10 ways I put myself back together after trauma

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This is me at 17 years of age

I can’t tell you how much the response meant to me after I posted Til it Happens to you. The support was incredible! I was too overcome to respond for a while. People have asked how I got through it all. I suffered status epilepticus at 13, meaning I had continual seizures which couldn’t be controlled. I stopped breathing and was in a coma. It took a long time to recover from this event (it was predicted I wouldn’t). The next year, I met a monster, and was abused. The finale was being thrown off a building at fifteen. My healing has taken over twenty years. There are some things that have helped.

1. I can’t handle violence of any kind. I can’t discuss literature, nor movies, let alone view them, if they are violent. At first, I didn’t want people to think I was fragile. I didn’t want them to see the distress that talking about violence (parcelled as entertainment to the masses), conjured. I would pretend that it wasn’t hurting me. Nowadays, I don’t pretend. I gracefully bow out of conversations and invitations which would bring me into this sphere.

2. I couldn’t leave the house by myself, even to go to the letterbox. It has taken many years and many small trips to gather the strength to go farther afield. I plan ahead, and the apps I have on my phone make my preparations easier. If you are agoraphobic, be kind to yourself. Every little step is a triumph. My major incentive was that I had to get to the IVF clinic early in the morning, and simply had to do it. It made me braver than I actually felt! Now I take my daughter everywhere, and the freedom is liberating!

3. I have had to confront my deepest fears. The ones I was frightened of encountering, as I would surely fall apart. My fears included rejection, loneliness, being left alone and finding out that people weren’t as they appeared. Confronting these fears has been terrifying, and it has hurt. I have uncovered that people I looked up to were abusive behind closed doors. I have been let down and let go, but I have survived. I learnt not to leave myself behind in the process. Comforting myself became of premium importance.

4. People see a smiling, functional adult when you are out and about. They don’t recollect the child kept alive in Intensive Care on a respirator. They came into my life during a different chapter. I know what it took to get to here. The hundreds of hours of physiotherapy, the scores of surgeries… I have to remind myself of my achievements and give myself a quiet pat on the back.

5. Boundaries are a big one for a survivor. I felt as vulnerable as a newborn when I started to make a life for myself. I believed anything anyone said, and believed everyone was a friend. It has taken trial and many errors to come up with boundaries, and to trust my judgement above all else. It was a revelation, to give myself the space to honour my instincts. If a person or situation doesn’t sit right, and makes me uncomfortable, I walk away. It is imperative to do so, as I have a little girl watching me. I need to display good boundaries so she knows that its okay to be in touch with her own. It has sometimes taken me being struck mute in the company of somebody who is toxic, for me to comprehend that my body is trying to protect me by producing physical symptoms. I am free, and thus I get to decide who stays in my life. It may not be anything that anyone is doing. Rather,  they remind me of someone from the past. I still have to honour my discomfort.

6. Things will trigger me on a daily basis, and much of it is out of my control. It could be a song coming on in the supermarket, an aftershave I detect in passing. It might be a conversation, or visiting a friend in a hospital where I had prior surgery. Deep breaths are required, and sometimes a visit to the lady’s restroom to compose myself. I tell myself that my anxiety is a natural reaction, and I am doing fine. If I am with close friends, I will tell them that a memory has come up. If I am not, I will breath deeply, find a focal spot to concentrate on, and reassure myself quietly.

7. I will not drink to excess, nor take tablets to blot out a bad day. Sometimes, the memories hit hard, and along with the massive amount of pain I suffer, it becomes overwhelming. Alcohol is a depressant, and thus, is disastrous as an antidote. I will only have alcohol when in the company of friends at dinner, or as a toast of celebration. It only compounds the depression which inevitably comes after overworked adrenals have crashed. Instead, I go for a walk, swim or am otherwise active. It helps tremendously.

8. I will space out at times. When you hardly sleep, and are in pain, it happens naturally. When you put flashbacks or a panic attack into the mix, let’s say I am sometimes  away with the fairies! Writing (and preparing for a writing task), also lends itself to spacing out. If you holler at me on the street and I don’t respond, that’s why! I am escaping into my inner world, which is expansive and magical. I nearly jump out of my skin when I am walking along and a car beeps me. I remain jittery for the rest of the day. I am hyper vigilant; always scanning a crowd for danger, even when in my own world. It’s quite a combination!

