Edited by Melissa Drake
This is part two in a two-part series about how I've navigated complex trauma. Click here to read part one: My journey Into And Out of Darkness.
I was nearly 30 years old before finally waking up to the realization that things were no longer working in my life and desperately needed to change. My therapy had come to a standstill, and I had tried everything available short of a lobotomy (yes, I asked); psychotherapies, medications and even shock treatments. I was desperate, but nothing offered lasting results.
For most of my life, I looked to medical professionals for advice, hoping an accurate diagnosis would lead to an absolute cure. I was convinced they were the experts who held the magical key to the box of answers I was so desperately seeking.
I had been willingly (and unconsciously) handing over my power and my body to science. No one could get a handle on my symptoms or even settle on a diagnosis, so they just kept adding more medication to try to get me to baseline functioning. At one point, my doctor had me on so many meds I had double vision and slurred speech.
One Saturday morning, I received a surprise call from my therapist (who was not affiliated with my psychiatrist). She was deeply concerned I was being over medicated and mishandled, and encouraged me to advocate for myself. The tone in her voice frightened me, so I took her words to heart. She cared enough to risk everything for me (including the position she held at the counseling center).
She told me several times during our work together that I inherently knew how and what I needed to heal. She even encouraged occasional breaks from our regular sessions, explaining that scheduled play time was just as vital to my well-being as the deep work we were doing.
Most importantly, she believed in me when I had no other support, and she wasn’t afraid to sit with me or my pain.
That Saturday changed my mindset about who and what I would continue to allow within my healing space. I took the advice of my therapist and expressed my concerns with my doctor. I insisted it wasn’t acceptable (or normal) to have compromised vision or impaired speech, and I needed to feel and be more in control of my own body.
He sat stunned and almost panicked as I told him of my action plan. That was the last time I ever saw him.
I was determined to find a professional who would understand, appropriately treat, challenge and support me. I would run from those who doubted, limited, or tried to stuff me into a diagnostic box.
I’d heard of a man who took on “hard core” abuse cases. (You overhear lots of things in hospitals.) I felt he might be a good choice, so I followed my gut and scheduled a session with him. He didn’t let me down.
I applied for disability for my Major Depressive Disorder, and thankfully within one year, I started receiving benefits. I was adamant about taking as little medication as possible so I could function at the highest possible level. My new doctor dutifully and respectfully complied with my wishes.
I began listening to my body and following its lead. It was a slow and steady process, and there was sabotage along the way. I lost several good therapists at critical times during my recovery, due to strange and not-so-coincidental “circumstances.” One disappeared mysteriously overnight, and one was let go from her unpaid internship. (My chart, incidentally, went missing and never resurfaced.)
When you start to heal from the inside out, people around you notice, and their response is not always favorable. They may become confused (even infuriated) when you challenge them or don’t behave and respond to them in familiar ways. My experience was no exception. There were serious consequences for both seeking and speaking the truth.
In the end, I had to cut some ties, and walking away was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. However, I don’t doubt for a minute that it saved my life.
I had to break all addictive patterns, and that included relational addictions too, especially to those with a vested interest in keeping their secrets safe. Those individuals will not tolerate healing and will undermine your best interests.
I’ve started over in therapy many times. While this has frustrated me, I never allowed it to stop my relentless pursuit of recovery and happiness. Somehow, I knew happiness was my basic right as a living, breathing human being.
I don’t have much respect for people who quit therapy after a setback because it’s “just too hard to start over again.” Life is nothing if not about starting all over again. It’s really a matter of priorities.
I wanted my life back, and I fought relentlessly for it. I’m worth it.
I’ve had many counselors, and each one brought something new to the table. I was held accountable for my thoughts and behaviors, and I eventually stopped blaming everyone else for everything wrong in my life. I finally started accepting responsibility for my own choices, actions and reactions.
After three years on disability, I returned to the workforce where I’ve since stayed.
This process is not for the faint of heart, and I continue to work on and surround myself with people who call me out on my BS. (My kids take this job very seriously.) It’s necessary, because I sometimes slip. If I want to be a healthy person and attract healthy people, I need to keep my thoughts and behaviors in check.
