This is more of a stream of consciousness post. Obviously, my consciousness lacks brevity. I have been keeping this list of things I’ve been learning over these last nine months while in recovery from well, my life. While I know the list will continue to grow as I grow, I felt like I should share what I’ve learned so far. With an unapologetic 3000+ words, clearly, I’ve been learning a lot. Don’t be intimidated. Just read and digest what you can. If this is not for you, feel free to pass it by. I’m a believer in writing what I need to read so I’m guessing someone else out there needs to read this too. If not, that’s fine. It’s been good for me to log my recovery progress in this way.
Recovery from what, you ask? In a nutshell, life. But more specifically, I’m in recovery from trauma. The trauma that happened when I was four. The trauma that happened from being a Third Culture Kid before anyone knew that was even a thing. The trauma that happened from multiple geographic and domestic transitions. The trauma that happened when my childhood body was violated. The trauma that happened when my teenage and adult bodies were violated. The trauma that comes from the ultimate betrayal of trust. The trauma that happened in a confession early one morning and when the gauntlet dropped seven years later. And the trauma from the relentlessly incessant triggers and the rehashing of it all in an effort to become the healthy woman God meant for me to be. I am not placing blame. I am taking ownership of my healing process.
Perhaps these are things that normal 51-year-old adults already know but I’m a consummate avoider of all things emotionally painful and apparently a bit of slow learner. I’m not doing it perfectly but I’m doing it.
As I ride the waves of trauma recovery, here’s what I’ve been learning:
The most revolutionary thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m a classic codependent. The discovery of this is kind of a funny story that maybe I’ll get to share another day but I am indeed a codependent. A very broad and basic definition of codependency is an addiction to people. It could also include other addictions such as an addiction to love but it’s basically an addiction to fulfilling the needs of others above my own. There’s a ton of clinical mumbo jumbo that is very important so if you’re intrigued, check out the resources I’ve listed at the end. Acknowledging my codependency has been a game-changer. Not a pleasant one but a very necessary one. And it has been the most crucial catalyst for change in my recovery process.
I’m learning that being me is okay. It’s quite necessary, in fact. I’ve really never allowed myself to be me. I’m not blaming anyone for that because it is what it is and I didn’t know any better. Now I do. I will not be able to be part of a healthy “we” in my marriage, or in other relationships until I’m a healthy me.
Healing from pain is exhausting work. Feelings are energy. When there are lots of feelings, they consume lots of energy. It’s like my emotions are running twelve marathons each day and it is both emotionally and physically tasking. Much of life as I know it, or thought it would be, take a back seat to my recovery process. I must use my spoons wisely.
Forgiveness is necessary for my healing but it is a work in progress. It always will be.
During this season of recovery, it takes me a million times longer to come up with coherent thought and even longer to string an entire sentence together. Thinking is hard. Holding a thought is hard. Getting distracted is easy. Every thought is now filtered through a whole new lens. It’s like moving to a foreign country and going to the grocery store and not being able to understand the labels on anything or wondering why the eggs aren’t refrigerated.
I can’t get ahead of the task list. I constantly feel like I’m behind and I constantly feel like I’d just rather take a nap instead. Some days, I do.
Pictures taken during recovery may be few but the ones taken are worth more than a thousand words. Most of the recovery season doesn’t lend itself to being permanently captured. But when there’s joy, you better believe I’m getting that on “film”.
I’m learning to be responsible for my emotions at night. Just like a sore throat gets worse at night, the darkness seems to enhance my feelings of becoming bigger than they should be. I am learning to breathe through the overwhelming moments and let them go. Not forever. But just until the morning comes and brings with it my new mercies. In the light, I will know if they were true. In the light, I can work through them. In the light, I can heal. In the dark, I need rest for the work to be done tomorrow in the light. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV)
I’ve learned that lies are louder than truth. I have to listen much more intently if I want to hear the good stuff, the right stuff. Please read this to understand more of what I mean.
I won’t always get what I want. Sometimes, that’s a good thing! But I don’t have to give more than I’m not willing to give either.
I’m learning not to make promises that I might not be able to keep. Hearing my grandson say, “I thought you were going with me.” Is not something I enjoy hearing – or doing to him – or anyone. Something as simple as saying I’m going to church tomorrow is something that might not be so simple the next morning. “I’ll give you a call later.” … well, it might not happen. In a good moment, I might have lofty dreams, but my world can turn on a dime at any given moment making “peopleing”, or doing anything, an impossibility.
I can’t (and shouldn’t) please others – I have to realize and remind myself often that others who are not walking in my shoes, which is exactly no one, will ever understand. Also, people who choose to live as victims themselves, can’t relate to someone who is trying to be healthy. The hardest part of this is that I often won’t please those I love the most. This is something I grieve often.
