10 Things I Did to Take Charge of My Trauma Healing Journey

Once upon a time ago…but really, not that long ago…I was drowning in a sea of overwhelming stress, trauma, chaos, and fear. Everything was upside down. We were utterly exhausted from years and years of constant trauma drama with our kids and my own physical and mental health had taken a beating. I had allowed myself to stay on the back burner for way too long. Then my daughter was in an accident that forever changed all our lives, my kids were in more trouble than I could shake a stick at, and the Universe decided to dump it’s seemingly entire load of “really special stuff” on us all at once. 

It was more than I ever thought was humanly possible to survive.

But we did. It left a mark, and nothing is the same now as it was back then, but we survived. I don’t use that word lightly, either. Things were so dark and so heavy and so intense that I was literally on the verge of breaking. 

Survival and Healing Require Action

Survival didn’t happen passively, though. Neither did healing. It never does. I had to wake up, stand up, and take action to get things moving forward. 

I realize the quest to heal from trauma is never a straightforward process. There are many different factors, so many needs, so many roadblocks, and so many emotions and distractions and unknowns involved that it can feel utterly overwhelming and confusing. Even just knowing where or how to start can feel like an impossible task!

I want to share the top 10 things I did that made the biggest difference for me and my family during my trauma recovery journey. Not surprisingly (now), they’re also the things that had the most positive effect on my mental health and overall wellbeing.

 1. I got real about where and how things really were in my life.

I allowed the rose-colored glasses to come off. I stopped pretending and fake smiling. I stopped trying to play Super Woman. I began to see things as they really were, not what I or anyone else wanted them to be. I allowed them to be hard and for it to be okay that they were hard. 

I also didn’t keep quiet about what was going on anymore. I wasn’t fine. My family wasn’t fine, and in fact, we were just barely hanging on. When people asked how we were doing, I generally skipped the platitudes and straight up told them the truth. Sometimes that scared people and they ran away. Oh, well!  They weren’t my people. Other times it led to finding some dear friends in unexpected places, and I’ll be forever grateful to those wonderful people for showing up when we needed them most.

2. I learned all I could about trauma and how it operates.

Part of getting real about things was acknowledging that trauma wasn’t just an event from the past. Nor was it something that only happened to my kids before they joined our family. It was a living, breathing part of my present, my life, and my reality…and if things didn’t change and change in a hurry, it was also going to shatter my future as well. 

In truth, I had been experiencing symptoms of unhealed trauma for years. I just didn’t know that’s what it was. I’d dealt with anxiety, depression, and a sense of disconnection and isolation without understanding why. I thought it was just me, so I hid it from everyone for a very long time and pretended it wasn’t real.

It wasn’t until I finally understood how deeply and profoundly trauma effects of trauma on the brain and nervous system that I began to connect the dots. Trauma affects our ability to trust, weaves itself into behavior patterns, and impacts every facet of relationships and family life. It can, and often is, also passed from generation to generation. 

Understanding this was like finding the key to my own prison cell. Once I could see it for what it was, my entire life suddenly made sense. I realized that many of my struggles weren’t personal failures or character flaws, but responses to unresolved trauma. Perhaps even more importantly, I also realized that so much of what had happened, what I’d felt, and what I been led to believe about myself wasn’t even about me at all! It was someone else’s trauma being projected onto me, but it wasn’t mine to hold or keep.

3. I started prioritizing myself and my own needs.

After some close calls and near misses with my own health, we realized that if my family was going to survive, I had to be the one at the top of the priority list, not the bottom. None of us could subsist on me merely taking the leftovers. It wasn’t sustainable or healthy for anyone.

Yes, there were a lot of needs in our family. Yes, my kids needed tons of medical, mental health, and other attention. However, we realized that in order for me to keep doing what needed to be done day after day after day, I had to be mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally strong enough to do it. My needs weren’t an inconvenience, a frivolity, or a luxury. Meeting them was a necessity that kept me functioning and we made room for them in our family budget.

Another big part of this was that I pushed through the fear and let go of all the excuses and reasons why not. I intentionally invested time, energy, and money into my own wellbeing and healing process. I didn’t, however, always follow traditional routes. I went off script and sought out things that worked for me. Sometimes I got a massage. I hired a life coach for myself, I took courses, attended conferences, and didn’t bat an eye at flying across the country to attend a retreat with other moms who were dealing with the same things I was.

4. I stopped chasing doctors, therapists, schools, and other so-called experts.

One of the biggest myths out there is that if we just see a doctor or a therapist, they’ll know what to do and how to help us. It’s simply not true. They’re humans just like we are, and are only as good as their training and willingness to continue to learn allow then to be.

