Photo by 傅甬 华 on Unsplash
Almost eight years ago, I began working on unearthing and healing repressed trauma. At first, I thought it all stemmed from an abusive relationship. Then I found something deeper—childhood trauma was causing me to pick emotionally unavailable and even abusive partners.
Yoga. Meditation. Therapy. A psychiatrist who thought I was schizophrenic, but was wrong. Finally figuring out the issue was really PTSD. Using alcohol to self-medicate. Using workaholism to self-medicate. Realizing that I was self-medicating.
On and on and on and on.
And finally I realized—Wow. This stuff is…annoying.
I once thought I was permanently damaged. Doomed. Nothing could be done. I was born that way. It was irreversible, permanent.
I started to unravel the tangled knot I had vowed to never touch. I began to question the numbness and its permanence of it.
Strange, wonderful things started to happen. I now have fewer aches and pains. I’m more athletic. I don’t overeat or consume to feel better. I feel healthier and more in my body. I feel more present.
Strange, not-so-wonderful things started to happen. Random flashbacks and memories. Anxiety attacks popping up for no reason. A realization that I was not permanently damaged, and so that meant I was responsible for repairing myself. The absolute horror of that overwhelming task. The realization that the people who hurt me would not apologize or make amends, and I had to do all this work to heal pain no one would ever take credit for…that realization was super rough.
So what is the annoying part?
It’s annoying because I’m never going to be done. I’m going to keep flipping over rocks and finding worms. It’s frustrating because it’s not a job that I will do and then be on the other side of. It’s just…work.
There’s an idea that if you’re not working on getting better, you’re working on getting worse. This is an idea usually floated in addiction recovery, but I find it’s applicable to trauma (the two seem to overlap a lot, I have learned).
And it’s…obnoxious, truly.
It’s obnoxious that I can spend hours, days, weeks, and even years on resolving anxiety, just to have an attack when I have to fill out my taxes. It’s annoying that I can work hard to become a writer and earn an income this way…my dream since childhood…and spiral after reading the comments.
It’s super annoying. And there’s a sense of—Why bother? What is the point? My hands are tied to this wheel, and I’m in this race that I never agreed to drive in.
I didn’t ask to exist.
I didn’t ask to be born.
Does this relapse mean all the work was for nothing? That everything I learned was garbage and nonsense?
Then the creeping feelings of doom come back. How could I ever think I could get better? I am clearly so, so doomed.
I had to accept that it would never really be over. I am still working on accepting that it is never really over. It’s so frustrating, for several reasons:
1. I believed I had to be better before life could begin.
I want to hurry up and heal because I have a tendency to think I have to do this before I can be successful, be in a relationship, etc. And to some extent, that’s true. I shouldn’t try to be in a relationship if I’m a complete mess who cannot take care of herself. But I thought I had o be 100% better to do all of these things, and that is not true. It’s okay to do multiple things at once…to struggle with anxiety, and to try to achieve something else with my life.
This previously felt overwhelming and impossible, and so I was angry at my trauma for holding me back. For keeping me from being “successful” or even “normal.”
Now, I’m working on the idea that this is a continuous process, like bathing or exercising or brushing my teeth. I have to do maintenance on my mental health. It’s not something that is going to be fixed for good. It’s not going to disappear one day. It doesn’t always have to be so impossibly hard, but my mental health is always going to require attention and maintenance.
2. I beat myself up for not starting sooner.
If I had started sooner, I would be further along now. Maybe I would even be more successful. Why hadn’t I started sooner? Also, why hadn't I healed on my own? How could I be hurting over something that happened 30 years ago? Didn't that just make me weak?
The best time to start is right now. I cannot go into the past and prevent myself from being involved with people who were no good for me. I have to choose my friendships and relationships wisely now. I get to decide my path now. When I focus on the future instead of how much time I wasted, then it becomes less annoying. I’m doing what I can now. I cannot change what I did, only what I do.
3. I believed every relapse meant the work I did was worthless, and I had to start all over.
By relapse, in this context, I mean primarily relying on old, unhealthy coping mechanisms, not necessarily substance abuse (although sometimes, that does include substance abuse).
I’m including other behaviors I’m disappointed in myself for—looking for validation from someone who hurt me, for example, or trying to get someone to save me from myself instead of doing the work on my own. Taking on too much, being a people pleaser, not sticking up for myself or my own needs, avoiding responsibilities because of the anxiety involved…all of that, to me, is a form of relapsing.
The negative parts of my mind would tell me that since I fell back into old habits, all the work I had done was worthless. But it was not true. Every time it happens, I learn something. I am able to create more distance between my observer mind and my pain. I am able to examine why I do things and take it less personally when my unhealthy tendencies are pointed out to me.
Healing from trauma is...super annoying. It's never over. It's never done. But that's okay, because it's something I can do while living my life. I don't have to keep thinking that life is on the other side of getting better.
It's happening right now.
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