I remember why we heal: on trauma and recovery
Months ago, I came out of a relationship that didn't make me feel good about myself. It was a toxic, abusive relationship of which the real distressing effects had set in only after cutting ties with the person.
Trauma after psychological abuse, just like any other trauma, is detestable. You will hardly feel like yourself for months after realizing the damage. You're only either reminiscing the past or worrying about the future. You might need to exert more effort accessing positive emotions as you are either numbed out or a little too sensitive... Which means you now have to explain yourself to everyone who will notice the changes. And you can’t do that without sometimes tearing up — not only because you will be reminded of the experience but also because of the shame. Some will see it as your fault, tell you it was your choice — that you loved too much, or that you had a chance to get out sooner... Thankfully, I’ve learned how to mentally deflect shortsighted comments like this. I used to defend myself when people deduce it as my own doing, but now I try to understand that it is just hard to empathize if you have not had such encounter. Emotional abuse can be such a covert and highly calculating abuse that, sadly, only those who have gone over will even recognize an abuser's "stare".
But I’m not interested in going deep into the attributes of psychological abuse as much as I’m interested in the ways we heal from the trauma — or more specifically, the reasons we should. I think I’ve already illuminated enough the signs of a toxic relationship in my IG Stories. (Still, I encourage you to read up on it if you haven't yet.) I know this has nothing to do with things I’d usually talk about (creativity, branding, etc.) but it has something to do with one's sanity. So maybe this is for any creator who’s experienced any kind of trauma and simply needs another insight into healing. I hope for nothing more but our wellbeing. I am of the belief that we create better when we feel better.
Deep into my trauma, the one thing that stood out was my declining faith in the goodness of humans. This is what happens when anyone tries to violate and manipulate you and you don't see it soon enough. I met a fearful side of me — hypervigilant, easily startled and uneased, and maybe even cynical as a protective measure. As the body keeps score of the terrible things that happened in the past, it can feel like anyone could just walk in and deepen the damage. You may already know that traumatized people would be in constant fight or flight mode. It’s a struggle to even spend too much time outside because when I catch people looking at me, it can hurt. More than once, I’ve felt physical pain whenever this would happen and I had to walk with my eyes cast down so as to avoid such agonizing gazes.
They say the way you do one thing is the way you do everything. This resistance to connect would sometimes happen online as well. I found myself sometimes rid of my usual fondness to engage. It’s as though I’d sometimes much prefer it if people would just look away from my posts since I had nothing particularly inspirational to show or say anyway. My words had walls around them. It gave me temporary quietude but it also made me more recluse. I felt further and further away from everything and everyone, even from my own self.
Tired. Finding a reason to recover.
Although a traumatized person could carry on with daily tasks and creative work, they can possess a strong feeling that they will simply have to learn how to live with the trauma — except I knew vividly who I was before the experience, and that person was someone who loved life deeply with all its pleasures and heartbreaks. If you could imagine missing feeling a wide spectrum of emotions and engaging healthily with people, that was what plagued me. It was clear that what I needed weren’t less people in my life — I needed to learn how to trust again.
I started my recovery by reverting to more frequent meditations even though it was painful at first because it can have me reliving the experience and eventually bawling on my knees. I’d keep at it regardless because, as they say, it gets worse before it gets better. But more than that, sometimes, in order for the traumatized person to be heartened to recover, they just need a reason. That reason can be, simply, pleasant sensations. Although my meditations were obstructed by memories, they at least promised the sweetness of breath. Somehow, it was in moments I’d reach the deepest point of my inhale's that I was able to feel something good again. The more often I reached that place, the better and more present I felt. The more I trusted the process.
And because healing is such a process, there are days I’d still find my faith quivering. While loved ones and advisors were being there for me — and I’m more than grateful for this — the filter of trauma could still leave you asking, “Why did this happen to me? Why me? How is the universe/God/Source a loving entity if it puts such destructive people in one’s way?” I know we live in a culture where the expression of doubt is often discouraged — who are we to inquire what the whole decides to do with us? But just last week, on the way to a meeting — albeit making some real progress in my healing — I still went on wondering why it happened to me. Why, why, why?
I watched the sceneries from the passenger window change quickly as my Grab sped up on Skyway. I tried to take a photo of anything but failed. So I just watched. I watched how nothing could be captured except that very moment’s passing.
My app said I’m near my destination, I put on some tinted lip balm and remembered how much I dread these meetings because they meant I’d have to look people straight in their eyes and I’m always afraid they would notice what was in mine.
Arriving, I helped myself to a seat. I listened as my client presented the concept brief and we exchanged input. Thank God this was the early part of the project where I didn’t have to be so put together and structured. As we capped off, a friend of hers came by to join us. These people were part of a well-loved travel community online. It didn’t take long before the introductions turned into conversations on life and death. We talked about places and trips, and the unfortunate events that may come with it. I learned that this guy is basically living his second life at 25. Bless. They then brought up a friend who lost his life to cancer last year. "Too soon," I thought. A strong and gentle soul, they said, who literally and figuratively conquered many mountains in his very brief time. I knew this guy from Instagram. In a published clip of his wake, the people sang him "Fix You" by Coldplay. </3 I always thought that was God’s song to humans.
The look on their faces remembering their friend — eyes displaced but reverent. I could tell his was a life full of purpose. His meaningful "exit" still homaged to this day.
It stirred me seeing how we can sincerely honor those who had truly lived. We remember the dead because once they, too, were alive. I may never know why the abuse happened to me, but I was reminded that night why I must heal. I choose to heal because trauma isn’t death. And it isn't my life. My life is the one that allows me to breathe and to feel. And those who are breathing and feeling must go on living. Engaging. Creating. Loving. Losing. Learning. Loving. Again, and again. Better and better, and truer each time.
Time and people pass like the scenes from the window of your speeding Grab. If you're willing, so does the pain. So does the pain.