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Color Shifting My Emotions – Trauma Recovery You Can See

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I am on this emotional journey to healing, at least that’s what I’m trying to convince myself of. It has been a complete roller coaster in epic proportions — at least for me it has. First, I didn’t even understand that thoughts, feelings, and emotions were three entirely different things — I honestly thought they were just different words for the same thing! I did eventually learn they are related to each other, but each is distinct.

It took me not one, not two, but three therapists to be able to start connecting with my emotions. Therapist #1 said “just read novels, then you’ll understand emotions.” I couldn’t connect with drawing my emotions with therapist #2. But while I was seeing therapist #3, I was finally able to express — in color — the shifting flavors of emotions I was feeling inside as I worked through my recovery.

Some background may be helpful. Two years ago, memories returned of childhood sexual abuse, memories that had been completely out of my conscious mind for almost 50 years! It was terrifying and shocking, not only that the abuse happened, but that it came into my mind like “volcanic puke,” meaning that it came that fast, and tasted that bad. Yeah, that’s a weird expression, but it’s what I called it, because it kinda made sense, right?

Through working with my therapist, I realized that I had been emotionally numb for a good many years, like, probably most of my life. So then, I also realized that not only did I not understand emotions, but I didn’t know how they were connected to body sense, or how to feel them in my body, or what emotions I was actually feeling, or what to actually name them!! Crap!

So, I took this 12 week class for adults who have been sexually abused. I was really hoping it would help me to cope with it, and maybe even help me to accept it into my reality. It was a good program, but I realized that there were pieces of it that I didn’t really “get” the first time around, so I took it a second time.

This really gets to the heart of what I wanted to share about — the “Emotion Color Wheel.” Both times I did the class, in one of the sessions we did an “Emotion Color Wheel.” The first time I struggled with understanding and naming emotions, much less drawing them — drawing is not my forte! The second time was a little easier, especially since I knew it was coming. The other piece of this is that I had progress in my healing between the two classes — at least that’s what my therapist told me!

But I was amazed at the difference between them! So, here are the images of the color wheels, plus what I wrote about them. The first one was more of an outline of what each color represented… boring!  The second one turned into an amazing poem, which still blows my mind! And after I wrote that one, I did realize the growth and change that had happened!

Emotions Color Wheel #1:

Anger is at the center, it is the core of the sexual abuse

Surrounding it is:
Hatred for them and what they did to me
Confused because I didn’t understand what was going on, or why it was happening
Scared because I didn’t know how to stop it from happening
Sadness for loss of my childhood innocence
Fear because of how it has trashed my life, and driven me to attempt suicide twice, and fear of what may come up again, hiding under other pieces of my childhood that I can’t remember
Blame on them for what happened, what they did to me, it was their fault

Surrounding it and Interlaced through it all is:
Overwhelmed because remembering all of this was terrifying, especially remembering all of it at one time, and that the sexual abuse was from several people
Dissociation & Numbness are the holes poked in the whole pie chart, for pushing it down and removing it from my memory for almost 50 years! Plus I’m still dissociating!

In making this Pie Chart, as I was coloring in the various spaces using crayons, I was not concerned about staying in the lines, but even more, I was feeling the emotions as I was coloring!! I had not expected that! This was the first time I saw some merit in drawing or coloring my feelings and emotions. When therapist #2 wanted me to draw my emotions, I had no idea how to do that!  However, I want to find my own way to do that, the right way for me!

 * * *

So over the summer I worked with my therapist, trying to work through the dissociation. We were doing Ego State therapy to get in touch with those “inner parts” of me, the wounded child parts within me that have so much disrupted and wreaked havoc over my life. It was hard work!

That summer, I also had some struggles within my family, which yet again, turned my world upside down! And yes, as a result of that, at one point I felt suicidal again, but did not attempt again.

I pushed through, trying to pick up pieces of my life, making very tiny steps in the process. My therapist kept saying that I was making progress, and that she was very pleased. Somehow, I didn’t see it — until I took the class the second time. This time I used colored pencils, and carefully filled in the various areas in the color wheel. The difference was obvious! And yes, it blew my mind! And then I wrote about it:

* * *

Emotions Color Wheel #2:

My emotions on this day are very different than last time I took this sexual abuse class
The core of my emotions, in the center of the circle
Are Hope, Love, Peace and Calm, Motivated and Eager, and Radical Acceptance
Wow! What a difference from four months ago!