Many people think they know what is good for me and think they can help and but they might not actually know what I need. Just as I don’t know the whole story of others, they don’t know mine. It is important for me to give them grace but to keep my people-pleasing tendencies in check and focus on my growth.
Being a “Needy Nancy” is okay for a season. I’ll be able to pay it forward to another Needy Nancy someday. (That might be you.)
One of my top priorities is to be kind to myself. Recovery is all about putting my oxygen mask on first. Self-care is not laziness. Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is life-sustaining. (There is a difference between selfishness and self-centeredness.)
I need to acknowledge my traumas and work through them but I also need to give myself grace in the process. Even when others don’t. Rome wasn’t built in a day and my trauma won’t get fixed in a day. It’s a lengthy and arduous process. In my trauma recovery, there is, as I mentioned earlier, a lot to work through and the layers might not peel back so easily. I need to give myself the grace to realize I can’t fix it all at once. Some things will just have to wait their turn.
I’ve learned about gaslighting. I’ve discovered I have been gaslighted my entire life. I also recognize the difference between manipulative and malicious gaslighting. Both are abusive but one is a little more covert than the other. Gaslighting is typically discussed in the context of marriage but most of us who allow ourselves to accept the reality of others adopted this behavioral pattern earlier in our lives. Taking ownership of my own shortcomings here, thanks to the original sin, we are all at our core narcissists. We are born selfish. Gaslighting is rooted in narcissism but it takes a turn towards being abusive to others. Recognizing this doesn’t change those around me. It changes me in the way I am learning to own my own feelings and realities.
Joy and sorrow can coexist. In fact, I think they’re supposed to coexist. God designed joy to be so good that even in the darkest moments, joy can be experienced. Watch the movie Inside Out. So good!
Usually, a thought that starts with “But”, is rooted in wanting justice or in a desire for fairness. “But” is a “no-no” word, unless it is followed by “God”. But God. It’s a powerful phrase and can change my perspective quickly.
Skepticism and cynicism must be recognized for what they are and kept snuggly in check under the umbrella of truth and reality. It’s so easy for me to adopt blanket assumptions and forget that individuals are just that – individuals. I wouldn’t want anyone to lump me into a generalization either.
It’s right for me to do what I need to feel safe, to be healthy. The trick is to recognize what that is on any given day or in any given minute.
It’s okay for me to change my mind about what makes me feel safe and healthy tomorrow. Or this afternoon.
It’s acceptable to not be available for others while I’m healing. It’s hard but it’s okay. Dr. Seuss is known to have said, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” I will disappoint people I love. That’s an unfortunate fallout from living in a war zone. This post exceeds 3000 words. Clearly, I’ve been busy trying to heal my heart. I wish others understood; some will but some won’t. That has to be okay with me. I understand that they don’t know the full story.
It’s okay to hold my story close. There are elements too private, too tender to be shared.
It’s okay to share my story, but only when I’m healthy enough mind, body, and soul, in knowing it’s the right thing to do. Others may be potentially critical and hurtful. I also have to realize that they may be offended because it calls out pieces of their own stories that they may not want to acknowledge. I desire to be tender to this but it’s not my responsibility to do the work of other people. Only mine. I have a voice. No one has the ability to shut me up. However, I should also be kind and use my voice wisely – this is my goal in sharing. I don’t always do that but it’s always my goal. If I make a mistake with my voice, I must make amends and keep moving forward. Not only is this painful for me, but it is also painful for those around me. I can’t control what other people allow themselves to feel. I need to do my best work.
Experiencing pain has made me much less judgmental and much more compassionate to others. This is a gift.
I cry a lot but I won’t cry forever.
I need to make plans. Some amount of staying busy is helpful. Those non-refundable tickets to Australia or to a concert might be what helps me wake up the next morning.
It’s okay to not make plans. Wait, didn’t I just say to make plans? Yep, but it’s also important for me to not make plans. Too much busyness can add to the exhaustion and become a distraction from the healing process.
Not everything that is wrong in my life is someone else’s fault. Some of what is happening is just life and isn’t influenced by what has been done to me or what has caused me pain.
The same scriptures, the same meaningful songs, the same comforting promises that God offers me, He also offers everyone else. I don’t have the corner of the market on grace.
No one can “make” me feel anything. I own my feelings. After a lifetime of allowing others to dictate how I felt, this is a struggle for me to believe, but I know it’s true.
Making decisions is hard. Exponentially hard. I often feel frozen in the face of a decision. Even a very simple one. Eliminating decisions any way possible is critical. Simplifying my wardrobe is one way I’ve done this. Read this book – Uncluttered by Courtney Ellis.
