“Well, admitting that I was abused emotionally, psychologically, sexually, and spiritually was healthy and important for a season, but I want to be done now. I’d like to go back to being myself again. You know, disconnected and ignorant of the real impact all this had on me. I’d like to move on now, as if it never happened.”
Lately I’ve been having thoughts along the lines of this. A couple years ago, I started making major adjustments to my life so that I could free up more time to deal with myself. Originally, it was involuntary. I got sick, and subsequently had to scale way back. As I went down the path of healing, I decided to strip more and more out of my schedule. The more I uncovered, the more I needed to make room to grieve and heal. While I do feel like I am experiencing major shifts in how I relate to my trauma, I also know it is far from over. Sometimes it feels like an eternal sentence, where I am destined to don my perpetual sackcloth and ashes. Sometimes it feels like no big deal. Somewhere in the middle is probably what’s true. I am coming out of a period of major grieving, which was absolutely necessary, but also all-consuming and extremely difficult. Now I am trying to figure out how to best live my life while embracing this part of me which is now “out” for all to see.
I could revert back to the old me, the “grin and bear it” me, that is used to powering through the pain in order to accomplish things. But now I know too much. I fully recognize the toll it took on me to live like that, and I know that if I choose the comfort of my old ways, I will inevitably burn out. I could choose to wallow in my grief, but I was never one for doing so more than necessary. Reacting to my own trauma is just as exhausting as hiding it. So what’s the right balance?
If I had to answer this question today, I think I’d say the right balance for me is to give myself permission to take my time finding the answer. It would be to give myself permission to start adding things in to my life that I removed for the sake of dealing with this trauma head on. Perhaps I take on more work, perhaps I take on more social appointments, and I also give myself permission to cancel anything that feels like too much too soon. I give myself permission to say no to career opportunities that I would like, but require me to be around toxic people. I give myself permission to change careers, if necessary. I give myself permission to make mistakes and adjust as needed. I give myself permission to find my people- the ones who understand, to some degree, my unique challenges.
As someone who wore a mask of having her shit together, it is especially scary to me to relate to myself as both having value and also needing accommodations. I built a whole career self-image of not “needing” anything. To be in need was to admit weakness, which was certain death in the shark tank I swam in. It’s bad enough I am female in a male-dominated profession, but to share that I am struggling with mental health issues stemming from childhood trauma? Ugh.
All this angst, of course, is rooted in the lie that I must be perfect in order to have value, which I am working on. As someone who was psychologically beaten up for showing any sign of weakness, it is hard for me to believe that someone out there might show me grace for being the broken yet lovable human that I am, and also maybe give me a paycheck, or want to hang out. Even with those I consider good friends, I rarely make myself a burden. I’d rather remove myself from social things than dump my problems on others.
What does reentry look like after grieving? How does someone decide, after a 40+ year pattern of living, to do it differently? It’s scary and exciting. It’s also disorienting to bring so many basic patterns of living into question. In so many ways, I am just now discovering how to live.