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Post-Traumatic Growth: Transforming Pain into Power

 

IMG_0271.jpgI believe in the power of vulnerability and this means sharing my truth on  social media which is sometimes a scarily distorted version of reality. I feel inspired to share in hopes that it reaches someone needing a boost of self-compassion. You are not alone.

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If you’re human like me, you probably get lost in old stories about who you are. I like to remind myself on an annual basis, especially when critical voices of the past pay me a visit. This happens all the time! For instance, two people’s whose opinions I wish I didn’t care about have recently made comments that have made me feel very small and unworthy. My first response was to feel misunderstood and hurt. But now, I’ll take a moment to reflect on who I actually am and want to be. What I know about myself and how I treat myself matters most and maybe I won’t choose to be around them or discuss certain topics.

I’m obsessed with babies, quotes, puppies, ice-cream and chocolate. I’m a good listener. I can be fearless. I am open-minded. I love learning. I don’t shy away from challenging people and being challenged. I am beautiful because of my presence and spirit. Because of my intensity. Because I am thoughtful and resilient. I am dependable. I am adventurous. I can be clumsy. I love travel, hiking, playing soccer/basketball, hosting dinner parties, spending quality time with loved ones (especially my niece & nephew). I am curious & chatty. I am a seeker. I am creative. I am silly. I love flash mobs and karaoke. I am a loving & generous daughter, sister, Aunt, and friend. I am a survivor.

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Bolstered by the privileged parts of my life, which are never more apparent than when shit hits the fan, I feel fortunate to identify post-traumatic-growth despite surviving various violent experiences. Even though I have developed positive ways to cope with trauma, over the years the impact of it has affected my education, housing, work, and my health as is so often the case. As many survivors have stated, the aftermath of trauma is often more painful than the event itself, shared most recently by a survivor of rape quoted by Sheryl Sandberg in her new book: Option BEven though I been working to help others in their healing for a over a decade, I’m still learning how to ask for help. IT’S HARD! Trauma makes you feel helpless. It is confusing and paralyzing. It makes you doubt yourself. Plus, I was raised by someone who equates asking for help with weakness and incompetence.

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What I want to tell you, fellow survivors, is to reach out & ask for help. People will show up. In fact, people LIKE helping. You are loved and there are people in your life and people you don’t know even know who would be honored to be there. When people make you feel small, let them project their shit onto you, but don’t give them your power. They are too consumed with themselves and their own image to see or hear you. (Shout out to my dear friend, Hope!) Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. Find the people who can cheer you on as you grow stronger and do the courageous work of healing. 

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These past few months have been difficult & triggering for me personally, to say the least. What’s helped fuel me, in addition to ramping up the “self-care,” having good boundaries and supports, are the encouraging messages (excerpted below) I’ve received in response to my survivor advocacy work (podcasts, workshops, social media campaign). Note to Self: Use your voice! Do what you Love! Share what’s on your mind! 

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Introducing Voices Raised in Power @ The Fred in college.

I am sharing these words because I am moved, inspired and emboldened by the badass, brave survivors I connect with every day. Whether I’m leading a therapeutic group or getting my hair cut or my car repaired, I hear your hopefulness and strength in how you live your lives. I see your pain, your grief, your loss. You are so beautiful and brave. 

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Ubuntu, originating in South Africa, means that a person is a person through another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. You are me and I am you. I am you and you are me.

These are my wishes for myself and for you, and for beings everywhere: I deserve to be at home in my body and mind. I am worthy. I am forgivable. I am enough. I am safe. I am loved. I am powerful. I am allowed to make mistakes. Healing is not linear. 

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At a rally shouting.

Thank you for the encouragement to keep sharing and doing what I love. I am lucky to have such a powerful community of colleagues, survivors, friends and family. Thank you for the laughs, invitations, blog comments, texts, calls, cards, visits. The most difficult experiences of our lives seem to clarify what matters most.

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Facilitating a therapeutic writing workshop for survivors about self-compassion

“You created a remarkable healing opportunity on Saturday with your facilitating of the Healing Through Creative Arts workshop. I looked around the room to see the wide range of participants and appreciated how skillfully you affirmed our shared purpose of healing from sexual trauma.  When you stated it simply and clearly I felt you ground all of us in the courage of that common intention.  Then the tone you set of respect, generosity, loving kindness, honesty and nonjudgmental acceptance gave us all permission to write with honesty and vulnerability.   This tone combined with your thoughtfully sequenced guidelines and prompts created an afternoon filled with beautiful moments of support, appreciation and powerful writing.”
“i saw your post about sexual assault awareness month. i’ve thought so many times about the speech you gave i guess like 8 or 9 years ago now…and i’ve wanted to go back and read it again. i was wondering if you have a blog online or something. thanks again for sharing. It made an impact on me and i was very proud of you.”

Great resources, thanks for sharing.  This gives greater awareness to the global phenomenon of sexual abuse as New Zealand has a high proportion of victims compared to most developed countries.  It was encouraging to see the openness and willingness to speak on this topic as it is very taboo here in New Zealand still and met with great resistance.”

“You just have a very profound way of being so real and sharing. You have so much to offer.”

Thank you Jocelyn for sharing your podcasts with me. I listened today. I appreciated all the different information shared and definitely could relate with all the topics mentioned. What touched me most was hearing your heart and experience and voice of care for other survivors. I heard your voice of your own divinity coming through within it and it was beautiful and touching. Thank you again for sharing so many resources and your experience and well wishes for all. The birds are singing here. Such beautiful nectar :)”

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@ Vessel Van Der Kolk’s incredible Trauma Center enjoying some healing energy.

