Finding Yourself After Trauma – Learning to Live Again

Through the process of writing I’ve come to realize that I’ve experienced some pretty rough stuff in my life.

[I can hear you now.  “UM… are you freaking kidding me?  I read your blog.  Of COURSE the stuff you’ve been through is rough.  Have YOU read your blog?  MAYBE YOU SHOULD.”]

Yes, I have.  (I love it when you speak up, by the way.)  But before I thought things through far enough to write the stuff down I didn’t see it as ROUGH STUFF, I just saw it as STUFF.  Stuff that’s always been there.  Stuff that I’ve dealt with FOREVER.  It’s always been that way, so it never struck me as anything HARD.  Or heavy.  Or painful, or something that I felt I could change.  It just was.

I knew it was UGLY, for sure.  I knew it was stuff that I wasn’t proud of, and I knew that the hard stuff I carried had hurt me.  HOW it hurt me, though, I wasn’t clear about until recently.  And how MUCH it hurt me I didn’t realize until I started thinking about it deeply enough to turn it into words and write it all out.

I suppose on some level that makes me dumb?  That I didn’t notice that it was hurting.  It makes me IGNORANT, for sure.  Stubborn, too.  “Doesn’t matter, doesn’t bother me, I REFUSE TO LET IT BOTHER ME.”  Also it’s an indication of how busy I am.  “I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS,” and so I would carry on doing whatever else life had me doing.  I think some of the busy-ness was SO THAT I didn’t have to think about it.  Or notice.

ME and the rough stuff in my life is like a dog with a dislocated hip.  (Yes, I know that if I use this analogy it makes me “the dog,” but that’s okay.  I like dogs.)  When a dog dislocates a hip and it isn’t treated, it’s really painful.  TERRIBLY painful.  It will yip and bark if you touch its leg.  The dog will limp for a while, and will reduce its activity level, but it will continue to do the things it innately knows it HAS to do.  Eat, sleep, go to the bathroom.

Dogs are simple creatures with feral instincts.  They don’t complain, they don’t feel sorry for themselves, they don’t try to place blame or work their way out of their discomfort.  They just LIVE.  And keep going.  Unless they’re medicated heavily or caged up or tied down, the dog will get up and work through whatever pain it’s in to keep doing what it’s made to do.  FERAL SURVIVAL.

Eventually the dog gets used to the pain.  Physiology changes, their body adapts, and “normal” changes.  “Old normal plus pain” is perceived as “new normal,” which after enough time becomes “just normal.”  Eventually the hip starts to feel a little better.  Eventually the pain lessens.  Eventually the body conforms, and changes, and heals as best it can around the still-not-right dislocated hip, and the dog forms a false joint.

[“Oh good, so no more hurting.  No long term damage.  That’s good.”]

Yeah… not so much.

Ignore any sort of stimulus long enough and the stimulus stops being effective.  It stops stimulating.  Ignore a dripping faucet and you stop hearing the drips.  Hit snooze on your alarm enough times and it stops waking you up altogether.  Live by an airport for a few years and you stop noticing the comings and goings of air traffic, even when the plane zooms over your house low enough to rattle the windows.

Internal stimulus is the same.  Ignore hunger and your body stops telling you it’s hungry.  When you don’t make time to go to the bathroom frequently your body stops kicking out the “go pee now” stimulus and your bladder is ignored (moms understand this… how many of you get to the end of your day and realize you haven’t peed once?).  Binge hard frequently and you forget what it’s like to feel full.  Abstain from a necessary biological function over and over and over again for as long as you can each time, and your body will learn to stop noticing.

Chronic pain is no different.  EMOTIONAL pain is no different. Mental pain, no different. Ignore any sort of pain long enough and it’ll eventually go away.

…for a while.

I just ignored the pain.  Like the dog, I adapted.  I changed.  “Old normal plus pain” became “new normal.”  Then it became “just normal.”  Then it stopped being painful.

For a while.

For a LONG while.

After the initial pain is gone, the dog stops noticing that it’s bothering him.  The dog will act fine.  And it IS fine, but it’s JUST “FINE.”  It’s not GREAT.  It has a weak spot.  It has a point of constant pain that’s so subtle and accepted by the brain that it’s not even noticed.  Like white noise.  The pain is always there, it’s just not perceived by the dog.

In reality “old normal” is better than “new normal,” but without hindsight and retrospect there’s no consideration of that fact.  Dogs don’t hold on to things because they don’t have either hindsight OR retrospect.  They CAN’T hold on to things.  I WANTED THAT.  I wanted to let it all go. In order to let go, to NOT DEAL, I CHOSE to not have retrospect or hindsight.  NO REAR VIEW MIRRORS when you’re actively trying to forget.  Why would you look back ON PURPOSE?

Dogs don’t think “I remember that time when I didn’t hurt, that was great, it sucks to get hurt.”  I did the same.  I didn’t think backward, I tried hard to think “JUST RIGHT NOW,” and “what comes next.”  I didn’t analyze or think about “maybe the past is affecting my decision making,” I just kept going.  Dealt with things as they came up, followed my heart as best I could, tried to live truthfully, but never looked back.  Feral survival.


Things from before that are STILL THERE do come back, no matter how much you try to ignore them.  No matter how much you really, really, REALLY REALLY REALLY want to pretend that the stuff behind you isn’t there, it’s still there.

