One day I called my best friend from high school and asked him, “Can you tell me who I was?”
“Remind me how you remember me, please,” I begged. “I can’t remember who I was, who I really am, who I’m supposed to be.”
I experienced a trauma. It changed me in ways that made me unrecognizable to myself. I struggled with these changes, resented them, and ended up resenting myself.
I had to learn that that going through difficult things can change us – and that’s ok.
Here are three things I wish I knew and hope to always carry with me when I have to move through difficult moments in my life.
1. Your capacity might change (and that’s okay)
After my trauma, I did very little. I didn’t go to class. I didn’t talk to anyone. I barely ate. I never cleaned. I didn’t go to work. I rarely left my dorm. I failed all my classes, lost my job and most of my friends.
When I started to emerge from that space, I experienced intense guilt. How could I let this happen? How could I let my life fall apart like this? How did I let things get this bad?
This meant that in addition to addressing the trauma I also had to work through my negative feelings around how I coped with the trauma. My therapist (bless her) gave me words that I hold always.
She reminded me that coping with trauma takes so much more energy and life-force than you realize. It can look like you’re just sleeping or not doing anything, but internally you’re doing so much work. It takes energy to heal. It takes energy to survive. It takes energy to cope. This means you’ll probably have less capacity to do the things you usually do — socializing, working, cleaning, cooking, and so on. Be soft with your shifting capacity.
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2. Your coping mechanisms might change (and that’s okay)
Perhaps in an ideal world, when bad things happened, we would all cope in “healthy” ways — meditation, journaling, therapy, reaching out. But that’s not how it always goes down. Real world coping can get messy. Real world coping can get murky.
So yes, if you can, please find ways to cope that aren’t harmful. And if they are harmful, try and access support in order to shift to less harmful ways. However, beloveds, please, try and forgive the ways your spirit and psyche protect you during and after a trauma.
I found myself coping in ways and with behaviors that were unfamiliar to me. I felt like a stranger — a stranger I did not necessarily like. However, as time has passed, I have learned to be grateful for all the things that brought me through. Survival sometimes requires change. Often, it demands it.
3. Your interests might change (and that’s okay)
Maybe you found religion. Maybe you lost religion. Maybe you can’t watch the same shows anymore. Maybe you need to move out of the city you’ve been living in for the past several years. Maybe you’ve become more introverted.
Again, seek support if you feel you aren’t handling the stress of trauma well. But also try to be open to the multiple ways you shift.
What you need, what you desire, what you can tolerate, what you seek out might change. Taking care of yourself is most important.
Make peace with your(new)self
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There was a point in my life when I became obsessed with the idea of getting back to who I was, who I used to be. I equated this “return” with healing. I was convinced that all I had to do was untangle the mythical ‘real’ me from what I felt was a tainted, traumatized version of me. I saw any change in me as evidence and artifact of something I had to move on from.
It took me a long time to not only let go of that idea of healing, but to also find gratitude for the fact that I had taken care of myself in the best ways I knew how to. And even though I still mourned what I sometimes still imagine as lost parts of myself, I had to learn to accept and cherish who I had become.
Please don’t mistake healing with not changing.
Getting through difficult things is by its nature difficult. Changing is not a sign of weakness or flaw.
We shift, we change, we heal, we move on, we get stuck, we get stuck in the pursuit of moving on, we adapt, we falter. Making peace with yourself through all these journeys is so very important to loving yourself; to loving all of yourself.
[Feature Image: A person with light brown skin and long black hair is pictured gazing upwards toward the sky. They are photographed from the neck up, with the camera positioned from below. Behind them is an illuminated grey background. Source: Pexels]