   If you or someone you love would like help connecting with local resources and services to begin or continue your healing, please don’t hesitate to reach out! 

 

 

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How I Learned To Feel Loss and Stop Pretending to Be Ok

I’ve been thinking about grieving since a lot of my clinical surrounds loss and grieving different kinds of relationships. Every day I think about healing and naturally, I think about my own life. Ironically, my ex-boyfriend forwarded me this BuzzFeed article about sadness (I think because of my professional interests, but who knows). The article was written by author, Mac McClelland, of Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story and For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question.

It reminded me about a theme from the Girls Empowerment Group I co-lead: how we don’t learn how to end relationships. We also don’t learn how to be okay with sadness. It seems like our society has deemed emotions around break ups (or “friendship divorce”) only acceptable in the form of pop music. I love this line of her article, “Everybody knows that crying girls are silly and weak. Hysterical, and overdramatic.” I remember how pathetic I felt starting graduate school and being torn up about a guy (forget about the fact that we dated for 5.5 years).

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This scene in Bridesmaids perfectly illustrates our discomfort with sadness. Melissa McCarthy slaps Kristen Wiig around and tells her to stop being sad, though she has recently lost her job, her savings, her home, and her best friend. Often times the very same loving people trying to shake the sadness away from us and coach us to stay strong are denying our right to feel sadness, and ultimately, grow and learn from it. 

We have so much to learn from loss and grief and I’m only beginning to realize that, because for the first time in my life I’m allowing myself to experience my feelings without trying to make them go away as soon as possible. I refuse to make myself so busy and distracted and fill the void with a new boyfriend or project. I appreciate the sentiment and am certainly not wallowing 7 months later in my misery—but even if I was—it’s about however much time I need to heal. There are no stages of grief, and if you do believe i them, know that there is no set amount of time that a person moves through them. Loss and grief are best described as waves as one of my favorite teachers writes:

“But then, all of a sudden, I’ll be going about my business and a wave of grief will roll in from the depths, crash over me, and drag me back out with it into the deep waters. I welcome the grief waves; I want to feel the hole in the universe; I want to cry and miss her. I know that too soon she’ll be a beautiful and funny memory—my wild little sister who brought everyone so much joy. So I think about her a lot; I pray for dreams and visitations from the other side; and I talk often to her kids and her mate and my other sisters, so as to keep her presence vivid for as long as we can.” Elizabeth Lesser

It’s so tempting to numb, distract, deny our feelings of sadness. Who wants to feel sad?! Yet this allowing of myself to be exactly how I am has taught me the meaning of compassion. I’ve learned to be gentle with myself, kind, and generous. I’ve experienced closeness, gratitude, and joy like I’ve never felt before. As Brene Brown writes, there is a deep connection between the amount of sadness and joy we experience-you can’t numb one without numbing the other. It is actually not possible to build walls up for selective feelings, without building defences against all of them. When we build walls up, it protects us out of fully experiencing ANYTHING, and therefore we are no longer able to fully experience life!

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I’ve always been a sensitive and emotional person. I used to cry on the soccer field in middle school when my best friend would trip (which was a lot because she was as aggressive as she was tiny!) Still, I think we are taught from a young age that we should smile for the camera and not dwell in the past. My dad’s coaching on the soccer field echoe these sentiments, “No pain, no gain! Take no prisoners!” I was raised to be tough. As we get older we learn that people like to be around happy, bubbly people not the depressed, introvert.

To be clear, there are different types of sadness, as McClelland writes:

If your sadness comes from seemingly no place or even an obvious place but keeps you from participating in life or enjoying anything and refuses to abate no matter how long you go on letting it express itself, you of course can’t keep living like that.

Maybe if we didn’t live in a culture that shames us for feeling sad for too long, I wouldn’t have been so afraid of my sadness. I thought I might never feel like myself again. It was hard to remember feeling happy. Nothing felt normal and yet I was expected to continue on as if nothing had changed. Everyone else seemed to be going about their lives.

Over the years I’ve gotten better and better with “self-care,” but this experience required more attention and time. Going to the gym, meditating, and calling a friend was not going to be enough-or rather, this wasn’t going to be a “tough week” that I had to make it through. Instead of being patient and gentle with myself, I was judging myself and causing myself more suffering by agonizing over whether or not I should stay in my graduate program. Everyday I felt exhausted by the decision to stay or to go. How on Earth would I decide?

My saving grace was that I reached out for support. I knew I wasn’t thinking clearly and needed guidance. I found a therapist, I sought support from a professor, a Dean, some trusted classmates. I spoke to my cousin and friends on the phone. I let myself be loved and held, because “sometimes we are each other’s wings until we find our own. (Rha Goddess)”

I can’t explain in this coherent essay how I finally healed from my loss because I’m still healing everyday. Actually, some days I don’t think about it at all and this is how I know I’m making “progress”. My feelings are constantly changing and I know as time goes on the pangs of loss will be less frequent and eventually, I will get to a place where I can reminisce with my ex-boyfriend and possibly have a healthy friendship. I knew I was healing when I stopped feeling shame about the fact that I was still sad about the break up. A weight had been lifted and I finally was giving myself permission to feel, to be present with where I was at.

“They say it takes a big man to cry, and I think — unfortunately, given our collective feelings about sadness — that’s true. But it takes a bigger woman still, to feel the strength of a sob, without apology or shame. With pride. I’m the biggest I’ve ever been, the way I let my emotions run, sadness included: the way it cleanses me, tears washing my face, resolving me to continue to feel with abandon.” Thank you  Mac McClelland, for the reminder that it’s okay to be sad.