I'm a pattern seeker. I always have been. My brain has always been wired for puzzles, and they've consequently always been fun and relatively easy for me. My upbringing fine-tuned my ability to pick up clues to patterns as well, creating that intuitive sense that all survivors of abuse and trauma seem to develop on some level, just in order to see the crazy train bearing down the tracks at us. Seeing patterns intuitively is partly based in the ability to anticipate, I think, which is also grounded in sensitive observation skills.
In a childhood world where a slammed door means something far, far greater (and often more ominous,) than a gusting wind, we learn to pick up supersonic behavioral clues and subtle hints about the direction of the atmosphere. I see how this has translated into my adult life; I'm always on the hunt for answers, usually before a question has even been posed. In moderation, this serves me well, as I can often see a pattern - whether of data or behavior - forming long before my peers or colleagues see it.
Lately, I've noticed a pattern in the conversations that I'm having with the people around me - from my daughters to my bosses, from newcomers to my alcoholism recovery support groups to the distant coworker that I recently sat next to on the plane, from friends of friends to co-workers grabbing a coffee in the break room. Everyone's asking me this on some level,
"What's the secret to overcoming trauma?"
Dalai Lama, Yoda-type I ain't.
But I know a little something about how to move on from pain.
So here it is, straight from me to you, the best trick I know to overcome trauma...
It takes ACTION.
Unfortunately, the first action that anyone has to take in order to overcome trauma, I believe, is to face the trauma. I'm not a big fan of pop-psych ways to do this. I believe that I would bodily harm anyone who tried to wrap me in a warm and fuzzy blanket to simulate the womb. I don't think that setting the stage to re-live a trauma is necessary, but it does have to be remembered, acknowledged, brought forth into the light.
It's ugly, it's painful, it's shameful, it's embarrassing and it goes against our very natures, but I believe that this action of exposure has to happen. How, after all, can one overcome something that is fuzzy around the edges? How can I overcome fear if I'm not entirely sure what it is that I'm afraid of.
I used to think that I was afraid of the dark.
It was a vague, faceless, anonymous fear.
I looked at it and I thought about it and I wrote down specifics and I touched it and I danced with it and I examined it and analyzed it.
Guess what? I'm not afraid of the dark.
I'm afraid of the abuse that happened to me in the dark.
What's the antidote to that fear? Well, there's a whole list of ways that I can keep myself safe from that very specific fear, starting (and often ending too,) with this: don't allow the people who abused me in the dark into my life, house or head. And if that doesn't work? Turn on a night-light, know my surroundings and the people in it, have a plan (turning on the light in the room I'm entering before I turn off the light in the room I just left,) and a contingency plan (flashlight on the nightstand,) and I could go on and on and on.
I can take action to at best banish, at worst delay that fear. Either way, I'm progressing - taking action.
I used to spend a lot of time reading self-help books. Some of them were pretty good, especially the ones that made me stop my ingrained thought cycle and attempt to re-think it. I can't honestly say that I learned anything I didn't already know, but the process of attempting to seek self-improvement DID get me out of my own thinking long enough to look at myself and my behavior from a different angle. And that is an action.
Maybe I don't know how to act or react. Maybe my training as an abused child and as a scapegoat prevented me from learning how to handle myself, sure. Survivors of trauma often don't know how they should move on, we just know that we don't want the pain that we've already had anymore. But I always have a baseline, and that ground zero is this: I know definitively how NOT to act. I know what causes pain to others and to myself, so I know what I don't want.
Holding on to that negative has been a crux of action that I've returned to over and over again; "Well, I won't do that," has been the jumping off point for me so many times of trying... well, anything BUT that. I've gone full pendulum swing to the opposite ends of the earth before in an attempt to get my emotional bearings in the world post-abuser, and I've tried everything on the spectrum in between. Sometimes it's worked and sometimes not, but I've learned more and more about how to act and react appropriately (and non-abusively,) every single time. So that, too, has been action.
So I've taken the actions to identify the trauma, I've taken the action to rethink the trauma and how it affects my life today, and I've taken the action to determine how I will avoid the trauma in the future and how I will act differently. Doing this over and over and over again has helped me to face, overcome and move on from trauma.
Lastly, and this is my favorite action, I make it a point to attempt to do something good every single day. I find at least one moment each and every day in which I can take some action that pleases me, or that I can enjoy, or that makes me smile or laugh - often this involves kindness and humor to another living soul. This is an annuity based action. I get a moment of pleasure today, AND I've just set myself up for success down the road. Six months from now, when I have that moment of relived trauma that pops up out of nowhere and attempts to side-swipe me, I will also have a well of good moments to draw from to counterbalance that painful memory. I create good future memories every day partly so that I will have them in the future when I need them -but mostly because it feels good to do good.
When the memory of NM telling me that I'm the most selfish person on the face of the planet surfaces and attempts to derail me, I'm going to remember, too, that I just gave a homeless veteran every single cash money bill in my wallet, and that when he looked at me like he was going to cry and said, "How can I repay you?" my honest, authentic and sincere answer to him was, "You already have sir, thank you for your service." Is that the action of a selfish person? I think not. But it is action.
These are all great tools, and I can honestly say that these principles are some of the main reasons that I'm still ambulatory and have made it through so much trauma with my sanity - relatively - intact.
But the greatest action I've taken and that I continue to take in order to overcome trauma is this:
I stay the fuck away from the people and places that cause me trauma in the first place.