"Little by little, a little becomes a lot." - Tanzanian Proverb
That's how trauma grows on you. We are taught to overlook what people do to us, to forgive everyone with a blanket of compassion, to accept others with all their toxicity, but not taught how to immune ourselves against abuse, survive the trauma that such experiences bring us, or heal from the endless wounds that abusive relationships leave with us. I am not an exception.
The tragic, tedious and cathartic story of my life in my18-year-long journey through various types of aromantic but highly abusive relationships which left my entire being broken & traumatized, is something I am (thankfully) saving for a future book of mine. But whatever order of hell that was, it sure landed me with a trauma-stricken brain and body. And I hope most of you have not experienced or witnessed enough of that, because it ACTUALLY sucks!
When I first realised I had CPTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), I jumped in joy. I know that sounds ironic but I felt great that I finally knew what was happening to me. After more than two years of suffering endlessly and pointlessly, when you find out what's actually wrong with you, you end up feeling awkwardly relaxed, as crazy as that may sound!
Why I am writing this article today is not to tell people about CPTSD, because even modern medical science does not have enough understanding (let alone a real cure) of this condition. And of course, since so little is known of it, CPTSD looks different for different people and I only know how my CPTSD feels which may be pretty different from any one else's. So the purpose of attempting to write this down is not to educate people about my condition. I don't know enough yet, to be able to do that.
But there are a few things I have learnt from living with trauma day in and day out, and some of it needs to escape my chest. I need to put it out there for my own sake, to reassure myself that I am comfortable owning up my entire being - no matter how fractured, failed and flawed my inner being may feel to me in the moment.
So this is going to be a long read and please feel free to not read it at all. Please treat this article as a simple act of self-healing by a woman who dares to survive and cares to love. Read it if you feel like, ignore it if you don't. Send me some love if you can, and take care of yourself as much as possible. Like, share, subscribe, comment, or just scroll away. Everything works! So here it goes, my quick notes from Surviving my post-traumatic life:
1. All abuse is serious. Often we talk about minor abuse and serious abuse as if there really is some kind of abuse that can be allowed to pass. No, not at all. No abuse is minor enough to not count. All abuse is serious, it hurts, it traumatises, it damages seriously and hence needs to be taken seriously. All of it.
2. Ignoring what feels wrong, is wrong. Yes, I did tell myself I wasn't getting raped or killed after all. I told myself everyone has shitty people in life, and I just need to ignore them and what they do to me. I told myself again and again that what others do to us doesn't count. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. You can probably overlook it, but the body, the brain, the being keep score of all the abuse you allow yourself to take in. A part of our duties as human beings is to love ourselves enough to stand up for ourselves and risk everything for being safe, sane and happy. Basic.
3. The body actually is an extension of our minds and our minds are expressions of our beings. And this translates into the fact that I have to live with 18 hours of excruciating physical pains & headaches, unbearable nausea, endless psychogenic belching as everyday expressions of my mental trauma. So if we don't keep off stress, it actually makes our body sick. And extreme stress such as being in abusive and/or narcissistic relationships makes life sick.
4. When I don't listen to my heart, my whole being begins to hate itself. The sexual abuse I could not fight back for years, left the skin around my vulva allergic to my own cervical fluids, which are a natural part of my womanhood. That means I am almost always fighting a terrible allergic reaction. It also means that in a really weird way, my body has translated my own self-hate as an adverse physical reaction to my own body fluids.
5. Even if it is all in my mind, it hurts. So I was treated for everything from vaginal infections to migraines to estrogen deficiency to gastric disorders to psoriases to thyroid to sinusitis to a non-malignant tumor in my head. Did I have any of these diseases? Not sure. Did I have any symptoms? I sure had very serious symptoms present themselves every time I went through any kind of trauma or stress trigger. And even if we all knew it was purely psychosomatic, my pain, my suffering, my silent physical degeneration, my near-death experience - none of it, was unreal. So we need to REALLY stop invalidating things just because they are in our minds. Everything is in our mind and everything matters. Pain is pain, even when it is psychosomatic.
