Healing from trauma is a long-term relationship to the past; like all relationships, it changes over time. And it’s rarely straightforward. Through struggle, sometimes kicking and screaming, we learn that real change is deeper than becoming the ideal “healed person” previously envisioned.
30 years ago, I thought I’d found the key. Freedom meant confronting what had happened to me as a young child and teenager. With the help of a great male therapist, I owned my emotional truth. I gathered courage to feel the feelings that I had previously channeled into neurotic symptoms. The process was very difficult at times — but in the end, I was able to enjoy life in ways I had never thought possible.
That was Phase One, and it took several years.
Phase Two: I discovered my recovery paths through trial and error. Floundering and confusion taught me that re-experiencing feelings of trauma could be a dead end. The process that had once brought true freedom and joy now made me identify as a perpetually wounded creature. I was re-pathologizing myself as I kept plumbing the depths of what it means to be damaged. Here, I was in fact enabled by a second male therapist, witness to my Black-hole dives, who tried valiantly to reframe my endless self-dissection. The problem was, those lessons had already been assimilated, and self-dissection was, now, more of a hinderance than a help.
What worked before may not be helpful later on. This is actually a sign of growth.
At the time, I simply had a hunch: I needed to see a female therapist; I trusted this because it felt both threatening and right, and I had learned which instincts were reliable. She needed to be older than I was — Mommy issues were percolating. I knew how to relate to males, how to charm them intellectually, how to play Ophelia in a game that kept me fascinating in their eyes. Seeing a woman was going to be a new challenge. I parted amicable ways with my male therapist, and I struck off for new territory.
Phase Three: Over time, three healing keys emerged from this new therapy relationship, none of which I would have been equipped to address 30 years earlier, certainly not to the same depth: 1. My hyper-verbal introspection was self-defeating; 2. Simply being in my therapist’s presence released feelings of atmospheric shame that I had carried forever; 3. I began to own the truth: that I am pretty damn OKAY.
Only through struggle can intellectual concepts like “it wasn’t my fault” or “I don’t need to be ruled by shame” become embodied realities. Our culture reinforces the notion that therapists are like surgeons, and that we should relinquish our autonomy to them.
We all need help sometimes, but it’s your healing and your struggle. Through struggle, you build on lessons learned in the past, and become free to move forward.