“The childhood I remember is not the only version that exists.”
from PE by Victor Lodato
In the previous essay on Trauma, I noted that our route to a fulfilling life must include an assessment of what is getting in our way. I promised to talk about How to do that assessment.
The starting point is our thoughts, which then lead to our self-talk and the way we treat ourselves and others. If we were victims of childhood trauma, our memories and re-playing of that can pre-occupy us for a lifetime. There are entire decades I’d like to reclaim that were spent in this endless feedback loop. Mainly, I ruminated ad infinitum on why people behaved the way they did. Now I get how pointless a question that is as I can never know the answer. When I read the above quote (in a short story in The New Yorker magazine) I wanted to have it done up in calligraphy and framed on my wall.
The psychic residue of trauma creates an interior landscape that makes navigating through life hugely challenging. Every day, with every decision, we are confronted with self-limiting beliefs and attitudes. And that’s on the good days. On the bad days, we can create, or draw to us, drama and crisis at every turn. It can surely feel as though we have NO control over our thoughts and our lives. While it is true that we control very little in our lives, we can learn to attend to, relate to, and change repetitive thought patterns that do not serve us. We can adjust our choices and responses in the direction of greater mental and emotional health. As trauma survivors, we will need help with this. Whether it is a spiritual community, a skilled counselor, a loving partner, or all of the above, we must reach out and accept help where it is available.
I need to address the issue of medications in relation to recovery from trauma. Medication has it’s place when we are unable to contain and function. It is, however, most often a crutch that must be set aside when our body/mind has done it’s healing work and we become better off without it. Unfortunately, psychotropic drugs are over-prescribed and poorly monitored in the vast majority of cases. This can result in unhealthy dependence, exacerbation of symptoms, and even death. If medication has become one of the things getting in the way of your best life, take steps immediately to address the situation.
Today, I am closer to my best life than I’ve been in a very long time. I attribute this largely to a finely tuned awareness of living in the present moment, not in the past or future. I follow through on the health commitments I’ve made to myself in terms of daily exercise, sleep, nutrition, and time in nature.
When I turned 60 years old last year, I put myself up against the wall and said “If not now, when?” Clearly I’m in the last third of my life so everything is looking precious to me, including earthly time.
A young person whom I love and respect very much said to me recently – “It’s become very popular these days to just kind of give up.” We both laughed at this assessment of our world and concluded it was true in some ways yet not the whole story. If you chose, you can join the ranks of the helpless and hopeless, or those on track to arrive there. It’s always about choice, is it not? (Hamlet said it well- “To Be or Not to Be, That is the Question.”)
I love life, warts and all, as they say. So, I’ve charted a course in this last phase where I love without wariness or sorrow. I’ve surrendered the distractions, internal and external, that drew the life out of me. I ask myself daily if my life is thriving or am I being emptied. I ask myself if the way I think is serving me. I remind myself to adapt to what is called for NOW. All of these healthy behaviors took a long time (and a few great teachers) to become seated within me. I’ve gone beyond “Keep Calm and Carry On” (although that’s always a good idea) to something that feels like thriving. So chose Love, celebrate Life, find your Community. You’re worth it!