6. Sometimes the way to heal it is to allow yourself to hurt. I kept fighting my condition using my somatic symptoms. I tried many traditional medical courses, all kinds of medications, hormone replacement therapy, homeopathy, Ayurveda, home-remedies and whatnot. My desperation to get rid of my pain made me try tantric healing, crystals, essential oils, reiki, and all sorts of things! These are all effective techniques which helped me in many ways, but nothing could heal my continuous physical suffering. And then I realized that fighting my pain made me more anxious and stressed, and resultantly, sicker. But when I decided to accept my condition and teach myself to live with the trauma and pain, I began to see improvements. When I embraced myself in my worst, I began to heal. I started experiencing a physical response to my higher self-acceptance. It felt like a miracle. It changed me deeply. My CPTSD actually teaches me to allow myself to hurt, to embrace my pain, to wait as long as I need.
7. Honoring our triggers is human and normal. Triggers are a major part of living with CPTSD. I remember reading a post on Instagram that said, "Sometimes what has hurt you is so big, that every little thing begins to hurt you." I felt that. I have triggers. Loads of them. I keep an ongoing journal of my triggers and share it with family and friends, to ensure they keep those in mind. When I starting getting the nature of this disease, it made me withdraw from normal social life and get into extreme social isolation and anxiety. I was too afraid of judgments and attacks. I was afraid of getting triggered in public. I was afraid of human beings. I closed my business, cut off with everyone in my past, terminated my thriving practice as a therapist, went off social media, deleted all my past work, moved cities and simply hid away. The onset of the Covid 19 pandemic was a huge aid in helping me feel safe in my home for months. Anything from a smell to a sight can trigger me.
A big part of the CPTSD & abuse experience is repeated flashbacks from my past and a distorted self-image. But it is exactly these reminders of my past and these thoughts of self-hate, that also trigger me deeply. From my books to my signature, from a comment on facebook to a forward on whatsapp, from my tattoos to an old piece of garment in my wardrobe, literally anything can be a trigger. I still don't know all my triggers. I am still working on eliminating or minimizing the known triggers while finding fresher non-triggering experiences to fill my thoughts. I am still struggling hard to let go of my whole past because, as it always happens, letting go of it and saving myself from all triggers also means letting go of a lot of wonderful people who have loved me deeply and some of who I have always held as my my non-biological family. But, as my condition advanced last year, I realised I have to do everything I can to avoid being triggered in a traumatic way. And if it means letting go of an entire life and restarting from scratch, so be it.
When I am triggered, my pain shoots up, my nausea skyrockets, my belching begins, I can't eat or sleep, I may get an anxiety attack, I may experience patchy memory and terrible stress attacks including violent rage on some days. In other words, when my mind gets triggered by insignificantly little things, living a normal life without pain, is almost impossible. But after taking a good amount of time hiding from life, I have now slowly found ways to manage those triggers. Sometimes we avoid them, sometimes we heal ourselves from what it does to me. But now I live a normal life, I work, I work out, I do yoga, I watch less TV, laugh a lot, listen to a lot of good music, have many great conversations, do plenty of meditation, practice gratitude, exercise acceptance, love myself deeply and truly, keep a positive attitude, and I think I manage pretty well.
8. I can enjoy life even when life sucks. Yes, I can't remember the last time I fell asleep without pain, ate without nausea, slept without waking up startled at least twice or woke up worrying about the suffering that begins to set in much before I manage to even open my eyes. But there is also another thing I simply can't remember - the last time I was as happy as I feel every day of my life now. I know this is weird, again, but it is true. Being away from my abusive past, being free to heal, being able to choose myself - are gifts I have learnt to value after years of not having them. My CPTSD made me appreciate how life could be happy and magical as long as we hold space for ourselves, how I am not defined by my experiences, how a smile and a tear are both equally powerful expressions of our inner happiness, that life is worth celebrating by itself, that both my incompleteness and incompetence fail to make me unworthy, that whether I have a good life depends on a lot of factors and I alone get to decide that. My suffering may be as deep & dark as the pits below my eyes, but the bliss in my heart is as brilliant and hopeful as the glow in those eyes.
