“If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”— Hillel the Elder
I’m 44 years-old, and I’ve been on the “therapy circuit” since I was 16. As soon as I could drive, I found a therapist on my own and started going. I knew that my experiences and family of origin were well beyond what could be described as normal. My mother behaved just like Joan Crawford from the film “Mommy Dearest”, and my father was indescribably awful. My father’s wife was like a Disney queen. If she could have sent me into the woods with a random huntsman in order to have me “disappeared”, then she would have.
What I have learned is that you can only sustain therapy and counsel for so long. For the intervention and work to be permanently effective, you have to build new neural connections and adaptively process your trauma. Part of that processing involves addressing and changing core beliefs. For that to happen, you have to find the right therapeutic approach which fits your needs not to mention the right clinician. If you don’t like your therapist, then you won’t feel safe. Ain’t nothin’ gonna happen for you then.
You also need to have stability in your life. You can’t do trauma and core belief work if you aren’t safe in your home and lack support. You cannot fight a battle on two or more fronts. The therapist’s office becomes the battleground, and, when you leave that office, the battleground is your mind. Feeling safe in your life is key to actually doing the deep trauma and core belief processing. This is a potential reason why many people don’t get that far in their processing. When there is trauma in the past, there can often be repeated exposure to trauma in the present. Safety feels like a fantasy or luxury rather than a requirement not to mention that one can lose a sense of what it even means to feel safe. Losing control of boundaries becomes a normalized way of life.
As I have engaged in the healing process, I have observed that the pattern has been roughly two years of therapy with time off in between. Years in between. That fits for someone with my past trauma. Both my parents were highly abusive, and I was trafficked. My return to therapy this time was caused by domestic violence, and I was none too happy about it. Alas, I knew that it was necessary. Old traumas can become fresh again when new trauma is experienced. Surprisingly, past trauma that I thought was settled has resurrected, but it has not been bad. It has come from much deeper places that I didn’t even know existed, and I suspect that it is those deeper places that hold the key to lasting healing. I feel much more rooted even now than I have in the past.
Why share all this?
Well, sometimes we get tired of our own process. I even fear that others will get tired of my process.
I have wondered if my entire life will be lived out in a chair in a therapist’s office, and I have felt robbed. But, this is life. This is true for everyone. No, not everyone will endure an abduction or incest or something spectacularly terrible, but no one gets off this planet unscathed. If you are alive, then you hurt. Some hurt more than others. Some are more sensitive to emotional pain than others simply due to the size of their hippocampus. Some people carry epigenetic influences that influence how they process emotional pain. We don’t control everything about ourselves both external and internal.
For those of us with deep trauma, it is our duty to ourselves and others to participate in this process of healing so that we learn to exercise influence over what we can rather than being influenced and tossed about. It’s much like when my hip was injured. I was in pain and limping. I lost mobility and couldn’t sit properly or even walk well. I had to see a rheumatologist and then an orthopedist. I had an MRI and then injections directly into my hip joint. It all sucked. Ultimately, I needed a surgical repair followed up by four months of physical therapy with daily and often painful rehabilitation exercises that I had to do at home. All of this was done to 1) strengthen my hip joint 2) strengthen and repair the surrounding muscle groups that had been overcompensating for the injury 3) aid in healing and 4) teach me how to properly walk again because, due to the nature of the injury, the compensation for it, and the surgery itself, I lost my ability to walk properly. The injustice of this situation is that I received the initial injury in a domestic violence situation. But what of it? It’s my hip. I want to heal. So, like it or not, I had to conform to the healing protocol and put in the work.
This analogy works. As humans, we hurt, and we are vulnerable to myriad kinds of injury. Sometimes we are hurt in ways that defy imagination, and the injustice of our injuries can break us. No one is held accountable. No one takes responsibility, and, due to the stigma often applied to mental health issues and victims of sexual abuse and violence, we are often blamed for our own injuries making us victims twice over. It is impossible to understand. And yet we must learn to walk again. That is the commitment we must hold for ourselves and the people we love–and the people we have not yet met but will. For the people we will eventually love.
There is something within this kind of work that is imperative to acknowledge–hope. We engage in a thorough healing process because we have hope that what we are doing is building something better. We are building a better present that will lead to a better future. We are becoming healthier and safer people so that we can expand our lives to welcome in safe and healthy people. We do this work for a reason. It’s not futile. We are not masochists. We are not stuck. We do not love sitting around and talking about the past. We are shaking off the chains so that we can not only walk again but run. Or even fly.
That is what this entire healing process is about. So, ignore the naysayers and the trolls. Turn away from negative friends and family members. This is your life. Your shot. Grab it and run with it. You can do it. You are worth it. Keep going.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”–Marianne Williamson