Truths About Trauma
When someone goes through a horrific event, almost every section of the human brain is affected. The ” Truth about Trauma” is trauma is a severely disturbing, destressing, and damaging experience, but there is hope of recovery. It has been six years since that horrible night that I was raped by an elder of the church I attended at that time. That violation dramatically changed my life on all levels; physical, emotional, mental, financial, social and most of all spiritual. It was catalytic in nature, and it became a demarcation, a mark in time from the life I knew to a new life totally unknown to me.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is a severely disturbing, destressing, and damaging experience. The physical assault of rape and other physical assaults are horrible enough, however it does not compare to the assault on the psyche and the revictimization of the victim. Sometimes preexisting serious health issues are magnified because of the attack. When I was attacked, my brain went into survival mode. Most days I fought for my life physically, mentally, emotionally and some days I was too weak to fight. No one knew. Here is happened to me.
What happened to me in those five years after the assault? I died and did not know how to revive myself. I reached the deepest depths of depression. It is difficult to explain the many collisions of emotions. From the lowest of valleys to high heights. The emptiness and fullness, the fear and peace, the sadness and joy, the destruction, the death, the depression yet the determination. Through it all, my survival tools became sharpened and truths that helped me maintain life, navigate the healing journey. Instead of writing my life events over the years since my last writing in 2011 I chose to write what I have learned through this trauma journey.
Truths About Trauma
1. Trauma is life changing – The rape was a life changing eruption that destroyed my life as I knew it. Trauma is not a hiccup in life. My structures and my pillars were gone. Trauma changed the landscape of my life. I had a new normal now, a normal I did not want or ask for, but it was my life now, whether temporary or permanent. Insecurity, fears, anger, confusion, isolation, and self- blame were just a few of the new normal feelings. I learned the severity of trauma. The truth about trauma is that it changes you temporarily and sometimes permanently.
I did not want to accept a new normal life. I wanted my old life back. Fighting to keep my old life failed. My mind and body did not connect anymore. But that didn’t mean they would never connect again. No matter how much I wanted a normal everyday life some functions were too much for me to do. it affected my capacity to do daily chores. The cognitive damage was deeper than I or anyone else realized. Memory loss, confusion, anxiety, fears, isolation, grief, depression became my daily companions. Through therapy I realized my trauma symptoms were not that unusual. They were normal for a survivor. I had hope. As the wounds began to heal the symptoms minimized or disappeared altogether.
2. Silence is not golden – Speaking out is imperative for healing. It is empowering, strengthening and life giving. Hiding and suppressing the trauma can cause long lasting negative effects, mental, emotional and physical health issues. The violation perpetrated on me affected the future decisions I made for my life. but I remained silent for the most part. Talking about the trauma and the pain helped if I was in a safe environment. Each time I talked I exhaled a little more pain. It was important to have someone to talk to, to have a safe person, a safe place where I could speak and not be judged. Releasing the pain in a safe environment is imperative.
The authorities advised me not to speak about what had happened for fear of it may affect the trial to come. Being the obedient person, I was trained to be from childhood, I desperately tried to honor their wishes but failed. One Sunday morning while serving as a minister I broke down in church. Fortunately, I made it to a private room before I broke down. I could not be silent. I was in so much pain. A couple of ministers were in the room and tried to help. Eventually I left. I felt better but embarrassed. It was not the safest place for me. Talking to the right people helps many survivors heal and decrease the negative effect on their future lives.
3. Safe places are necessary for healing – A safe place is a place in your life where you can be yourself. Safe places are an important component of restoring my life. It can be a person, group of people or a place. It was not good to isolate myself, though I preferred that above any social interaction. Survivors of assaults often isolate themselves from society and family because it is comfortable and feels safe. Re-victimization happens often and it is a concern of survivors.
