Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Trauma Happens: Recovering from Life

I had a dream once that I was knocked down by 3 consecutive tidal waves. I came to understand the meaning of that dream many years later. 3 big unexpected life events which occurred in my life at ages 11, 25, and 32 that totally crushed me and yet I was able to stand up afterwards unharmed. I believe the lesson in these events were humility, trust, and faith. G♡D was showing me that He runs my life and my illusion of control is just that, an illusion. My mantra is בידו אפקיד רוחי. (In His hands I entrust my spirit). I acknowledge that אין עוד מלבדו (It's all G♡D) and I see that it's also true with unforeseen blessings. It's all out of my hands and beyond my control. I am grateful to finally absorb it so no more tidal waves are necessary.

When I was 11 years old or so, my parents got divorced.  As a coping mechanism my young psyche developed perfectionism, probably believing that if I was perfect this would not have happened, my world would not have fallen apart.  So I was the perfect daughter, an honor role student, skipped 8th grade, graduated high school with honors, lettered in Track & Field, tutored my peers, held numerous jobs before, during and after school, and kept myself occupied with sports, music, and friends.  I didn't know what a crutch perfectionism would be until I became an adult and a healer called me out on it.  At first, I was in denial.  After all, I half-assed a lot of things that I did, how could I be a perfectionist?  I came to understand later that a perfectionist doesn't necessarily do everything perfectly but rather expects life and people to be perfect and suffers repeated disappointment because both life and people fail to meet this impossible and unrealistic expectation.  I was subconsciously hard on myself and therefore also very critical and judgmental of others.  Even though I am aware of this today, it is still something I need to constantly work on every time I catch myself doing it.  It's hard to stop things that are on autopilot but luckily I have people in my life who help me to realize when I am falling into these hardwired patterns so that I can consciously make better choices.  My husband is good at helping me with this.

When I was 25 years old, I was drugged and raped by someone I knew and trusted, a friend who I had worked with for almost a year.  I didn't tell a single soul about it.  Not my parents (who I am very close to), not the police, not a doctor, not even my best friend.  I couldn't even tell myself (admit, accept, acknowledge) that it happened.  I was in shock and denial about it and I suppressed it as if it never existed.  I became full of (self) doubts.  My coping mechanism for tidal wave trauma number two was similar to the first one, I got very busy.  I didn't have time to deal with the (emotional) pain.  I was immersed in 2 full time graduate programs: Naturopathic Doctor and Acupuncture, I woke up at 5am and went swimming at 6am (to train for a triathlon), I was sometimes in school from 9am to 9pm because of the double track I was in that had not even been created at the time but I pioneered and navigated it on my own. I trained for and competed in 2 half marathons, 2 full marathons, 1 rollerblading marathon, and a 200+ mile bike ride from Seattle to Portland. I got a massage therapy license and a fitness instructor license. I taught Pilates at my school and at a local gym.  I took up Latin Dancing-- sometimes going out 4 or more days per week and coming home in the wee hours of the morning. I even traveled to Alaska, Hawaii, California and had an active social life and dated.  Rape? As the famous meme goes: Ain't no body got time fo dat!  

So I kept this secret for about a decade.  Then I read a story online about a woman who had been raped and it hit me.  It was before the #metoo movement but that's what I felt. ME TOO!  I was finally ready to deal with the skeleton in my closet that I pretended wasn't there.  I wrote and published an article anonymously online about my experience and what I learned from it in order to try to help and encourage others in a similar situation to get the help that they need and to feel supported and that they are not alone.  People commented on my article that they were glad I shared my story and that it helped them in some way.  I wrote and sent my rapist a letter in the mail.  I found out that he had a daughter and asked him if he would have wanted what he did to me to happen to her. I didn't include a return address, and I don't know for sure if he got it but I wanted him to know that I knew what he did to me even though he drugged me and I was unconscious during the act.  I suggested that if he felt remorse he should volunteer for a rape prevention organization to make amends for what he did to me.  By the time that I was ready, able and willing to deal with it, the statute of limitations had already passed and I could no longer take him to court.  I rest assured that Divine Justice prevails and everyone gets what they deserve in the form of karma.

At the time when I published my article, only pseudonyms were used in the story.  I didn't want my name attached to the story.  Although I didn't feel guilt or shame, per se, like many victims or survivors of sexual abuse do, I was afraid that if a patient or potential patient would Google my name that they would find the article and it would be TMI-Too Much Information: Not something you feel comfortable knowing about your health care provider.  I didn't want anyone to judge me or feel pity for me.  I wanted to hide that part of me because it was too uncomfortable to bear.  That all changed recently when another woman shared her similar story online in the form of a Ted Talk.  I felt fortunate that my incident didn't give me nightmares or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but something she said, hit home for me.  

