Life can be a supreme struggle sometimes, right? There are days when I feel like it’s all too much, and the simplest things feel like monumental tasks. Guilt and shame creep in, and I ask myself, Why does everything seem so hard? Why can’t I be as functional as my friend, who takes everything in her/his stride? Even after years of recovering, there are periods of time when I feel like I am constantly just dragging myself through life.

Today is one of those days. As I sit at my desk trying to write, I have to dig deep to pull myself out of the thick sludge in my brain to find the positivity. It can be a challenge not to drown in thoughts that support there being something dreadfully wrong with me. My body is willing me to go back to bed and my head is determined to render me useless as it pounds in my skull. But I’ve done all the work to understand that trauma in a persons’ life can still affect them even decades later. Even when life seems simple and non-complicated, the affects of trauma can strike a sharp and debilitating blow.

Every single one of us has had traumatic events in our lives.

These events have different outcomes for different people. There are no set number of days, months or years that you must be over it. In my experience, you are never over it, but you get better at trauma being something that has impacted you and living with that fact.

In my past, my way of dealing with trauma was to abuse substances. I had no clue that’s why I over-indulged or what I had been through was even considered trauma. It took me many years to understand the concept of trauma and what it actually was. I played a huge blame game, and I was the central target of that blame. The level of self-hate I had was through the roof and I basically thought I was worthless and big trouble.

So finally I understood what was going on.

I was having reactions to huge trauma from childhood and throughout my life and I had no tools or information on how to take care of myself. Clearly the berating and hating myself wasn’t working. The drinking, eating disorders, searching for love and acceptance amongst other disordered behaviours were dragging me deeper and deeper into hell.

Through different therapists I was introduced to books like You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L Hay, and Melody Beattie books on Co-dependency. Later in my recovery I was introduced to Dr Jamie Marich and her book Trauma and the 12 Steps. In these books I read about myself. I still remember the relief I felt when every line described my life. Everything down to how I navigated relationships, my thought patterns, how I ate – everything described me! Not only that, but I learned about compassion for self, the reasons why I had these behaviours and – OH JOY – how to change the behaviours.

The painful part of this process though, was that it highlighted the part other peoples’ actions had in my life. It may seem strange but it was easier for me to hate myself than to look at the neglectful actions of others towards me, particularly as a child. That hurt so bad that I still have trouble with it. I then got furiously angry while trying to process that. The deeper I got into my heart the more I could see that I already knew all this stuff, but to protect others I stayed in my place of denial and hated myself instead. Text book co-dependency!

Once the anger had dissipated, I had room to find compassion.

I realised that the people who hurt me also experienced trauma which led them to have certain behavioural patterns. It also taught me how to allow those people to be responsible for their own actions. I didn’t own them so I could let them go. Trauma weaves a very intricate and deadly web.

I lived most of my life in anxiety and fear but over time the fear and anxiety have, for the most part, ceased to be part of me. However, on days like today I have to use every tool I know to bring myself back to the hear and now.

Self-care must be a priority.

When it’s not and I push myself to the limit I crash unmercifully. I have learned to recognise that this pushing is also part of my reaction to past trauma. That self-punishment feels good on some level – again a concept that took me years to understand. There are always triggers that result in how I’m feeling today. Sometimes they are obvious and sometimes they are not. I’m fully aware of what my triggers are in this instance so self-analysis is not required, but self-care definitely is.

Self-care for me has to be a daily thing. It is very simple but as I have written about on several occasions, simplicity in my life is how I stay well. Its funny how we constantly reach for the sky when really all we need is right here on the ground.

Good quality sleep is an absolute must for me. I went for years not sleeping much at all so good sleep for me these days feels like total luxury.

Good food also is top of the list. I used to obsess over calories and making sure I ate the bare minimum. Now I’m worried if I didn’t get enough nutrients into my body during the day. I turned my thoughts about food from one of control and punishment to one of nurturing and love.

Exercise is also very important for me. It helps me not only physically but mentally and emotionally too. I choose High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) because I really need that for the kind of person I am. It dislodges so much pent up anger and frustration and I’ve been known to cry during a workout for no apparent reason. I’ve come to understand that present emotion may have no relevance to right now, but can be related to past hurt held in the body. I also take walks with my partner and our dogs every evening in the countryside which is more a therapeutic exercise than anything else.

They talk a lot in Trauma Recovery circles about connection. I’m still working on that one. I am still quite a loner. Navigating the dynamics of human interaction is still often times more than I can bare. I have a very small circle of people I engage with which are joyful, healthy relationships. I do feel the pangs of loneliness sometimes and crave a more vivid and colourful social life. Maybe I’ll get there eventually.

Trauma once held me captive.

These days though, it plays a role in keeping me on track and enables me to have an intimate relationship with who I really am. I have accepted my past, and that allows me to live fully in the present. That’s another thing that recovery has brought me – the ability to always find a silver lining!

Nicola O'Hanlon
Author

Nicola is a health & wellness coach with 20 years experience helping people heal and find their path. She is a qualified reflexologist, masseuse and life coach nd has created content for intherooms.com for 7 years. She was editor at iloverecovery.com and has written for many recovery publications online and in print. She is also an author at The Girl God books. She is currently studying yoga and Ayurveda specific to Women's Health. She has lived with type 1 diabetes for 38 years, since she was 7 years old.

7 Comments

  1. Thank you Nicola for this ‘searching and fearless’ description of your recovery journey. I resonate with you.

    May our courage lead us to peace

  2. I recently have been investigating the part trauma has played in my life now.
    Thank you for your honesty.

  3. Kathryn Stewart Reply

    I’m a 75 yo female in the midst of chaos from childhood trauma, in a 23 year relationship that he is ending,, full of fear and anxiety. Thank you for your words on self-care–I desperately need them.

  4. Nicola, thank you so much for sharing your reality. I am 61 years old and am still dealing with trauma issues from severe childhood trauma. I related to protecting my predators and choosing to hate myself. Also, needing simplicity bigtime in my life in order to have the best quality of life. God bless your healing. Bless you, Tammy

  5. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing. I never had anybody ever explain trauma and the aftermath in a way that describes me perfectly. You have provided hope that all perseverance will be worth it.

  6. Thanks for sharing.
    I am 67 learning to cope living in the area that I grew up in. After intense I vivo exposure therapy for 9 months we then had an extreme fire season. This brought back many traumatic childhood memories. Now like everyone, I am cocooned at home with this pandemic. My personal motivation is very low.

  7. Thank you so much for being so honest about how you have handled trauma in the past and how you handle trauma now. Being a therapist, I thought I knew all about trauma personally and book-wise but what I didn’t know was that I was struggling from the effects of childhood and adult trauma having been gaslighted my whole life by my mother who was raised in trauma. I’ve been struggling with suicidal thoughts every day and until your article did not realize that I was punishing myself. I am very determined to love myself now and understand my emotions and comfort myself. Thank you for your insight.

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