Sometimes life kicks you. Hard. You keel and swerve, but you cannot escape the barrage of blows being dealt to you. After a while, your memory of the event is enough to send you into tears, and leave you inconsolable, filled with grief, anger, and guilt. There are things that, even years later you find hard to talk about or put into words. When things get rough, you are thrown back into the abysmal memories burned deep into your mind, and it can be nearly impossible to change tract.
When there is no truly guilty party, how do you escape the self-incrimination and deep anguish without losing yourself? If there is a guilty party, can you forgive them? Do you even have the right to blame anyone?
When I was in high school, my little brother started showing the symptoms of bi-polar disorder. Violent and unpredictable with bouts of normalcy or suicidal acts, no one knew what to expect. I remember being so scared at night or in the shower, thinking that if I slept or wasn’t paying attention something awful would happen. In the years that followed, I kept it together, not a word mentioned at school or even really at home of what was happening (we still don’t talk about it much). It was only when I went away to college that all the trauma and worry became a deep, soul-stopping depression that consumed everything it touched. I cut everyone out. I stopped answering phone calls from my family, and alternatively slept, or cried, always feeling so very alone. My parents and I fought constantly, and I gave up on everything except self-inflicted tortures I devised to make the days bearable.
Now I have healed enough to move on, and though it still is an ever-present wound in my heart, I have learned how to live again. I have learned there is nothing and no one to blame for the hand we are dealt, and I think, if I were strong enough to handle it at the time, there may yet be a deeper strength within, grown with time and the wisdom of age. Now I can also understand what happened to my brother, who was finally diagnosed at the age of 18, and am learning to forgive myself for the depression that put my life on hold for nearly two years.
Talking to therapists helped enormously. Finding an unbiased third party to vent to and receive advice from gave me a mental crutch to lean on. Opening up to a stranger is more difficult than I can say, but it’s a freeing experience, and gave me another perspective on the issues.
Not placing blame (at least in my own instances), is something that I have had to learn. I can’t blame myself for not saying or doing differently, any more than I can blame the sky for being blue or the winter for being cold (though I really do hate the cold!). What happened was genetic, and none of us could have reacted any differently than we did at the time. A very strange peace has settled on my heart upon this realization.
The last step to moving on after trauma is learning to open up. I still have a hard time with this one, after sequestering myself for such a long time. I’m an introvert at heart, so I do love my alone time, but lately I’ve been longing to form more connections and effortless friendships like my younger self. I’m a little loath to open up to people, so this is going to be a work in progress for a while. However, I have become more active online, if not in person so I am getting a lot more socialization than I had been, which counts!
It’s often said that “you live and you learn,” and that “everything happens for a reason.” But to anyone who has lived through true trauma, these words are too facile. These events are not blessings in disguise, given to us so we learn to become better people. But at the end of the day, life is what you make of it. Trauma is a bit like broken pieces: you can choose to stay and cry, or try in vain to mend them–or you can accept the change and move on from it.
Photo: HOI CHEUNG WONG via Flickr