In my life I seek to empower those around me: friends, family, patients, social media followers.  I often said things like, "What you think of me is none of my business."  I want people not to be afraid of being their true authentic self.  I want people to be free from the burden of seeking outside approval or validation.  And yet, I was being a hypocrite.  By publishing my article anonymously, I was hiding an unpleasant fact about myself that I didn't want people to know about because I was trying to project a perfect false image of myself and having been raped was not part of the narrative that I embraced as being part of my social history.  Instead of practicing what I preached I was practicing, "do as I say, not as I do."  

When this hit me, I reached out to the publisher and asked her to please add my name as the author of the article.  I was ready to be a role model of authenticity.  I will no longer play into society's errant notion of blaming and shaming the victim.  If I were the criminal in this case, THAT would be something to be embarrassed and ashamed about.  But something happened to me, against my will, and I decided not to be held hostage to it any longer.  I realized that if someone found my article online and didn't want to be my patient because of it, then that person was not meant to be my patient. However, I sense that the opposite is true.  

After over 3 years of working at a drug rehab center, when I finally had the courage to share my story with my community acupuncture session, it was following watching the Ted Talk video above together with them in a group and things clicking into place for me.  Instead of being rejected as I had feared, people came up to me afterwards and hugged me and shared their similar stories with me.  I received empathy, love, support, and compassion not judgement, criticism, rejection, and shame. My fears were in vain.  What a breath of fresh air.  To be open and honest and real is far more respectable, productive, and liberating than being secretive, fearful, and false.  When your thoughts, speech and actions are all congruent, you can have inner peace.  It is a gift we can give ourselves, being authentic.  

My patients were surprised when I told them that I didn't turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain because many staff working at recovery centers are also in recovery.  I suppose sports, studies, and salsa dancing are a healthier coping mechanism than substance abuse, but underneath those healthy things I was doing was the emotional pain that I didn't want or know how to face and deal with.  We were more similar than different, we just chose a different means of avoidance and distraction.  We both sought to deny or evade an uncomfortable past event we just went about it in different ways.  

Now I know that the only way to get over the pain, is to go through the pain.  If I could go back to my 25 year old self, I would have trusted myself and gone to make a police report.  I didn't want to accuse a friend of raping me (since I had no memory of the actual rape due to the date rape drug that was put in my water) but the police could have sent me to a medical examiner who may have found physical evidence of the incident but I didn't know that back then and I was shocked and traumatized, I couldn't think straight.  I do wish I would have told someone about it.  20/20 hindsight as they say.  Life is lived forwards not backwards.  As one of my teachers says, "Don't ask why me, ask what now?"  

So now my mission is to be a resource and lamplighter for those who went through difficult times to come out triumphant instead of victimized and downtrodden.  I seek to lift others up who have also been hit by the tidal waves of life.  We all have scars and baggage and traumas that we survived.  The question is do we continue to live in the past and suffer by losing our power and freedom or do we push forward and thrive not despite of the trauma but rather because we authentically embrace and accept the totality of our selves and all of our experiences.  

My third tidal wave came in the form of an unplanned out-of-wedlock pregnancy.  This was a major crisis for me.  The pregnancy, the stigma, and being a single unwed mother was not part of the script that I wrote for myself.  Surrendering my ego and following the Creator's plan was not easy but I see that with the other 2 trauma's He was breaking me in.  I thought I was in charge of my life and He showed me over and over again that stuff happens that's out of my control and life goes on, just like in theater, the show must go on. The question is how would I adapt, would I become bitter or better?  

Just like a toddler who is learning how to walk repeatedly falls and must keep getting up without dwelling on all the past failures, we too as adults get knocked down by life and must repeatedly get up.

The truth is that after my third tidal wave I opened a business and closed it 3 years later.  It didn't take off as I had hoped, wanted, or planned.  Overall,  I felt defeated by life, like nothing was going my way, as planned, as anticipated, or as I had envisioned.  I felt beat down, fatigued, and discouraged.  

So now I'm taking off my mask and putting myself in recovery.  Recovering from not believing in myself, recovering from feeling like my parent's divorce was my fault, recovering from perfectionism, recovering from not accepting my imperfect life, recovering from fear of rejection, recovering from denial, recovering from negative self-assessments, recovering from life not going as I planned. 

I never wanted my parent's divorce, rape, and having a child out-of-wedlock to be part of my narrative.  I never wanted it to be part of my story.  But there it was, and there it will always be and the only way over it is through it.  Instead of running and hiding, all I can do is face the music and dance and help others to do the same.  We are all injured and wounded warriors in our own ways but we must be there for one another and remember that the wound is where the light enters.

I may not be able to erase my past but I can certainly cultivate a compassionate future of acceptance, surrender, faith, confidence, trust, and empathy for myself and others.  That is all there is left to do now. 


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