Why my darkest place was exactly where I needed to be
Although this story is my own, I encourage anyone reading this to consider how much it may relate to you.
I had thought I was doing pretty good navigating my life despite the things I had gone through before adulthood. In truth, I was doing a pretty good job under the circumstances. The finely curated mask I had unknowingly worn must have been working. All the while I was clueless as to how much effort it took from me, decade after decade, to appear unscathed when in fact I wasn’t. Cumulatively, I had shoved my experiences all away, shushed them quiet, and tried to convince myself that I was too strong for any of it to have an effect on me. I didn’t realize that it was just a matter of time before the stones that kept piling on my shoulders would ultimately cause my knees to fold. Once that happened, I’d find myself in a very dark place, sinking deeper into a hole until I no longer believed there was light.
It took a long time to reach out for help because I was overly insistent that others had it worse. My experiences weren’t as bad as what my parents went through. Others needed the resources more than I did. My experiences didn’t matter compared to others. This, I learned, was so painfully untrue and was the very first lesson I learned when I made the choice to begin.
Trauma is not comparable.
I had to learn straight away that just because someone had it worse, did not mean my situation meant less. Just because someone could have reacted to a situation differently, does negate the reaction and emotions I felt from it. We are all wired differently, our brains and nervous systems are drastically varied. Prior trauma(s), experiences, and so much more cumulatively shape how our individual brains and bodies react to difficult moments, and none of it is wrong.
That first lesson gave me permission to begin to own my story and finally concede that because of the experiences I had before adulthood, I had lived my life traumatized. This was no longer debatable. This was my story, as lonely, sad, painful, and scary as it was. I could start seeing how it presented itself throughout my daily life, through my relationships, day after day, year after year. I realized would need to go really deep to get to the bottom of it, to heal the foundation that was not only broken but non-existent. I had to start from below ground level, and “luckily”, I was already there deep in that hole.
Very quickly, I started learning about my false truths; the negative, fictional beliefs I had adopted to define who I was. We all have them, these “truths” about ourselves that we don’t even question. I had no idea just how powerful these critical beliefs were, and just how deeply rooted they had been.
Your false truths identify your unhealed trauma(s).
As I uncovered mine, I had to accept that these painful words don’t come organically into our lives, someone or some moment put them there. Learning that these false truths weren’t inherently me allowed me to start to question and eventually challenge them. They weren’t mine to hold. I started to take a few steps back in order to identify where they originated, and more importantly, where they were reinforced throughout my life. The patterns and themes started to become clear.
With that momentum, my journey continued with one ah-ha moment after another. I began the difficult process of EMDR to finally heal the pivotable moments early in life that had traumatized me, that began or reiterated in those false truths, and that had haunted me ever since. EMDR was the tool that helped me pull those memories out of storage and face them head-on, essentially re-living them so that not only my head, but my body could finally process. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy. But what I learned was this, you can’t just talk yourself out of trauma(s).
You have to feel to heal.
Something I’m still challenged by is feeling emotions instead of intellectualizing them. I can share the saddest moments from my or my family's life, and yet keep the majority of my emotions, if not all, locked down. These are facts, and that’s how I’ve always told them. Rarely, if ever, did I acknowledge how I felt, how it felt, or what I physically felt in my body. The reality was, I didn’t know how to. This disconnect, I know now, was a trauma response. Rationalize through it instead of feeling your way through it.
Although it seems like the easier option, the danger in this disconnect is that the emotions from these experiences then have nowhere to go. The trauma(s) stay stuck in your body, becoming heavier and heavier, those stones stacking more and more on top. Many carry this weight forever, others find themselves at a point where they can no longer carry it. That was me. Looking back now, I had no idea just how much my knees were buckling for so long, and just how critical it would be once they folded.
It doesn’t get lost on me the dualism of what I’ve gone through the past year and a half, the irony of being in the darkest hole I’ve ever been in only to be at the perfect location to plant a seed there. I needed to be that deep to start healing from that level. The journey of finding me, under the ego or armor, has been profound. I don’t see myself, or my place in this world, the same. I have zero desire to ever put that mask back on. I’m still a work in progress, but I found myself on a deeper level than I ever knew existed, and I can now give to myself what my childhood and teenage versions of me always needed, unquestionable compassion, unjudging love, and a safe place to feel emotions.
When someone asks me if all the hard work reliving and processing my traumas was worth it, the answer will always be a resounding yes. My experiences then and now have proven to me that my voice has value, and part of that value is sharing this vulnerability with others. There is so much to my story that I hope to continue to share. If what I learned throughout my life helps just one person take some stones off their shoulders, then that’s where I find my purpose. That right there would justify going through it all.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you are struggling with mental health, please know your emotions are valid and real, and please consider reaching out for help. If you don’t know where to start, you can start with me, or by visiting https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help.