It has taken years of practice, brutal honesty (with myself and others) and sheer determination to unwire old, distorted and self-destructive thought patterns and ways of being.
I employed many different cognitive and trauma- based therapies, and highly recommend adding Reiki, Polarity Therapy, Somatic Release, and/or Myofascial Release for anyone who has suffered physical or sexual abuse. It removes constrictions in the body and creates new energy flow to expedite the healing process.
I've experienced major wins and I've had some huge setbacks throughout my journey.
I have loved and lost but, through it all, I am finally loving myself. I might get tired and I might take breaks, but I don't give up.
I won’t. My kids are counting on my promise to stay, right here with them, where I belong.
I still contend with the unpredictable nature of C-PTSD, but I’m becoming much more aware of my patterns. I continue to feel the emotions associated with fragmented memories, but I realize today, I can choose not to ride the Thoughts/Feelings Train into the land of oblivion.
I can choose to acknowledge feelings with the eyes of curiosity and compassion, and let them to move through me instead of letting them consume and ravage me.
I can focus forward, until the vision I hold for my life comes to fruition. I can remind myself of who I really am through meditation, by silently and deliberately connecting to everything and everyone I know and love.
PTSD and depression have been part of my journey, but they don't have to define me. They have taught me great lessons about myself, my brain, my experiences and human nature.
I now believe people are doing the best they can, at any given moment, with the skills they have. I also now know that what happened to me wasn't personal. It was a direct result of old, established patterns and mindsets passed on by abused and broken generations.
The difference today is having the awareness and ability to stop that cycle, for my children and the generations to come.
That, my friends, is badass!
Also published on The Good Men Project
Edited by Melissa Drake
I was talking about suicide the day my sister took her life.
I don’t recall how it came up, but I do remember hearing about my client’s close friend who battled depression and suicidal thoughts. I don’t remember if I mentioned anything about my sister, but I do recall the final words I uttered on the subject that day...
“I’ve been in that desperate place, and I could never blame anyone for wanting to end that kind of torment.”
Those words will probably haunt me until I’m dead.
I also remember finishing work early that day and feeling giddy about having some alone time before picking my kids up from daycare. I recall hopping in the car and considering my options, but as home drew closer, I became tired and unsettled. After arriving home, I thought about napping, but I felt too agitated. Disappointed by my sudden energy drain, I decided to forego the time to myself and collected my kids early instead.
It all makes sense in retrospect. Although we hadn’t been physically close in years, my sister and I had a very strong energetic connection. My body knew she’d left before my brain found out.
I still shudder when I think back to that afternoon. Honestly, I’d rather pretend it never happened and return to my life as I knew it before she died. But, then again, would I really?
That is the question.
The silence in Elizabeth’s home was an unexpected comfort to me in the days following her passing. The time I spent there surrounded by family, friends and her personal treasures, helped me to release fear and reconnect to the love and light that was always her energetic core. I don’t know how to adequately explain the healing that took place during that tender time. It was the stillness. I could feel her in the stillness.
When I returned home after the memorial, I attempted to get back to work and to life as I had always known it. Nothing was “as I’d always known it,” though, and something deep inside of me was beginning to stir. I started seeing my own dysfunction: The way I’d kept quiet when I had something to say. The way I’d held myself back from doing the things I said I’d always wanted to do.
What happened? Where had I gone?
I was waking up out of a thirty-year slumber and realizing the life I was leading no longer made sense to me. I had been hiding for years; behind my sister, behind my kids and even behind my husband. I finally saw the truth.
It was as though a halogen light beamed directly onto my current reality and I had no other choice than to look directly at it (and without the added comfort of protective eye-wear). It wasn’t pretty.
I had been living a lie.
Somehow, I managed to cram myself into a tiny closet behind a mountain of random shit, and none of it belonged to me. What I had been doing, how I had been behaving and even what I had been wearing suddenly didn’t make sense anymore. It wasn’t me.
I can remember sitting on my bed, shaking my head and thinking, “Oh my God. They’re both gone. The two people in my life who helped me to survive our trauma didn’t survive our trauma.
Was it possible that the decades I spent in therapy yapping, emoting, grieving and processing kept me alive? I was always considered the "emotional disaster" of the family. I was labeled the “sick” one.
