The Anniversary

As the 10th anniversary of my wreck approaches you would think or at least I would’ve thought it wouldn’t affect me as much, well I was wrong. When the first day of June arrives, I automatically start to count down the days to the 11th. I think about what I was told I had been doing at the end of May & beginning of June. Graduating college & being accepted into graduate school the Friday before my wreck Monday morning. I then start to reflect on the past 10 years, at least what I can remember. I always go back to my time at Jim Thorpe or at least the stories I remember of my time at Jim Thorpe. All my therapies, having to have the nurses bathe & dress me, trying to learn how to write & eat again, aquatic therapy, & the story about the best cheeseburger that I only ate half of so my father & brother could try it because it was THAT good. Stories like that remind me of the good moments of my recovery.

But then the flashbacks start coming. Flashbacks of the pain. The confusion. The heartbreak. I am overwhelmed with a deep sadness & a sinking feeling in my chest where my heart should be.

After a few years with my neuropsychologist, she had me read a book called The Body Keeps the Score, & it talks about how the body remembers the trauma. It remembers every sensation, every sound, every pain. This book couldn’t be more accurate. As the 11th approaches my body/emotions aren’t my own. Since my wreck, I’ve suffered with bad anxiety & especially night time anxiety. Night time has always been hard for me in my recovery because it brings back a lot of pain. In the beginning of my recovery I was photophobic. I couldn’t handle any light so in the hospital it was always pitch black. At Jim Thorpe my lights were kept off, & when I was finally home, my family kept the lights dim or off for me. During this time period, I also wasn’t able to sleep, so I spent a lot of late nights & early mornings alone, scared, & confused in darkness. These memories/experiences were not the best, so now I have an aversion to darkness. To my body it represents sadness & pain. As the 11th approaches night times are even harder. Especially as the 10 year anniversary approaches. 10 years that feel as if it’s been a lifetime but also feel as if it’s only been 2 years. As I am becoming healthier mentally & able to have a healthy/recovered perspective of the last 10 years, I am moved to tears. Tears that represent all the pain, what ifs, whys, & unanswered questions. It’s only when my anniversary comes around that I feel the sadness I have been hiding, denying, & burying deep down within myself, so I don’t have to deal with it but my body remembers.

I know my story is unique to me, but I also know that everyone has felt this type of aching sadness. The sadness that consumes you. As I’ve worked & continue to work through this sadness, I have learned many lessons & gained much wisdom on life, love, & the journey to happiness. I know that if I keep taking my babies steps, I will find the joy, happiness, & love I have been praying for, working for. If like me you are currently navigating through sadness of your own, please know you are not alone. No matter how hard or impossible it feels right now in thinking of overcoming it, know you can, & you will one baby step at a time. Believe in your infinite potential.

The Art of Letting Go

“Just let go.” That’s something I have been told quite a bit on my path to recovery from a traumatic brain injury. From what I can remember about the beginning of my recovery is that everything was out of my control. I needed to be watched while I ate to make sure I was swallowing properly. If I wanted to get out of the house, I had to wait on my mother or see if she could fit a drive with me into her schedule because I couldn’t drive. My own body was foreign to me. I couldn’t maneuver the way I wanted.

Once I woke up from my walking coma everything that I could control I “tried” to. I felt like I needed to know everything about any situation I may enter & if I’m being honest that still remains to an extent. Needed to know everything so I could have a false sense of control but also because of my PTSD. I didn’t want to be caught off by anything. Unfortunately this whole “control” thing only progressed more & more throughout the years of my recovery & took a sharp turn for the worse when I couldn’t make sense of why things had happened the way they had. My wreck. The abusive controlling relationship. The unanswered questions from family & friends on why they weren’t there when they knew I was struggling. I tried to “fix” my problems & be the person I thought I “needed” to be to make things go better for me. To get the answers my heart desperately needed.

