“What we lived through is now living in us.”
Counsellor: You said you would like to share a bit about your life – as a person who is trying to recover from trauma?
Sakina: Yes. Perhaps I should begin by saying I now divide my life up into two parts: life before the trauma and life after the trauma. It may sound dramatic but it’s how it feels to me.
It’s not like I never experienced anything difficult in my life before this happened. I’ve experienced plenty of hard things. Really hard things. I was unemployed for a while. I’ve known major rejections in relationships. But terrible as these seemed at the time, they were nothing compared to living in the aftermath of trauma. It’s completely turned my life upside down.
Counsellor: Wow. It sounds like this has had a very dramatic effect on your life.
Sakina: Yes. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully recover, even although I wish I could. I used to think that after 6 months, or a year, or 2 years, or even 5 years, life would be back to normal. But it isn’t. I think I simply have to face the truth that this is a new normal for me.
Counsellor: What does a new normal mean to you?
Sakina: It means that I’ve come to accept that every day something will come up that reminds me of the trauma. I don’t go looking for triggers, but they’re always there. There is always something that reminds me of what happened. Every day. Honestly, I wish I could just be my old self again but that’s not how it is. I don’t think it’s possible. I really believe this has changed my brain, in some fundamental way.
Counsellor: When you say it has changed your brain, what do you mean?
Sakina: I feel as if my brain is always on high alert now, and I’m continually reacting to things I don’t want to react to. Things that seem stupid, irrational and over-the-top to other people, to people who haven’t been traumatized. I have to consciously work on bringing these reactions under control. I have to calm myself down internally, and speak gently and logically to myself. I never had to do this in the past – but now it’s a way of life for me.
Also, it I try to suppress the different thoughts and feelings … and just keep on acting calmly and reasonably … I end up having my sleep disturbed. I am wakened in the night by a racing heart, by tingling in my feet and feelings of panic. It’s like I’ve been catapulted back in time, and I’m reliving the trauma, in the middle of the night.
And this happens ALL THE TIME.
Counsellor: Yes, I can see why you say your brain has been changed. It sounds really tough. That’s a lot to deal with. But, clearly, you have been working hard on your recovery for a while. You seem to be very self-aware, and to have learned a lot. So, I’m wondering … What advice would you share with others who are going through something similar to this?
Sakina: I would say: Get as much information as you can about trauma, and about recovery from trauma. Read up about it. Listen to podcasts on it. Try to understand what is going on inside your brain. Try to identify your own patterned reactions, and accept that your brain is trying to protect you from being traumatized again. Although it feels frustrating it is actually a healthy sign. Your brain is taking care of you.
Also, don’t attack or shame yourself for feeling the way you do. What you are experiencing is absolutely normal. You’re not going crazy. There are others who’re reacting in the same way as you.
But try to find out what helps you, too. What makes a difference, and calms you when you’re triggered? Is it observing the feelings as an outside observer? Is it escaping, and going for a walk or jog? Is it playing relaxing music? Doing yoga? Meditating?
Counsellor: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Sakina: I think being able to share my experience, and having it witnessed by people who cared has helped a lot. It’s really destructive to keep that stuff inside. You feel as if you’re going to explode at times, and you also feel as if you’re living a lie. You’re not being congruent … and it’s hard to keep on living like that – as a divided person.
You need to talk. You need to be heard. You need to be able to unite “life before the trauma” and “life after the trauma” You need to be able to draw one long continuous thread through your life’s story.
Does that make sense?
Counsellor: Yes, it does. It makes a lot of sense! Thanks, Sakina, for your honesty. I really appreciate you sharing this with us.