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February 23, 2021

A Step-by-Step Guide to Surviving Trauma.


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“Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending—to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, ‘Yes, this is what happened. And I will choose how the story ends.’” ~ Brené Brown

I want to start with a disclaimer: This is a personal and individualized sharing of one person’s experience with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). It is a journey that has spanned over 20 years.

If you find that therapy and medication is inaccessible to you (another heart-wrenching, hot button topic), know that I have been on my own since 16; couch-hopped and got my GED; possess no degree; had many long lapses in insurance or received subpar state insurance; fought for my life to prioritize finding a job that offered benefits; put my head down and climbed a ladder to success; lost that success a few times, kept fighting the urge to give up with everything I had; faced huge, uncontrollable traumas and life-altering mistakes along the way—all while feeling like real joy could be never be attainable for me.

You can do this, too.

No matter what your story is, no matter your obstacles.

We can all do this.

Trauma is not for the weak. Though, it can create insurmountable strength if you change your perspective of it.

We are all capable of our own breakthroughs.

Step One:

Be traumatized—by your parents, by your teacher, by your daycare provider, by a priest, by a spouse, by a childhood friend, by a schoolmate, by your boss, by a land mine in an unknown land with unknown people while watching your comrades die around you, by the loss of someone dear to you, by death, by the loss of someone dear to you that is still living, by the hand of someone who you never thought would hurt you, by a foster system, by a toxic family member, by hunger, by neglect, by rape, by racism, by inhumane actions that happened to you or to someone in front of you.

Pick one, or all, or more. This is Step One.

Step Two:

For days, or weeks, or years, run from your trauma. Don’t acknowledge your trauma. Convince yourself that people have it worse than you, and that you’re being a baby.

Drink it, smoke it, f*ck it, drug it, eat it, or work it away. Make a ton of mistakes that you don’t realize are directly related to your trauma. Get into one, two, three, or more toxic relationships that you don’t understand are trauma bonds and put yourself through more trauma. Have the good ones walk away from you. Walk away from the good ones because you don’t know anything but toxic intensity.

Start a lot of things you never finish. Have emotional outbursts in front of the people who love you most because they are “safe” and you’re unknowingly unraveling to them because of that, in a way that makes them feel helpless. Constantly apologize for putting them through that. Or, deny that you’re putting them through anything.

When people ask if you’re okay, you say, “Yes, everything’s been going really great!” and then you go sit in your car, or the bathroom, or stroll through the middle of a grocery store aisle and cry. Get yourself into a hole. Hit rock bottom. Get yourself out of your pit and then hit rock bottom again. Maybe another cycle of it for good measure. Maybe you stop showering and eating; maybe it gets worse than that. Lather, rinse, repeat until you’re ready for Step Three.

Step Three:

You start to realize that your life is not sustainable this way. You start to realize that even though you wish you died instead of your loved one(s), or you wish you didn’t wake up when you went to sleep at night, or you think about taking it all into your own hands, you start to realize that you are alive. That you are still waking up every morning. That even though you think about it, you don’t really want to pull the trigger.

You start to feel a terrifying relief: you know you want to live, but you know that it’s going to take so much work to be able to shift out of the survival mode you’ve lived in for years. You cling to your old habits, the ones that stick around and make you feel safe and comfortable, but they don’t make you feel comfortable anymore. They make you mad and squeamish and upset at yourself. Maybe it’s so bad that you put yourself in the hospital. You realize how your loved ones have dealt with you, asked for you to get help, and you’ve lived in denial.

You sit with shame, and guilt, and anger because, after all, you wouldn’t be this way if the trauma had never happened to you. The anger eats a hole into the softness you have left, and you let your soul scream at you that enough is enough.

Then, you’re ready for Step Four.

Step Four:

Attempt to live, instead of only surviving. Reach out for help. Fight for your life.

Find a bad therapist. Find a good therapist who helps you. Lose that therapist because they had to retire and go on kidney dialysis. Give up. Try meds. Maybe over the course of years. Have negative side effects, hate prescription drugs. Give up. Try self-medicating again. Overindulge. Give up.

