This month is my son’s third birthday, and in celebration of his life, I want to share my tips on healing after trauma. Life is unpredictable, and you never know when hardship will come knocking at your door.
During Weston’s first year of life, we went through three surgeries, a deployment and a failure-to-thrive diagnosis. I’d like to share my tips on recovery from these circumstances in hopes that it will help others in this community who have dealt with hardship.
Rest. After a traumatic experience, no matter the length, you’ve been living on a high. Maybe you had time to make a routine and live within the nightmare, maybe it only lasted a day. Regardless of the time, after our bodies have been subject to intense physical stress, you need rest.
I think there are two big obstacles to this step. First, resting during the midst of a trauma is only really attained by being so physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted that you crash. Taking time to lie down or nap usually amounts to idle time when your mind races with the latest updates, news or future possibilities. The habits you formed during the midst of that pain are now formulated into you, but now you must remember how to slow down your thoughts to find your way back to rest.
Second is giving yourself permission to rest. I used to feel guilty about needing so much time to do nothing. I mean ‘after the trauma” means that it is over. And after the trauma we should be alright and ready to get back into the life we put on hold, right? Wrong! It takes a lot to time to undo damage done to your heart, soul and spirit during that storm. I think a lot of people don’t expect to have triggers or depression after they’ve been through something hard. But our bodies can only take so much, and processing takes a long time. It’s okay to take that time. It’s also important to point out that these wounds are invisible and private. People outside your situation don’t see them or anticipate what they are.
Talk about it. Write or sing about it. Find a way to process the emotions. For me, during the midst of the storm, I didn’t talk to anyone. My husband and I kept everything between us. We relied on each other and we had a lot of wordless conversations. But once it’s over, you must get your feelings out, and it’s important to get them out. Talk to a friend, family member, or write about it. Release the things you’ve been holding on to, and you will be lighter because of it. But, once you’ve said everything you need to, don’t keep saying it. You can’t spend the rest of your life rehashing that terrible time. Say it and move on.
Find a way back to yourself. One of the most potent memories right after that year in our life took place at one of my best friends’ house. She looked at me and said, “You’re just not fun anymore.” And it was true, and I knew it. I had completely lost myself to an identity of a mom with a child that had gone through so much. Don’t give yourself permission to give up on being who you are. Find a way to marry the two, my old fun happy self and the change that has happened inside. During the year, my hair grew a lot of gray hairs. Now I wear them with pride. I learned how to value that experience and how to be grateful for all the things it taught me about myself and about life.
Be positive. It’s so easy to feel sorry for ourselves. Not to diminish the seriousness of the events we’ve been through, but sometimes we get comfortable throwing big pity parties. We like to compare our grief and hardship to everyone else, and that does nothing but validate that part inside of you that cheers for a pity party. Our mindsets get stuck in a negative place, and it’s understandable, but it doesn’t serve you or anyone else in your life. Shifting your mindset can be incredibility difficult. But negativity affects your health! Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, but the best place to start is always gratitude.
The most important part of the story hasn’t even happened yet. It determines everything in the unwritten pages of your life. Your future. You are the only one who can determine what that will be. Everything you do and decide now will affect you later. Healing is a process, and it’s important to give yourself time and grace. I’m so sorry for the trauma that has happened in your life, and I’d love to hear your tips for healing!