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Defeating My Demons as a Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor

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Everyone has their demons: ghosts that haunt us because of something that has or hasn’t happened in our past.

For those of us with brain injuries, our collection of demons can be varied and extremely powerful. We may feel overwhelmed when we face those things that haunt us: people’s stares, the can’t dos, the used to be able tos, the relationship issues, the work issues.

They are popping up all the time.

Many of us feel as though our demons are not like anyone else’s and we put them on pedestal; these demons are somehow special because they result from a brain injury. When we do this, I believe we are giving them an importance they don’t deserve and we make them even more powerful.

I don’t think that’s something we want to be doing.

I believe our goal should be to find ways to make our demons less powerful so they have less of an impact on our lives. The only way we are going to do that is look at them for what they really are and find a way to accept them, so we can start to get our personal power back.

For me that starts with accepting that the demons are in our heads.

My Demons

Recently I attended my 40th college reunion, which brought back a lot of bad stuff. College, for me, was the scene of the crime; my brain injury was after sophomore year and when I returned to school I was slapped in the face by my new reality.  Leaving the therapeutic bubble of the rehabilitation hospital and my parents’ house, I went back to the world I had lived in before my month-long coma.

Attending that 40th reunion was like jumping back into a fire that still burned hot.

The first night of “reunion weekend” there was some sort of reception. While everyone else spent their time reminiscing about those “good old college days,” all I could think about was fear, depression, opportunities lost and relationships shattered.

What I didn’t understand then was that my demons were taking over, trying to make me think nothing had changed since then, telling me everyone saw me as a slurring, stuttering and limping shadow of what I used to be.

I gave in and let those demons control me. Instead of trying to rise above them, I held them close and believed them. I treated them almost as  though they had my best interests at heart. By doing that I gave them power, strength and validity.

They affected me so much that I left shortly after I arrived that first night, convinced nothing had changed. I let my demons run my life by convincing me I would never get past them and be able to live my life freely.

Who and What to Blame

I left that first night of my reunion and I thought about what had just happened. In reality, no one had done anything bad to me. No one had been anything but cordial and accepting. I only had myself to blame for letting my demons get the better of me, and once I finally understood this, my demons lost their power.

Those demons controlled me by allowing me to feel wronged by others; everything was someone else’s fault. Sometimes blaming others can make us feel self-righteous and right, but we let ourselves off the hook by avoiding taking personal responsibility.

Yes, I was in control… not my demons. I had the power. I saw that I needed to go back the next day so I could stomp on my demons and get rid of them once and for all.

I am so glad I made that choice to go back and live my life without pointing fingers or letting myself feel those old feelings of inferiority. Approaching the present from a position of power freed me, but I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t realized some important things about my demons and about demons in general.

Our Demons

I realized our demons live in our heads and are created by us. If we can see them for what they really are, they will be destroyed.

We need to put our ourselves in situations where we face our demons. That means we need the courage to put ourselves on the line so we can prove to ourselves that our demons are just thoughts based on the past. This isn’t easy. We are not always emotionally ready. We are not always properly prepared. We will not always be successful.

But we can carry on.

Even if we fail at what we are trying to accomplish in that moment, we need to remember it is but one moment; it is just a step we are taking. We need to keep on so we can put our demons in their proper place, looking at them in their proper perspective, knowing that the more we face them, the easier it gets and the closer we get to defeating them.

So make yourself larger than life. Face your demons once, and then face them again if you have to. You will be triumphant.

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Thinkstock photo by Alexandra Petruk.

Originally published: October 30, 2017
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