The Painful and Sweet Release

“If you were walking through an alley and four men came at you from the shadows and beat you up so badly that you ended up in the hospital, you would be on hyper-alert every time you walked through an alley for the rest of your life. Trauma is like that. Your body comes up with ways to protect you from re-experiencing trauma by sending off internal sirens at the slightest hint of danger, but you can also let it known when its ok to let your guard down.”

My new counselor, who has become my Monday afternoon Yoda, has been helping me sift through the mess of my twenties. Together, we have been digging through the rubble, picking out the stones of self-preservation and holding them up to the light. Among our discoveries: frantic attempts to control the outcomes of hard events; a sincere distrust of people unless strongly swayed differently; a debilitating fear of the unknown that has clouded the waters of my once-adventurous spirit; and a hyper-inward focus that refuses to depend on the Lord or anyone else.

When my husband and I came to a crossroads in our marriage 20 months ago, shortly after losing two young women who are dear to us, I picked up the reigns of our tumultuous life and tried to steer it in a different direction. I fought hard to set up boundary lines that would keep us from straying too far off the safe and predictable path. But my frenzied planning, pushing, and orchestrating has not prevented us from finding ourselves lost and parched in the desert once again.

And I am so tired.

Each time I can bring myself to take a deep, needed, healing breath in, life kicks me in the stomach again and leaves me curled up in the fetal position gasping for air. And yet, having walked in crisis or near-crisis for the majority of my twenties and having sat with others who are braving their own journeys of pain, I am finally reaching the stage of grief that is acceptance. As my fiery, Italian, deceased grandmother used to say,

“No one promised you roses, darlin’.”

The chaos has not taken a rest, and it may never stop its terrorizing, but I am no longer willing to sacrifice the woman I am and feel called to be due to faulty, unpredictable circumstances. But in order to step towards a robust life of winsome storytelling, system-shaking advocacy, and rich relationship building, I need to release all of the heavy sh*t that has been weighing me down under the guise of self-preservation.

With the help of Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, I have been slowly opening my hands and letting my shame tapes blow away in the wind–the lies that I am not enough, that all my best efforts lead to failure, that time and experience are worsening who I am as a human being. Through counseling and journaling, I am urging myself to shed the false ideas that I can control the outcome if I push hard enough, that I cannot trust anyone, and that the unknown is going to ruin me. It is an impossible feat to live in line with my values with all of this weight fastened to my chest.

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My new mantra: “I can do hard things.”

As I was hiking in Utah last week, nature was relentlessly beckoning me to hold my head high so that I can once again see upward and outward. It was a needed invitation to lean into spiritual healing of what has been an estranged relationship with the Lord, as well as a nudge to leap back into community and friendship after years of pulling myself away from it. I am learning that, if we heal at all, we heal together with the support of a loving Father.

Now home and back in my routine, I am choosing to sit in the acceptance of what is and trusting that the power of trauma is slowly, assuredly crumbling away. As I wait, I am letting this melody of Johnnyswim wash over me again and again until it becomes my own conviction: “I don’t know what’s coming, I don’t know what’s coming, oh I don’t know what’s coming, but I know it’s gonna be good.”

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