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The 5 Steps I Took on My Journey After a Trauma

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On June 27, 2015, nine days after the birth of my daughter, my brain bled. One moment I sat wrapped in a pink robe with my baby at my breast, watching the summer sway from the window. The next, I was losing bladder control during a brain scan. I was a 34-year-old suffering a hemorrhagic.

• What is PTSD?

One stroke took the trust I had in my body, my faith, my family and my world and shattered it into a billion shards, splayed out before my bleeding brain and my broken heart.

Trauma (noun): 1. A deeply distressing or disturbing experience. 2. Emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may be associated with physical shock and sometimes leads to long-term neurosis. 3. Physical injury.

Trauma dragged me to the depths. A friend once said, “The scariest place I’ve ever gone is deep inside myself.” But it’s in the surfacing, the slow swim upward, that can be transformative. With each slow slog from the depths of despair to the warm shallow waters of acceptance, I found joy that propelled me up from the deep to the surface. I began to breathe again.

Here is what the journey looked like for me:

1. Depression and Anxiety

I was waiting for “normal” to return like it would show up in my brain and my body without the slightest effort on my part. Little breakdowns and sporadic outbursts became more frequent. The shackles of guilt, anxiety and depression were beginning to squeeze the hope out of me. My outbursts became more frequent, my pain more prevalent, the light from my eyes went dim. It was at this point I decided to get help. I reached out to a therapist, I joined two support groups, I started medication and began to reveal my illness to my inner circle.  Slowly, not overnight, the chains began to loosen and I was able to slip out of the shackles and begin to swim to the surface.

2. Shame

I was seeking treatment which curbed the outbursts, but the humiliation of my ensuing behavior was the next wave I experienced. I began to push people away. I began to believe no one could possibly love me after watching the way I reacted to my trauma. Treatment was not enough — I had to forgive myself. The event was beyond my control, but for some reason I felt responsible for the wreckage. So I went to work on self-care. I began to be kind to myself, to sleep, to eat well, take deep breathes and be a bit selfish with my time and energy. I took a few wellness classes, spent time reading up on self-care. I began to see a light beyond the darkness and I was inspired to push forward.

3. Setback

There were days, then weeks, where I wouldn’t fall apart. I assumed I was “cured.” Then along came a few life stressors, and I was hurled back down to the depression I fought to escape. I felt worthless all over again. I was exhausted. But I thought about my children; I had to fight for the woman they needed me to be. So I bootstrapped myself back to therapy, support programs and self-care. I found it easier to get out of the muck the second time around because I knew the formula. I just had to plug it in. I still have setbacks. We all do, trauma or not. But as survivors we have an advantage. We can plug in the formula of our healing when life hits hard, and begin to swim to shore with our tools and the experience to push us forward.

4. Acceptance

Moving through the event, then the depression, the shame and then the setbacks, there was still something missing: acceptance. When I looked in the mirror, I saw someone completely different than who I was before the light was stolen from my eyes. I did not think “I” was ever going to come back. But there was this newer version of myself that was emerging. Once all your hope and trust is stripped away, you become very self-aware, and if you aim that awareness towards a positive place, the trauma can actually transform you into a deeper version of yourself. I was coming into a new sense of self. I began to accept my scars and used my experience to help others.

5. Love

Trauma is a thief. It robs joy. But it can also be a teacher. I started to encounter others who had been though trauma. The empathy I felt was palpable. Trauma taught me to love. To love my children because their need helped me push forward, love my spouse who allowed me to land in the soft net of his patience and to love others going through similar circumstances. Trauma also taught me love myself. In our brokenness we are all looking for connection, patience and forgiveness — all attributes of true love. My understanding of love for self and for others was the final push to get me to the surface where I could take my first breath of fresh air. The trouble with trauma for survivors is that although our experience of the event might be understood, the struggle beneath the surface goes under acknowledged. The world is not a safe place for the trauma survivor, at least for a little while. In taking the steps towards healing, by reaching out, accepting the tragedy, forgiveness, self-care and love I was able to grow into a brighter version of who I was once. Trauma became my teacher and I hope to use its lessons to make my world a safe and secure place where love can be nurtured from past into the future.

Follow this journey on Q’s Kitchen.

Originally published: February 18, 2016
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