By Raechel Winklestine
This is for you. This is for me. This is addressing the horror, the invisible illness: childhood trauma.
You might feel broken right now. No matter how long ago the trauma happened, resurfaced or how many years you have been on this dizzy, circular ride of healing, you still carry a part of you etched in emptiness. I want you to know it is OK to not be OK.
It is time to give ourselves permission to be human and love the parts of ourselves we feel are ugliest. The past couple weeks, I have cowered inwardly with shame as I fight desires to scratch my face hard or hit myself after I had an argument with someone. I want to make myself hurt physically because the pain is so deep. In the middle of these days with this fight, I still have wonderful moments of car dancing, laughing and completing challenging yoga poses.
Four years ago, repressed memories of sexual abuse came up while I was simply living my life. For a year, I hid in silence, went to doctors because I thought I was crazy and convinced myself it must be a brain tumor. During this time, horrid poetry surfaced in my journaling sessions and nightmares haunted me. I tried to run but it needed to be recognized.
You, reading this, you are beautiful even if you feel broken. What broke you was not beautiful. It was terror, but you who are reading this, you woke up today. You are so beautiful! You are so brave! When childhood trauma resurfaces, over and over again, in different pieces throughout our adult lives, we spiral, and we have every right to spiral.
I was hospitalized four times in 2014 for suicidal ideation. I was diagnosed with different disorders each time. I finally met a therapist who said, “Raechel, what happened to you was horrible. You are going to have symptoms of several different mental illnesses as the chaos is being processed.” Then, I read a similar statement in one of my workbooks. I recognize symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, borderline personality and anxiety. I haven’t found one label to attach but learning a little about each has helped me face parts of my trauma.
When approached with love from myself and others, I find a puzzle piece of healing slips in. I hate that I am suffering with desires to inflict self-harm, but four years ago I wanted to kill myself. It may sound silly, but how wonderful I don’t want to take my own life right now. I never promise it won’t get that bad again because I have to validate the weight of my pain and recognize I don’t know what the future holds, but I am doing my best.
I was doing my best then too. The hospitalizations were traumatizing, but I was doing my best. Now, I talk to someone and tell them. I have the hotline number in my phone if I am feeling too embarrassed to tell a friend.
I am beautifully broken. We are warriors who have walked through the fires of hell and faced its flames, learning how to be different than those who harmed us, tell our stories to therapists, friends, journals and discussing medicine, art, healthy food and all of the lists and plans we make for daily self-care or for in case of a crisis. The strength all of this takes is draining. Yes, it ends up being worth it, but it is so so hard because it is you and I who have to do the work on ourselves.
There are so many aspects to one moment that trigger us and a thousand emotions swirling at once. At one time, I want to hurt myself, just to release pain somehow. I want to wail loudly, pound the walls and then scream. I want someone to come save me, even though I need the room to breathe.
It is so hard for people in our lives to know what we need. It is so hard to learn what we need. Right now I tell my loved ones exactly when I am bothered, even when I know it is my own stuff. I acknowledge it is my stuff but their willingness to speak through it with me makes a huge impact. Some part of me needs that healing. I have to share, even if it doesn’t make sense. In my healing from trauma, I also have to allow other people to be human and make mistakes. This is why five or six people supporting me is a good idea.
There are many parts to healing. The only good advice I have gotten (which is also the hardest) is to be kind to yourself. Recognize the little steps because they are actually huge, wonderful steps. It is OK to fall. It is OK to want attention, to want to be saved. It is OK to eat popcorn and watch chick flicks or Marvel movies all day in the dark.
Have grace for yourself, as with each day, even each hour, your needs may be different. Sure, we have emotions and habits that can be unhealthy, but we are learning, growing and honoring that the process is lifelong and hard. This is for those who feel beautifully broken, to the invisible illness of childhood trauma destroying us one moment and proving our amazing strength the next. To the moments we want to be normal and for no one to know what happened, to the moments where we need to shout it out. You may feel beautifully broken, but you are beautifully brave!
Editor’s Note: This article is part of #YourVoice, an ongoing column published on this website by individual contributors in their own personal capacity and that involves the opinions, recollections and/or information provided by such contributors, and which does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this website. Raechel is a poet and author of several articles related to trauma. She has many passions including yoga in the woods, exploring with her Siberian husky, eating Indian food and teaching therapeutic horseback riding to people of all ages. Her deepest calling is to love herself and encourage others through compassion and understanding. This article first appeared on The Mighty.