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Healing From Trauma: It's OK to Be OK

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault or abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. If you need support right now, you can call, text, or chat the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988, or text HOME to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line if you are in the U.S. A list of crisis centers around the world can be found here.

You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

“It’s OK to not be OK” is an expression I wished was around when I was growing up. In my day, it was more like, “What happens behind closed doors stays behind closed doors.” Or, “Be seen, not heard.” Children who acted out were considered to be troublemakers. At no point in time during my childhood did anyone utter the words mental health. Even my suicide attempt at age 8 was defined as “childhood misadventure.” From then on, I swore to never talk about how I felt or the things that were happening to and around me. It didn’t matter, and I didn’t matter. No one would listen anyway.

My abuse started when I was 6 months old, and continued until I was 14. There were more perpetrators than I can count, which to me meant that I was the common denominator, therefore I must be causing it. That’s a heavy load to carry in silence, but I did. When I was 5 years old, the domestic abuse started. It only ended because my mom got cancer when I was 13. The next six years watching her fight was brutal, and as much as I was told to be prepared, nothing in the world can prepare you for that amount of pain and grief.

Over the next 10 years, I did almost everything to fill the gaping hole in my heart. I partied, did drugs, and was reckless and impulsive. Every day my mind was wishing I could die too. I went to college and played soccer a few times a week. Those two things were the only constants in my life. No matter what was going on in my head, I had 90 minutes of escapism and confidence. As soon as I left my safe environment, the pain and guilt would take control.

I knew I struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, but I had no idea how to deal with it. During a short visit in hospital, I was finally diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety. I actually had explanations for some of my behaviors. I am not fond of labels, but at the very least it gave me a starting point. I could now educate myself on these ailments.

So, I researched and studied until I knew the ins and outs of each disorder. Unfortunately, all my knowledge was factual and not actually connected to my trauma. It was at this point I made the choice to at least try to heal. It was either trying to trust a therapist or ending my life. There was no way I was going to live like this anymore.

After considering a few therapists, I finally chose one who happened to be trauma-informed. I robotically spewed my story to her with no emotion, just facts. I was completely detached. We instantly had a connection, and my gut said she would be a safe person. She provided the empathy and compassion I had never felt. She allowed me to work at my pace; “baby steps” she would tell me, “are steps too.” She drilled into me that none of my trauma was my fault. She said my behaviors were “normal” for someone who had survived that amount of trauma. She tried to reinforce that I wasn’t unfixable and unlovable.

Over the next five years, we grew closer, and I began to trust, which is almost impossible for me. She made her office my safe place, and I began to open up emotionally. On the wall was a frame with a saying that has become a huge part of my life: “It’s OK to NOT be OK.” We worked closely together to dissect and work through my sexual abuse, my suicide attempts, the death of my mom, and the rest of my traumas.

This truly was one of the most challenging and frightening times of my life.

I was constantly suicidal, dealing with flashbacks, self-harm, mood changes, and severe depression. I questioned my choice to go to therapy about a million times, but knew there was no place to go but up. I had already hit rock bottom, more than once. I learned coping skills and tried to use them in my daily life. Some worked for me, while others didn’t. I continued fighting for my life until we found some methods that started to help me. I did everything I could to heal, and with my tenacity and strength, and her support and encouragement, we saved my life.

I had two other therapists after her but failed to make enough of a connection to trust or open up. Currently, I am not seeing any therapists. I am taking the rest of my healing journey step by step supported by hundreds of people I will likely never meet. I know I will likely fall again, but each time I rise with more strength and courage.

The thing I never expected was to feel lost without my backpack of trauma. What kind of world was this? How was I supposed to see the light when I’ve been draped in a black veil my entire life? This new world was beyond frightening, and I had no idea how I was expected to live like this. My hypervigilance was at an all-time high. I had no idea who I was without trauma because I never got the chance to find out. How would I navigate this world without bringing my trauma with me? It was part of me after all. I felt so alone, and like I didn’t belong anywhere. Sometimes I slid back into the old world because if nothing else, it was familiar and comfortable. It isn’t so full of unknowns.

Someone once told me to visualize my trauma as rocks. All these heavy rocks are in this backpack that is attached to you, weighing you down so much you can no longer stand. The journey of healing is slowly removing a rock, or pebble and dropping it on the ground. When you take this approach, you will eventually lighten, or maybe even empty this bag of trauma you were never meant to carry.

I am not fully healed and I’m not sure I ever will be. I still struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, however, because I am further along in my journey, I have built a toolbox of coping skills that I reach for during hard times. I now know that I may get suicidal, but I won’t act. I am less impulsive. I am less reactive and have very few BPD rage episodes anymore. I have learned to recognize my triggers, and how to try to stop myself from going down the wrong path. I have accepted and adapted to things I never thought I could.

So now, I find myself navigating this big world with a much lighter backpack. I am still afraid, yet somehow there is a bit of hope in this new world. Parts of my trauma are healing, and I am trying to find myself, and allow myself to let it go.

During my journey, letting myself feel the healed parts, was extremely difficult. Accepting that parts of me are OK, is OK.

It’s OK to be OK.

Getty image by Westend61

Originally published: September 22, 2022
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