Doesn’t matter how tough we are, trauma always leaves a scar. It follows us home, it changes our lives, trauma messes everybody up, but maybe that’s the point. All the pain and the fear and the crap. Maybe going through all of that is what keeps us moving forward. It’s what pushes us. Maybe we have to get a little messed up, before we can step up. ~ Alex (Narrating Grey’s Anatomy)
Today’s post was inspired by this tree, which I found when picking up my daughters. What interested me about this tree is that almost the entirety of its trunk had been sawn off, yet one smaller branch remained, moving on, growing, flourishing, and bringing new life to the tree. The tree did not wither and die, it found a way to continue to live. Perhaps the rest of the trunk was ill, perhaps it had to be removed to save the rest of the tree, or perhaps someone in the city planners office was having aesthetic issues with the tree and wanted it to be shorter. The tree has a story I do not know, but that tree perseveres and is blooming and growing beautifully.
Many of us have had trauma in our lives, some more than others – some horrific childhood experience, some scary accidents, and others have had a sudden loss of a loved one. Sadly, some of us have experienced all three (I have at various moments in my life). In a traumatic moment all we can do is hope that we have the strength to be that twig that bends in the wind instead of breaks…….. we can only hold on and get through. After the trauma, after the trauma is when the rebuilding occurs and when true strength of character emerges in all of us.
I find that people react to trauma in many ways. Some ways impress and inspire me, and other ways make me sad and, at times, even infuriated. To further explain, I have created a few categories about trauma.
What trauma is not:
- Trauma is not an excuse to not take responsibility for your life and your life choices
- Trauma is not a reason that enables you to treat people in unkind ways
- Trauma is not a way to evade punishment or consequences for choices
- Trauma is not an excuse to never grow up, never engage, never persevere
- Trauma should not be used to justify permanently stunted growth or development
What trauma is:
- Trauma is a painful ordeal that needs a healing process and release of grief/ anger and other emotions
- Trauma is a valid hurt that should be acknowledged and worked through
- Trauma is an opportunity for you to evolve and not allow a bad situation to win – it is an opportunity to persevere and not let life get the best of you
- Trauma is a chance to grow and evolve (even when you were not looking for it)
- Trauma is an opportunity to connect with others who have experienced similar circumstances and join together to form strong support networks
Because I have personally lived through multiple traumas, all very different, I find that I often struggle to find the patience to be around people who use horrible backgrounds as an excuse to be bitter and angry. My feeling is that I HAVE to enjoy life, I HAVE to live every moment, I HAVE to let go of the anger, because I lived through trauma and I was given an opportunity to make something of myself. I did not die, so I believe I need to live – and live life to the fullest extent that I can. I do not want my past experiences as an excuse (in fact, most people in my life do not know the extent of the different traumas I suffered, even those quite close to me) – my past is part of my past, my past certainly had an influence on who I am today, but my past is NOT my identity. Moving forward, looking ahead, and making sure I can contribute to the world through my career, my family, my life – THAT is my identity.
I am not discounting the need for healing and therapy and I believe that anyone who experiences a trauma needs to go through a healing process. It is my hope that the healing process will lead to personal growth and a way to move forward….. I have seen too many well-intentioned, but skill-less, mental health professionals get clients stuck in a trauma loop instead of moving out of that loop past surviving and onto thriving.
Today, 227 days ’til 40, I am reminded that trauma is more common than we realize. However, how we react to the trauma in our lives can set us apart and allow us to live post-trauma lives that are ordinary or extraordinary. You deserve to be able to put your past behind you and walk into your future with promise. We never forget, we just take the painful learning experiences and hope that, somehow, they will be used for good in some future encounter in our lives.