Trusting someone with my damaged soul was not easy, but it was important. A safe person is someone who embraces you, listens to you and has your best interest in mind. I could tell quickly if someone connected to me just by their conversation. Realize that sometimes when you share your trauma with a person you trust, they may become uncomfortably quiet. only because they do not know how to react. If you share your pain, and it bounces back, it may mean that person or group of people was not a safe place. It’s normal to draw back. Anyone who judges, blames, guilts, or minimized the violation is not a safe place. In those situations, I removed myself and avoided any activities with them. Someone who shows empathy, care and concern is safe. It is important not to over burden your safe people even though they will be there for you.
Sometimes your safe place is not what or who you expect. Church was my life. Many people run to the church for help after a tragedy or trauma. Unfortunately, my place of worship was not a place for me. I felt re-victimized by church leadership and eventually had to leave to live. Sometimes you must leave to live. A couple of family members and friends were safe places for me.
Later my therapist became a safe place. Sometimes the person in my safe place did not understand what I was going through, but they listened, were patient and empathetic. I could trust them with my wounds. But I also had to grow a safe place within myself. My own thoughts were a danger to me, and they had to change for my good. Sometimes I was my worst enemy. I had many battles within my conflicted soul. I had to build myself up from within and destroy all negative thoughts that hindered my healing. The stronger I became in myself the less I needed external safe places.
4. Healing takes time – When a tragic event changes your life, your life will not be restored overnight. Healing from a trauma, a wound takes time. The process is a marathon, not a sprint. Some people may want to rush you and others may not understand why you cannot just get over it and move on. No one has the right to give you a time limit on healing. Every person is different, every tragedy is different, and every healing journey is different. Healing is restoring life the best way you can however long it takes. It is mending that part of you that is broken and building new parts.
External forces do not determine your internal healing. Some areas may never be totally healed. I recognized the areas in my life that are forever changed, and I am learning how to live with the loss. But I am also accepting new parts into my life and building on them..
I was fortunate to have a support community that did not push me to get over it. They understood that rape affected every area of my life and that it would take time. In my initial reaction after the violation, I was determined not to let what was done to me stop me from doing my daily routines. But I was wrong, so wrong. My body and my mind were so split, they were never in agreement. I did not realize the damage he inflicted on me internally, emotionally, and mentally.
It was impossible for me to continue my life as normal. On the outside I looked fine. Inside I was temporarily destroyed. My healing would take years. Physical healing took the least time. The mental, emotional, social, and spiritual healings takes the greatest amount of time. Spiritual was the greatest struggle because of my dedication to serving God in my local church. It was my life for almost thirty years and my life was destroyed by revictimization. But where man fails God is faithful.
5. Listening to your body is lifesaving – Your body has a voice, and it talks to you. It gives you signs of trouble, areas that need attention. Learn your body. Learn its voice. Acknowledged areas of damage that need to be fixed. Unfortunately, trauma aggravates pre-existing issues whether they are a physical ailment, emotional, mental, or dysfunctional issues. Trauma can also cause new health concerns. Do not ignore your pains. Do not ignore the uneasiness, the strange feelings. Do not ignore the mental changes nor the emotional reactions in situations. These feelings may be new, strange and not normal, but they are normal for a survivor of trauma. My body reacted to the trauma more than I realized. I realized that how I felt was normal for survivors after a traumatic event. Some people need medication and psychotherapy to function while others self-medicate.
Every day I listened to my body, my actions and reactions in situations. Beginning my journey of healing opened other areas in my life where I was wounded over the years. I listened to my heart. I began learning the symptoms of pain. Listening was crucial to cleaning and healing wounds. Many days I did not know if I would make it through the day. Many nights I lay awake praying my way through. If my breathing was labored, I learned to walk slow, move slow and find a place to sit. If I became disoriented or confused, I cancelled my day’s plans and returned home. The emotional changes were a little more difficult to handle. Life was moment by moment until I could do better, and I did. Just make it through the moment was my motto for a while. My life is worth it! Your life is worth it!
