Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Joe Omundson

Path of healing

In my completely non-professional, non-therapist, spectator opinion: healing from trauma is an iterative cycle of growth. It happens naturally as long as we are healthy enough to roll with our emotions, love ourselves, and accept life as it happens. Personal growth is inhibited when we have problems that prevent us from going through this cycle in a productive way.

I believe that every person has unlimited potential. Statistically, not everyone will achieve their potential in this life, because we live inside systems that don't always have our best interest in mind, and that tends to have a serious detrimental effect on people's lives. But on an individual level I believe that lives can be turned around from the darkest of places.

None of these steps is easy, fast, simple, or comfortable. Any one of these steps could take years to comprehend, nevermind execute. But I think, overall, this is the process that has to happen. Of course, it's different for everyone, and there could be extra steps, fewer steps, or they could happen in a different order.

1) Get away from whatever the source of your trauma is. Abusive people, damaging situations. Get to a place where you can at least survive without getting more damaged by the people who are involved in your life. This can mean moving away, changing your job, cutting contact with certain friends and relatives, or finding a specific sub-group of people who relate well to your experience and won't inherently judge you as a bad person. Find a safe space in life where you can breathe.

2) Within this space, the immediate trauma can stop accumulating. You might still be bleeding and agonized, but at least the knife isn't being twisted around inside you anymore. Try to find stable people who will hold safe space for you, who you trust, who are willing to put some effort and love into you because they see how good you are. Try to come to terms with the fact that what happened to you wasn't fair and it wasn't your fault. That you are still a valuable person who deserves love, warmth, and good things. Seek therapy, seek healing, seek to further your understanding of yourself and the factors that shaped your life.

3) With less hurt coming into your life you can try to drop the most self-destructive coping mechanisms. The good people surrounding you have got your back, so you can put a little bit less effort into defense, and redirect that energy toward some kind of practical life improvement. As an example, maybe you can focus on having a healthier relationship with food, and in turn you will feel better physically and maybe eliminate more sources of dis-ease.

4) As you find more strength and acceptance in yourself, you can start to do more surgery to heal your past wounds. Part of healing from trauma is re-experiencing your past and accepting it fully, sitting with all the pain that comes up. As you heal more, with support from loved ones, and with healthier habits, you can increase your tolerance for reliving those experiences. In earlier stages it might be more important to simply feel OK to get through the day, using distraction or other tools to avoid suicidal thoughts, so doing this work isn't always a good idea. But eventually the wounds will have to be reopened and exposed to the light for the deepest healing to take place.

5) You'll go through cycles where you experience your grief and trauma again. (This is the cyclical part of the process that I mentioned in the first paragraph.) Things will feel dark, you will feel like you've lost progress, like things are hopeless. But if you pay attention, you'll learn something from it, and when you come around to feeling better again the deep pain will be a bit lighter. You can apply to your life the things you learned, and live with a greater understanding of your own motivations, purpose, and influence. This can unlock new situations with greater potential, leading you to people who support you even more and the freedom to enjoy your self expression. Then, it goes back around to the dark place and you do the whole thing over again, looking ever deeper into your existence to find compassion and love.

6) As you become skilled at managing your own grief, you can start to help others with their own. This can be done earlier in the process too. Talking with other people about their experiences is helpful for everyone involved. Verbalizing what you've learned about love and healing can help cement it as more of a reality in your own life.

Here are some common problems that can get in the way of healing:

  • Not being able to recognize the difference between love and abuse. If you can't recognize which people are treating you well and which ones are manipulating you, it is hard to find the company of truly supportive friends. One way to fight this is to work on recognizing your internal state through some kind of meditative practice, and learn to notice how different people affect your experience when you interact with them.
  • Distractive habits that prevent you from looking inward at all. Some people are so uncomfortable in their own skin that they self-distract constantly. Are you joyful? Angry? Confused? Lonely? If you don't know how to tell, it's hard to learn about yourself or deal with the reality of your emotions.
  • Being in a situation where you feel you can't make the initial break from your abuser(s). Maybe the abuser is a spouse or family member upon whom you are financially, emotionally, or otherwise dependent, and you'd fear for your well-being if you were to leave. I don't know the best resources to recommend, but I know there are domestic abuse shelters and other resources available, and I hope you can find something helpful.
  • Unwillingness to act contrary to other people's expectations. Often our families and friends have ideas about how we should act that are less than useful for us. They might not know the depth of what you have experienced, or have enough empathy to understand why you are the way you are. Sometimes you have to disappoint people in order to take care of yourself.
  • Fear of change. Some people are so afraid of what the future might hold that they will hold on to any semblance of control available to them. This can mean a refusal to let go of people and situations that are harmful. It's important to know that change is often your friend, especially when it takes you in a direction that gives more room in your life for positive growth.

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