Healing from Trauma

I passed a big anniversary of my attack the other day and I’m so relieved that it didn’t phase me. In fact, this was the first year since surviving the violent home invasion that I barely acknowledged the date and its implications. In the four prior years, it was a date that would loom before me, and on each anniversary, whether consciously aware of the date or not, I found myself instinctually markedly depressed and upset. I would find it impossible to not recall the traumatic memories of that day once I remembered that it was indeed the anniversary.

This year, it wasn’t until I was lying in bed after the full day that I became aware that it was the anniversary. It’s interesting because I actually felt noticeably more depressed during that day than I had in recent days, even remarking on my low mood in my blog and repeatedly mentioning to Ben that I felt depressed, yet I did not connect the implications of the date to how I was feeling. I’m not sure if it was a coincidence that I felt so morose or if it’s true that “the body keeps the score,” but my conscious mind was oblivious to the relationship.

Even though I was sad and somewhat crabby all day—a disposition far from my goal, I still see this anniversary as a vast improvement, largely due to the fact that my utter unawareness of the significance of the date points clearly to the fact that the trauma occupies much less of my brain during my waking hours. Although I still have PTSD (daytime flashbacks and nighttime nightmares), I ruminate on what happened so much less. More importantly, I’m finally seeing that I’m not irreparably broken, a long-harbored self-concept I embodied after the attack. In fact, even his last words to me were, “now you are ruined.”

Progress toward emotional healing has felt painfully slow at times, much like trying to catch enough rainwater in a sieve to fill a swimming pool. In fact, up until about three months ago, there were elements of recovery I never believed I would achieve. Instead, I was learning to make peace with the fact that no matter how hard I worked on getting better and no matter how much time passed, I’d always carry physical and emotional wounds from the attack that would compromise certain aspects of my life. However, whether it’s just a product of patience and the passage of time, or actually due to the tremendous amount of therapy, writing, and emotional work I’ve invested, especially in the past two years, I’ve now made successful strides toward clearing just about every milestone I can imagine necessary toward being nearly healed in general terms. Of course, I still have a long way to go to be “all better” and to say with honesty that the scars from that day have melted away, but the picture of how I perceive my future looks so much more aligned with how I would have envisioned it should I never have been attacked and beaten. The power of that statement alone brings tears of gratitude and joy to my eyes. I now believe it’s realistic to hope and prepare for a full recovery in mind and spirit (my body will always retain scars from the injuries inflicted upon it, and that’s okay).

It’s likely that the symptoms of PTSD will linger for quite some time, but my day-to-day emotional pain, lifestyle modifications and restrictions, and anxieties will conceivably fade into nothingness. As this anniversary demonstrated to me, they’ve already moved from front-and-center stage, all-encompassing of my mental energy, to a more muted backdrop over which I can mostly function normally. I’m on a positive trajectory, which fills me with more optimism and hope regarding the fate of my psychological health than ever seemed fathomable since the moment he grabbed me from behind.

I don’t believe the fruits of my intense, fully-vested efforts toward recovery are following the law of diminishing returns (like a logarithmic curve) either, which is often the case when working hard for a long time on something. On the contrary, the past three months have been the most productive, followed by the six months before that, then year before that, etc. Essentially, though an inexact model for the minute fluctuations (steps forward and back) in emotional recovery, an exponential curve is a decent representation of the large-scale process. I won’t be surprised if growth and improvements taper off in coming months and years; after all, the functional and emotional areas that needed life-saving resuscitation as well as the vast majority of areas that required less massive reparations, but still major attention. With that said, I will try hard to not feel frustrated or disappointed with any stumbles and hard-earned victories. I deserve all the patience and praise I can dole out despite my self-criticism.

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