Fact: You CAN heal from trauma. You can live a full and meaningful life, even with what's happened in your past. If you listen to the stories of other trauma survivors, you'll hear that even though it's hard, healing is possible.
Often though, the path through healing can feel like a maze. Where do you begin? How do you know you're not completely lost? What step do you take next? As overwhelming as it can be, you can get through this maze. One way through is to take the same turns others have taken before you.
Trauma survivors excel at building habits. This is because survivors recognize that healing doesn't come from trying something once. It comes from trying and repeating new things, things that often feel awkward, impossible, or silly at first, until they become second nature.
Although, of course, everyone's recovery will look different, there are some major steps survivors take to heal. Even though they are overwhelming or awkward at first, they are the habits survivors practice on their way to a full and meaningful life. These are steps you can start practicing now, as well.
1 - Finding Different Levels of Support
Trauma Survivors think of their support like a "safety net" rather than a "lifeline". Although having one person to help you when you're in trouble is helpful at first, having an entire network of resources will keep you afloat in the long run. If you are completely alone, start building your network one at a time. Then, as you are able, build more from there.
Use this pdf worksheet (free) to help you list the people in your network. Include all kinds of people in your support network: supportive friends/family, professionals, other survivors, and your community. The grey words are ideas for you in each category.
2 - Learning About Trauma, PTSD and Healing
There's a ton of information out there about PTSD, Trauma and Healing, and Trauma Survivors make learning a priority. If for no other reason, learning about trauma helps serve as a reminder that you're not alone in your recovery. It can also help you make sense of what is going on for you.
Find books and articles to read. Attend an educational PTSD group. Find out more about your specific type of trauma: There are resources for domestic violence, sexual assault, veterans, secondary trauma, child abuse, military sexual abuse, community violence, medical trauma, and the list goes on. Learn about how trauma affects you, and your brain. Learn about Yoga, Cognitive Processing Therapy, EMDR and the other treatments that work well for PTSD. There is so much out there! Not sure where to start? Try some of these resources.
3 - Planning Ahead for Hard Moments
Although you can't plan for everything, you can work to be proactive against the moments that are hardest. Like any other planning, you start first by taking a step back. In this case, you'll start by building self-awareness. Learn the ways you feel, think, and react automatically. Then create plans.
Are there certain people, or places, that trigger you? Create a plan about it before you head there next. Are there times of the year that are hardest? Think specifics about what you can do to get through them. Create a step-by-step plan for creating safety in all areas of your life (think: financial safety, physical safety, emotional safety, etc). Invite trusted others in to help you create your plan. Then go through each one by one.
4 - Putting Self-Care First
You absolutely cannot take care of anyone else, if you're not taking care of yourself first. You can do it for a while, for sure, but sooner or later you'll find yourself either burnt out, drained, or frustrated. Instead, find small ways you can recharge, so you'll have the energy you need to keep going. It's okay to start small - and I mean, really small - with this. You might start with just remembering to drink a glass of water each day. Or even smaller. It's the healthy habit - not the specifics- that count most here.
5 - Helping Others
The person you help most when you set out to help others, is yourself. Helping others takes trauma survivors out of isolation, reinforces skills, and helps you create meaning out of past hurts. Volunteer your time with other survivors (like at a shelter or hotline), teach others what you know (even if it's just this article!), share your story as you feel safe to, talk with others who are just starting out. Whether or not you think you have anything to offer, or a story to tell, go ahead and reach out to others. It usually doesn't matter all that much what you say or do anyway. Your presence is usually cherished the most.
6 - Safely Dealing with Pain without Numbing it Away
When it hurts too much, the gut reaction is to stop the hurt as quickly as possible. So many people look to alcohol, emotional eating, sex, cutting, over-sleeping, over-working, drugs, or mindless activities to numb it away. But as the 13th century Persian Poet, Rumi, said, "The cure for the pain, is in the pain". Even though these methods work quickly, they have a tendency to spin us out of control. Being able to tolerate pain, on the other hand, gives you power back over your own life. However, diving into pain will feel like a big "catch 22", so I don't suggest doing this on your own. Work with your supports to learn to truly cope with emotional pain in safe ways.
7 - Redefining Yourself
While you're on your way to a healthy and safe place, you'll start realizing you have no idea who you are. This is a normal part of PTSD. Trauma tends to rob us of our sense of self. To address this, you might feel like you have to somehow get "back to normal", but I would encourage you to look forward instead, and rebuild yourself.
Start defining who you are through new experiences. Try a new hobby. Listen to new music and decide which you like best. Join others on their adventures. Try expressing yourself through some kind of art. Watch funny movies, or try other genres. You can also try to bring back things you used to love, but it's okay if your tastes have changed. Use all of these new experiences to define "you".
What Are Your Healthy Habits?
What do you think? Are these steps you've taken? If you're interested in taking some of these steps in your own recovery with me as part of your support network, please don't hesitate to reach out.