The only thing I could control during this time was food, my appearance, & my fun. I didn’t think I was worth anything. I didn’t think I “deserved” to have fun or to have any enjoyment. I was consumed with hurt, shame, & the false narrative of myself that was put there by my abuser. So during this time I lost a lot of weight. I tried to perfect my appearance & personality thinking this would bring me happiness. It would bring me answers. It would bring closure. Well, I was wrong. It only brought me close to death & confusion. I was deeply confused about why my “fixing” wasn’t solving anything. I was following the false narrative put in my head by my abuser. I was working on becoming the woman I was told I need to be/look like to be “good.” It took years with my neuropsychologist before she was able to start to break through that false narrative in my head & get me to believe this “control”thing was just an illusion and that if I didn’t just let go, I would kill myself.

I’m now years past this time. I’m at a healthy weight, & I have ejected that false narrative. Today I feel as close as I ever have been to truly letting go. With that being said unfortunately parts of that false narrative remain. I’m now able to identify those thoughts & eject them, but the feeling of shame that is brought on with those thoughts still remains. My neuropsychologist has helped me see the big picture when working through my shame. Helped me to stop taking my anger from feeling this way out on myself. I’ve learned that the walk towards recovery is a step by step process. I’ve learned it is a long walk & that if you want to truly experience joy & happiness again, you must take the long path. I’m now towards the end of the path, & I am the happiest I have been in years. I don’t know if there are any who identify with this “control” concept & taking your destructive anger out on yourself. I do know that a majority of us struggle with the feeling of belonging or being “good” enough. I do know we all want to be accepted for just as we are. Today is the day to realize you were made for more & allow yourself to believe you deserve to experience the joy of life because you do, we all do.

Unlocking

Yesterday I was with a dear friend, & we were talking about the future. What our future plans were 15 years from now & where we wanted to be. When it came my turn to talk about my future & what I had planned for myself, I was blank. I said, “It’s hard for me to think about the future. I just don’t want to get my hopes up.” While yes that is true, I have thought about it more, & I know what I want for my future… safety. I want to feel safe in my own skin. I want to feel safe in my relationship/marriage. I want to know I have a place & belong. These are all the things I have been fighting for the past 10 years since my wreck & everything that happened after. My traumatic brain injury stole the safety I once felt within my own body. My abusive/controlling relationship stole my feeling of safety & replaced it with the feeling of doom. Replaced it with me only being able to survive & not live.

Over the past few years, I have been trying to rejoin the living, but I still always hit the same block. My wall or I should say walls. The walls I have built to protect myself from anymore harm, rejection, heartache, & pain. I have slowly been able to let down a few walls, but there seems to always be a barrier between me & others. If I’m honest, that is the way I “like” it. It gives me the false sense of security. The false sense of protection. I’m terrified of letting someone see behind the final wall. I was asked why that is & what I think is so bad behind it. My answer was a lot of issues but that is honestly not the real reason. What is honestly behind the last wall remaining is a scared hurt little girl. I know I am 33yrs old now but behind that wall is all my hurt. All my fear. That’s my last bit of my pure self that I am terrified to be taken or hurt.

I came out the other side of the wreck, my heartbreak somewhat changed. I locked away the last bit of my pure self that I knew was too tender to re-emerge at that time & since then I have become a stronger, more compassionate woman but along the way to becoming the woman I am today I never revisited the part I locked up. Once I felt strong again I was too scared to give her life because I was terrified of the pain I might have to feel again with her re-emerging. I don’t know if anybody who reads this will be able to identify with this, but I do know we all have felt pain. We all have felt fear, & we all know what it’s like to have to comeback from some loss however small or big it may be. The only thing I know now is you have to find the courage within to allow yourself to be unapologetically you. Not what you think you need to be for someone or what you think you need to be to survive. Just be you. All of you. Today is the day to unlock the parts of you that you thought you needed to keep hidden & show the world the beautiful imperfect mess that you are, that we all are.

