Returning from Trauma

“Welcome back”

It sort of just sits in the air when people say it. It’s meant playfully. It stings a little though. Three people already told me they’ve missed me. I am still here. I am still me. The aftermath is always hard. Not just for survivors but for their support network. Isn’t enough to be under resourced, feeling in the dark for tools to heal ourselves? Obviously, if we can barely know how to show up for ourselves how will we know how to show up for others? Returning from trauma requires navigating what feels like an endless stream of awkward moments. It’s in quite car rides, in oversharing, in under sharing, in *sighs* “How ya holdin up?” It’s in facial expressions, it’s in hugs that go a little too long, it’s in the quadruple text that goes something like “Hey” “Are you good?” “Hello?” “???” I have to say though, my support network has done a remarkable job of meeting me where I am at moment to moment and following my need. Friends have shown up to my house last minute and held me while I sobbed, they’ve picked up the phone to talk when I need to yell or cry or word vomit my anxiety. They’ve matched my anger and they’ve made me laugh. My coworkers have shown me unconditional love and understanding – that is the upside to working in a rape crisis center. People have washed my dishes, brought me food, walked me home. They have followed my lead and created a safe space for me to be explicit about my needs. The journey back is bumpy and full of detours. I am afraid of getting lost. Or stuck. My support network is so strong I am moved to tears in this moment just thinking about it. I really can’t imagine what healing would be like without them and I honestly don’t know how I have gotten through any of the other assaults without them. I know that it’s hard to know how to support survivors. Believe me. I know. It’s my career. I do this 30-40 hours every week. Albeit I can say things to a client that would be socially inappropriate to say to friends. My support network is doing the best they can – and they are doing damn good- given that life has not stopped for them. They are still healing, dealing with immediate trauma, overworked, exhausted. I am amazed despite their own life trials that they have stepped up.

Continuing business as usual was hard. Am I making too many jokes? Was that joke to cynical? Do I sound like a broken record? Do I sound like I am listening to them talk? I swear I am paying attention. Do they know? Do they feel bad for me? Am I perceiving this? Is it in my head? Is this silence awkward? Or is it just me?  Am I babbling? Do they care? Are they paying attention? What time is it?

Overcompensating and underestimating. It feels like there’s a science to being me again. But I am still me. I’ve been slowed down but I am still me. I forgot what I felt like before so I am trying to find that sweet spot that’s not too much or too little.

Three weeks tomorrow night from the night my assault.

Why does returning to normalcy feel like such an uphill battle? Week one had me a hysterical fragile panicky mess. Week two had me a sluggish sleep unmotivated slob. Week three had me a strong on task steady nearly me again. I want to believe I got my groove back. I am afraid to trust this piece of my healing. It’s worth noting that in the immediate aftermath of this event I am resourced in a way unlike my previous encounters with sexual violence. I went from the acute phase of trauma straight into integrating it into my life. I skipped the “I’m fine” phase. Or am I in it now? Honestly, it’s hard to tell. I am unsure if I hit a high in my healing process where I have the energy to regain a sense of normalcy. I feel like I got my groove back. I am meal prepping and working out again. I caught up on all my work. I hung out with my friends. It was good to make them laugh and laugh with them. I am on track for graduate program applications. The apartment is clean. I am staying in better touch with folks. It’s easier to show up at work. This doesn’t feel like the dissociative denial. I am still aware of the fact that I am slowed down. I am still kind to myself as I heal. I am not manic. I am not depressive. I have spent four hours with a trained professional integrating this piece specifically into my life. I have spent at least 10 hours over the last three weeks talking with coworkers who are trained rape crisis counselors. I have spent at least 10 hours a week over the last three weeks talking with friends and with my cousin who is also a therapist. This has to be integration. I can’t think of what else it would be. Don’t get me wrong. I am still triggered. I went to throw out the trash at 7pm and a man was jogging and it nearly gave me a panic attack. The sense of normalcy is back though. Healing is traumatic in the acute phase of trauma in the immediate  aftermath because it feels so damn impossible and it’s so damn stressful and unmanageable. That’s why it’s so easy to push it down and pretend everything is fine. True healing is when it is no longer stressful. It’s when we can come down from the stress and high state of arousal. It’s when the stress is manageable. I am not avoiding the tough shit. I sit with the anger and rage and sorrow and sadness and joy all the same. See the state of terror has deescalated. Anxiety around the state of my physical health has settled now that uncertainty has tapered off. I have gotten to watch my backbone calcify – immediately calling out things that do not feel good to me in my personal life and a professional setting. I am honoring my boundaries in a new way. The terror is finally gone because the predictability in my life has returned. It no longer feels like all bets are off. It no longer feels like I am fighting to stay alive.

Time is distance and with more time it’s easier to see the integration. It’s been beautiful to watch myself heal. My coworker asked me why I had still been coming to work. I didn’t really have an answer. The alternative is hard to sit with. I would have stayed home holed up with no access to the beautiful humans that are my coworkers? I would have not been able to stand up in court to advocate with my clients? I would not have been able to empower my clients with kind words of support and education on healthy relationships? I would not have been able to facilitate trainings and raise awareness? I would not have been able to show up authentically and fiercely for clients in acute need? No. Absolutely not. It was healing to show up for clients. It feels powerful. To use power to give it to someone with no power is more powerful than I can describe. It is profound. I would never give that up. See that’s something that makes me who I am. The Law of Conservation and Energy: Energy cannot be created or destroyed, neither can matter. I am made up energy and matter as old as this earth. My heart pumps blood of the men and women who danced and fought and cried and laughed in Mexico. My soul comes from rituals decorated and ornate that are as old as times. It’s a very raw and primal force within me that is ancient and ancestral in ways I’ll never know. It’s my essence. It’s the history of Malintzin and Pancho Villa carved in my bones. It cannot be destroyed. Why am I here? Because I cannot be destroyed.

-Arieana

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