Transforming Scars into Badges of Resilience
I attended a university only 3 hours from home. One year, as I returned to school after being home for Christmas break, I found myself driving in a terrible snowstorm – what I would call a whiteout.
That meant I couldn’t see anything but white. I couldn’t see the road. I couldn’t see the side of the ride. I couldn’t see the landscape. I couldn’t see the signs. I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of my car.
I was in the middle of a mountain pass, far away from any towns.
I was terrified that I was going to drive right over a cliff and not know it. Or that someone would come up behind me and hit me.
Staying still didn’t seem like a safe option: We could freeze to death, run out of gas while keeping the car running, or get hit by someone coming behind me. Plus, I didn’t know where the side of the road actually was, so I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t stopping right in the middle of the freeway or that I wouldn’t fall off a cliff as I pulled over.
It’s about as scared as I’ve ever been.
Fortunately, a semi, who could obviously see much better than I could, came up behind me. I got in their tracks and followed them out of the mountain pass and to the next town.
I took the first exit we came to, pulled my car into the gas station, and just shook. My whole body was shaking violently. And I just let it.
I didn’t try to stop it. I didn’t try to pretend I was ok. I didn’t judge it.
At some point, my nervous system felt calm again. The snow had stopped. And I got on the road and finished my drive back to school.
What I didn’t know then was that I did this perfectly. The moment I was out of danger, I let my body do what it needed to do. It gave me a lot of adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol, as well as fear, stress, and anxiety, to get through the experience safely.
This helped me to be alert and focused with faster reaction times.
Once the danger was over, it wasn’t helpful to have all those hormones and emotions floating around in my system. And my body knew exactly what to do to complete the process… as long as I didn’t get in the way.
I don’t have any trauma from this experience. I never had any trauma responses from driving, from driving through mountain passes, or from driving in the snow because I completed the healing process without holding any trauma in my body.
Watch how this exact process shows up in nature:
As far as we know, animals aren’t traumatized from encounters like this — because they don’t get in the way of their healing process (the way we humans tend to do).
What Is Trauma?
Trauma is a specter that lurks in the shadows of the human experience, a lasting mark left by the storms of life. It is an intricate tapestry woven from the threads of pain, fear, and helplessness. While the word itself may conjure images of catastrophic events, trauma extends beyond the realm of physical harm, seeping into the very fabric of our emotional and psychological well-being.
A Google search defines trauma as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope. Another definition is an emotional response to a terrible event. It can be a singular, shattering event or a cumulative weight borne over time, etching its presence into the recesses of one’s memory.
I like to think of trauma not as the event itself but as what is left behind afterward (if we don’t allow the healing process to complete) because…
- The impact of trauma is not confined to the moment of its occurrence; it reverberates through time, casting a long shadow that colors the lens through which we perceive the world.
- We can go through something terrible without holding onto any “trauma,” as my story above illustrates.
- It gives us power over it. You cannot change what happened to you. If what happened is the trauma – there’s not much you can do about it. That means you will be in bondage to your trauma for the rest of your life. But if it’s only what’s left behind, disconnected from the event itself, AND your body knows exactly what to do to heal from it, you are back in the driver’s seat. You can free yourself from your trauma.
The manifestations of trauma are as varied as the human experience itself. It can manifest as “overreactions,” acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or linger as a pervasive undercurrent in the form of complex trauma.
Terrence Real said something about overreactions that I will never forget. He said we never overreact; we just aren’t reacting to what’s in front of us. These are what I call trauma responses. This is when something happens, or someone does or says something (maybe with a particular facial expression or tone of voice), and your body immediately goes into fight/flight/freeze. You aren’t reacting to what’s in front of you; you’re reacting to what happened to you in the past – because you never completed that healing process. The trauma from that experience (what’s left behind) is running the show.
The aftermath of trauma permeates every facet of our being, from the way we navigate relationships to the lens through which we view ourselves.
In the realm of relationships, trauma can act as an unseen hand, shaping the dynamics in ways that may not be immediately apparent. Trust, a fragile commodity, becomes a rare gem as the aftermath of betrayal or violation lingers. Intimacy, rather than a sanctuary, can become a battleground where vulnerability is met with the echoes of past wounds. The cycle of trauma may repeat itself, as the unresolved pain of the past influences the present, creating a web of dysfunction that entangles those caught in its grasp.
Yet, the human spirit possesses an innate resilience, a capacity for healing that transcends the scars of trauma. Just as trauma can echo through the chambers of the soul, so too can healing be a transformative force that reshapes the narrative of our lives.
Healing from trauma is not a linear journey; it’s a nuanced and often arduous process. It begins with acknowledging the impact of past experiences and granting oneself the grace to feel and express the emotions that may have been suppressed. This is not a weakness but a courageous act of self-compassion, a crucial step toward reclaiming one’s agency.
3 Levels of Freedom
Level 1: Trauma Responses in the Present
An awesome place to start freeing yourself from your trauma is in your trauma responses—your reactions that look like overreactions because you aren’t reacting to what’s in front of you.