The thin line between love & anger

Anger is a tricky emotion. People say there is a fine line between love & hate but I think it should be between love & anger. The people we love the most are the ones who can also hurt us the most & when we get hurt by those we love the emotion that masks our hurt is anger. It’s only been within the past few years that I have been able to truly identify the emotions I am feeling. It’s also only been within the last few years that I have gotten to know & understand myself. With my wreck I was dealt a not so great hand of cards. That seems pretty obvious since I should be dead but the cards I’m talking about were dealt to me after my wreck, when I was in the trauma unit fighting for my life. Little did I know of the events that would soon play out once I awoke from my coma, spend a month at Jim Thorpe & then finally make it home to start my 4yrs of outpatient therapy.

Once I came home from Jim Thorpe I was still in my walking coma, yes I was better but I was a long ways away from the woman I am today. I came home & naively thought since I’m home everything will be good. Man was I wrong. If only my future self could’ve been there to warn/prepare me for my friends getting together & deciding it was better to think of me as dead, for my family not being there or reaching out to me even when my parents told them I needed support & for the man who walked into my ICU room and began lying to my family about our relationship & then proceeding to make up stories about our past to tell me when I finally woke up & met him in person. I believe my story & my recovery would have a much different outcome & tone if I could’ve only known.

It’s really hard now when I think back on these times because my heart & mind are on different pages. I still deeply love all of these people, even if it’s only the imaginary version of what I thought they were, yet when I think of certain situations I am filled with anger. I now understand that I am actually not angry at all I am deeply hurt. To protect myself & to protect my mind from having to actually accept that these situations really did happen, these people who I love really did hurt me, I kept myself in denial. It’s much easier to keep your mind & heart in denial & just feel the “anger” but it’s also a lie & you can only lie to yourself for so long. Well at least I could.

I’m still currently working through my hurt/anger which honestly makes me angry. Yes actually angry. I have already worked through so much pain, trauma & issues with my neuropsychologist that I thought I was good. I thought I had left my hurt feelings & anger behind. I thought I had come to terms with my trauma. I thought I had come to some resolution in my heart & mind that would allow me to move forward & never look back, well I was wrong. It’s frustrating the way trauma works. The way it sets up little land mines within your mind, heart & body. It’s frustrating how you can go months or years never setting them off or knowing they exist & then when they get triggered you are blindsided. You’re caught completely off guard & feel as if you have fallen behind because you don’t understand why you were set off. I don’t know if there is anyone out there who truly understands this but I’m thinking there are some who can identify. I wish I had the answers on how to navigate these tricky emotions but the only answer I have is keep moving forward & know you are not alone. I think it’s easy to become ashamed of ourselves when we are experiencing emotions we don’t understand but that is the last thing you should feel. Embrace your emotions & try to understand them. It’s only when we have deep knowledge/understanding of ourselves that we can start to understand others. We all have dark places inside of us & only when we acknowledge our own darkness can we love ourselves & love others. Because the truth is we all are beautifully & uniquely flawed but those “flaws” make us into wise, understanding & loving people.

Re-emerging

Over the past few years I have been trying to rejoin life, trying to put myself back out there. I knew it would be hard doing this after recovering from a traumatic brain injury, but I knew this is what I needed to do. I clearly underestimated the difficulty of this process. After trying to put myself back out there, I realized I can’t relate to people my age. I can’t relate to having a job, having children, having a husband/significant other, etc. I had the harsh realization that I don’t know how to socialize with others my age that well. I have no problem socializing with people much older than me, but when it comes to people my age I’m lost. While recovering from a traumatic brain injury & recovering from my physical injuries, I lost my twenties. Now I’m 33 and still feel as if I’m 23. The age I was when I had my wreck, my life stopped & I was forever changed. I go up to meet people only to find out that I am 10years older than them which is so surreal because I feel as if I’m their age. But then I remember the 10 years I’ve lost. I feel defective. I feel like a lost toy that has been found again, but I’m out of “date” or “trend” now, so I’m looked at from a far, never played with & sat away from the other toys. This is a gut wrenching feeling. It is a feeling of hopelessness that I will never fit in again. That I will never be able to assimilate back into a group of people my age. I don’t identify with my age. My mind is still believing I’m 23, & my body feels as if it’s 70. Where am I supposed to go from here? I do not know.

