Twenty years after being sexually assaulted, my childhood trauma made me sick. At the age of 24, I learned — the hard way — that if you ignore your emotions for too long, they will find other ways to get your attention, and even childhood trauma can make you sick.
As someone with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I've learned dealing with uncertainty is akin to sitting in the middle of a field during a thunderstorm, praying lightning won't strike you. Uncertainty and PTSD are not my friends. They have not been kind or reassuring. They have not taken my hand and led me toward the sunlight. They have only ever presented as a long, dark tunnel with no end.
Healing from my trauma required me to tell my trauma story — but not to over-identify with it. When I first began my healing journey, I would talk about my trauma to anyone who would listen: new friends, strangers on the Internet, distant family members, etc. In a way, telling my trauma story — and owning what I'd been through and how I got myself through it — empowered me. It gave me a sense of purpose and a feeling of pride; it also gifted me with much-needed validation.
Learning to say no after trauma can feel like stepping on someone's toes without stopping to apologize. In other words, it can feel harsh, cruel, rude, and downright awful to set a boundary or put your needs first. Through my experience enduring childhood sexual assault, I learned that my body was not my own. This idea made saying no after trauma very difficult.
I've found that emotional flashbacks are not as commonly discussed as "regular" flashbacks in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When I was first diagnosed with PTSD, I questioned my diagnosis because I hadn’t been experiencing the common symptom of a “flashback.” Flashbacks are a major part of PTSD, typically occurring in the form of visual memory and negatively stimulating our physical senses. However, I learned that many people — myself included — experience “emotional flashbacks,” or intense feelings of fear, shame, anger, and despair that are associated with a specific trauma.
Battling self-doubt during trauma recovery can feel like an impossible feat. In my experience with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), self-doubt is one of my most difficult struggles. I often compare myself to other people, second-guess my decisions, and pick myself apart until I feel unworthy and powerless. The vicious cycle of self-doubt in trauma recovery can be debilitating at times.
After enduring childhood trauma and developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I battled an intense fear of loss. Not only was I sexually assaulted at the young age of four, but that same boy threatened my safety as well as my family's. If I told anyone what he did, he would retaliate. While I can rationalize in adulthood, my young brain couldn't comprehend the validity of his menacing warnings. I truly believed my family's lives depended on my ability to stay quiet. Now, in trauma recovery, I fear loss.
Embracing your sensitivity can be difficult in a society that often shames us for feeling too much or too deeply. Heavy emotions grip your gut. Memories send chills down your spine, reminding you of where you've been. The pain screams so loudly you can't ignore it. And it feels like you're the only one who's so sensitive and processing life at this capacity.
I realize I need to be my own hero, but it's hard. As someone with a highly self-critical brain and a history of trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I often struggle to take control of my own healing. In my experience, it's tempting to turn to others during difficult moments (which is completely okay and necessary sometimes) rather than turning inward and finding my own resilience. Self-sabotage takes merit over self-love and self-care, and before I know it, I'm spiraling into anxiety and grief, looking elsewhere for someone to do the work for me — to be my hero.
Seeking validation from others is often demonized today. We are made to feel guilty for this human desire — for craving attention, reassurance, and support. And while it's healthy to give yourself the validation you're searching for, shaming yourself for seeking validation from others will not help you.