If “patience is a virtue”, then you better count me amongst the sinners. I appear to be wired with only two settings – ‘full on’ or ‘sloth mode’. It’s probably not all that surprising that I gravitated towards extreme endurance running, as it aligns rather nicely with my binary defaults. And with the exception of a few speed bumps along the way, I had managed to navigate my way through life rather effortlessly, and relatively unscathed.
But all that changed two years ago, with the arrival of four little letters that contain such vibrato and dissonance – PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Suddenly, what I thought I knew, I no longer knew. The black and white world I had constructed had become a place of uncertainty, a palate of iridescent shades of grey.
I know what you may be thinking, because I used to think it too … “PTSD, is that a real thing?” I have to admit that it’s easy to brush it off as pop psychology’s latest catchall phrase; that is, until the day your mind decides that the past is actually your present, and in the blink of an eye, you find yourself living in a no man’s land absent of time, a place in which you have become an unwitting pawn subjected to a viscous trauma reel that loops over, and over again in your head.
Now that I’m two years further along this process, and thankfully guided across this uncertainty by way of a caring support network, I’m beginning to feel that PTSD is another example of how we can choose to grow through adversity. Patience is still a daily struggle, yet if I pay attention to the dissonance within the shades of grey, I am rewarded with what I like to call ‘the lessons of trauma’. I should add that these moments of self-awareness don’t appear as complete, or succinct understandings distilled in faith, but rather as subtle whispers of truth that land within me gradually over time.
For me, the catalyst to the most substantive growth came when I decided to sit with the discomfort inside me instead of burying it, numbing it, or ignoring it. I believe there is a deep wisdom in our body that we can all tap into if we allow ourselves to brave the turbulence of uncertainty. I’m reminded of a quote that a friend recently sent me by the English author and spiritualist, Jeff Foster: “True healing is not the fixing of the broken, but the rediscovery of the Unbroken.”
There comes a turning point, a crossroads at which you are faced with the harsh reality that, “What got me here, might not necessarily get me there.” It’s a jarring feeling of re-evaluation, an acknowledgement of having to take those first tentative steps out of the familiar, away from the security of the path you are on.
We seem to be programmed as a species to grab onto what we know, even if by doing so, we are taken further away from our authentic self. I’ve begun to have faith in change, and I no longer mourn what I leave behind. In so doing, I believe you respect and honor who or what brought you to this point of your life, and at the same time, you create the space to grow into where you are going.
There definitely was a time when I wanted to expunge the trauma from my past – build a sarcophagus around the PTSD, and deny its existence. I now realize what a losing prospect that was from the start. Today, I’m arriving at a place of acceptance, a place where I can provide space for past trauma, but it is a sacred place in which I am no longer tormented by the memories anymore.
There is little doubt in my mind that trauma has an afterlife, and denying this fact lies at the heart of so much of the unhappiness in our world. The thing about trauma is that it is malleable; it can be either an anchor of self-destruction or a catalyst for growth. But the greatest lesson of all has been realizing that the more comfortable I become bringing my ‘past’ into my ‘present’, the less dominion it has in my life.
So, is there a lesson in PTSD for all of us – yes, most definitely. If abandoned in fear, past trauma has a way of writing itself into your future like a voracious virus, but if you are willing to face it head on, you may find yourself attuned to the lesson of growth within its whisper.