These are the things no one tells you about trauma:
You become someone who has a before and after. You become someone who has been unmistakably altered.
You become fluent in a different kind of dead language, one that you picked up somewhere you didn’t mean to go. It replaces your mother tongue. It falls on deaf ears. The syllables collapse and die in your mouth, a beginning and an ending wrapped in one. You learn that words have a taste, and they taste like shame and regret and guilt and anger. All of them are bitter. I am lucky – yes, lucky – to have several friends who speak this same dead language. We found each other and now hold meetings where we utter truths that sound like curses.
You become a foreigner in your own body. A visitor. On your worst days, a hostage. And, of course, you’re always the one paying the ransom.
You become someone who believes healing is a word that doesn’t apply to you.
You become someone who makes 360-degree turns to ensure you’re not being followed or that the person behind you hasn’t closed the distance between the two of you since the last time you looked back.
You become someone who locks every door and checks that they’re locked every time you walk by.
You become someone who sits with your back against the wall in full view of the exit.
You become someone who panics at the loud noise or the familiar scent.
You become someone who worries when to be on guard. (But that’s an easy question when the answer is always.)
You become someone who leaves your back row of seats down so you’ll see if anyone is hiding in your car before you unlock it.
You become someone who makes jokes to excuse these behaviors.
You become someone who doesn’t find that stuff funny anymore.
These are the things no one understands about trauma:
It is not something you can just move past, but you try anyway. You try to get over and under and around and through. It seems to block your way forward at every turn. But you keep trying because there’s no such thing as going back.
It is not something that has a reset button. There is no do over. And, worst of all, there’s no off switch. It just settles in your chest and threatens to rise in your throat with every breath.
It is not something easily defeated. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re playing a game where the odds are stacked against you and where the rules were never explained.
It is not something that let’s you pretend you’re all better now.
These are the things I’ve learned about trauma:
You can build a new after, one you choose for yourself.
You can heal at your own pace, in your own time.
You can find people who will help you along the way.
You can choose what – and who – you become.
You can forgive without forgetting.
You can learn to laugh and love and live again.
You can make it through the unbearable nights and the muted days.
You can move forward even if you don’t like what you’re carrying with you.
You can move forward even if you don’t like what you’re leaving behind.
You can move forward.
If you are struggling with PTSD, please visit our FIND HELP page for helplines and resources near you.