Personal Advice - Scrabble for Healing
Here's something I can promise you - if you're not actively scrabbling towards healing, then you're being run by trauma.
First off - I'm directing this to YOU, overachievers-that-look-amazing-to-everyone-else. Before you go delightedly pointing to that "sad sod that can't seem to get it together," I want you to see that I'm looking RIGHT AT YOU.
I'm what researchers dub an "overfunctioner." In trauma-informed work, they would say that I have a highly developed "carrying on with life" part. This means that my tendency - in times of crisis - is to jump to solutions, resolutions, problem-solving and fixing, all while suppressing my own needs and emotions. I'm EXACTLY who you want by your side in a crisis - I can hold space for you while saving the day (and this is likely one of many reasons wedding couples say that I help them stay grounded on their wedding day). But I'm also EXACTLY the kind of personality that can be emotionally run by my trauma while claiming that I'm not and looking like I’m not. And I was…for many, many years.
As you know - my work with couples is really hands-on. I work with people that really, genuinely love each other. We explore things together, and we delve kinda fearlessly into stuff. I used to stay away from talking about trauma - it will scare people away, I thought. And then two heartbreaking events happened, less than a year apart: two of my couples split up suddenly and unexpectedly. One split up a month after their wedding. The other split up three weeks before their wedding.
Now, I don’t BS with people. I don’t just pose people into pretty-looking pictures. We do real shit. So my work is a turn-off to couples that don’t actually feel really connected. Therefore, I PROMISE you that both of these couples were genuinely connected to each other — genuinely loved each other, and had genuinely stood beside each other through hard times before. I’m also not a fair-weather photographer, so I remained in touch with both sets of people through their heart-wrenching loss of each other. And here’s what I saw: in each case, the individual that prompted the sudden split had some kind of un-examined and un-addressed pain related to their prior experience of marriage and relationships. Often rooted in childhood. Both individuals were excellent at getting on with things, at carrying the baton of responsibility and dismissing their past experiences as insignificant. Both suddenly seemed to “lose it” and just become someone different overnight. Both gave logical-sounding reasons for the sudden change, and appeared to believe them.
So, now, I talk about trauma. I don’t make people tell me what traumas you’ve gone through; I know enough to be aware that this can be a dangerous and unhealthy endeavor, best undergone with a trauma-informed therapist. However, I do ask whether people know what traumas or emotional baggage you are carrying around, and whether each partner feels that they understand the other person’s particular pain and challenges. What steps you each have taken or are taking towards healing. Relationship research (yes - research) and my personal experience shows that this is vital to lasting connection.
Back to me - I’ve observed three main ways people address personal pain or trauma - and I, myself, have gone through each of them.
1) Denial: pretend it doesn’t exist or didn’t really matter. (fyi - it’s secretly running your life)
2) Containment: know it’s there but wish it wasn’t - and do everything you can to avoid it, by living a carefully contained life. (this works until sh*t hits the fan, and also makes you stay small)
3) Release: fight for healing, even though it’s hard as f*ck.
Here's what I've learned. Some of us are fighting for healing - healing old wounds, healing the problematic voices and messages that drive us, endlessly reaching for avenues to joy WITHOUT DISMISSING AND IGNORING OUR PERSONAL PAIN OR HISTORY...OR GETTING TOO ATTACHED TO IT. If you don't fall into that category of Conscious Healing, it means you're secretly (or overtly) being run by your pain, by emotions rooted in past experiences, usually while claiming that they don't exist, or while busily distracting yourself with work, achievements or saving the rest of the world. (<—That last one's my favorite.)
I've seen it through my couples. I've seen it through my friends, and other loved ones. And most of all, I've seen it through myself. As always, I'm sharing it with you, because we're all human.
Love you all.