Is it possible to heal after trauma?
The short answer is, without a doubt, “yes!” However, healing is not as straightforward as a lot of people think.
When people think of healing or recovering, they think of a linear line where you take a few steps each day and eventually reach the end. The “light at the end of the tunnel.” Once you reach that light, you no longer think about the things that hurt you. You don’t get lost in the memories or have any negative feelings towards the events.
This is not true, and it puts an unrealistic expectation onto survivors of trauma. In a lot of cases, people also impose some sort of timeline they deem “acceptable” to reach this impossible goal.
It’s assumed that there’s some sort of pattern healing from trauma follows, and this means that each time you hit a “stage”, you can’t fall back and falling back is implied to mean failure. This could not be further from the truth.
A lot of people, and for good reason, see healing from trauma under the same stages as the five stages of grief. These stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Trauma can fall under these stages. The problem arises when people think these stages must be in order, and that once you move on from a stage, you cannot go back to it. It’s been my experience, and I’m sure others too, that I have gone back and forth between the stages.
At one point, I felt like I was getting stuck between acceptance and denial. I would go through the process of accepting what happened, admitting it out loud and the flood gates would open. Admitting it would bring a breakdown but also a lightness I’d feel in my chest as if something had been weighing me down. It would feel over and complete but then out of nowhere, I’d realize I’d gone numb to my trauma. Again. I was in denial that it had taken place. Often, it would feel like some bad dream that wasn’t real. I would go back and forth between acceptance and denial. Somewhere in between all that, I’d also get lost in anger and depression as I comprehended the horrible things I had been through.
Healing isn’t a linear process. It’s normal to find yourself doing good for periods of time whether it be days, to months, to even years to be then hit by a bad period. Sometimes this bad period is triggered by a new event or situation. Whatever the reason, it is normal to go back and forth between good periods and bad. It’s normal to cycle through many different emotions and have periods of numbness.
When it comes to healing, the result isn’t that you never think about the trauma… It isn’t that you never feel bad feelings with it again. It isn’t that it never affects you in any way again. What it really means is that you have learned to cope with these feelings. It means that you are able to better understand how to handle the bad periods and that they are less frequent.
The realization that your trauma does not cease to exist makes some people question whether they want to heal. They question whether it’s worth it. In my experience, it is worth it. While your trauma may never go away, you can still find so much enjoyment and happiness in life. You deserve to heal.
If I had not started the healing process, I genuinely do not think I would be where I am now. I am with a loving partner, dogs and we are planning a family. My trauma still affects me, but I cope with it so much better, and I can say that I am happy.
So, the long answer is that, “yes, you can heal. But it will take a lot of work and it will not be an easily measurable process. You will likely fall down a lot more than you expect. It will be hard. And most importantly, the end result is not an absence of trauma, but a way to sit with your trauma more comfortably.”