People often talk about ‘healing trauma’ as though there is an ending. Some sort of arrival if you attend enough therapy sessions, do enough yoga, find the right medicine or stay consistent in prayer or rooted in your faith…However, in my experience, most survivors never experience complete healing. Instead, we choose to walk towards healing, learning a new way to navigate life with the moments our brains and bodies cannot forget.
As a survivor, I can claim a seat at many tables: groomed, sexually abused, molested and manipulated to sate depraved minds. I’ve bore witness to drug abuse and violence before finding solace in my own vices to dull the pain and yet the thing that has irrevocably caused me the most grief is relinquishing my rights to parent my daughter. I was fourteen when words like ‘adoption plan’ were pushed in front of me like a restaurant menu with only one meal listed on dull bi fold pages.
“But I’d like to try…” every plea cut short. There was nothing else to try. It didn’t matter that I wanted to keep my child. I was fourteen, and a burden, and the only thing being offered was adoption or leave…leave where, what other tables had an extra seat for a fourteen year old burden and her unborn child?
But conceding wasn’t enough, I was expected to move on within the week of placement and smile…my grief was palpable and uncomfortable. So I learned to survive, existing just enough to laugh on cue and choke on my tears at night. By the time the almost daily sexual abuse began, just six weeks postpartum, I had been trained to suppress the pain and soldier on. No one knew that the girl up to bat was disassociating from her trauma or that the kid sleeping in class wasn’t disinterested, she just couldn’t sleep much at home most nights. She survived.
Trauma is what happened to me and grief is what it left in its wake.
Grief followed me when I ran away. It was a steadfast companion on my journey to build a better life. It was with me when I fell in love, got married, and especially as we started our family. It’s here with me now, nineteen years post placement, happily married, a parenting mother, a kinship adoptive mother, and a birthmother, nearly eleven years into a beautiful reunion with my daughter, it’s here.
So if those who have endured trauma can’t forget, how can we heal and if we can’t actually completely heal, how can we be a healthy partner or parent?
We fight for the things that illuminate life and hold fast to hope. We seek healing and know that it is often messy. We find solace in community or scripture or both. We extend grace to ourselves when we fall short and never remain too proud to apologize…especially to our children or spouse. We go to therapy if we have the resources and realize the first few may not be a good fit and that’s okay, we keep looking. If we can’t afford therapy, we find good books like The Body Keeps the Score and therapists on social media that can help us understand behaviors and encourage our healing with a growth mindset. We dismiss the idea that all distraction is a hindrance and utilize healthy distraction as needed. It’s okay to not live in our past trauma constantly. We let go of the idea that healing returns us to a state of unblemished perfection and embrace the Japanese practice of Kintsugi, repairing broken pottery with gold. The damage isn’t thrown away, or even hidden, it’s mended then admired as part of the story.