Hope, because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel
Shining brightly, leading me forward
Part of that light is Jesus Christ Himself
Guiding me on this recovery journey
But there are other rays of that light
The guidance that my Therapist provides leading me through perilous paths
Giving me the comfort and knowledge that take some of the scary away
And in doing so, I take small steps forward
The light within myself, that hope for something new
A purpose that somehow God will use everything I have learned
As a way to help others on their recovery journey
I don’t know what that looks like right now
But I am confident that God does

Love, because the love of my life has been, and continues to be
Supporting me through this journey
Yes, sometimes he fumbles, but so do I
And the last two months he’s been more understanding more than ever
How scary, complicated, confusing, and anxiety-producing this journey is
But he is there when I need him, comforting me when I’m stressed
Supporting me when I don’t know what to do
Coming up with great ideas for distractions
When I’m too absorbed, or I ‘dive in’ too deep
And stress and anxiety take over and put me on shaky ground
Then he is there to help reground me – again
I research, study, and just try to figure out what to do next
Yet he gives me space for the things that I value
And these things help me to make small steps forward
Journaling, writing poetry, and support group meetings
He validates what I am doing for my recovery
But most of all, he loves me anyways, despite the abuse
And I truly love him

Peace and Calm
Because I’m seeing glimpses of the ‘Peace that passes all understanding’
That Paul talks about in Philippians 4:7
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
When that peace comes, it will be glorious!
The calm I will feel when I am at peace with all of this
To be able to enjoy my ‘new normal’
Even though right now I have no idea what that will look like
To be able to sit in those moments and just be
Not feeling like there are unrealistic expectations
Of what I should or should not be doing
Knowing that Jesus is looking out for me
Guiding me, protecting me
Standing by my side, giving me His pure Love
And enjoying my Lover, my children, my grandchildren

Motivation? Eagerness?
They are the energy that propels me to continue moving forward
That pushes me to find answers to the many questions I have
While also finding other questions to ask along the way
I do a lot of research to find those answers
I read articles, do online quizzes
Read and study books on different subjects
And I love workbooks that make me have to actually do something!
I am definitely a kinesthetic learner – I learn best by doing
I talk to people, share at my support group meetings
And the support group meetings have been amazing!
More than I ever dreamed possible!
I have made some wonderful friends, kindred spirits
Even though we all have different stories, and different experiences
We have a lot of common ground and are able to help each other
The biggest things I am doing is writing in my journal, and writing poetry
Expressing in words all my thoughts, feelings, and emotions
In ways that others have told me ‘paint a picture’ of what I feel
Recently I’ve been calling it ‘word vomit’
Because when I write, the words come out so fast that I often get them mixed up
Or I will write half of one word smushed into half of another word
But especially these poems ‘unload’ my thoughts
And feelings and emotions and experiences
That create word images that paint a picture of what is going on in my mind
And sometimes it is crazy and mixed up and chaotic
And sometimes it paints a picture so vivid that others can actually feel what I am painting!
It never occurred to me that I could do that!
I just write what comes naturally, what comes pouring out of my head
And those writings have helped me tremendously
In moving forward … one step at a time

Radical Acceptance
I have been learning some about Radical Acceptance over the last year
And recently I finally got it!
And I’ve been really trying to understand this concept
“Radical means all the way, complete and total.”
I have to let go of this stuff 100%!!! I must be all in!!
Accepting things that I don’t want, and I don’t like
And I don’t believe could be real, or should be real
Like the sexual abuse
I never asked for the abuse to happen
I never wanted to remember it!
But here I am, sitting in the trauma from my childhood
Feeling like I am in a sinking ship
And no one on shore to bring me in
I am desperately fighting my way out of this sinking ship
But then I discover that I can’t fight all of it!
I shouldn’t fight all of it!
There are things that I must accept – Radically Accept!
Ouch! That’s hard!
Dissociation … and the ‘inner parts’ and everything else that goes with it
PTSD … Anxiety … Depression
No, I didn’t know that I would have to accept these things
I naively thought they would just ‘go away’
But they are here … and there’s nothing I can do to make them go away
I must Radically Accept them
The good … the bad … the ugly
Crap! I’m working on it … but it’s really hard!

Yes, there are other things that are present in my world
These are around the outer perimeter of that Color Wheel
Anxiety, depression, frustration and anger, sadness, fear, feeling numb and empty
But I’m getting better at pushing them to the side
They don’t take ‘center stage’ as often
I need to be persistent with seeing them for what they are – Satan’s scheme to take me down
But I will not give in to him, I will fight to the death – his death
Fear that has often overtaken me to the point of just ‘freezing’ in stressful situations
Feeling completely helpless and numb, not knowing what to do
That fear will be squelched, stomped on, squished to death
Like a mosquito flying around that just annoys
Frustration and anger that can take over my mind too easily
And I am working on taming my mind from this
So it will obey me, like the dogs who work with the police
Anxiety which has overtaken me too many times
And coerced me to make very bad choices
It will be tamed, made docile
To obey just like those police dogs I spoke of earlier
Depression just wants to pull me down
But I won’t go, I’ll be hanging onto Jesus for my life
Because I’m not going to be drawn into that pit of despair ever again
Feeling numb and empty as a result of all of this trauma
Not able to even think because my mind is so empty
I think right now the hardest thing that I’m struggling with
Is this sadness, popping up at random times
Sometimes I really don’t know where it is coming from
But I will find a way to conquer it
To overcome that sadness and bring peace and joy into my life

Color Shifting my Emotions?
I never would have imagined that such change could happen
In just a few short months!
As I write this I’m realizing that my therapist was right
A lot of change has happened

If you too are on a trauma healing journey, visit The Tie Dye poet’s website to see more of her work, and check out her book here.

Originally published: July 30, 2020
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