Walking through traumatic life events is not easy for anyone. It takes courage, resilience, and the determination to find the beauty after the storm. This heartfelt piece by Safa Iman paints a picture of what it is like to trek through the trenches of trauma while trying to find self-care, healing, and self-awareness. I hope you enjoy her essay as much as I do. It is extremely moving.
sorrel, ginger beer, and pastelles.
For the first time in a couple years, I am able to look into a mirror and not only smile, but recognize my reflection again. Trauma affects us in different ways and it not only rewired me, but stole me from myself. I spent a lot of time making steps that were taking me further and further away from where I needed to be—from healing. I wanted to make the phrase, “I’m ok” more believable. Mostly to myself. I figured that the more I repeated it, the more real it would become. “Fake it till you make it”, right? But I was spiraling, sometimes out of control, and I didn’t want anyone to know. It sounds so silly saying it now, but I didn’t want people to worry about me. I knew that would cause me more pain.
I have always been a wanderer. It’s sewn into the deepest parts of me, but this year I decided that in order to properly practice self-care, I needed to be still. I needed a routine that was healthy and a space where I could create my idea of peace without worrying about having to leave in a few months. It probably sounds simple to many, but my life was never like that and up to that point it had been enough for me.
Earlier this year I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder, depression and PTSD. While the diagnosis terrified me and made me isolate myself from the people I loved, it also gave me a deeper understanding of what I am experiencing which was instrumental in me finally getting the help I needed.
Some things I have learned:
1. Do not allow anyone to dictate what your healing should look like.I have never felt a process like this one. I am thankfully at a place where I feel in control again and I constantly have to remind myself to be patient with my healing because I know I will carry the experience for the rest of my life. It was difficult finding someone to help me get on this path or even see it. I became angry whenever I didn’t get what I needed, and I couldn’t understand how people who cared about me responded the way they did and still do. Compassion, real compassion, is rare. Most people who notice where compassion is needed but do nothing are merely making observations. So I was angry, alone, terrified and lost. I spent a lot of time listening to people tell me what I needed to do. Navigating trauma is a process specific to each individual and it’s imperative you allow yourself to kick, scream, cry and stumble your way into healing. Either way, I am learning to trust my process. Learn to trust yours.
2 . Reach out to someone you trust. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Even when you don’t get what you need, keep trying! Allow people who can carry you to carry you when your wings are too tired.
3. Allow the people who are able to show up for you to do so. The thing I was most hurt about was being isolated. Being made to feel like a contagion. People slowly shying away because they either couldn’t be bothered, didn’t care or just lacked the tools to deal with my hurt or healing. I got stuck wanting and waiting for the people in my life that I felt closest to, to show up for me. Sometimes, people just don’t have the capacity. We also live in a world where feeling anything too deeply is considered cumbering — weakness even. I spent a lot of time being angry at family and close friends for not being able to deal with my pain or me the way I needed them to. Not everyone will know what to say or do for you. If it’s a person you trust and are especially close to, try your best to be very vocal about exactly what you need. For me, it was patience. I needed my close ones to be patient with me. I also expected some of them to know me well enough to instinctively know what I need. I’m deeply empathic so it’s so easy for me to sense when someone needs me. I expected the same. Be open to the people who are willing and capable to be there for you until you can be there for yourself. Sometimes it’s a complete stranger. They are the universe giving you what you need. They are gifts — never squander them. This takes time though, and if you’re as stubborn as I am, it will take a lot of time. But again, it’s a process.
4. Do the things that make you happy. Repeat. This looks different to all of us. I started running again which has always been a huge love of mine. Being in nature as much as possible is also something that heals. Talking to the ocean and allowing my tears to mix with her salty waves in hopes that my pain will become part of something meaningful. Being around children has also always been a huge provider of joy for me. Whatever it is, as long as it is within healthy parameters, do it and do it in abundance.
5. Heal the relationships you’ve hurt while you were hurting. It is true what they say, “hurt people, hurt people.” Whether intentional or not, acknowledge where you’ve caused others pain. This is something I am slowly working on. I’ve stayed quiet in hopes that the people I know love and know me, also know that I was not myself. Some people have and I am thankful for them. They make this step easier.
So here I am: thirty-three years old, in the best shape of my life, slowing finding my way back to myself and smack dab in the middle of the holiday season which I usually spend with family. This year, in the spirit of self-care, I am choosing to start a couple traditions of my own. As much as I love them, my family has always been a great source of anxiety for me. It’s always taxing being around people who make you feel like you have to omit parts of yourself to be accepted, respected or loved. For years I found myself wanting to present as someone else. Bending my truth to be easily digested by the people I cared so much about. Sometimes part of self-care is learning how to care a little less. As a Trinidadian, three staples we enjoy during the Christmas season are sorrel, ginger beer and pastelles. My grandmother always made them when we were younger. This year will be taking up that torch and she is so proud of me for it. This holiday season, I am choosing myself and deciding to spend my time with some people who allow me to be unapologetically myself. Who accept my quirks, loveliness and brokenness.