by Teresia Smith
Many people have experienced a lot of wounds in their lives. Maybe you’ve had multiple adverse childhood experiences, such as living with an addicted parent, living with neglect or abuse, hunger, homelessness, etc. Possibly, as an adult you have experienced sexual assault or your significant other has become abusive. Sometimes, we seek medical attention because we have sickness, aches and pains, depression and anxiety that we cannot explain away. Many times people, even professionals, don’t make the connection between chronic health conditions and experienced trauma.
After enduring a trauma such as sexual assault, domestic violence, or childhood neglect or abuse, we can sometimes develop coping mechanisms to help us survive. Fortunately, these coping mechanisms do their job and help us survive.
The problem is that after we survive, we sometimes forget how to thrive. After the urgent need for safety passes, our brain gets kind of cross-wired and we react with fear and stress to things that aren’t threatening and those feelings cripple us. It’s as though a black cloud covers our life and we get used to it, not noticing how dark life has gotten.
Many times, once we escape the situation causing the trauma, we don’t acknowledge that the threat is behind us and we are now safe. We tend to keep carrying the event with us and treat it as ongoing trauma, mulling it over and over again. As we hit hard patches of everyday life, we just pile those feelings on top of our previous trauma and it becomes a mountain of multiple kinds of challenges that we can’t seem to overcome. Before we know it, negativity creeps in and our whole outlook on life is changed. We can be living a good life, filled with love, family, friends and enjoyment; however, we never fully embrace it all. Instead, it’s as though we are looking at our life through a dirty window and can’t appreciate the beauty we have built.
Do we have to continue to live haunted by our past experiences and restricted by our fears and behaviors that steal our future joy, weighted down by the heaviness of the traumas that we still carry with us? Yes, something bad happened to us and it changed us and we will never be the same. Do we have to live forever in a state of constant weariness?
Living with this constant stress response is exhausting but it doesn’t have to stay that way. You can work to heal your brain and discover joy again. Kind of like cleaning those dirty windows so we can clearly see, we can train our brain to see beauty around us and find hope again. Yes, damaging things happened along life’s path, but we don’t have to stay stuck in what happened to us. We can choose to work through our emotions and see a bright future ahead. We can choose to realize that many things happen in life, both good and bad, and when we experience hardships, it does not mean we deserve bad things and it has nothing to do with our personal value. Seeking professional counseling is a good first step so you have a safe, non-judgmental place to unpack all the feelings, fears, and events from the past that haunt you. After unpacking, you can learn new ways of coping and thinking of the world around you and help you formulate a healthy plan to move forward. It is a horrible thing when someone perpetrates trauma upon another. But, that doesn’t have to be the end of your story.
If you have been a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free, confidential services to support you. We never tell you what to do, but instead, help you explore your options and work to encourage your independence in your choices. Our Jackson County office may be reached at 256.574.5826 or we also have a 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000. Advocates are waiting to assist you.