Healing from Trauma is Like a Spiral
5 Reflections On My Personal Journey
Have you heard this before - that healing and progress are not linear? What does this even mean? Well, perhaps you can relate to how healing from trauma and its aftermath feels like a rollercoaster, walking a tightrope, wading through quicksand, or sinking down a dark pit.
Recovering from trauma - whether a single assault or prolonged events - is more like moving up an expanding spiral. It's not like you get to a finish line and life is suddenly, drastically different or better. For me, healing has been gradual (and continuous), and it isn't until I step back to look at the big picture of how far I've come, that I realize how much I have grown. I know I've grown and gotten stronger, because: I feel less guilty setting boundaries, I speak up more, I recognize when I am triggered (but not all the time), I can let go, I stay more and more grounded when I have flashbacks, I can have compassion and love for "mini me."
Being on an expanding spiral path means that it can be difficult to notice or feel change, especially when stuck at a stage wrought with triggers, reminders, and challenges. Have you ever felt like you were making progress until one day you are horribly reminded of your trauma, and it seems like you're right back where you started? Well, this is common and normal in healing. Triggers happen, yet this does not mean you are right back at the beginning! It means that we are human, and change takes time.
Below are 5 things I have learned on my own journey from interpersonal traumas.
#1: Healing can change relationships, even ending them
Don't be surprised if, upon seeing things more clearly, you realize that you don't need to tolerate so much crap from other people. After understanding the negative impact that some people have on me, my relationships evolved and continue to change as I figure out the right balance. I now know that I deserve to be treated with respect, where my boundaries are honored and not violated. Through the stages of my journey, I have slowly gained power and courage to know when to say, "Enough is enough." Healing means loving and standing up for myself, which at times means going up against forces that want to exploit or abuse me. By honoring myself, I set healthy boundaries to protect my heart, body, mind, and spirit. I am still healing and figuring out complex relationships, yet I am ok with not having it all figured out. I know I am still on the upward spiral.
#2: It doesn't always feel good and can be slow
In healing, there is no line to cross, race to finish. Reaching a finish line is an illusion. Of course we set goals for ourselves, which can be really motivating and helpful; however, the belief that going from Point A to B will result in an immediate resolution is a mirage. The brain changes slowly, and it makes sense that recovering from trauma also takes times and moves slowly. Sometimes I have been "stuck" because a part of me is not ready to change. I might want to dwell on grief or indulge in anger, yet these are important parts of my journey - emotions and stages that want attention and have meaning. So, be curious with the current place you are at and give these parts of you some attention, compassion, and patience.
"As you process through one layer of trauma to release the pain and heal, a new layer will surface.One layer after another layer will bring up new issues to focus on. Pace yourself." – Dana Arcuri
#3: It's ok and normal to have mixed emotions
Having inner conflict is expected after trauma. Feeling confused, at odds with myself, and full of self-doubt...I've come to learn to listen to and affirm my mixed emotions. I do not have to take sides or minimize my opposing feelings, wants, and needs. Instead, I can recognize that each part of me is valid, and it is up to me to learn how to honor all parts of me. Sometimes, it is as simple as taking deep breaths to accept the internal conflict within; other times, it means giving myself the space to cry, grieve, and let go of my thirst for control - to settle into the ambiguity of what is.
#4: You will still get triggered
Triggers happen. There are still trauma reminders - some I am aware and conscious of, others I am not aware or conscious of until hours (or days) later.
Healing from trauma does not mean I will not get triggered or activated. However, I am more connected with my body and mind, where I now have more of a say in what happens next after I get triggered. In the ever spiraling path of healing, there is also the ever expanding space from the dark core that is trauma.
#5: Taking care of myself is key
Treating my body with respect is something that I have control of. This means taking care of and nourishing my body through delicious food, clean water, movement outside, and rest. It is a privilege to do these things, and I do not take it for granted. I give thanks to the farmers who grow organic produce, for the ability to have access to clean water, and to be able-bodied enough to run and hike my favorite trails. If access to these things is a barrier, do your best and find the small opportunities in which you have agency to tend to your body - this sacred vessel that holds us.
Taking care of myself also includes being intentional with who I surround myself with, and being mindful of the thoughts I recite in my mind. I have learned that I have a right to friendships that nourish me through kindness, reciprocity, respect, and attention. I also have a right to treating myself more compassionately with fair thoughts that build me up, rather than tear me down.
What About You?
Now that you've read this far, where are you at in your healing spiral? What does recovery look like to you? If this is hard to answer, please know that you have survived something stressful, impactful, or traumatic. The mere fact that you are here now is proof that you are well on your way upward along your unique journey.
I invite you to leave a comment below to share signs and glimpses of your growth and healing. Thanks for reading. ｡･:*:･ﾟ★,｡･:*:･ﾟ☆