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When Trauma and Identity Cross Paths


I saw this post on Instagram and it got me thinking about an experience during my healing journey.

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It happened last year. I’d been having a great summer.

I was in a therapy session telling my therapist how present I’d been feeling recently. I’d been feeling light, happy, and in control. She smiled and said to me:

What you are feeling is called recovery”.

Then the Pondering Began

I didn’t really give it too much thought in that moment because she said it as we were finishing up. However, once I got home and into the days after, as her words sunk in I began to feel my anxiety building. I felt uncomfortable and unsure in a general sense.

It was a tough week and I couldn’t wait to get back to therapy to talk about it more. I was beginning to understand. I was beginning to realize what I was afraid of and why my anxiety was tripped so intensely.

What happens now, if I am in recovery?

The Existential Question

Who am I if I am not broken in pieces falling apart under the weight of my trauma and the resulting PTSD?

Does this mean I don’t see my counselor anymore after weekly sessions for nearly three years? Am I on my own now? What does that even mean for me?

I was afraid, the panic was undeniable.

It became glaringly clear to me that I had no identity outside of my trauma. I had no idea who I was if I wasn’t focused on healing. What are my passions? What do I love? How do I want to be received and remembered?

It was time to take a good look at myself inside and out and begin learning who I really was.  There was more to me than survivor, and it was time to stop being ashamed of who I am and embrace myself with confidence.

This is the amazing part of therapy: the levels of awareness that naturally become visible as layers of trauma and grief are peeled away and proper processing happens.

A Survivor and More

It may sound silly, but facing myself with openness and awareness of self was (and still is at times) both frightening and exhausting. I’ve never given much thought to my sense of self or how important it is. My whole life has been lived by quietly fitting in and either pleasing others or avoiding them completely as a means of controlling my bubble. Never truly living as the real me with boundaries and emotions.

My identity was, and has always been survivor. Nothing more, nothing less.

Over the last few months I have been pushing myself outside my comfort zone, and trying to identify myself and my place in this world. On a deeper level, I am learning that my trauma is a part of who I am, but it doesn’t not have to be my sole identity. I do not have to feel guilty for finding happiness in spite of all of my grief. I can honor my happiness and my trauma simultaneously. That is the balancing act of trauma healing.

I can take steps to heal daily and still be more than what was done to me as child.

I am learning who I am: I am a mother. I am a sister. I am a daughter. I am a wife. I am a mentor. I am a leader. I am an advocate. And, I am a survivor.

I am good at these roles, they fit me well and my life can be fulfilling.

The Final Takeaway

A long time ago people stronger than I, tried hard to put out my flame; they tried to break me, and strip me of who I am destined to be. They had free reign on my mind, body, and soul for many years, and they came damn close to succeeding.

But I have an innate resilience, something that is a part of my soul, that they couldn’t destroy. That part of me has always been there with the same determination not just to survive but to thrive.

There was a time when my identity was completely tied up in my trauma. Not anymore. I have suffered much trauma and abuse – but I am not what happened to me.

I will learn to let my flame shine brightly.

Acceptance happens slowly when healing from trauma, but it does come and recovery is possible.


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