6. Having a foundation of peace and patience helps healing –
Having a foundation of peace and patience helps healing – One of the greatest things is that maintaining peace and patience are two great tools on the healing journey. Walking in peace everyday as opposed to stress or worry keeps harmony inside the body as well as within your environment. Not rushing healing, rushing to do activities or make a decision adds to the harmony and calm in your environment. Peace relieves stress and patience destroys worry.
It was imperative that I stayed consciously aware of my peace and patience. When there was a threat to lose either, I fought getting stressed or worried. I fought becoming anxious in my soul. That foundation of peace was important for my strength and survival. Peace bypassed my mind and my emotion. It maintained itself. The Bible puts it this way “It is the peace that passes all understanding”. There was this undergirding knowing that I would be alright. That knowing had to be protected and maintained so I became very conscious of when my peace was disrupted. It was my secret faith that kept me going everyday especially when I did not have the mental or emotional capacity to do so. Peace was there.
7. There is a depth of loss no man can touch. –
There is a depth of loss no man can touch. – There is a point beyond which the human spirit can’t go. There is a depth in the soul where all the positive thinking, motivational speaking, uplifting speeches, sermons, talks and thoughts cannot penetrate. They are not allowed. It is a depth of loss, a depth of pain beyond human intervention and it can only be reached through grace and faith. It is a faith beyond human understanding. It is a knowing that cannot be explained with mere words. It is a knowing that is untouchable. It is a faith that can only be accessed through the spirit. It is a calm in your soul that keeps you, strengthens you and undergirds you. It helps you rise above and beyond the torment in your soul.
Yes, I was violently raped. Yes, I was severely hurt by church leadership that it was necessary for me to separate from religion. Yes, I was angry with people that said I had to forgive to heal. Despite it all my strong belief in God prevailed. Because of the victimization, revictimization and preexisting issues in my life I experienced a depth of desperation and loss beyond human intervention, beyond my support system. There was a time that no one could connect with me in that place. No one could help me. I was beyond the depths of depression. But grace was there. God was there and I eventually rose from that grave.
8. There is life after trauma, if you choose it– Sometimes it is hard to vision or feel an end to the pain. Sometimes my body was so numb I did not care about life. Sometimes a survivor feels they deserve the pain, the heartache and decide to live with it. There are many reasons why trauma survivors do not choose life. Sometimes living life again is unimaginable. It is not impossible. Life is a choice. I had to be in a place on my journey of healing where I had the desire and had the ability to choose life because, as stated in #5, “There is a depth in the soul where all the positive thinking, motivational, uplifting speeches, sermons, talks and thoughts cannot penetrate”.
In these years of my healing journey most of my strength was spent on making it from day to day. There was no strength or energy for anything else. Most of the time there were no thoughts of life or purpose. Most days I just survived. I barely did what I had to do to exist. There was shear numbness and depression day in and day out. I did not know there was life after trauma, and I did not care. But I had a peace and assurance in my relationship with God that I would be alright. I stood on and rested in that faith. It was that undergirding belief that I would eventually get out of the stoop that plagued me for years. That day came. I started climbing out of the depths of trauma. My deepest depths brought me to my highest heights. I finally had life after trauma. What a wonderful place to be, in life not mere existence.
Choose life! Begin living again, not just existing. When you choose life, then life chooses you. A new beginning, a new outlook. All your struggles will not leave suddenly but you will progress daily. You will have the strength, and desire not only to live but to live on purpose and in purpose. You are stronger and wiser than you think you are. You have something to share, a story you need to tell. Everyone has a story. What is your story? What helps you live your life after tragedy? What are your “Truths After Trauma?”
Helps – RAINN (National Sexual Assault Hotline) at www.rainn.org Call 1800 -656-HOPE (4673); National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255; Trauma Support Services of North Texas, Inc.
CJ Hudson – These are truths I learned after my trauma in 2008 and are still true today. Healing is a journey, sometimes a lifelong journey.