Life After Survival
The definition of a survivor:
anyone who has suffered through a physical, emotional, or spiritual battle
and come out of it alive.
Maybe you have lived through a suicide attempt, been victim of abuse or crime, gone to literal war, suffered disease, beaten cancer, experienced traumatic events, or a death of a loved one…the list of possibilities in endless and all encompassing.
Anything that threatened to break you, crush your spirit, steal your peace, made you question your faith or your desire to live.
If you resonate with that,
if life has tested you in unimaginable ways,
then you my friend are a survivor.
Welcome to the club.
You are not broken, you are a damn warrior.
Through the process of surviving
we develop ways to cope that stay with us long past the point of needing them.
Here are the top four:
Putting up walls / Isolating
People can’t hurt us if we don’t let them in. But they can’t love you either. There’s times when it is necessary to be by yourself for quiet reflection, and room to breathe...and then there’s isolation and shutting down.
When we start avoiding people you love, or avoiding doing things we need to do like grocery shopping, going to the dentist, etc. That’s not OK. If you want to feel human, you need to participate in human interaction. If that’s hard to do, then that’s a sign that you need to do it even more.
2. Masking or avoiding our feelings
We don’t want to Feel. Any. More. Pain. So we shut down. I don’t think it’s even intentional, it just happens. It’s our brains trying to protect us. We go into autopilot and forget how to get out. This just hurts us in the long run. This steals our happiness. When you try to shut off one emotion, you shut down them all.
When this happens, people around us will misinterpret us.
They’ll say that we are cold or indifferent. They will think we are mean. Our relationships will suffer because we aren't communicating how we feel and they’ll get frustrated trying to get through. We’ll snap or have breakdowns when this behavior eventually catches up to us. Inevitably sooner or later it always will.
3. Self medicating
This is all too familiar to most of us. If we haven't done it ourselves, we've watched someone else around us do it. Alcohol, junk food, cigarettes, drugs...these are some things we use to avoid feeling the way we feel.
Maybe we drink a little too much at a social event in an attempt to get rid of the anxiety we feel being around everyone else, or maybe we drink alone at home dwelling on and trying to forget our sadness, simultaneously. Maybe we smoke a cigarette every time we feel pissed off, maybe we eat when we are lonely or want to feel comfort, or we use drugs to numb ourselves.
It doesn’t matter when the vice is, what matters is why you're doing it. What is it covering up? How many more problems is it causing in your life? Is it really helping you?
4. Always being on guard
It’s common to live life on edge constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for the next catastrophe. The next death, the next explosion, the next appointment where they tell you the cancer came back, the next wave of depression, the next robbery, assault, deployment.
We live in anticipation. The feeling of being unable to escape what happened to us is always there. The trauma is always lingering in the back of our minds, reminding us, that at every second our lives are in jeopardy.
The good news
This nightmare can end.
All of this can be changed.
I’m not saying it's an easy way out because it sure as hell isn’t.
I’m not saying you will be the person you were before, because that’s impossible,
but I am telling you,
you can live again.
You can recover.
Instead of putting up walls try:
Finding your tribe
Find your people. It’s so important to talk about what you went through. Talking to a therapist can be really helpful for some but that setting can make others feel alienated, or like a test subject.
The difference with a support group is that you’ll hear things like “I get it" , "I can relate" , and "me too!” Find the people who GET IT. They are out there. They don’t need to have gone through the exact same thing as you, they just need to understand the struggle. No matter the trauma, the feelings are relatable. It can be very comforting to know that you aren’t alone and that your thoughts and feelings are validated and understood by others. Find a support group
Instead of masking or avoiding your feelings try:
Confronting your Fears
You have to be willing to take a long hard look at the story you’ve been either running from or hiding behind. Because most of us are doing one of the two. Either we hide our story because of shame, denial, or desire to forget that it happened, or we use our story as an excuse why we cant move on, be happy, or function the way we would like to. Be gentle with yourself as you work from the outside in, unraveling it layer by layer until you get the the root. Don’t pass judgement on yourself, just assess the situation as it is.
Instead of Self medicating try:
Feeding your brain
Everything we put in our bodies, affects our brain. Every organ in our body is connected. We know the nutrients from the food we ingest keep every part of our body functioning, most importantly our brain! For some reason traditional medicine still doesn't recognize nutrition as the route to solving psychological conditions. Most likely because there is a lot of money being made off of antidepressants and other prescription drugs.
Do yourself a huge favor and take the time to research the gut mind connection. (I recommend the book Eat Dirt.)
Instead of being always on guard try:
Losing yourself in a hobby
Find something you can lose yourself in. Something you look forward to.
May I recommend yoga? Obviously that’s my jam. But if it’s not your thing that’s alright. There are a million other things to try. Or maybe you already have one. Maybe a guitar is collecting dust in your attic, break that bad boy out. Maybe you always wanted to learn another language, WTF are you waiting for? Go outside, ride a bike, learn to crochet, climb a tree, build a tree house, learn how to break dance, do what you gotta do. Whatever you interest is, whatever makes you forget that you might feel shitty, do that.
Know yourself and love yourself enough to know when you need to be gentle with yourself and when you need to be tough on yourself.
Stop making excuses. Or at least, catch yourself making excuses and then change your approach.
If the idea of loving yourself makes you squirm, there's work to be done.
No one is going to come save you. You know that already. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, maybe for the 845th time. You’ve already made it through the worst of it. You survived. Now it’s time to start living again.