I do know I have to keep taking one baby step at a time, but I don’t know how I’m supposed to get over the fear of being seen as odd. The fear of being rejected or hurt again by someone I care for. But I know I can’t allow these fears to hold me back. But even writing that seems pretty lame to me as I’m reading what I typed because that fear for me is quite significant. A phrase most people use when trying to overcome fear or trying something new is “what do you have to lose?” For me I know far too well what I have to lose. I may not be in my best place or living my best life yet but compared to where I was 3, 4, 5 years ago, I am living in a way I never thought I would, & the idea of losing the self I have gained or even risking the little bit of happiness I do have now is nonnegotiable to me. But once again here I am in another predicament. Do I allow the trauma from my past to steal happiness from my future? Do I allow my past heartbreaks to steal my future loves? No, that will not work for me, so I guess this is the current journey I’m now on. Learning to navigate my thirties without allowing the trauma, pain & heartbreaks of my twenties to interfere. If I’m being honest, I think navigating through Jurassic Park would be much easier than this new journey, but one thing I have learned from the past 10 years is I just have to keep moving forward no matter how small the steps are & no matter how long I might be stalled in one place. To anyone who is also struggling with these issues or just struggling through daily hardships just know you are not alone. These feelings of inadequacy can be overwhelming but just know they are not true. Just because we might feel we are lost does not mean we are. Feelings are not facts. The truth is we are all worthy, & the fact is keep moving forward.

Trauma should be a 4 letter word

Trauma. In my personal experience trauma should be a four letter word. My trauma has strengthened my faith & it has shown me how strong I truly am. But it has also brought me to my knees, it has brought me irrational fears & it has made me go through the past ten years just surviving & not living. Recently something has triggered my trauma. I’ve been having irrational thoughts about dying & causing my own death. When it starts to get dark outside I go into complete survival mode. My chest tightens & I feel I’m on the edge of a panic attack. It’s now gotten to a point where I cry. I start crying because I just want it to be morning. I cry because I just want to survive the night. I cry because I don’t want to be like this. I know this response is caused from trauma. I also know these thoughts are irrational but that doesn’t make them feel any less real. I also know this response is strengthened when I keep my thoughts secret. But it’s hard to admit to these “secrets” when you are a 33yr old woman who cries when it gets dark. How do you tell someone that at 33years old you cry because you want it to be morning? How would that not cause shame? Wouldn’t you hesitate when thinking of talking about this out loud? It seems only right to keep these thoughts secret.. right? No it doesn’t.

This current battle I am battling does not make me “weird” or “weak” like the thoughts in my head try to tell me. This current battle is unfortunately completely normal for someone living with PTSD. I know there are others out there who experience irrational fears & thoughts that are brought on by their trauma. It’s hard for me to write this but I know I’m not alone. But at the same time it’s not hard at all for me to write/confess this secret because what do I have to lose? Nothing.

I’ve learned over the past 10 years while recovering from a traumatic brain injury that the most important thing for us to be as humans is vulnerable. It’s in our vulnerability that we reach others & we can offer community. If we kept our secrets or our “shame” hidden then we would all feel alone. We would all end up feeling like the only “weirdo” or person who has ever dealt with struggles, irrational thoughts/fears & well that’s just simply not true. We all have our struggles & hardships. And it’s in these times that we quietly try to reach out or mention what we are dealing with while not completely outing ourselves because we are scared if others heard or saw how “broken” or not okay we are they would judge us. But that’s not true. When we show others our strength by being vulnerable they will respond in kind. It’s in these times that we find & build a community. If you are currently struggling or battling through hardships know you are not alone. Today is the day to open up to someone & start building your community.