I sat completely stunned with this “new” revelation and woke up instantly to my power and who I really was. I immediately knew what I wanted, and I wasn’t about to wait for anyone to give me permission to live my life anymore. It was time.
No more would I wait to do what I always longed to. No more would I hold myself back out of fear because I might fail, or because something might not work out as I’d planned. My days of waiting were over. If I was going to fall on my face… well then… so be it!
I created a list of things I’d always wanted to do but never did because of lack (lack of energy, lack of time, lack of money, lack of courage, lack of support) and then I got moving.
My list didn’t include skydiving, but it did include things like taking classes, drawing, singing jazz, creating a blog, writing poetry, zip-lining, and most importantly, getting some additional support. I was in desperate need of some girl time.
My daughter loaned me a book called “Prosperity Pie- How to Relax about Money and Everything Else,” and told me I would love it. I read it in two days, and then found a six-month online webinar called “Manifesting Your Succulent Wild Life,” created and led by the same inspirational author (who calls herself SARK). SARK’s book and webinar thoroughly nurtured my new life venture.
Within the online group, I was granted access to some of the most powerful, creative, and courageous women I have ever known! Together, we took a brave (and sometimes dark) dive into some serious self-introspection and self-love.
We learned how to manage the voices of our inner critics and re-establish our personal boundaries. We connected to our inner wisdom and cared for (and owned) our own feelings. We learned how to break down large, ominous projects into fun and attainable bite-sized wins. We cared for ourselves in big and bodacious ways while exploring our problematic relational patterns. We learned how our early programming taught us how we related to money and we learned how to set ourselves free from our scarcity mindsets. We cared for our bodies and we cared for each other.
It was emotional, liberating, fun and exactly what I needed to survive the coming turbulent months. Things were changing fast, and I wasn’t about to hinder the process. I would go where it led me, no matter what it took.
I learned to lean in and to trust myself again. I have since accomplished everything on my list and more!
I am no longer hiding or wishing or waiting. I am doing.
It is true that you find yourself in others, but probably not in the way you might think.
I found myself through the unconditional kindness and support of women who had struggled and conquered and were traveling the same path; back to themselves.
I would give anything to have my sister here with me now, physically cheering on my efforts, but there is one thing I know for sure: It was her voice I'd heard in the silence, asking me what I was waiting for.
It's National Suicide Prevention Week.
So, where have I been?
My head has been nagging me all week to post something here in a vigilant, methodical (and somewhat frenzied)
attempt to try to save lives and prove my allegiance to the cause that has now weaved its way into every aspect of my life.
Several emails from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and other suicide prevention organizations have been sitting in my inbox, waiting for me to post their practical and proven five step guides to help save lives.
The clock is ticking as Suicide Prevention Week comes to an end today, and I'm still not planning to post the how-to's and what-not-to's that the experts are pushing to the public.
Today, I want to talk about free will and choices. We all practice it, and we all make them.
We can love someone with all of our hearts, take all of the "right" steps to help them, listen to them, support and try to keep them safe, but the truth is we can't keep them in a protective bubble forever.
We have no control over their thoughts, behaviors or the choices they make.
We have no control over how long they are destined to stay with us.
Nothing and NO ONE in this physical life is certain, predictable, or permanent.
We are all here living here on borrowed time as we navigate this life together, learning valuable life lessons that will ensure our evolutionary process.
That's all life really is; one big experiential lesson.
There is no right or wrong when it comes down to love and matters of the soul.
The soul itself is pure, whole and unscathed. It's perfect, wise and knows all.
We DON'T (and CAN'T) screw it up.
It lives in the energy that surrounds us every day. It sees everything we do and guides us, whether we choose to believe it or not. It is the unfathomable beauty that lives inside of you and me.
So on this final day of Suicide Prevention Week, I say this:
If you have have offered support of ANY kind to a loved one that you have lost to suicide,
IT WAS ENOUGH.
YOU ARE ENOUGH.
IT WASN'T YOUR FAULT.
If its been years and you are still grieving the loss of your loved one (whether you lost them to suicide or not) congratulate yourself on a job well done.
You showed up and dared to love.
R Jade McAuliffe-
Author, coach, mom and poet; believer in things unseen.
"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o'er wrought heart and bids it break."