Risky Business

As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself… The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know. That takes an enormous amount of courage.” – Bessel van der Kolk

Sharing our deepest secrets and pain

Secrets don’t have to be shared with everyone. But we need to find someone we can share them with.

However, choose that person carefully.

This is often the most difficult part of all – because you don’t want to make things worse for yourself.

You don’t want to share with someone who will criticize and judge.

Or with someone who will secretly (or not so secretly) be quietly glad that your hurt and suffering.

That is the last thing you need at this time.

So you need to find someone who you’re sure will empathize. Someone who will ‘get it’ and be there for you.

Why do you need courage?

Talking makes it real.

Once you’ve stated it out loud, you can’t pretend it didn’t happen.

Be ready for that.

That’s where courage and strength come in.

That’s why you need to be prepared – and to brave and strong.

Not so brave and strong that you don’t fall apart – because there’s a very good chance that you will fall apart. There are going to be months of falling apart.

But brave enough for you to admit to yourself that:

“This is my story.”

“This happened to me.”

“This is my life.”

“The unthinkable happened.”

Facing up to those truths is devastating. It takes courage.

But doing that enables the healing to begin.

For you have taken the first step in your recovery.

Measuring Up

We live in a world full of comparisons.

Does she have a sexier figure than me? Does she look younger, or better for her age? Is she so much smarter? Have a better career? Do people think that she is funnier than me?

I suspect it all begins in the early years of life when we start fighting hard to get our parents’ attention.

But it’s a process that continues for the rest of our life.

And it’s a process that leads to insecurity, as well.

For at any point in time we could cease to measure up – and we could lose the affection of those who matter most.

Like our family, or close friends.

Like our partner, or our spouse.

Yet each of us is different – individual and unique.

And we start to lose ourselves when we make comparisons.

But comparing’s so ingrained, such a feature of our lives, that it’s hard to switch it off. To stop weighing up our worth.

Yet we cannot love ourselves if we reject part of ourselves.

If we always see some defect, or we view ourselves as flawed.

And those differences in outlook, in personality, in interests and experiences, in qualities and looks, are what make us so unique.

Fascinating.

Not a clone.

And being youjust you it’s a gift you give the world.

You touch and nourish lives in an individual way.

If only you could see that this person who is ‘you’ is precious as you are.

You don’t need to strive, or change.

You are free to be yourself.

There is no need to compare.

Comparison is an act of violence against the self.” – Iyanla Vanzant

Quote of the Day

Healing is the unlearning of stories you’ve told to yourself, about yourself, that destroy your spirit.” – Rebecca Ray

We eat such lies when we’ve been betrayed.

And in our heart of hearts we believe that they are true.

But they’re not true at all.

These beliefs are merely fictions.

And you may feel that they’re true – but they don’t reflect your value.

They’re really false conclusions based on painful messages.

Wrong messages from people who have issues of their own.

So, don’t listen to those stories; they do not reflect your value.   

Don’t let some other person decide what you are worth.

For the truth is you are beautiful, and strong, and capable.

Don’t let the lies destroy you.

Replace them with the truth.

One Day at a Time. One Step at a Time.

“The experience of emotional overwhelm is similar to that of a shaken bottle of soda. Inside the bottle is a tremendous amount of pressure. The safest way to release the pressure is to open and close the cap in a slow, cautious and intentional manner so as to prevent an explosion.”

Rothschild, 2010

What Happened to Feeling Safe?

If you’ve experienced betrayal trauma, you know how destabilizing it can be. The rug has been pulled from under your feet, and the world feels scary and unpredictable.

There is nothing that feels certain.

There is no-one you can trust.

And that turns your whole world upside down.

The Impact on Emotions

You’ll also be the victim of swift changing emotions. These hit you out of nowhere, and are often overwhelming. 

They’re hard to regulate, and to manage, and control.

Simply sharing what you’ve been through can be triggering for you.

What Might Help?

Hence, you need to take it slowly, and to give yourself some space.  If you can, reduce commitments and avoid things that cause stress.

Put a boundary round relationships. Choose friendships carefully. For now, spend time with people who are caring, calm and kind.

Also, if pressure starts to build … decide to step back for a while. Self care is your priority. You don’t have the reserves. Your nervous system’s altered and goes into overdrive as soon as it detects the slightest risk of injury.

A Reason for Hope

If you can create safety in relationships and life – and give yourself the space to slowly process all that mess – eventually you’ll find that you are in a different place.

Perhaps you’ll still feel shaky, and more fragile than before

But you are getting stronger. You are in recovery.  