Breaking Open

In the years after my wreck I often would tell others that I felt like an exposed nerve. Everything felt too much. I was often overwhelmed. I either felt everything or I disconnected & felt nothing. This was often attributed to my traumatic brain injury. I was on the road to recovery so I was doing lots of therapy & I wasn’t sleeping due to my brain not being able to power down/shut off, so I was often told this is all signs of healing or this is your “new” normal. All of that was true. This is my “new” normal. I have had to adjust to this new way of functioning. I had to learn all about sensory overload & how to cope. I had to learn firsthand how my “new” brain will sort out, work through & perceive new information. But now it’s 10 years later & I still feel everything. The simplest things can make me tear up. Hearing a child laugh, seeing the sun shine through the trees or seeing a random act of kindness touches me so deeply. I’ve often joked about this “new” version of myself because if you knew me before my wreck you would know that this isn’t normal for me. I was compassionate & empathetic before my wreck but I very rarely showed any emotion. Over the past few years I have wondered why I have experienced this change. I have dealt with many ups & downs during my recovery & have had to heal from multiple heartbreaks, so I thought maybe that was why. But now I know the reason.

June 11, 2012 was the day I was broke open. The years before my wreck I lived behind the thought or facade of being invincible. The thought that many of us have when we are young and we still have so much life ahead of us. The thought that nothing bad will happen to us if we don’t put ourselves in “dangerous” situations. The thought that when you’re young & graduating college you don’t have to worry about the dark parts of life just yet. June 11, 2012 shattered that facade. June 11, 2012 literally & figuratively broke me. It has taken me years to understand & truly accept the beauty of being broken but now that I embrace my brokenness I honestly can’t imagine another way of being. I feel everything deeply because I now personally know the dark side of life. I have experienced the bad even when I didn’t put myself in “dangerous” situations. I know what it’s like to be on the bathroom floor about to take your life, I know what it’s like to feel unimaginable physical pain, I know what it feels like to have your heart broken & thinking you can’t breath anymore. But because of these dark moments I now know the beauty of a child’s laughter, the beauty of simple acts of kindness, the beauty of nature. I think we all go through things in life that break us. Sometimes whatever it is that breaks us is the blessing we have been waiting for. No it doesn’t always come in the pretty package we would have wanted but it is still what we have been praying for. I know for a fact I was not praying for my wreck & all the physical/emotional pain that came with it but I also know I would not be the woman I am today without going through my wreck. I know I wouldn’t see life today through grateful eyes if I hadn’t seen life through eyes full of pain. No this wasn’t an easy journey but I am grateful I kept taking my baby steps to get here because here is what I was praying for.

Finding connection

Connection. Human connection is so important & it’s also something that I lack. I have people I can talk to or see but I have come to realize I don’t allow myself to connect with others. I’m scared. I recently realized that even after the years of therapy I still remain behind the wall I built for myself. For protection. My work in therapy has allowed me to tear down my wall a bit but what’s left of it still remains as a barrier between me, people & life.

I know one of the fundamental reasons behind my wall is fear. Fear of loss. I’m scared of connecting with life & people because I know what it feels like to lose it all. Sometimes it feels “better” & “safer” to remain detached because yes it is lonely but it is a loneliness I can tolerate. A loneliness i know I can live with. The feeling of heartbreak is something I’m not sure I can survive again.  Coming back from multiple heartbreaks was the hardest thing I have ever done. I mean that literally. There is a lot of weight behind that statement considering I have recovered from a severe traumatic brain injury, broken hip, broken pelvis, broken ribs, broken sacrum, broken shoulder, the list goes on, but even overcoming all of that was much simpler than the heartbreak. 

Emotional pain is a different beast than physical pain. Physical pain is something I have mastered but emotional pain, well I’m not sure I ever want to get good at that. Becoming good with emotional pain would represent surrendering to me. Surrendering to the pain & just giving up. I’m proud that after everything I have overcome I still feel deeply. I’m proud to know that my heart & soul are still alive. Still have spirit. But I also think that’s what makes my lack of connection with others & life so much harder. I deeply want to feel a connection to someone again but even writing that causes my heart & stomach to tighten because they both remember the pain. The blank spaces that were left in me when the ones I had a deep connection with just disappeared.

