Out with the old, in with the new
One of the greatest fears trauma survivors have when beginning therapy is "Who will I be without all of 'this'?" This suffering? This anger? This fear? These coping mechanisms?? Will the relationships I have be tenable? Maybe my job requires that I be tough and handle crisis situations quickly and calmly. What if I can't do my job anymore when I start to feel again?
I get it. Hundred percent have been there. I didn't want to take off my mask of perfection and cold stoic exterior (okay, I thought it was stoic, it really just came off as pissed at the world). Nevertheless, that seemed really unsafe and frankly, undesirable. I didn't want to be some crying heap of a mess girl that people could walk all over and take advantage of.
Wow! Did you see that pendulum swing from one extreme to the other? Either I have all the feelings and no control or all the control and none of the feelings.
The reality is, we don't know what a healed version of ourselves looks like when we set out on the journey. For some of us, the trauma started so young, we don't know who we are without it. That's terrifying when you think about it.
What we do know is that more and more the research is telling us that unaddressed trauma is emotional and physical toxic sludge that courses through our bodies like poison and puts us at higher risk of a myriad of illness and mental health issues. That's not even mentioning the relational issues it presents. Trauma is not just a thing that happened to you. If unaddressed, it is stored up in your body as unexpressed energy that will grow. If you've ever seen French Kiss with Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline, her line "Fester, fester, fester. Rot, rot, rot." comes to mind. It festers and grows.
Victims of abuse and neglect have increased risk of being revictimized. The research seems to suggest that predators know how to spot victims and the emotional wounding often times makes victims less likely to be able to spot a predator. That means, undealt with trauma also puts you at risk to be hurt again.
I don't promise my clients anything when they come to therapy - except that it typically gets worse before it gets better. (Obvi, I'm a great salesperson...missed my calling for sure!) It will hurt like hell. Some clients even experience somatic disruption as they express that energy left behind by their wounds that is painful. But, a little time after it gets worse, most suddenly realize they are better. Even though it hurts, it hurts like physical therapy for a broken leg hurts...There's healing taking place and they can feel it.
The final promise I make is that you are not your trauma nor are you your coping mechanisms. Anyone who loves you sees beneath that layer to the core of who you are. Therapy will not change that. It won't change your essence. It won't change your character. It won't make you a different person.
I ran into an acquaintance from college over the holidays and he remarked that I seemed different. I asked him what he meant. He said, "I don't know. I guess more comfortable in your own skin. Relaxed. At peace."
That's probably all accurate. It felt good to know that the outside is reflecting what has taken place on the inside. I am more comfortable in my own skin. I am more at peace. I am happier. I can just "be" in a way I was not able prior to therapy.
Probably my favorite part of being a therapist is seeing a client 2-3 months into treatment look back on their progress and go, "Wow...this is better. This has been hard, but so worth it!"