My kids are not at all responsible to help me in my healing. They have their own healing work to do. But even if they didn’t, they’re still not responsible for mine. It’s hard to find the balance between being honest with my recovery and being their mom. This is one of my most painful struggles in recovery.
Little things that might not be painful or hurtful in “normal” life often seem bigger than life itself in the season of recovery. Pain is magnified. Hardships are
There are losses that may never be redeemed. Realistically, the dream of visiting and enjoying the Isle of Skye with my husband is probably dead. This doesn’t mean life is over. It just means certain dreams that were once a possibility, no longer are. I need to look for and embrace some new dreams.
My physical health suffers. This is a big one for me. My body knows what I’m feeling before I do. If I don’t cry, my body will cry for me. This book comes highly recommended. I’ve yet to read it but it’s on my list. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
My body doesn’t lie. It always tells the truth. It’s true what “they” say when they say, “listen to your gut.” If I’m sensing something is wrong, I need to follow up on it. It may not always be a match but it might be. I will no longer ignore the possibility of the match. I am learning to take a deep breath, lean in and listen.
My recovery is mine. I have an uncanny ability as a codependent (which is basically an addiction to people) to allow the recovery process of others to affect mine. I can’t do this. But I do it too often. Add that to my list…
If something I do, read, say, buy, attend, or participate in doesn’t work for me, I simply need to try something else. If it didn’t work, it’s probably not all a waste, but I can’t keep doing the same things and expecting different results.
The ability to reframe situations to a positive from a negative is helpful and necessary. But it’s often very hard.
I need to remain present in my reality. This is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given in this process. I am a pro at making things up and believing things that aren’t potentially true. When my head and heart start spinning out of control, I hear the voice of a dear friend telling me, “stay present in your reality.”
Stay in my train car. A group leader of mine explained that I am only responsible for my train car. When all the cars go off track, I’m only responsible for getting mine back on and keeping it there.
When things get harder or messier, I need to ramp up on my self-care. I’ve recently adopted this mantra and say it on repeat when I feel overwhelmed, “Stay present, Thy will be done, drink water.” (Check out this two-part video to find why water is important.)
I absolutely could not and should not do this alone. God, my inner circle, my counselor, and my Celebrate Recovery group (find one near you) are a lifeline. Having a safe and soft place to land is vital. Having trusted truth-tellers is vital as well.
I need to love myself enough to walk away from unnecessary pain and anxiety and people who add to the pain. Maybe not forever but I have to be willing to gift myself a “time out”. Limit time on social media especially when others are living out the dreams that I once had. It’s not wrong for them to live their dreams. I’m truly happy for them. But it’s not healthy for me if it feeds resentment and bitterness.
I’ve got time. Move slowly. For my health but also for my healing. No rushing through anything right now. Especially feelings. “Be still and know.” Psalm 46:10 NIV
Almonds, coffee, and essential oils can sustain life. Tex Mex and sushi can help. But seriously, did you know that lilies grow in the desert and that they’re edible? I am so thankful to know a God who is with me in the desert and provides for my beauty and sustenance.
I’d say I’ve learned a lot in these nine months of focused trauma recovery. Phew… it’s no wonder I’m worn out! It’s good for me to look back on where I’ve come and what all I’ve accomplished. I’m anxious and preemptively worn out thinking about what all I’ll be learning over the next 9 months.
Recovering from trauma is no small task but it’s worth the work. Living and breathing through it is hard. My top three goals in recovery are to glorify God, be healthy and be kind to myself and others. Some days I do this better than others.
But the main thing I’ve learned is that whatever happens, however much it hurts, however much sadness, however much joy, however much chaos, however, the earthly part of my story turns out; God is good, He is faithful, His story reigns supreme. And I’m but a part of it, an important part, a chosen part, a worth it part but to be sure, just a part. And this recovery process is only a part of my story. Just a part. The work God is doing is bigger than my earthly eyes are able to conceive. In all parts of the story, in the whoever’s, the whatever’s and the however’s, the even if’s and the even if not’s, I’m gonna be okay. And you will be too.
I need to just keep riding the wave. It’ll eventually get me there.
Let’s keep stumbling forward as we walk each other Home.
Helpful books for further reading:
Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes from, How It Sabotages Our Lives, Pia Mellody, Andrea Wells Miller
Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself, Melody Beattie
Take Your Life Back, David Stoop, Ph.D., Stephen Arterburn, M.Ed.
Boundaries in Marriage, Henry Cloud and John Townsend
Forgiving What You’ll Never Forget, Dr. David Stoop