As we go through life, sometimes we encounter situations that end so violently and in such memorable ways that we can’t shake their impact. In today’s society, we are almost obsessed with giving everything a label so we can accurately track or measure it, but when we do this we often compartmentalize the truth and separate it from its surroundings. Segregated like this, it becomes abstract and emotionless, and to me, loses much of its true substance.
For those who suffer from PTSD, the situation cannot be contained to a box. Truth is, while others might see it as just a piece of that person, that person sees it as a nearly life-defining event, and all other events are an attempt to tip-toe around the trauma, in an effort to pretend that the world is okay when it never truly feels like it is.
I’ve had the misfortune of experiencing a few traumatic events in my life, but none are so impacting as extreme emotional trauma. Perhaps for others, this is not the case, but for me, it has been a struggle every day.
There are days when I am sure that the worst has passed and that I am free of this brand of self-induced torture. But then, like a wave whose tides have changed, the waters of those vivid memories and all their emotional ties force their way back into my life. Sometimes its through dreams, sometimes its through constant reminders scattered across everyday life. Sometimes its simply a lingering, dark feeling that I can’t put my finger on.
I awoke this morning sobbing; something I haven’t done in a long time. It was such an odd experience, because I was simultaneously wrapped in the aftermath of a night terror and consciously present outside of the entire experience. I watched myself as my emotions turned on me and writhed in the anguishing memories, but even as they did, I could see it as though watching through a window.
Logic is often the first defense external caregivers will offer you. Perhaps for many psychological challenges, take a logical approach can at least give a person a path towards the help they need. It can arm them with purpose and a sense of what ‘right’ looks like. But for some kinds of emotional trauma, the emotional cores that are associated with memories can hardly be swayed by logic.
I know, deep down, that my life is better having come out of the events that I have experienced. That what happened, needed to happen, needs no persuasion on my part. But it doesn’t change the emotional connections, the millions of reminders I encounter each day, and the ties that I can’t seem to sever. Logically, it was always doomed and I was too blind to see it. Logically, I am better off on the path I am on now than the one I was back then.
But Emotionally, my heart breaks a thousand times a day. Pieces of me long for something I’ll never have again, no matter who or what I encounter.
Zen ideals and Kung Fu practices both tell us that focusing on pain, both through reliving and by drawing the attention to it even presently, will only amplify suffering. Attachment leads to suffering after all. I try to stay here, in the present, but like calling voices in a cave, I hear the memories come from all directions.
It has helped to sit in silence and be with myself, to acknowledge them with strength and calmness; with clarity, for precisely what they are and not what they want me to believe them to be.
My only salvation has been in the resting moments of meditation in the evening. My only solace is when I can rediscover, time and again, that the only power my suffering has over me is the power that I give it. And that the person whose responsible for it has long since forgotten about the damage they have inflicted.
Even if they wanted to, there is nothing they could do to help me. Nothing that any other person can do to help me. I must face this with determination and with strength, but also with forgiveness both in myself and in them. I must let go over the negativity that binds this suffering to me.. even as it comes from the many points of happiness I’ve experienced by the same token.
This all brings me to the point of this blog post.
I doubt I am alone in my suffering. No doubt many in the world have experienced trauma that has rattled their lives. Part of the volunteer work I do is a Crisis Hotline, where I encounter others who are suffering. To hear about others who are suffering serves to strengthen my compassion. To help others heal, is to help myself heal. To serve others is to serve myself. To abstain from regret and to shed the burden of sorrow.
We cannot change our past nor can we amend the results of it. We can only stand in the present, evaluate the results of our lessons and hope to make the best choices we can in the here-and-now. My advice to others who might be suffering is simple.
The heart is fueled by love and its health depends on the love you give just as much as the love you receive. Believe in the power of real love. Offer it to others, friends and strangers alike, and offer it to yourself. Forgive yourself for your mistakes, let go of your regrets, and send the energy you know that you need out to the world.
Healing can only truly begin when you orient your mind towards it and not the effects of your suffering. Even when you do, it takes time and adherence to hope.