Let me give you an example of what that could look like. I was in the car with my husband, sitting in a parking lot, waiting for the hostess to let us know they could seat us for dinner. I don’t even remember what we were talking about. He said something, and I was instantly in fight or flight. I’m pretty sure it was his facial expression, tone of voice, or a combination of the two. Instead of reacting to him or what I felt, I hit pause. I said to myself, “This is a trauma response.” That means this isn’t about what’s in front of me.
I read about a study in which they hooked people up to brain imaging machines, showed them pictures of scary things, and watched as their amygdala lit up. For one group, they had the participant say, “This is fear,” the moment they felt fear. And the response in their amygdala immediately lessened.
Labeling what is happening is super powerful and creates a physical response.
Next, I focused on my breath. I dropped out of my head and into my body, noticing how my breath felt as it came in and went out. Then I added the words, “I am safe.”
When we have a trauma response, it feels like a thing happens > physical/emotional response. But in truth, it goes like this: a thing happens > brain says “I’m not safe > physical/emotional response. We don’t notice this thought, but it’s there. That’s what creates the physical and emotional response. Our brain asks, “Am I safe?” multiple times every second. When the answer is no, our body goes into fight/flight/freeze.
Meanwhile, my husband is sitting there, staring at me, having thoughts. When he tried to talk, I put up my finger – the universal sign for give me a minute. I stayed with myself until my body calmed. I was in the car at the time. And my body didn’t tell me anything particular to do. But that was the beginning of my journey. Today, I probably would have gotten out of the car and shaken (which I now do daily to release pent-up emotion).
Step 1: Label it.
Trauma response. Survival response. Fight/Flight/Freeze. Pick a label that feels right.
Step 2: Breathe.
Take deep breaths. Focus on your body. Listen to your body.
Step 3: Do what your body wants.
You might want to yell, scream, hit something, run, shake, etc. Remember the impala. Do what your body wants to do. Don’t judge it. Don’t hold back. Let your body complete the process. (***That doesn’t mean yelling at someone or hitting someone. It means letting noise out of your body at a high volume or hitting a punching bag or a pillow).
Step 4: Create Safety
You are having this response because your brain thinks you aren’t safe. Tell your brain that you’re safe.
Step 5: Cultivate Self-Compassion
Remember, it makes perfect sense that you’re having this response – because of what you went through in the past. A crucial step on the journey to healing from trauma is to acknowledge and validate your emotions. Allow yourself the space to feel without judgment or self-criticism. Embrace the courage to confront the pain and discomfort, recognizing that these emotions are valid responses to the challenges you’ve faced. Extend kindness and compassion to the version of you who went through all those things. Forgive yourself for any perceived shortcomings and recognize that healing is gradual. Treat yourself with the same gentleness and understanding you would offer to a close friend or a child.
While coaches are generally not the first choice for trauma (see level 2), they are probably the best choice when working on level 1 because they focus on the present and the future rather than the past.
Level 2: Resolving What Happened in the Past
As we change our reactions in the present, we can simultaneously work on the past to prevent the reactions from happening in the first place. We’re simply tackling it from both directions.
Step 1: Seek Professional Support
Engage the expertise of a mental health professional to guide you through the healing process. Choose someone you trust and listen to your intuition. Here are a few options you may want to consider:
- Talk Therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- Energy Work
You may need to try multiple modalities. The most important thing to remember on this level is that you CAN heal – fully and completely. You CAN give yourself freedom from your trauma if you want it.
Step 2: Forgiveness
As the journey unfolds, forgiveness emerges as a potent force in liberating oneself from the chains of resentment. Forgiveness does not condone the actions that caused the trauma; rather, it is a gift one bestows upon oneself, a release from the shackles that bind the heart. There is so much to be said on this that we’ll save anything further for its own article in the future.
Level 3: Be Proactive – Prevent Future Trauma
Now that you understand a bit more about how and why we create trauma, it is possible to free yourself from future trauma. We do that by listening to our bodies, feeling our feelings, and letting ourselves have our experiences without judgment and without trying to control them. You can’t prevent terrible things from happening, but how you respond and process those experiences is up to you. Here are some ideas to help set you up for success.
Step 1: Practice Mindfulness and Grounding Techniques
Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine to anchor yourself in the present moment.
- Body Scanning
- Deep breathing exercises; Breathwork
These activities can help cultivate awareness and help you get more connected to your body. Your body already knows what to do. The more connected you are to your body, the easier it will be for you to get out of the way and let it do the work of healing.
Step 2: Establish Healthy Boundaries
Identify and communicate your boundaries in relationships. Establishing clear boundaries is crucial for creating a sense of safety. Learn to prioritize your well-being by recognizing when to assert your boundaries and when to seek support.
Step 3: Engage in Therapeutic Activities
Explore therapeutic activities that resonate with you. Art, music, dance, or writing can be powerful outlets for expression and self-discovery. These creative endeavors provide alternative avenues for processing emotions and fostering a deeper understanding of your journey.
