When it comes to trauma recovery, I often hear concerns from my clients about how change will manifest for them.
Change is scary for survivors. During the traumatic years, change was never good for us. Needless to say, the idea of purposefully instilling inner change goes against all the defense mechanisms we have spent years building. But even for those who have come to embrace change through recovery, there are concerns.
“What if I change so much I don’t recognize myself?”
“What if I don’t change enough and I still recognize myself?”
“What if I change so much, my current friends and family walk away from me?”
“What if I get so comfortable being alone, I don’t care if they walk away?”
From personal experience, I can confirm all of these happen. I can also confirm they are not as bad as we think. Let me explain.
When I started this journey, I wanted to change myself. I hated who I was. I hated everything about me. Of course, I didn’t know that on a conscious level. But unconsciously, I wanted to be a different person. To be fair, this might have been part of the motivation for my inner parts to consider this journey. If I could be someone else, it might be a great thing. Since I started my recovery, I have been through massive change. I have had hundreds of changes in perspective and moments of clarity. I have changed substantially. Most of that change showed up in two ways.
- The way I react to difficult people and situations.
- The way I feel compassion for another’s pain.
But in reality, I am the same person. I always had the potential to handle difficulties without losing my mind. But my traumatized inner parts told me it was time to freak out. I always had the ability to be compassionate toward others. But my inner parts told me to invalidate others the same way I had invalidated myself. So while I have changed dramatically, I haven’t changed at all. I am still me. But I am me without the trauma.
And believe me, it hasn’t all been roses. People have left. People have told me I am selfish. People have invalidated me. They have even called me a crazy liar (mostly my mother though). When I started this journey, I expected the people in my life to stay. I believed they were the right people for me. I thought I could change without my relationships changing. But I quickly learned that was impossible. I thought to myself:
“How will I survive if my husband leaves me? I can’t be alone.”
“I can’t make it in this world without my family. They always told me that.”
I was absolutely convinced their abandonment would lead to a miserable life. But what I found was different. It was painful when they walked out of my life. I can’t deny that. And it was painful when I had to cut some of them out of my life. But in the beginning, there was something I did not consider. The change in myself was preparing me to handle that abandonment. I was gaining strength and independence in a new way. I was learning how worthy and capable I was. So while those same abandonments would have destroyed me pre-recovery, they were meant to leave when I was ready. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a pain-free experience. But I did have the inner strength and understanding to keep going. And now, looking back on the abandonments and the time I spent alone, I understand the gift in it.
I lost those who only wanted me for my lack of boundaries. I spent time navigating life and recovery with a very small support network of mostly paid helpers. But the changes sparked by those experiences have led to a life I never imagined. While life has changed on the outside, the big changes have happened on the inside. There is more inner peace, trust and faith in my life, which makes those difficult days more tolerable. I approach life in a more grounded way (most days). But I still recognize me. I am still who I was because I was always there. I was there, but inundated with trauma. For me, this work has been letting go of the trauma and the people associated with it, so I could get back to who I knew I was.
So those “what-ifs” statements are a part of recovery. We do change significantly, but at the same time, not at all. We do watch some people walk away and we do learn to enjoy our own company. And while some of these scenarios might seem scary at the start, they won’t always seem scary. So dive in to recovery and allow yourself to change, to shed the old trauma in the form of people and inner pain. You will create a new set of “what-if” statements.
“What if there is nothing wrong with me?”
“What if I could finally find out who I am?”
“What if I don’t have to give up who I am for love?”
“What if everything is going to be okay?”
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW