Someone messaged me on my Facebook page last week. “How do you do it,” they asked, “the Post Traumatic Growth?”
For those who haven’t heard of PTG – Post Traumatic Growth – it’s kinda the other end of the spectrum from PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is officially defined as “positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges in order to rise to a higher level of functioning.” In lay person’s terms, or at least to me, it means learning, growing, and thriving after trauma as opposed to only being consumed, defined, and conquered by trauma.
When I first left the church, my only choice for survival, it seemed, was to ignore, deny, and repress all of it. To believe that my childhood was weird but not bad and that I was fine. Remember, I am someone who, when I was cut to my knees and crawled into Al-Anon, could only think, “tell me if he’s an alcoholic. There is no reason I would ever be with an alcoholic!” I had the blessing and curse of being – or at least seeming – extremely functional, well-adjusted, and “achieving” by society’s standards. When one of my first therapists told me that in order to heal I would have to integrate the Church and my experiences into my self and my life, my first response was to curse at her. And then to adamantly proclaim that, again, only by ignoring, denying, and repressing it was I still alive and standing.
As I came to realize that there was, in fact, every reason why I would be with an alcoholic, I became my story and my wounds and my dysfunction. Only my story, my wounds, and my dysfunction. I defined myself by my trauma, and when a best friend pointed out that I actually suffered from “complex trauma” that became even more of a mantle I wore – sometimes proudly and sometimes dripping with shame.
One of the weird things about trauma survivors, or at least about me, is that we (I) have a seemingly endless internal battle. Part of me used to fully know that I was loathsome and damaged beyond repair from all that happened to and around me, and part of me used to chastise myself whenever I talked about my suffering. “It wasn’t that bad,” I’d hear myself say to myself. “Other people have it far, far worse.” I think that may actually be part of PTSD, or at least part of my PTSD.
While it is true that there are, unfortunately, way too many people whose childhoods were horrific and horrifically more traumatic than mine, I’m happy to say that I’ve lessened that battle in my head. I can own that it was tough. I’ve dulled the litany of “don’t complain, only be grateful, and if you’re suffering it’s because you’re sinful and you need and deserve to suffer” that I was given as a child.
I’m also happy to say that, more and more, I’ve moved (I move) from PTSD to PTG.
The what – psychologists who research PTG say that it tends to occur in five general areas:
- Appreciation of life
- Relationship with others
- New possibilities in life
- Personal strength
- Spiritual change.
As someone who has worked long and hard to come to some sort of peace with my experiences and to (hopefully) use my story to bring some sort of peace and hope to others – and as someone who intentionally focuses on appreciation, love and loving, finding and owning my personal power, and connecting as deeply as possible with others and with the universe – I can say that all five aspects of PTG ring true to me.
The how – which is what this person was asking in their Facebook message – in some ways that’s trickier and in some ways that’s simpler. For me, the process entailed:
- owning and integrating it all (thank you early therapist).
- allowing myself hours and years of regurgitating and crying,
- finding my anger and expressing my terror (ask me about the EMDR therapy sessions when I, literally, screamed for an hour),
- developing and/or finding many, many, many tools and resources,
- replacing the lies that I was given and that I created in order to survive (but first thanking myself for the lies and coping mechanisms I created in order to survive), and
- building the strongest SELF COMPASSION practice possible.
It all starts with my hand on my heart and my love for myself. With owning my brilliance and magnificence. With knowing that my life’s purpose is to love and loving with all my heart. With looking for the good and the beauty and anything and everything that will and anyone and everyone who will ease my heart and soar my spirit.
The person who messaged me on Facebook ended her message with: “I’ve spent my entire life just trying not to drown…I’m ready to swim. I want to trust people & the process. I want to feel joy without waiting for something horrible to happen. I really relate to and love your book. Thank you for taking the time to help people like me.”
I have learned how to feel joy. I have learned how to trust people and the process, and perhaps even more importantly, to trust myself. I am no longer drowning (although I still can’t swim), and I am so much more than my story and my trauma. And I’m eternally grateful if I am helping anyone on their journey through sharing my journey.
I guess that’s what Post Traumatic Growth is to me and how I do it. At least for today.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, and please share this post with others if it resonates with you!