Step 4: Develop a Routine for Self-Care
Prioritize self-care as an integral part of your healing journey. Establish a daily routine that includes activities promoting physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Regular exercise, nutritious meals, and adequate sleep contribute to a foundation of resilience. Include something that helps you process emotion in your daily routine.
Step 5: Foster a Growth Mindset and Celebrate Your Progress
Embrace a growth mindset by viewing challenges as opportunities for learning and growth. Shift your perspective from a fixed view of yourself to one that acknowledges your capacity for change and development. Celebrate the progress made on your healing journey, no matter how small. Healing is a continuous process, and recognizing your achievements, no matter how incremental, reinforces your resilience. Take pride in the steps you’ve taken and the person you are becoming.
The Path To Healing
Remember, healing is a personal and unique journey, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each step forward is a triumph, a testament to your strength and determination. As you navigate this path, be patient with yourself, seek support when needed, and embrace the transformation unfolding within you. You have the power to rewrite your narrative and emerge into a future shaped by resilience, self-love, and the promise of a brighter tomorrow.
The narrative of healing is not about erasing the scars of trauma but transforming them into badges of resilience. It is a testament to the unconquerable strength of the human spirit, a declaration that the past does not dictate the trajectory of the future. While its impact may be profound, it does not define who we are.
The journey of healing is an invitation to reclaim authorship of our own stories, to paint with the vibrant hues of resilience and self-love, and the unwavering belief in our capacity to heal.
My Trauma Journey
And I know this is possible because of my own journey. The triggers that once sent shockwaves through my senses now elicit nothing but a mild ripple. It’s as though the very essence of who I am has undergone a metamorphosis, shedding the scars of yesteryears like a snake discarding its old skin.
It’s not just a lack of reaction to the familiar triggers; it’s a profound shift in perspective.
Compassion has become a cornerstone of my existence. Where bitterness and resentment once held sway, empathy now reigns supreme. I find myself extending a hand of understanding to others, recognizing the struggles that may be hidden beneath the surface. It’s one of the primary reasons I do what I do.
Once perceived as a hostile battleground, the world has transformed into a tapestry of shared humanity, each thread woven with the stories of resilience.
Gone are the days of constant vigilance, scanning every interaction for potential threats. Trust, a fragile commodity in the aftermath of trauma, has blossomed like a delicate flower in the garden of my heart. I no longer view every smile with suspicion or interpret every silence as a harbinger of betrayal. Instead, I’ve learned to trust others and, perhaps more importantly, myself.
As I reflect on the journey, I’m acutely aware of the desires that fueled this profound transformation. The yearning for peace, for a respite from the ceaseless turbulence within, has been fulfilled beyond my wildest dreams. The hunger for connection, for relationships unmarred by the shadows of distrust, has been satiated with the warmth of genuine bonds. The thirst for self-acceptance, for a love that transcends the scars of the past, has been quenched by the wellspring of newfound compassion for myself.
This blog post is not a proclamation of invincibility; it’s an ode to vulnerability. The acknowledgment that healing is not a linear path but a mosaic of highs and lows, setbacks and triumphs. It’s an invitation to those who still tread the rocky terrain of trauma, a reassurance that the destination, though obscured by the mist of pain, is within reach.
In the tapestry of my life, the threads of trauma are no longer conspicuous. They are woven seamlessly into the fabric, adding depth and resilience to the overall design. The scars, once perceived as blemishes, are now badges of honor, testaments to the battles fought and won. I wear them not with shame but with quiet pride, for they are the stepping stones that led me to this place of healing.
As I stand in the glow of my own metamorphosis, I am keenly aware that the desire for healing is universal. The yearning for a life unburdened by the weight of past traumas transcends individual narratives. It’s a shared aspiration, a collective prayer whispered by hearts in search of peace. If my journey can serve as a beacon of hope for even one soul navigating the tumultuous seas of pain, then the echoes of my past will have found purpose.
In the tapestry of life, each thread has its own story. The thread of trauma, once a dark stain, has been rewoven into a narrative of resilience and redemption. The protagonist of this story is not an unblemished hero but a survivor who emerged from the crucible of pain with newfound strength. The magic that facilitated this transformation was not a wand or incantation but the alchemy of time, self-reflection, and the unwavering belief that healing is not only possible but inevitable.
As I conclude this chapter of my narrative, I do so not with a sense of finality but with the anticipation of new beginnings. The healing journey is ongoing, a continuous exploration of self-discovery and growth. Each day is a canvas, waiting to be painted with the hues of joy, love, and resilience. The echoes of the past may linger, but they are now mere whispers drowned out by the symphony of a life reclaimed.
In the vast expanse of my present, I am free. Free from the shackles that once bound me, free to embrace the beauty of existence without the heavy burden of past traumas. The wounds have healed, leaving behind not scars of sorrow but marks of triumph.
This is what I want for you.
Live Free. Love Life.