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Healing isn’t linear (and it isn’t pretty)

It always feels like I am regressing when I take my prescription Ativan for an acute panic attack. Or when I am dissociating (for the third time that week) with my soft, unfocused gaze locked onto my bedroom walls.

I never knew that I was going to not only grapple with a fear of the world caused by anxiety I already had, but experiences which prove I should be afraid as well. Such experiences make the fear sound rational at times.

My biggest gripe with how society perceives healing is the chronology. Trauma, immediate reaction, upward slope of healing, and - ta da - renewal. To be clear, that’s bullshit. Why is healing viewed as going in one direction? Why is that direction upward? 

The first time I experienced this was when I was relaxing at home with my boyfriend one evening. We were following our usual routine of playing with the dog while watching some brain-rotting Netflix or YouTube videos.

Without warning, I was slammed by flashbacks. I was no longer laughing or watching the video. My eyes blurred, and I was back in the room of my traumas. One short sentence was repeating in my head, sound tracking torturous imagery and sensory overwhelm. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t choke out a response to my poor boyfriend.

I felt embarrassed. Sure, I had healed significantly since the event. But there I was, stuck in a pause in reality. I am very lucky to have a boyfriend as understanding and patient as mine. He will run me a bath or shower as soon as something starts erupting in my head.

My boyfriend knows I need to ground myself in moments like this. I like to use sensory details. Sometimes he will gently tap his fingertips on my leg, bringing me forward from the back of my mind a little bit.

In this incident, I grounded myself, then a wave of shame rushed over me. “What’s going on? Am I backpedalling on all of the progress I made?”

Listen. The fact of the matter is this: in response to the trauma you experienced, your brain broke apart that memory and hid some of the pieces.

By this point, my brain had put together some bigger pieces, but smaller, sharper shards were coming back one by one. We know our brain is withholding potentially dangerous information from us as a protective mechanism. A quarantine for memories to release at a later, hopefully safer date. So why on earth do we pretend that healing is linear?!

The truth is, if I handed my 1-year-old nephew a crayon, he could draw a better representation of the healing process than the linear bullshit that society touts.

Healing is the dark squiggly lines over a frustrated cartoon character’s head. Healing is a giant knot with ups and downs and unpredictable movements. The recovery and the integration of traumatic memories is not the smooth, neat and (dare I say it) glamourous process that the movies or TV shows suggest. Although why am I surprised that the media gets this complex issue so wrong?

My main takeaway from these moments is this. Embrace the ugly. Embrace the inconsistency. Embrace the messy journey.. It is okay to mourn the ‘normal’ you. The you before the trauma.

But why not anticipate the development of a new and even better you? You are not weak. You are not a failure. You are struggling with one of those memory shards and that’s okay. It is like cleaning a wound. It is extremely and repetitively painful, but one day there will only be a painless scar left which no longer hurts to touch. 

Post by
Farrin McMaster