What people don’t tell you about healing from trauma would fill a book, an encyclopedia, all the leaves of all the trees of Sherwood Forest, all the grains of sand in the Caribbean.
What people don’t tell you could scare you off from ever doing the work or it could make it seem like it might actually work.
What people don’t tell you
is that it will change you.
It will hurt sometimes, sometimes more than the trauma itself did,
the best metaphor is that you are breaking up scar tissue, rubbing and pressing and forcing and scrubbing your way through the very things that have held you together.
You will find a capacity to handle pain that you didn’t know you had.
Even if you knew you were really good at pain.
But this time you will be present with it, staring it down, dancing Kali’s dance of destruction and rebirth, standing on the hot coals until you can feel your feet beginning to burn.
And you will know this is the only way through and you will learn to say stop, that’s enough, that’s too much and you will learn when to say, okay, it hurts but okay, I’m going to be okay, let’s keep going, it’s going to be okay, breathing like lamaze class, like you’re birthing something much too big, which is, in fact true, because you are birthing the grown version of you and no one should ever have to birth themselves, but this time you will, and you do.
And sometimes it will be too easy.
Sometimes you will wake up and the thing you have been pushing against since you were twenty five or seventeen or twelve or three will just be gone, gone like it never existed, barely a ghost remaining to show you where it was, or not even a ghost and you will wonder if you dreamed it or made it up (no, you didn’t) and suddenly you will be tumbling full force into the void beyond the resistance, like you just ran off the edge of a cliff.
And you will feel betrayed by the very thing you were fighting against for so long, because at least you could count on it. It always kept you from falling. And it didn’t stop you from falling, this time.
And you will take a deep breath and dive back into the work because you want to know, you need to know, what do you stand on now?
It will ask you who are you without the trauma? And you will look, incredulous, and blink, as if they have just asked what happens when OPEC starts agitating for alternative fuel conversions and funding wind farms in small countries, and try for the first (and second and twenty second) time to imagine what in the world without the trauma even means.
And eventually you will imagine it, and that will be even more scary.
And then it will feel like a breath of fresh air, just about the time you discover that there’s a whole extra closet full of skeletons you didn’t know you were going to have to clean out.
It will change your body, it will make you gain and lose weight, turning that whole chrysalis-butterfly metaphor into reality as you wrap yourself up and peel the layers off, over and over again. Things you thought you liked to do will disappear and things you thought impossible will suddenly become your favorite way to wake yourself up too early. If you have always had a fear of swimming you will decide that open water distance freestyle at 5 AM is the only thing that makes you feel better. If you hate to exercise you will start, and if you live to run marathons you will become a couch potato. Or not.
Because there are definitely no rules for this. Everyone does it differently, everyone is different, and you will be different from moment to moment and day to day. Just as you get yourself figured out again you’ll go talk to your therapist or your best friend or your dog or the tallest trees in the woods near your house and something else will crack open and spill egg and ice cream all over the sidewalk where it will melt in place and you will not know what to do with yourself. Again.
Your music will change, your hair will change, if it was straight it will become curly, or curly will become straight. Your body chemistry, so exquisitely adjusted to constant adrenaline floods and cortisol overflows, will change radically. Your hormones, your sex drive, your physical sensations will change.
Your ability to think will change. If you have been concrete-linear, prepare to find your feelings more compelling than you ever thought they would be. If you have been a giant ball of emotion you might just discover that you have a little logic hiding in there somewhere.
Half the stuff you thought was you will turn out to be how you protected yourself and like a marionette whose strings have been cut, you will spend some time very, very limp, in a puddle, on the floor, while you figure out what happens when you don’t have to protect yourself from yourself or from anyone else anymore, not like that.
You will see other people differently. You will see triggers as triggers. You will develop a self-protectiveness and a compassion that looks and feels totally different from before. You will gently tell people that you can see that they are hurting and then you will not do anything about it, because you will know that no one could fix yours and no one can fix theirs, either. Ironically, you will be more willing to trust that people love you.
You will become a better judge of people.
You will judge people less.
You will see your flaws more clearly, but they will feel like less of a disaster. In fact, you might even begin to think your flaws are kind of cute. This makes other people’s flaws infinitely easier to embrace, which makes the world suddenly much more full of beautiful, interesting people who were certainly not there last year. Where did they all come from, anyway?
And all this means that the years of self-love work you have already done will kick into Advanced mode, that things you did by rote and discipline will become easier, but not before they kick your ass one more time for good measure. All the wrestling begins to feel like horseplay with a fallen angel who is an old friend instead of a life-threatening crisis.
Because it has changed you. You are changed. You are different.
And one day you realize how much of this you’ve done, and how much it made possible, and you sit down and cry, great gulping tears of gratitude and grief and more gratitude for all the beauty and all the stuff that is, praise be, finally DONE, so done it is solid enough to stand on. And you find your feet hold you up after all. And you know you have more to walk. And that, at long last, is going to be okay, probably mostly almost certainly.