Monday, August 14, 2017

Post Traumatic Growth

When deep trauma changes you, as it did me, there is no bouncing back.  After enduring both severe sexual abuse as a young child and rejection by my family and community following disclosure, I was so completely shattered and confused that there was no me left to bounce back.  There is and was only moving forward, bouncing forward if you will, and embracing change.  I lost everything I thought I needed to survive and I almost gave up.  So many times I had to force myself to keep swimming through a sea of seemingly unending pain.  Sometimes it seemed pointless but I persevered, becoming resilient and gaining access to a new horizon and eventually to a new shore which I call my island of Self.
For so many years, when I could not keep swimming, when I had no more strength at all, I would lie flat on my back and float and rest and dream of one day not having to fight the waves, of one day arriving at a destination.  I wondered what this destination would feel like and what I would find there.  My deepest hope was to find safety.  But what I finally found when I arrived on my island of Self is so, so much more.
For years I could see my island only in the distance, a tiny bright dot on the horizon.  Then finally, one blessed day, I reached the shore of white sand, pure sunshine and endless warmth.  I pulled myself up onto the soft sand and rested, knowing that here I am safe and loved.  There is no other reality but love and safety on this tiny but magnificent piece of land.  This, my island of Self, is the most beautiful place on earth.  It is my home, my center, my place of connection and strength.  Here I have clarity.  Here I have everything I need and I am everything I need.  When I finally stood with both feet on my island and felt the strength and the love surrounding me I rejoiced. But then, inevitably, as will happen in life, a trigger, an anniversary or holiday, reached my beautiful island, and a huge wave swept me back into the sea and I was forced to start swimming again.
But I had found my island and knew I would never forget the feeling and so I gave up despair. I remembered that my wonderful island was there and that it was real. It wasn't going away. Only I had gone away temporarily, knocked over by a wave of life.  But I knew in which direction to swim and I was certain that I would reach the island again.
And I did reach it, over and over again, and began spending more and more joyful hours on my island embraced by safety, warmth and love.  Hours turned to days, and sometimes even weeks at a time.
Here I live peacefully, joyfully in each moment and when a storm inevitably comes along and a wave engulfs and drags me back into the dark sea of pain, I use my inner strength and confidence to swim back quickly, so much faster each time it happens.

In more recent years, I began writing and speaking publicly, sharing my story of hope and healing with others, and I looked around me in the sea of life and noticed others struggling beside me.  I reminded myself, and them, that we could join hands and swim together.  I have been able to build up my strength, not only to swim back to my Island repeatedly, but also to bring visitors along with me.  And I always come back, standing tall and resolute in the center of my island, breathing the pure sweet air deeply again.
Through accepting deep trauma and pain, I earned this island of Self.  A place I never knew or imagined could exist. My island is strong, enduring and whole and I am privileged to celebrate and share it.
On my island, love and goodness can never be diminished by another's badness. Nothing, not even my own failings and mistakes, can negate my innate eternal beauty, value and goodness.   This beautiful island is a spiritual and emotional center of love and joy.  It is here that I have gained an appreciation for being present in each moment and I am enveloped by unending gratitude. Each morning I awake on my island, I breathe and rejoice in my healthy body.  A body I once hated and tried to hurt and destroy.  I am grateful for every inch of me. Each day on my Island begins with mindfulness, prayer and meditation.  This grounds and centers me and reconnects me to myself and the Source of Life. 
I thank God for each toe, and toe nail, for the balls of my feet, my arches and heels. I give thanks for my ankles, my calves, my knees, and thighs, my intimate parts and all of my internal organs.  I am so grateful for my heart that pumps blood throughout my body, my lungs that breathe life and air into my body. I am grateful for my skin, blood, my bones, my muscles, and nerves, arteries and all of the intricate systems of my physical self working in harmony .  I am so grateful for my fingers, palms, wrists, arms, elbows and shoulders.  I give thanks for my spine and my neck, and my ability to turn my head and look in any direction I choose.  I am so grateful for my skull and brain, and the incredible ability to select my thoughts and process the events in my life, and heal.  I thank God for my hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, face and features.  I am grateful for a nose that can smell, ears that can hear, a mouth that can speak and communicate, pray, eat and drink.   I give thanks for a tongue, teeth, gums, jaw, cheeks, palate and throat.  For saliva and the ability to swallow!  For eyes that can see this beautiful, stunning and majestic world, for ears that can hear the quiet and the birds, for a nose that can smell the fresh air.  I am a walking, living miracle of life!
I know I am not here by chance, and every morning I ask God to help me fulfill my mission here.  I pray to be a source of strength, hope, healing, light, love, and joy to myself and others, especially those who have been through trauma.
When I see other survivors of severe trauma and child sexual abuse floundering in the sea as I was, I throw out a rope and if they have the strength to hang on, I pull them ashore, as so many others once did for me. There is no greater meaning and purpose than holding survivors close as they gasp and retch, and try to catch their breath, as I once had to, and occasionally still do. We survivors have so much in common and I have met many courageous women and men who have become my soul sisters and brothers.  Some people are born on an island.  We were born at sea.
These precious friends have permanent guest rooms on my Island and in my heart. Nothing brings me greater joy than speaking with, encouraging and loving them. Incredibly, there is endless room here on my island, and miraculously, the more guests who join me here the more the island grows and the more possibilities become visible. We will always be connected by the uncontrollable sea of life and the force of our love. The relationships I form here are deep and lasting. I have found deep meaning and joy in the heart of this painful sea and I ask God to help me continue to pull others toward my island to rest and to help them to increase their strength and to reach their own beautiful and permanent island nearby.

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