9. Loving me is healing me. While I attribute my journey so far to many things like yoga, poetry, some deeply cherished friendships, a family to die for, a love that keeps me alive, a love-based lifestyle & diet, a value for kindness, my childhood memories with my grandfather, a longstanding practice of meditative abidance, a prior knowledge of psychology, a natural flair for healing and a lot more, I have to admit that the one thing that truly deserves to be credited for healing me to the extent that I am healed so far, is the tedious inward trek of unlearning the self-hate, self-doubt and self-sabotage my abusive past left inside me, and replacing it with a growing love for myself. Yes, as cheesy as that may sound, self-love heals. I am a functional human today because I learnt to love me.
10. Survival is stupendous! My sensitivity to my own trauma showed me how so many people in our world are living with so much trauma in their lives. And that made me realise one thing: Life is so fucked up, if you are surviving this without losing your ability to revive and retain your love for yourself and others, you are a hero! We need to honour and celebrate existence. Let's understand that for a lot of people getting up from bed is the most courageous act of the day. For a majority of us, being able to be nice to the assholes of the world is as effortful as lifting an entire building on our fingers. For many people, making a new friend, starting a new job, learning something new, letting go of something old, going for a walk, cooking a meal, eating a meal, sleeping a whole night, watching a new movie, getting a haircut or even being in a photograph, is all as great a milestone as finishing college or birthing a baby through one's cervix. In today's high stress, trauma-ridden, narcissistic world order, survival is hard and heroic, and yes, stupendous. And we better celebrate it!
11. Rumi, too, can be wrong. I was always a classical person with a vintage heart. And people like me often love Rumi. I did. I was 16 when I first came across his work. And it was literally love at first verse. I was intoxicated by his poetry and philosophy. I still celebrate a lot of his work. But I know he was wrong when he said, "The wound is where the light enters us." No, Mawlaana Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, the light is within us and does not need any wound to enter where it abides. The light of our beings, our own sense of existence, our love for ourselves and others, our inner centrepiece - does not wait to be found in pain. The way back from trauma to love, is such an uphill, it kills more people than it strengthens. Hence, I respectfully step out of the tradition of normalising trauma by calling it a teacher. Trauma is just that - trauma. It sucks. Period.
12. Broken is beautiful. Only after I reached that space of wholeness in my own being that I realised how trauma literally leaves us so broken that sometimes, we may never be whole again. While it is important to save every whole from being broken, my most healing moment was when I realised that the broken is beautiful too. This is something I still struggle to abide in, but I think I am getting there. I still keep wanting to go back to the 'wholer' or happier person I used to be. But as I am befriending myself more, I am realising that I was never 'wholer' or happier, nor I will ever be. I was only differently whole and happy then, I am differently whole and happy now. Outside my years in abuse, I am always beautiful, even when broken. Perhaps, this is MY 'new normal'.
No, I am not entirely healed yet. I have many bad days and few good ones. I still remain vulnerable. I am still choosing myself. I still hurt a lot. I am still healing deeply. I am certainly better than I was. I am doing well.
I was in my seventh or eighth grade when I read Oprah Winfrey's speech from her 1997 Commencement Address in Wellesley College. And she said, "Turn your wounds into wisdom." Today, I know that it translates into: Allow your wounds to bleed, hold space for your pain, love your broken parts, believe in light, laugh at yourself, celebrate what you have, honour your needs, own your vulnerabilities, let go of any binary ideas of right and wrong, set yourself free to be you, and proudly be whoever you want to be today with no obligation for that to be anything like who you were yesterday or who you will be tomorrow.
That, my dear friends, is heroic.
And, may be all the pain I described earlier in those 12 points did not convey it, but this is what surviving a post-traumatic life looks like: It looks heroic.
If you read till this far, then thank you. I love you. I hope you love you too!