 I’ve recently put my toe in the water when it comes to connecting with life again & it has felt amazing. But when the joy of reconnecting with life crept back into my heart it left the door open for my trauma. My anxiety has been very high the past 2-3months. Thoughts that I haven’t had since coming home from Jim Thorpe have come back. The unwanted memories have resurfaced. I know this is just my trauma rearing it’s ugly head but that doesn’t make those thoughts, memories coming back less scary or difficult. I know the only way out of this season of life/recovery for me is by going through it. I know I’m getting close to the peace in my heart & soul that I’ve always wanted but I’m just tired of fighting & pushing through these scary times alone. I just want someone to be there with me holding my hand & giving me the reassurance that this difficult step is worth it. It is real that sometimes people stay.

 To anyone else out there who can relate to what I’m currently going through & dealing with just know you are not alone. Your fears & worries are real, are valid but don’t let them hold you back. Like I keep telling myself, once I get through this difficult period everything that I have endured & battled will be worth it. Keep moving forward one baby step at time because it is during the tough times when we continue moving forward & think we can’t that we build our confidence, find self love & learn to see ourselves through respectful loving eyes. Today is the day to continue your journey. You know what you have already overcome & I know you can keep going. You are not alone. 

Alone

img_6518She is all bark and no bite. Just like a china doll with a tough exterior but so fragile and empty. Trying to fix her broken pieces with duck tape, patching up the wounds from her past. She is alone. Alone in the worst way because no one understands. Do you see her scars? Do you feel her pain? Nobody understands the pain she feels inside her head everyday. She puts on a smile and a brave front to keep out the cold, she must protect herself. Her past has proven trust no one. Smiles, tears and words tend to all mean nothing in the end. She hates feeling so isolated, unloved and weak. Each day chips away another piece of her soul. How long can she last? She doesn’t know. She is overwhelmed with pain and her quiet rage grows inside everyday.

I guess this is how it happens. It doesn’t happen all at once, it is a slow fade. You lose a piece of yourself here and someone takes a piece from you there, until there is nothing left. You slip, stumble and fall countless times just trying to find your grip. Trying to find your balance so you can continue on. Until one day a piece gets taken from you that’s so big everything crumbles around it. Just like a game of Jinga, there are certain pieces that must stay intact or the game is over.

You never realize you are broken until you already are. You don’t realize how bad off you are until the blinders get ripped off and you see everything with a new perspective. Every next level of your life will demand a new version of you, as long as you can make it through the transition. If all you can do is crawl, then start crawling. You can’t give up and stay at the bottom. One day your heart will stop beating and you will draw the last breath from your lungs. When you have reached your end none of your fears or worries will matter. Don’t reach the end of life with regrets from the missed chances that your heart was urging you to take but your fear overpowered your heart. The only thing that matters is how well you lived. People may forget what you say but they won’t forget how you made them feel. Live out the rest of your days in such a way that you enhance and influence the lives of those around you. Don’t be the last man, who’s sole desire is his own comfort.

As time goes by I realize the things that cost nothing hold the most value. Don’t be afraid to keep trying. You will get knocked down over and over again but I promise you can always get back up and stand tall. Believe in yourself. And if there ever comes a time where you are too afraid to continue, just remember to be scarier than whatever it is that scares you. You must be unshakable in the belief that you are worthy of a great life. I promise you are never too far gone.

Hidden Secrets

img_6050A part of her died that day. The day she realized what had been taken from her. There is now a part of her that’s off limits. Don’t take it personally, that part of her was unbelievable hurt. She was sure the pain was going to kill her. But it didn’t. She still doesn’t understand what truly happened. But that piece of her is now off limits. She will not bargain with it. It will forever remain a secret. No matter how happy she is or how much she trusts you it is going to have to remain off limits for the simple fact that if she breathes it back to life she is not sure how she will handle it. How will the flashbacks effect her? How much of the memories still remain? How will her mind repaint the pictures? Questions she doesn’t know the answers to and is not willing to risk her sanity for. In the end she learned how to be strong on her own. She learned the path isn’t a straight line it is a spiral. You will continually come back to the things you thought you understand about life and see the deeper truths. Wait, hope for and expect the Lord. Be brave and of good courage and let your heart be enduring. You never know how strong you are until it’s your only option.