded, and doing that requires we take a few risks and allow ourselves to connect with others. Find your peeps and build trust slowly. One baby step at a time.
To learn more about how I used writing poems and drawing to help me heal, please see my book, When I Lay My Hands on My Heart.
Finally, please share in the comments below what strategies you find helpful on your journey to health, wellbeing, and transformation from victim to survivor to thriver.