Updated: May 21, 2020
No pressure, no pressure... but seriously, have you worked out your trauma narrative?
A few months back I found some really insightful research performed at Atlanta's own Emory University about Trauma Narration as a means to recovery. Now, I'm taking the idea and running with it; encouraging members to share their inspiring tales of trauma domination through the Contribute section. To help with the process, I thought I would provide two quick examples of Trauma Narrative approaches; the birdseye and the granular methods.
Personally, I have done and regularly revisit both methods. But you might feel more inclined or more safe approaching one before than the other. Maybe you're drawn to a particular unsettled event right now, or maybe you need to pull your head out of the clouds to take a larger view of your life. You decide.
Here's a quick granular trauma narrative to take as an example. The point of this one is to take one specific event (not an entire fucked up life, like the birdseye approach) and give it positive context. If there's something specifically bothering you - a tight, heavy place that's making you itch - you might want to examine it more closely.
Remember: This is a personal exercise, and you can write your narrative however it would behoove you! There is a form located here , but this is meant to suite your needs and your processing style.
I spent many years alone, afraid of other humans and romantic relationships after some bad bouts. One day, I accidentally met the man who would change my life trajectory forever. I fell in love and I let myself be convinced that I should move 700 miles away from my friends and family. I listened to many false promises and let my desire for a freer, more creative life override my skepticism.
As you can probably guess, this turned out to be a massively toxic and mutually-destructive relationship. He controlled the home environment, the finances, and my social life. Every day I lived under a magnifying glass and he hated what he saw. He despised and misunderstood my anxiety and depression. He learned about my traumas and then reenacted them on a weekly basis. Hundreds of miles away from my social support, and with a provocateur in my life 24/7, I fell apart.
When my trauma responses were getting so extreme that I contemplated daily suicide (generally as I was being chased around the house), I finally sought help. As my mental health improved, my relationship got worse. Soon it was legitimately frightening to live with this human. I was gaslighted daily. He took amusement driving me to the point of pounding my head against walls. He began breaking things inside the house and was physically abusive when I tried to get out.
Still, I stupidly stuck around. I stayed around for so long, hating myself for my mental health problems and wishfully thinking that I could help him with his own. I dragged everyone through the mud along with me. I put personal stress on my closest loved ones, when ultimately, I just needed to overcome my fear of the unknown and make the decision to leave.
Eventually, when I left, I lost almost everything in my life.
Our existences were too deeply entwined at that point. He took the house, the dog, most things in the house and all the money he owed me. He took my best friends and the only trusted support network I ever had. I found myself homeless, friendless, and nearly jobless in an unfamiliar city in the wake of our breakup.
I had built the beginnings of a great life that I earned for myself, and then I got mixed up with a bad seed and lost everything I worked so hard for.
Regrets and self-shame, abound.
The hard lessons:
I went out on a limb and let myself fall for someone who didn't deserve my time or trust. I tried to overcome my fear of getting involved with other people and my flighty tendencies - but I put my efforts into the wrong basket. Of course, rather than thinking he was the wrong person, I internalized that "I was wrong." He seemed so "normal," and I was always labeled the difficult one - so clearly everything was really my fault. I thought I just needed to try harder. The more I desperately tried to stick it out, the more power it gave him to act controlling and abusive, and to make empty apologies later. My commitment came from a noble place, but it was poorly advised.
I lost everything... but in the void of material items and codependent social ties, I found much more. I found my sense of self, my mental and emotional stability, my ability to feel joy, and agency to make changes in the future.
The integrating narrative:
Without this experience, I never would have started improving my own mental health or thought it was possible to help others.
I wouldn't be applying to graduate schools for psychology. I wouldn't have a janky website to dump my latest recovery and mindset tools onto.
I wouldn't be meeting up with the socially anxious and traumatized folks around Atlanta for long heart-to-hearts.
I wouldn't have been able to start talking about trauma in my own life, with my own family and friends.
I wouldn't have forgiven myself for my past missteps or started to believe in a self-made future.
Looking back on 3 wasted years and all the backwards steps I've taken is still painful. I feel the pangs of self-hate. But, I wouldn't have started my trauma recovery journey if none of this had happened. Through the abusive times, I found a therapist who enlightened me on the intricacies of living with trauma and became a trusted confidante in a lonely city. She equipped me with the knowledge I needed to pull my head out of my trauma-victim mindset and to start visualizing intentional ways of living.
If I hadn't changed my course when hurricane-Ex blew swept through and eventually hit rock bottom, I would still be floating along the lazy academic river, unchallenged and uninspired. Disconnected from my own mental health and too fearful to extend a hand to the folks flailing around me.
Yes, I lost everything I had built for myself. Yes, I'm starting all over with an 18 year old's resources. But at least I feel like I'm building it right this time.