The first goal of trauma recovery should and must be to improve your quality of life on a daily basis.”

Rothschild, 2010

A Few Things I’ve Learned From Trauma

This is the big, scary truth about trauma: there is no such thing as “getting over it.” The five stages of grief model marks universal stages in learning to accept loss, but the reality is in fact much bigger: a major life disruption leaves a new normal in its wake. There is no “back to the old me.” You are different now, full stop.” – Catherine Woodiwiss

Here are a few things I’ve learned about trauma:

1. Trauma upends everything. It undermines your whole reality. Everything is open to question now.

2. Life doesn’t go back to the way it was before – and neither do you.

3. Trauma is disfiguring. At least for a while, it turns you into someone you do not recognize. You lose your spark and sparkle. You withdraw from life. You experience the symptoms of PTSD. You feel you’re going crazy. That you’re losing your mind.

4. Suffering alone can feel unbearable; but it’s hard to find people who’ll be there for you. It’s too big and scary for most people to handle – so people don’t show up when you’d expect them to. This adds to the grief, and the sense of isolation.

Nietzsche famously said, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ … What he failed to stress is that it almost kills you.” – Catherine Woodiwiss

5. The journey to recovery is a wilderness journey. It has seasons. It is long. And it’s unpredictable.

6. You experience insatiable anxiety. Why would this surprise us? Our trust has been destroyed, and our sense of peace and safety’s been completely undermined. We can’t let down our guard. We must protect ourselves.   

7. Small gestures of love go a long, long way. Unexpected acts of kindness can almost break our hearts. They’re a powerful healing balm – for they show that someone cares.

8. Working through a trauma turns you into a survivor. No, you might not feel you’re stronger for a long time. But you develop inner strength and a new resilience.  Hold onto that truth when you need a life line.

Beautiful Survivor

I won’t let pain turn my heart into something ugly. I will show you that surviving can be beautiful.”

When I first read this quote I immediately thought, “Isn’t that a great way to deal with pain. It’s such a strong and healthy attitude.”

But getting to that place is no easy feat at all – for trauma and betrayal can really wreck our lives.

So what steps can we take that will help to get us there?

I don’t have all the answers but here are a few thoughts:

1. If you’ve been mistreated or betrayed by your spouse, it’s crucial you remember “this says something about them.”

It says nothing about you.

It says nothing at all.

2. The person who betrayed you and who caused you so much pain, has already destroyed enough of your life.

Don’t allow them to destroy any more of your life.

Don’t allow them to determine the person you become.  

3. Get support and help for you.

Choose to heal for you.

Do it because you love and care for you.

Believe that you are worth it, and deserve the help you need.

4. Think of who you were before this happened to you.

What were you like?

What made you beautiful?

How have you changed as a consequence of this?

What have you lost that you’d like to find again? (Try to be as concrete and specific as you can.)

5. Now, think of how you want to be remembered in this life. What kind of person do you really want to be? (Again, be as specific and detailed as you can.)

Next, imagine yourself being that beautiful person. (Try to create as rich a picture as you can.)

How do you feel, as you imagine this? Does it feel good? Do you like yourself?

Now, decide that this will be your reality.

Decide that you will get all the help you need.

Believe that you can get there in the end.      

Believe that you can have a truly beautiful life.    

Don’t Show. Tell.

If a trauma can’t be shared or expressed in words, it demands to be heard in other ways. Sorrow can’t be buried indefinitely.

So, what happens if we have to keep our story to ourselves, and it all becomes a secret that is hidden from the world?

1. We are likely to develop somatic symptoms (racing heart; irregular breathing/ holding your breath; stomach and digestion problems; aching muscles and bones; migraine, fibromyalgia, and so on). Here, your body is sending a strong message to your brain. It wants to remind you that the trauma is still there. It hasn’t been worked through yet. It’s demanding your attention.

What to do about it? It’s important to notice and to name the different symptoms. Ignoring or repressing them won’t work for very long. You can’t just block it out. It isn’t going to go away.

2. We might numb out at times, and find it difficult to feel. This can affect our close relationships. We’ll likely come across as being distant and detached.  We don’t stay connected. There’s a shield around our heart.

What to do about it? Again, we need to notice how hard is to feel, to stay connected, and believe that others care. It’s natural to pull back and to put up a wall if you’ve been betrayed, or experienced deep pain. You need to look at how you have changed, and why it’s so hard to get close.   

3. We might act out feelings of pain and rage – The warning bell for this is extreme reactions to minor, non-threatening or neutral events. This can take us by surprise, and shock us to the core. We can think we’re going crazy, or are losing our mind.

