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Trauma is what happens when something scares us… but then we don’t overcome it. When we don’t have the logic to explain how it happened, the faith to know why, or the means to convince ourselves it won’t again. We lose the little voice that usually tells us we don’t have to worry. We go into fight-or-flight, and then we stay there. A third trigger response emerges: to freeze.
We encounter the potential for trauma constantly – and nobody is immune. But it only ravages our minds when we don’t complete the second half of the story: this terrible thing happened… and then. That’s the way the human mind adapts to adverse experiences. We resolve them when we can give them an explanation. But when we don’t have an answer, and we don’t try to find one? When we live with the beast in our chest for long enough? We confuse the coping mechanism for a personality trait, and we run the risk of carrying it forever.
When you start to heal, you learn how to survive again. You learn to do the simple things, things that didn’t seem important when you felt as though you were fighting for your life. Traumatized people don’t live in this world, they live in the world of reflexes and over-stimulation, of acute paranoia and reptilian impulses. So you learn to shower each day. You learn to cook your meals. You learn to respond to a friend’s text. You move in baby steps. You learn to speak up. You go to work and come home again. You honor appointments. You sleep. You learn how to get by.
Through this, you begin to develop a sort of acuity, a sensitivity to what it means to be alive. You re-learn humanness as adults and becomes this secondary, but exponential maturing process. You become hyper-attuned to other people’s motives and intentions. You study facial expressions and behaviors and have almost psychic abilities to read them and respond.
You begin to realize what matters and what doesn’t. Trends and clothes and being popular all starts to seem like an inane way to spend your time. You begin to realize how many people are faking it – how many friends don’t really like each other, how many successful people aren’t even happy. You start to realize that the tart and sweet stupidity of youth is just that… stupid. You stop wasting days on friends that don’t care or nights you won’t remember anyway. You find things that have more meaning. An old soul kind of wisdom that begins to procure.
This is when you enter the second phase of healing: when you ask yourselves what it would mean to thrive.
With your worldview shattered, you are able to start asking deeper questions. You begin to answer the why, the how, the if and but and when. You think about purpose and you think about sin. You think about things like moral relativity and realize that politicians are full of shit. You dwell on forgiveness and sometimes, find it. You read books and then read more. You prioritize independence and keep your social circle tight. You recall bits and pieces of your childhood now and then. You start to remember the things you once loved. You rediscover within yourself an easiness. You have a thought that becomes a dream that becomes a goal. Gesture by gesture, you start to reclaim your inner power. You notice that the fear isn’t gone, but there are more and more instances in which you are immersed in other parts of life enough that you don’t have to give yourself to it.
And maybe that was the goal all along.
The narrative of the broken person starts to be replaced, one word at a time. Your pain isn’t the first thing you share. Your tragedy is not the most exceptional thing about you anymore. Shared misery is not the means over which you bond.
You begin to realize that all the wisdom you are yoking isn’t new, and it isn’t novel, and it isn’t groundbreaking. It’s been known and shared for centuries. It is in ancient texts and self-help guru blogs. It’s what your grandmother told you and what your intuition warned. And as you stand in all of the recognition and realization, you start to see something clearly: you weren’t meant for what you lost, and yet you had to lose it. You are somehow better for what you’ve been through. The worst things that ever happened can be portals, catalysts, for the best. You begin to see that a lot of people come out on the other end with a sort of gratitude for the things that once destroyed them.
They were, as it goes, stars becoming supernovas – dying, but reborn.