Like a slow leak, drip-drip-drip, things changed. Trauma leaves you with a brain dedicated to danger. Fear isn’t a choice – it’s an inbuilt survival mechanism. And I used to berate myself for it. What is wrong with you?! Get a grip! Just let it go! But my survival-based back brain wasn’t listening. It’s not safe here, it would whisper back at me. We’re going to get hurt. When I heard it, I got annoyed: We’re perfectly safe. There’s nothing the matter. Stop overreacting!
‘You just need to forgive.’
I hang my head as shame courses through me again. I wish I hadn’t said anything. I wish I hadn’t asked for help. Because this is where it always lands: that it’s my fault. I’m only traumatised, Irene says, because I haven’t forgiven my abusers. If I would just forgive them, her theory goes, the flashbacks and dissociation would simply melt away.
Stigma is the double-whammy of life after trauma. Not only do we suffer abuse in childhood, perhaps resulting in a post traumatic or dissociative disorder in adulthood, but then we are stigmatised, shunned and shamed for it too. How can that be right?
The freeze responses teaches us that we ‘can’t’, and it’s an instinctive, natural survival response that helps us by immobilising us. After trauma, however, it becomes our default response – a habit. We believe that we ‘can’t’ when in reality we ‘couldn’t’ then but we ‘can’ now.
If I said I could help you improve your life by 1% you might not be very interested. Especially if your life is filled with pain, suffering, dysfunction and struggle, you might think, “A 1% difference isn’t going to do any good! I need a 100% difference!”
That’s how I thought for a long time
Courage. It’s the stuff of heroes, right? Frodo with the Ring in Mordor, William Wallace and the uprising, Henry V once more into the breach, ‘Sully Sullenberger’ parking his broken plane on the Hudson.
‘Courage’ isn’t necessarily a word we think is all that relevant to therapy, to recovering from trauma.
Being traumatised is a tough gig. Maybe one of the hardest. It’s exhausting, it’s debilitating, it affects every area of your life and it can feel insurmountable.
So it’s difficult to think that recovery is possible, even a little bit of recovery. Maybe it feels impossible to think in terms of significant recovery. And harder still to think in grand, magnificent, skyscaper-type ways about recovery.
Real hope isn’t cheap. Real hope is born out of a bloody struggle. Hope has guts. Hope is what you’re left with when you’ve stared down the despair. So how did I get from hopelessness to hope?
It’s not fair that I have to pay for my own therapy. It’s not fair that I’m all alone. It’s not fair that I’m so unwell. It’s not fair that there’s no support. It’s not fair that I’m in so much pain. It’s not fair that I was abused.
You’re absolutely right. It’s not fair. So what are we going to do about it?
So I did it. I took the plunge, did what I’ve said forever I was going to do, and I started a blog. Cue angels and harps and fireworks and the X-Factor winner from three years ago to make the moment memorable. Or not.
Therapy is hard work. But often it’s the therapist who feels it most. It’s the therapist who anguishes in supervision over whether they’re doing the right thing, saying the right thing, responding in the right way. They doubt themselves, yearn for progress, hurt with the suffering of their client.
Is recovery possible? That’s the question that everyone is asking, even when they’re not asking it. After a breakdown, perhaps after years in the mental health system, do we have to simply accept that we’re broken and that we’ll always be broken, or is it possible to live a life where we’re back in control again, where we’re living as we want to live, where life has purpose and meaning?