We tried the traditional route for years trying to find help for our boys who suffered from Reactive Attachment Disorder, Complex PTSD, FASD, and a whole host of other trauma-related issues. It didn’t work.  Unfortunately, there’s a critical lack of training out there when it comes to trauma and all the various conditions that surround it. Many claimed to know and to even be experts, but experience proved that very few of them truly understood trauma and all that surrounds it well enough to make any significant difference for us. They did, however,  charge us a lot of money, and keeping up with all of it generated a LOT of stress in our already tapped-out family.

Perhaps the more important thing that happened in connection with this was the shift that happened inside of me. I stopped expecting someone else to solve the problems or fix my kids. They didn’t know how to do it any better than I did, but I was the only one motivated enough to take the time and effort to figure it out. There also came a point when my kids had all reached the age that if anything was going to happen, they had to be willing to participate in the process. 

5. I let go of expectations…for myself and other people. 

Expectations are the silent scripts and codes of conduct we write for ourselves and others. They embody our beliefs about how things “should” unfold in our lives, what “could” be, how people are “supposed” to behave, and how we “should” perform in various roles. 

Expectations are also the #1 killer of peace, harmony, relationships, and joy. They often leave a wake of disappointment, frustration, and heartache behind as well.  

By allowing myself to be who I am, I opened the door to acceptance and self-compassion. I allowed myself to be imperfect and my life to be messy. I also allowed other people to be who and what they are, to believe whatever they want, and in many cases, to do whatever they want as well. I’m not the police and don’t need to fill that role.

 6. I stopped tolerating bad behavior.

Once I stopped expecting people to be a certain way or do a certain thing, I started watching and observing. Oh, my! Was that ever eye-opening?

I didn’t realize how much pure garbage I had been tolerating. Nor did I realize that I’d been tolerating a lot of very bad behavior for most of my life. I didn’t know any different, and in many cases, it was all I had ever known. Therefore, it seemed normal to me and I didn’t realize I was both tolerating and allowing it.

I learned to value myself enough to stop taking things personally. I also started believing people when they showed me their true colors. I stopped holding on to their “potential” while trying to defend myself against their unrelenting demands, attacks, gaslighting, and manipulation. I also stopped trying to make them see my point of view or even the reality of my life. That only made things worse. Instead, I tried to see the reality of their life and their situation and started saying “No” with much more vigor and frequency. 

I also stopped chasing people. I adopted the belief that everyone has something going on and they’re doing the best they know how to do to get through it. If someone wanted to be part of my life, they could be…as long as they were supportive, nice, and helpful. If they weren’t, or if they couldn’t handle my life, or if they tried to minimize what was going on to make themselves feel better, they were free to leave (and sometimes they were shown the door.) I no longer expected them to be there for me, to know what they didn’t know, to support me, to agree with me, to listen to my point of view, or to respect my time, needs, or capacity to do anything. I also no longer expected them to offer help, to love me, or even to be nice to me.

But, I was also still watching and observing. I started believing people when they showed me their true colors. It was no longer a matter of who I wanted in my life, but if they were safe enough to stay in my life. We found out rather quickly who our real people were and who they were not. To our surprise (and often sadness), they weren’t who we thought they were and we didn’t find them where we thought they should have been. But thankfully, we did find them.

7. I set boundaries to protect my own physical and emotional safety.

Boundaries are friends, not foes. They are not mean and don’t make you a mean person. Nor are they rude, controlling, or anything else that those who benefit from us not having them would like us to believe. 

Healthy boundaries don’t ruin relationships. They enhance them by fostering mutual respect, trust, and understanding. They invite communication and cooperation while reducing conflicts and misunderstandings. Additionally, boundaries help prevent burnout by making sure we don’t overextend ourselves by continually giving what we don’t have, especially to those who only know how to take.

In short, boundaries are guidelines that define what we will and won’t accept. They are also doors, not walls, and teach others how we want to be treated. If people are willing to do what is required to be part of my life, they can and will easily walk through the door. If not, the door will remain closed and they are welcome to do their own thing in their own way somewhere else while my peace and safety are protected.

8. I grieved the loss of many invisible things.

Not everyone or everything I wanted in my life was meant to stay. That can be a hard pill to swallow. What isn’t always obvious, though is that when they leave, grief enters in and fills the space they left behind. There are no shortcuts for getting around it, either. We have to go through the process to make it smaller. Otherwise, it will just show up somewhere else and manifest as something else.

