May 5, 2022

Healing Trauma isn’t Linear & Probably Won’t End the Way we Think it Should.

Yesterday, I broke down. It’s all too much.

The past decade has been riddled with failed pain management strategies that I can no longer bare; and consequently, my dreaded old and familiar nemesis, depression, has returned.

I’ve mostly been in denial about the pain. I refuse to let it limit my daily responsibilities, which forces me to operate in a perpetual wheel of discomfort. The reality is that my quality of life has suffered. I often find myself having to multitask the simple state of being present.

I know, I know. Multitasking while being present sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out.

Pain shows up frequently—in the middle of my weekly solo hikes, while building Lego castles or playing handball with my son, when exchanging cuddle kisses with my sweet-as-pie daughter, while working, not working, sleeping, or not sleeping.

If the pain is at its usual level 11 out of 10, I’ll have entire conversations with myself in hopes of an instant, mindful posture fix so that I can interact more with what’s actually in front of me. My self-pep talks sound something like this:

“Shoulders back, Jane. And down. Don’t forget the down part because it hurts more when you pull your shoulders back and up. Activate and tighten your core, too. Now make sure to keep your low back neutral, not arched. Stand tall and imagine a string at the top of your head pulling your torso upwards. Breathe consciously. No shallow breaths, though. Box breaths keep the tension and knots from settling in. Remember your leg strength—those weekly squat exercises make it easier to stabilize. Oh, and relax your neck, cuz tech neck is real.”

Seriously, it’s exhausting.

People who become aware always ask when and how I started experiencing pain so severely.

“Oh, I walked away from far too many fender benders in college and never listened to the EMTs who advised me to get checked out,” I’ll say. Even more recently, my story has evolved to say that, “I never fully healed after having two babies in two years.”

Sympathy flows as folks typically offer up solutions for relief based on whatever their individual struggles have been. I appreciate them, I really do. However, I’ve tried everything to heal medically, holistically, physically, and emotionally.

Well, almost everything.

Although my car accident and pregnancy stories may be partially true, I’ve come to realize that the root cause of pain began the moment I suppressed something awful that happened to me years ago…and it’s probably not going away until I fully deal with it.

One night a friend and I decided to grab dinner and drinks. I’ll call this friend Lisa, as I don’t actually remember her real name.

Lisa was gorgeous and fit—she was former military and worked out twice a day, every day. Anything she wore hugged her curves perfectly, not to mention the length of her legs made her look even taller than her actual height (she was six feet tall without heels). She reminded me of a human Avatar (the movie, not the metaverse).

That evening, Lisa wore a golden top that complemented her caramel skin tone. Mine was a black strapless number that draped perfectly across my deep chocolaty torso. We were totally giving classy-sexy vibes.

We ended up in La Jolla—a lovely, luxurious, coastal area located within the city of San Diego, California—at this chic nightspot that came pretty darn close to matching our aesthetic. As soon as we walked in, we were met with a contemporary space of complimenting features like icy blue pillars carved intricately from the ground to the ceiling. The detail was amazing in that place.

Food and drinks were on point, too. The night was perfection.

Until right at the very end.

We decided to stop at the restroom before heading out. I happened to be walking behind Lisa and something felt weird because the number of people standing in the narrow walkway made it difficult to get through. That made me a little nervous.

Right as I was about to tap Lisa to tell her, a particularly short and stocky man standing off to my right leaned forward and aggressively grabbed Lisa’s right butt cheek and squeezed it…hard. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen.

Her response was almost instinctual. Without hesitation, she turned around and smacked the man in the face…hard. My mouth (full with braces at the time) was wide open. I was completely stunned.

I was also completely naïve to what his response would be.

In a rage of fury and vitriol, his incredibly large, clenched fist—two of mine easily equaled his one—landed on my face with such an impact that he flung my unsuspecting, 130-pound frame into a wall four feet behind me as he violently cursed us both.

My body immediately tensed up. Then, my vulnerable, bare shoulders and upper back slid down the cold, textured wall. Everything went dark. And my helpless body dropped to the floor.

As I came to, blurred vision and throbbing pain couldn’t mask the strong saltwater taste in my mouth. Like what you might use to gargle with for a sore throat. This sensation was far more extreme, though—it tasted like I’d ingested an entire cup of it.

I watched my legs slide backward and saw my strappy stiletto plop off as Lisa abruptly dragged me and my bloody face into the nearest restroom.

“Wait! My shoe!”

“What just happened? “

“Omg, why is there blood everywhere?” I’m bleeding! Lisa!”

She responded in apologies only.

“Janie, I’m so sorry. Omg, I’m so, so sorry. This was my fault. I’m so sorry.”

The bathroom was small, but it was safe. Lisa was able to lock us in, so it was safe. She had to. After everything that went down, no one tried to help. I specifically remember seeing bystanders doing just that—standing by and watching an assault happen. Oh, but that’s not all. Security was nowhere to be found either.

To this day, my mind and heartache at the thought of it. If I’d seen someone getting hurt, I wouldn’t hesitate to do something. My only consolation is that maybe someone did try to help us on the other side of that locked bathroom door.

After Lisa called the police, she unlocked the door, carefully peeked outside, and found that the space had been cleared out.

“It’s okay, Janie. We can go now,” Lisa told me.

I was terrified to leave and would have been fine spending the night in that bathroom.

“What if he’s around the corner? Just waiting for the chance to hurt me again?” I asked, recognizing the saltwater taste was back, only now, it was me swallowing tears instead of blood.

By the time the cops arrived over 30 minutes later, he was gone.

My then-boyfriend came to pick me up, and while furious, I could tell he also felt helpless. Obviously, I could relate, but I was just relieved to be away from it. It was over.

I snuggled safely in his arms that night, ridiculously unaware of what I’d wake up to.

An urge to pee, I rolled out of bed early the next morning and made my way to the bathroom.

“Glad I’m in my own bathroom after all,” I muttered to myself, recalling pieces of my long, cursed night.

I turned on the faucet, washed my hands, and splashed water on my face.

“Ouch. That hurt.”

Touching my face with a towel hurt.

Then, everything that’d happened the night before rushed into my mind like a vicious monsoon. I looked into the mirror and totally lost it.

“How could this person do this to me?” I thought, studying my unrecognizably swollen face and black eye. I had never even been in a school fight before, let alone seen myself in that way.

I never saw Lisa again either. She called a few times to check on me, but I could never manage to answer.

The police contacted me a week later to view a lineup. Sadly, none of the perps fit the description. And that event has left an indefinite scar on my heart…and back.

Which brings me back to today. I sincerely believe that trauma can exist and manifest in the body if it’s not addressed. Doctors and specialists haven’t been successful in pinpointing the cause of my pain, so it’s got to be something deeper.

I do know one thing: I’m not giving up. While this chronic back pain has caused me much grief, it’s also made me stronger. I have had to create daily routines to support my back and mental health, thereby encouraging so much growth in the way that I live and love and problem solve.

And to the jerk who felt the need to hurt me, “I forgive you.” (I do forgive him while also having earned the right to call him a jerk.)

The biggest teaching moments over these past years have shown me that the process of healing trauma isn’t linear or the same for anyone. It can’t be. And it probably won’t end the way we think it should. I’m cool with that.

So, I’ll remain diligent in finding ways to significantly reduce and erase my chronic pain, even if it takes another decade.

~

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