Go through another trauma or two or three, and find yourself in your pit again. Pull yourself out, but with more vigor this time, or maybe less vigor this time. Convince yourself you don’t need therapy. Definitely convince yourself you don’t need meds. Get fed up again. Try therapy again. Don’t connect with that therapist. And then, don’t give up. Walk out of that door and find another one, then call and make an appointment in the parking lot. Go.

Since you refused to give up this time, sit in front of the first therapist you’ve ever felt could help you. Accept them as your mental health advocate. Stick with it. Keep going even when you feel like you’re going to sit there and pretend you’re okay the whole hour because you don’t want to talk that day. Keep going even when you don’t think you’re making progress. Give meds another try if you realize you’re having trouble implementing your therapy.

Shake off the stigma you’ve carried about yourself. Give yourself tenderness knowing that your trauma stripped you of your serotonin, your dopamine, your ability to create moments where there are endorphins and oxytocin and that you need to keep trying to find something no matter how long it takes because something will work one day. And it doesn’t have to be a part of your morning routine forever. Just long enough for your brain to let you absorb and trust what you’re learning in therapy. Just long enough for you to be able to feel like you fit in, instead of feeling like an outsider everywhere you go. Long enough for your brain to heal like any other organ that receives trauma and needs healing; long enough for it to do what it wants to do for you and was made to do for you. Long enough for you to regain your old hobbies or find new ones. Or for the rest of your life—maybe for forever after all—if that’s what it takes to live, but you release that stigma about yourself, too.

Sometime during all of this, start having breakthrough therapy appointments. Bounce around in Step Four as long as you need until you are ready for Step Five.

Because Step Five takes much gusto.

Step Five:

Set yourself free. Free yourself from the toxic relationships. Stop trying to fix others and start fixing yourself. Look hard in the mirror, release and forgive your own toxicity that you’ve created through things that were out of your control.

Cover your mirror with Post-It notes and affirmations. Tell yourself how deserving you are of abundance. Believe you deserve it. Thank God, or the Universe, or Mother Nature, or your cat, for the blessings to come with enthusiasm. Manifest the sh*t out of goodness. Believe you deserve it.

Be gentle and kind to yourself in all ways, but be vigilant in finding balance with this; you have to also be mindful of growing and continuing to break free. Be lovingly disciplined and forgiving with yourself. Know that you’re still human and humans make mistakes. Forgive the ones who gave you the trauma. Let yourself feel pure gratitude that you are not like them. Set them free and hope that they may find compassion and empathy, so that they may cease hurting others.

Let yourself feel gratitude for the superpowers you received through always needing to read the room, or being there in an unspeakable crisis, or living through that godforsaken experience. Let yourself realize that once you can control your brain and stop the flashbacks, that you will turn your trauma into a gift. Know that the dark and twisty place might creep its way into your mind every now and again. Be amazed at how you appreciate the beauty of contrast and get through every unsettling moment with so much more ease when it does.

Then, onward to Step Six.

Step Six:

Watch your manifestations come into fruition. Be amazed at how you handle disappointments and turn them into magic. Let your jaw drop when you’re blessed with continued abundance; say, “Thank you, I knew it,” and keep manifesting.

Watch how remarkably true it is that our life is not linear, but a spiral. Run into people from your past and be amazed at how far you’ve come. Heal from those encounters, and also be amazed when you walk away easily because you know you’re not on the same page as them anymore. Be amazed that you have no desire to make them see that. Be amazed at how you set boundaries, and how you let go of people who don’t want to honor them. Be proud of the way you honor the boundaries of others. Be amazed at the people who start coming out of the woodwork to support you and love you in every way. Let them love you. Love them back. Find love in the one who got away years ago, or with the person you waited your whole life to meet, or adopt a three-legged dog who needs you.

Bask in the glory of knowing what it’s like to have your brain be your friend again, and then you’ll be ready for Step Seven.

Step Seven:

Live. Simply live.

Love without attachment. Love with commitment. Forgive. Share. Be vulnerable where it counts. Help others through your experience.

Be bold. Be courageous. Be your authentic self. Don’t be afraid of the tears; let them flow, then let them heal you.

Go for everything you want and have ever wanted without hesitation or doubt. Lift others up with you. Trust your intuition. Be proud that you never let them break you. Change the world by changing yourself.

Keep going, keep going, keep going.

And never stop.


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