I grieved the loss of the life I’d envisioned and what I believed should have been. I grieved the loss of innocence. I grieved the loss of hopes and dreams and what could have been, but wasn’t. 

I grieved the loss of people who are still alive and once a very important part of my life but weren’t healthy or safe enough to stay in it. I grieved the loss of carefree and happy times. I grieved for the loss of the person I used to be and wanted to be.

I grieved the loss of friends who drifted away and couldn’t stay because my life was so intense. I grieved the loss of having a normal family life with my husband and kids. I grieved for the loss of trust in medical, mental health, and educational professionals and the belief that any of them ever could or would help us. I grieved the loss of so many things, and in many ways am still doing it.

Grief is a process, for sure, but one we can’t ignore.

9. I sought connection and support from people who understood my life. 

Of all the things I did right along the way, this one ranks among the most right of all of them. None of us can do this alone, and none of us were meant to. As humans, we are wired to connect with other people. If the people we think are supposed to give the love and support and understanding we need, but can’t or won’t do it, we need to find it somewhere else!

There wasn’t a support group in my area, but I needed to connect with others who were living through similar things and understood my life. I needed friends. I needed to know I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t crazy, and I wasn’t damaged beyond repair. 

So, I found a way to make it happen. I didn’t wait for someone else to start it. I did it myself.  Yes, it was work. Yes, it took effort.  However, the result of those efforts is what is now a very tight-knit group of some of the most amazing women I’ve ever met in my life. We’ve stayed together for well over a decade now. We’ve laughed together, cried together, screamed together, played together, and prayed together. We’ve held each other up and had each other’s backs through some of the hardest and darkest times of our lives. They truly are a gift and blessing in my life.

There are numerous ways one can find support. It’s really just a matter of utilizing whatever resources you have available and being willing to do it. If there’s already a group in your area, do whatever it takes to show up and participate. If you don’t, online groups, community bulletin boards, and referrals are all good places to start. Sometimes all it takes to get something going is starting with an existing resource, even if it isn’t perfect yet, and inviting people who are seeking similar support to join you at a local restaurant for a meal and some chatting.

10. I leaned into my faith and upped my church attendance, even when it was hard.

In a world that seems to scream that religion is bad, church is harmful, and God isn’t real or doesn’t care, we found the exact opposite to be true. Faith, religion, church, and anchoring ourselves to a higher power that is bigger and stronger than we are is absolutely part of our healing and recovery story. I don’t think I would even still be here if I had made a different choice.

Rather than running away when things got hard, we intentionally chose to run towards our faith. Instead of deconstructing, we chose to build, rebuild, remodel, and fortify. We chose to keep showing up when it would have been easier to walk away. We chose to stay even when we had every reason in the world to leave. Sometimes our participation didn’t look like it did for everyone else. Sometimes we came home more depleted than filled and sobbed for hours. But, we intentionally kept at it until we were no longer angry, no longer bitter, no longer hurting, and no longer exhausted. We didn’t want any of those things to be how our faith story ended.

Our relationship with the church and how we see it as a whole has definitely changed, but our reasons for staying only intensified and got stronger. Our faith became even more deeply rooted. The miracles in our lives only increased. Our prayers became more personal, fervent, and real, and so did the answers. As it turned out, it’s also the place where we found some of our dearest friends, biggest fans, and loudest cheerleaders. We were left with no doubt that tapping into our greatest source of light and doing what was needed to make it shine even brighter was what pulled us through the darkest times.

I realize that might not be the right choice for everyone, but it was for us and we will never regret it. Our reasons for staying were never about the people or what they do or don’t do. There are vile sinners and hypocrites everywhere. Let them be. I’m ever of the opinion that despite what some people do and say, churches aren’t meant to be country clubs for saints. They are hospitals for sinners and surgical centers for the broken. We were both. We needed physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual rehabilitation and repair. We still do. That’s why we’re still there. 

Trauma Healing is Possible

Healing from trauma is a challenging yet profoundly rewarding journey. It requires courage, commitment, and a willingness to hard things. However, the benefits of doing the healing work are immense and it also doesn’t have to be as hard as many people make it out to be. By investing in your mental wellbeing and committing to emotional healing, you, too, can break free from the chains of trauma and build a brighter, healthier future.

Are you ready to start your healing journey? Let’s make it happen! I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I can show you the way.

Start Your Trauma Healing Journey!

  • Learn what trauma really is and recognize it an injury that can heal,
  • Explore the various (and often hidden) forms of trauma
  • Understand how trauma impacts the brain, nervous system, and body
  • Discover the relationship between stress and trauma
  • Identify the next right steps for your trauma recovery process

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