by Teresia Smith
There is a quote attributed to Will Shortz that says “We have a natural compulsion to fill empty spaces.” Will is the editor of The New York Times crossword puzzle and if you google that phrase, it starts explaining it by giving the example of why we like doing crossword puzzles. Then if you continue searching, you can find a few song lyrics that talk about filling empty spaces in our lives. Like in a crossword puzzle, only the right word should fit, we need to make sure we are filling the empty spaces in our lives with things that truly fit.
When I first read the quote, living beyond trauma came to my mind. Trauma can be a devastating experience which destroys large parts of who we are. It can demolish our sense of purpose, our security, our trust in our world, our physical and mental health, and more. Being able to recover from trauma means we must be able to rebuild those things that were wiped out. What is important to remember though, is we can’t just replace what we lost with things that won’t sustain us. And we certainly don’t want to fill our empty space with people that will cause us pain again. We must take time to examine what we need to become healthy again and thrive. Overcoming trauma will involve rebuilding things that were taken away and surrounding ourselves with healthy relationships.
Once we escape what caused our trauma, we may feel empty and numb. Have you ever compared artificial flowers with real ones? Some artificial ones are so realistic and beautiful; however, they will never be able to grow, change, or renew their flowers and eventually the sun will fade their colors and they will fill with dust. When we are working to overcome trauma, we must make sure we are not just putting on a brave face, going through the expected motions and pretending like we are alive while inside we are dry and dying. Instead, we should be filing our empty spaces with things that meet our needs and help us continue to grow.
Unfortunately, once you are a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, statistically, you are at a higher risk of experiencing it again. Often, perpetrators identify and target people they feel they can manipulate. They use techniques such as fabricating stories to invent a connection with you (we have so much in common), saying things that make you doubt your own judgements (you just took that the wrong way), sometimes even exhaust you (constantly pursuing you) to weaken your defenses and make it hard to think logically. Living with the effects of trauma can make it hard to see through deception and it can reduce your ability to think rationally. This makes you vulnerable to manipulation.
If you are recovering from trauma, there are some steps you can take that can help you know how to best fill those empty spaces. First, be gracious to yourself. Put your needs first for a change. Slow life down and examine what you need. If you feel pressure, tell yourself that you deserve time to think things through. Don’t be manipulated by someone trying to take control of your life. Until you truly appreciate who you are, others won’t be able to appreciate you either. Stand firm and take the time you need to think things through.
Next, give yourself space to remember the person you are. If you are used to having someone tell you what to do, when to do it and how to do it, this will feel foreign at first and maybe even a little empty. This is your chance to fill up your space with what matters to you. Keeping a journal can be a great thing to jot down thoughts and ideas and go back and see what’s been on your mind. Enjoy quiet moments where you can be in touch with your own feelings. Don’t let someone tell you who you should be – discover yourself instead.
Finally, surround yourself with those who lift your spirit. It is so helpful to have supportive people in your life who will simply listen while you express all your feelings, confusion, doubts, and fears. You don’t need someone to tell you what you should do but rather someone who you can bounce ideas off of but reach your own decisions.
Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free and confidential services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. We offer a safe place to work through your emotions after experiencing trauma. You may reach our Jackson County office at 256.574.5826 and we also offer a 24/7 HELPline where you can reach a trained crisis counselor at 256.716.1000. You are not alone.