The PAIN is still there.

That false joint you made to deal with the pain isn’t a REAL joint.  It’s false.  It’s a weak spot.  That joint will be the first one injured.  It will hinder more than help.  And when the dog is old and starts to slow down and get arthritis, that false joint will start to hurt again.  When YOU get to the point in your life where you have to slow down, and focus, and really think about LIFE, that old stuff will come back.  That weak spot WILL HURT again, and you will have to deal with it.

No matter where life takes you, LIFE keeps going.  And it throws stuff at you that REQUIRES you to look back, stuff that forces you to look in that rear view mirror.

And HOLY SHIT, life will make you look, ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE KIDS.  And it makes you look back even MORE often as you try to raise them.  Kids will force you to look back.  Watching my kids grow up, and trying to be a mother to them as they reach the age I met my troubles has required me to check the rear view over and over.

And guess what.

The stuff that I thought I left behind, the injuries from before that weren’t taken care of, that stuff I ignored and just pretended wasn’t there by never paying attention to it…  IT WAS STILL THERE.  No matter how far away you drive on the road of life, the stuff behind you will STILL BE THERE.

Regardless of whether the dog thinks it hurts, the hip is not RIGHT.  It’s not “fixed.”  Whether or not YOU think about the bad stuff, whether or not it HURTS, the rough stuff that got ignored is not RIGHT.  It’s not “fixed.”

My trauma was early and it was painful, but eventually my “old normal plus pain” became “new normal,” and then it became “just normal.”  But the damage that had been done wasn’t FIXED.  The injury was still there.  The injury wasn’t fixed.

And honestly…..

Honestly, I don’t know if you can ever go back and FIX it.  Even now, even after I’ve dealt with it, I can’t FIX it.

Sad face.

[“……oh.  Well that sucks.”]


[“Yeah, that REALLY sucks.  So now what?  NOW what do you do?”]

I have no fucking idea.

And that’s where I’m at right now.  “SO NOW WHAT,” and “I have no fucking idea.”

I’m not “just normal,” because “just normal” was “new normal” was “old normal plus pain.”  And I’m not “old normal,” because I’m different now. I can’t go BACK to “old normal,” because I am not the same person as I was before. Being on the flip side of trauma is different.  The trauma MADE ME different.  I’m the same coin, but this is the TAIL end.  I’m on the ASS END of trauma, and it’s totally different over here.

Can’t be “old normal,” because I’m different.  AND the pain is gone, or “will be gone,” or “is on its way out.”  Which by logic means there IS no “new normal,” because all the parts of “new normal” are missing, and so there isn’t any “just normal.”

I really hope that makes sense.  I’m reading it again and it makes sense to ME, but we’ve fairly well established that I’m at least partly crazy.  If you can’t keep up with the cray I understand.

Bottom line, NOW I have to find a REAL normal.

But again.  “SO NOW WHAT.”

When you finally get ALL THE GARBAGE out of your Cathedral, when you’ve got holes cut in for big windows, when you’ve got enough light to see through all the rooms and there’s no junk in any of them, NOW WHAT.

It feels empty.

And hollow.  And lonely, in a sense.  And it feels like there’s something I’m missing, but not anything that I MISS.  I can hear echos when I talk.  And I can feel the absence of something that was there FOREVER.  It’s relief, kind of.  Different.  And calm.  And shameless.

I think in true introvert style I think I just need some time.  I need time to just sit in this now very empty space.  I need to just BE HERE.  Quietly.  To walk through the halls and into the empty rooms and remember, and reflect, and breathe.  I need to touch the walls, and open and close the doors.

And then once I’m comfortable in this empty space, then I guess I just keep going.

I push on.

I think I’ll turn my Cathedral into a Refuge.  I’ll fill it up with furniture, the kind of furniture that makes you want to sit and stay, and enough of it to seat more than just myself.  And I’ll put pictures in my windows, and hang paintings on the wall.  I’ll put in carpet and play music and bake cookies, and then I think I’ll start inviting people in.  I’ll invite people in completely, and without all that garbage hidden in the closets I’ll be happy to let them look around and POKE around.  No fear, no shame.  No worries about what they’ll find, because there’s nothing left TO find.

I think I’ll also do more of what I’m doing now, and talk to people about what happened.  I’ll keep talking, because maybe someone else will listen and hear.  Maybe they’ll notice that their “new normal” is the same as their “old normal plus pain.”

I’ll talk to people about the garbage that used to be inside my now clean Cathedral and how hard it was to get rid of all the junk.  I’ll tell them that as hard as it was to clean up, it was a good thing.  That no matter how hard it was, having it gone is immeasurably better.  I’ll tell them those things, and maybe they’ll realize that no matter how much they think they’re the same, “old normal” is NOT THE SAME as “new normal.” You don’t have to be “just fine,” you can be better than that.

I’ll try to help other people clean out THEIR garbage.  Anyone that trusts me enough to be inside their Cathedral with the garbage still inside, I’ll help them move it out.  One bag at a time.

I think finding Real Normal is going to be …interesting.  A journey for sure, but one that looks pretty exciting.

If nothing else it won’t be boring.  Plus I’m baking cookies, and that always a good thing.

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