Trauma and Self-Care: Taking Care of Your Present While Processing Your Past

by GaBrilla Ballard  I’ve always been a sprinter. As a child, my long legs would dash across an op...


by GaBrilla Ballard 

I’ve always been a sprinter. As a child, my long legs would dash across an open field or down the asphalt of my neighborhood street determined to be the first to slap the hand of the person acting as our finish line. In high school, during my brief stint at track and field, my coach encouraged me to be a long distance runner, but I insisted on the thrill of the 100-yd dash. I didn’t see the benefit in the endurance and strength required for 800 meters.

When I became intentional about beginning my healing journey, I took a similar approach--attempting to sprint to the finish line called “healed.” As if I had disappeared into a lab and placed my psyche under the microscope, I dove into very deep waters, unaware of my capacity and how it was mismatched with my ferocious quest to heal. With the help of therapy and deep self-reflective work through writing, I unearthed long repressed memories that floored me.
I was ill prepared for the unexpected grief and momentary rage that had me wondering if I would ever smile again. Determined to heal myself and recover what was taken from me as a survivor of child abuse, I went full throttle into my process, trying to mine my past for my lost parts, relentless to recover what had been taken from me.

I was finally doing the work and needed to make up for lost time. My wounds took center stage and after a while of processing may past in that way, I became overwhelmed. I thought that by looking at every memory, every hurt, reading every book, I wouldn’t hurt so much and somehow fix it all--I was wrong.

Whether I went inside myself with a bulldozer or an ice pick, what I uncovered surprised, terrified, depressed, angered, and at times even disgusted me. Eventually those heavy and dark emotions gave way to something sweet, powerful, resilient, and fiercely loving. I learned that I could face my pain.

I learned that those emotions and memories would not kill me. I learned that I had what it took to make it through and heal. Healing from trauma is not about fixing one’s self. It is about tending to our wounds, then giving them time to breathe.

Like a child being shooed away from picking a healing scab, sometimes we have to just let it be. Healing is about recognizing our wholeness in the face of deep pain, knowing that scars mean that I’ve been wounded, but they also mean that I’ve healed.

Now, when I’m doing those “deep dives,” I know I must prepare myself and make sure I am taking care of my body in addition to my mind and spirit-- something I’ve learned many trauma survivors struggle with. I have also learned to recognize when I’ve been triggered and am responding to life from a space where I feel small, reactionary, uneasy and tense in my body. This work is a continuous journey, but the most rewarding and fruitful work I’ve ever done.

The following tools are ones I’ve learned and practiced both in my healing work and in my life. They support my “training” in living my life as a whole human being who is worthy of love.

Take care of your self

I got sick a few times early on in this process. My sleep was often interrupted by flashbacks. I ate a lot of unhealthy comfort foods and ignored the signs from my body indicating its need for more care. Eating nutritious foods, getting a good night’s sleep and exercising are practices that maintain a certain level of wellness in the body and during times of deep emotional processing, an act of self-love.

Paying close attention to how your body feels will help you to know if you are doing too much and where you may need to make adjustments regarding how you’re caring for it.

Set boundaries
For many years I struggled to set boundaries with others. I either said “yes” when I wanted to say “no” or I avoided the issue completely. I wasn’t strong enough to say what I really wanted or needed or I wasn’t clear. Learning to be in touch with what I feel and what I need has been a huge and important step for me in setting boundaries. Honoring myself enough to let others know what my needs are and deciding what I will do to care for myself when others don’t honor them has been vital to me feeling safe in my body and to my healing.

Find a good therapist
There is no way I could have done this level of work without the support of my therapist. I am grateful that she is compassionate, wise and that my wholeness is important to her. If you are processing a painful past, hopefully you are already doing this work with a therapist. If you are not, I highly suggest finding someone who will support you in your healing journey. You don’t have to do this alone and you shouldn’t. You deserve the support.

Have someone you can call anytime of the night or day
There were many nights when I thought the tears wouldn’t come to an end and those who were willing to answer my phone calls at any time of day or night where anchors in my storm. Having a loving witness to our pain is sometimes the very thing we need to help us transition from a rough patch. At times this can be a therapist, but if you’re not able to access them or if you’re not seeing one, a good and trustworthy friend is the next best option.

Do something that brings you joy
One thing that trauma does is limits our capacity to experience a range of emotions fully, especially good ones like joy and peace. I am personally very familiar with the emotions of fear and anger.

I am sometimes hyper-vigilant, preparing myself for the next attack or on the lookout for the next bad thing to happen. Now, with increased awareness, I deliberately seek out experiences that facilitate true joy and happiness. Something as simple as going for a walk in nature and allowing myself to take in its beauty and wonder allows me to tap into the ever-giving stream of goodness inside and all around me.
Celebrate yourself
In the heavy lifting that is the healing journey, I took care of myself. I asked for help and slowly but surely, the persistent sadness began to lift. I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Joy came more easily. Anger, an emotion that used to dominate and floor me, now informs me. I have the tools I need when I fall back into sadness or self-sabotage, which I sometimes do.

Healing work is some of the hardest work you’ll ever do. Touching those tender spaces inside you is an act of bravery and radical and fierce self-love. Wherever you are on your healing journey, you deserve to celebrate yourself. You deserve respect. You deserve to be supported and loved.

Please remember that during this times, when a new you is immerging and you are setting boundaries, honoring yourself in ways you never have, you may have to release relationships and people who will not celebrate this new person you are becoming. Bless them and send them on their way.

The Buddha stated, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” In your commitment to healing, you show yourself the greatest demonstration of your love and care for yourself.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

GaBrilla Ballard is a writer, musician, healer artist and mother. She writes and muses at www.gabrillaballard.com

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