What to do about it? The reason is our brain is protecting us from harm. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to being traumatized. Understanding what is happening is a good starting point. Perhaps you really need to interrogate your pain.

4. Related to this, we might start to act in ways which are extreme or dangerous (High risk sex, using drugs, or turning to a life of crime.)  

What to do about it? Usually, we are trying to blot out all the pain, or the trauma and the memories which are haunting us today. Again, understanding what is happening is a good starting point.

6. We might start to dream our stories in the form of broken sleep, repeated nightmares, sleep walking or in panic attacks.

What to do About it? If our story’s not been shared, our subconscious will replay it. We need our suffering to be witnessed and reflected back to us. Counselling and therapy can be very helpful here (or even having the support of an understanding friend).

10 Things to Remember

1. Small steps are still progress.

2. Feelings go up as well as down. Tomorrow might be better than today.

3. You need to be honest and real to heal.

4. You don’t have to hold it together all the time.

5. Respecting your limits, and enforcing boundaries, are important forms of self-care.

6. You don’t have to explain yourself to others. You don’t need anyone’s acceptance or approval.

7. Everyone’s journey is different. Don’t measure yourself by someone else.

8. You are so much stronger and braver than you feel.

9. Self-compassion helps develop your emotional resilience. Notice when you’re suffering and be kind to yourself.

10. You owe it to yourself to believe in yourself. You are the one decides your worth.

The only one who get to decide your worth is you. It doesn’t come from your bank account or the number of friends you have. It doesn’t come from what someone says you’re worth. It is called self worth for a reason. It comes from you. It comes from being yourself and being proud of who you are. It comes from being someone you can count on, and someone that you love. The numbers will change with time – but what won’t change is who you are deep inside: Beautiful, awesome, wonderful, creative, strong and capable. And that is where your worth comes from.”

-Nikki Banas

Closure. Is there Really Such a Thing?

It has been said: ‘Time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The scars remain and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”

Recently I heard of a woman in her 50s who had two lovely daughters – a school teacher and accountant.

This woman (we’ll call Amy) then added a postscript …

Roughly 20 years ago, she had lost her baby son. An unexpected cot death. No-one knew the reason why.

I remember how he’d he’d curl up at the bottom of his crib. Or how he’d smile and gurgle when he’d just finished a feed.”

Yes, I remember everything, as if it happened yesterday. And yet I lost my baby nearly 20 years ago.”

So shouldn’t I have closure? Do you think that I am crazy? I sometimes start to wonder if there’s something wrong with me.”

What’s Going on?

Amy has been grieving for her son in her own way. And yet she feels uneasy, and is questioning herself. The reason is, she’s heard that grief has certain distinct stages. Hence, Amy feels she really should be over it by now.

Kubler-Ross’ 5 Stages Model

This thought of gaining closure (where grief follows a set course, and culminates in finally achieving an acceptance) is based on Kubler-Ross’ famous 5 Stages Model.

But the thing is, this grief model was developed from her work with the terminally ill – and not from working through deep losses.

And, yet, these two experiences are clearly very different (dying, versus processing and integrating loss).

Think About It

For the person who is dying there, indeed, will be an ending.

But there’s not a neat ending with these other types of losses.

Yes – it’s true, the shock wears off, and we may go on with our lives. Perhaps we’ll even feel some joy and happiness again.

But, still, grief ebbs and flows.

I’d say it never truly ends.

The crushed dreams and the memories remain there in our brain.

We can’t erase what happened or rewrite our history.

We had great expectations. This is not what we had planned.

In Conclusion

So, perhaps we’re being unfair when we put pressure on ourselves to never fight or wrestle with what could and should have been.

Perhaps the pain will lessen and the scars will fade away – but maybe ‘total closure’ isn’t something we’ll achieve.

Just a thought.

10 Reminders for Trauma Survivors

1. You deserve to be loved for yourself, and treated with kindness and respect.

2. You are important. How you feel matters. What happened to you matters.

3. You are not fundamentally flawed; you are not worth less than anybody else.

4.  What happened to you was not your fault, and you are not what happened to you.

5. All of your feelings are valid – and you don’t have to justify them or explain them.

6. Your reactions are normal for a trauma survivor. There is no need to doubt your sanity.

7. You are allowed to have terrible days. Healing isn’t linear; you’re on a roller coaster.

8. It’s OK not to know what you need to heal. Trust the process. It will lead you there in time.

9. You are allowed to talk about what happened. You don’t need permission to share your trauma story.

10. You don’t need to bear this burden alone. There are those who understand. You can get the help you need.