9. You are allowed to say “no” to a request. You are allowed to rest. I keep going until I can’t, and at that point, I retreat for a bit. I have to. It is a revelation, when you learn that you can keep free spaces in the calendar. Even thirty minutes to sip tea and daydream is heavenly. I need time alone to restore and reboot. Time is precious, and I try to use it wisely.

10. My survival has been an odyssey of epic proportions. I tried to run from the memories. I attempted to smother them, as one instinctively does a fire. The smoke streams from underneath the cloth, and then the flames explode forth in a cacophony of rage. It is like burning off disease, only to have damaging adhesions form underneath. Running doesn’t work, and it certainly doesn’t help. Over many years, I have visited my places of trauma. I have wept and I have released at each site. I only did so when I was ready. You have to be ready. My natural instinct is still to run when triggered, but now I have tools. They come in the form of a laptop, a paintbrush, a pastel. They come to me as bird song, my walking shoes, my friends and my music.

When I was a child, I had big dreams. I had a determined spirit and an acute awareness that what was being done to me was not only wrong, but evil. I felt as though a cannon had ripped through my psyche, smattering me into pieces. Over time, I have laid out all the pieces, and put them into place. I am glued, sewn, fused and grafted together. I was once a china doll. Now I am reinforced and can never be broken again. It takes time to heal. You will want to give up. You will consider yourself beyond repair. You will want to run and you will try to escape your own mind. You will want to give up. Please don’t. The joy of finally accessing the tools to help you cope are worth the fight.

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27 thoughts on “10 ways I put myself back together after trauma

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  1. This is really comforting to read. It’s nice to see others journeys that are so similar to my own.
    It helps me to be more compassionate with myself because I instantly feel it for others who’s stories I read.
    I’m so glad you are finding recovery. Thank you for sharing 🙂 ❤

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  2. Beautifully written. You are living life full.

    My way of surviving is to have a Service Dog. My current one is a female Belgian Malinois. She keeps me safe by protecting me from unsafe people, and letting me know who is safe.

    The combination of Asperger Syndrome and C-PTSD makes it difficult to “read” people. I isolate myself with my dog, in that I don’t do social stuff or have friends, but that’s my safe place, and I’ve learned that being OK with that is just fine.

    Sending fond thoughts from one survivor to you,

    Laura

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You show si many of us how to overcome challenges and make me want to appreciate my own life with manybless perils included.
    Your story does make me ashamed at my small challenges and will hope to not be whiny! Thanks for sharing your struggles and small steps to make progress. I imagine having your daughter helps you to grow stronger so she won’t ever suffer as you did by being molested, dear. Hugs and kisses to you and your daughter, Raphaela. ❤

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  4. Raphaela, your post brought tears to my eyes. Not tears of sadness because of where you went through (which is almost unbelievable) but tears of being deeply moved how far you have come and that you yourself achieved it with a strong will and discipline to make it! I always had a huge respect for you, but it has multiplied after reading this. You definitely can pad yourself on the back. You are one of the strongest and motivating women I ever met!

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  5. It is a joy to read about your triumphs and to know that you have reached a place where your insights and coping skills help you to find happiness despite the pain. You have learned so much but to be able to articulate that and share it with others so that they too can be empowered in their lives is a special gift. Congratulations on your achievements so far. Many hugs xxx Love Jod

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Wow, what an inspiration you are to thousands out there. The will not to broken and to share your experiences to ultimately help others simply remarkable so pleased to have read your blog today you are one awesome lady 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My goodness, you’ve been through a lot of terrible experiences. I’m so glad that you’ve managed to get through it all. It must have taken tremendous effort and courage.

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  8. You’ve done amazingly well. You sound a very determined lady and this must have been a fantastic aid to recovery as must he birth of your daughter. Well done, I’m very glad you decided to fight back against the odds that were stacked against you.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You are an incredibly strong and brave woman. I have such admiration for you and wish you only the best as you travel forward in life. Thank you for sharing your story and for giving hope to others who have gone through similar trauma as yours. xo

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