It’s fighting to resist a panic attack in the middle of the amusement park because two women are yelling at each other—and what if one of them gets hurt? What if one of their children gets hurt?
It’s avoiding going over to your friend’s house because when her dad yells, it scares you. You know he would never hurt anyone—but your body does not.
Your brain has learned to equate yelling with violence, and your body has been trained to put up all defenses at the slightest sign of a raised voice, especially if that raised voice is paired with physical movement or close proximity.
I spent years loathing myself for having such strong reactions to scenarios such as these because “my experience wasn’t THAT bad”; “others have it way worse”; “it only happened a couple of times.”
As life continued on, the memories only grew stronger. As did the PTSD. Convinced I was never to speak of what happened, I remained silent. That was until I couldn’t bear to be kept silent any longer. It was only when I came to the realization that the nature of others’ traumatic experiences did not negate the validity of my own that I was able to heal. It was ten years after the fact that I, for the very first time, disclosed the trauma I had experienced during childhood. It was scary being so open. Terrifying, actually. But it was a necessary and powerful first step.
Concealment is the breeding ground for festering wounds. Raw vulnerability, with others and with oneself, exposes these wounds to the healing light of day. For me, this vulnerability looked like sitting on my best friend’s couch as she held my hand and I shared, detail by detail, the events of my past. It looked like shaking hands and a racing heart as I scribbled every memory into my journal… what I was wearing, what was on TV, the time on the clock. It looked like having an honest conversation with God about the pain in my heart and my desperate need for healing. Little by little, that fearful, 8-year-old girl, was seen, heard, and no longer alone.
Over time, lost memories began to resurface, they appeared like stars piercing into those once dark places one-by-one. I suddenly remembered the smile on my grandpa’s face as I sang him a song I had been learning in school. I remembered my dad carrying me to the kitchen late at night to get a cup of water because I was too scared of the dark to venture into the kitchen on my own. I remembered my mom tucking my stuffed dog into the space between my bed and the wall to protect me from monsters as I slept. I remembered talking to my stuffed unicorn, Eunice, as she wrote in my imaginary diary about my feeling scared, feeling sad, and wondering what would happen next.
I imagine the Holy Spirit, the loving, nurturing, gentle, Holy Spirit, as Eunice. I feel Her listening to each word, catching each tear, holding me tight as I fall apart into Her arms. I walk through each of my darkest moments, picturing myself wrapped up in Her embrace as she softly whispers, “You are safe now. You are no longer alone.”
As I continued to heal, there still remained a tether binding me to the past. It was time to forgive. Forgiveness is a process that looks different for all who walk through it. For me, it was upon the revelation that forgiveness does not equal justification, but personal freedom, that I was ready to embark on this process. Examining the perpetrator’s perspective and understanding the events that brought them to this place enlightened me to see a glimpse of humanity within them. This gave me the impetus I needed to forgive their actions. This forgiveness split apart the connecting force between us, freeing me from this person once and for all.
Healing taught me to believe that I was worthy of healing. Healing taught me to believe that I was worthy of abandoning comparison and self-judgment, in order to embrace the truth that ALL emotions, regardless of their cause, are valid. We each have unique traits, unique genomes, and a unique history of experiences that shape who we are and the way we experience the world. Our emotions always make sense in light of their context.
I no longer feel helplessly out of control at the very sign of others’ impending anger. I still endure spikes of anxiety when I hear someone yelling or see certain types of violence play out on TV, and at times I still grieve the anniversaries of past events—but I am no longer consumed by fear.
Healing is a journey, one with bumps in the road and sharp turns when you least expect it, but it is a journey worth taking. As you continue to travel along its path, the road becomes smoother, the navigation easier. With every step, you reclaim ownership of your story, of your mind, and of your body. You welcome peace back into your life, a peace that nestles itself into your heart, its permanent abode. Harmonies emerge. Life is renewed. Hope is restored.
You’re more than your pain, more than what happened. You are strong enough to heal from the heavy you carry. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].