June 27, 2022

By C.G. and NAMI Staff

woman with eyes closedThroughout my childhood, I was often punished for my emotions: if I had an angry outburst, if I cried or if I was frustrated and had an “attitude.” I know that my parents loved me, and that they were only parenting the best way they knew how, based on their own upbringing. I know they meant me no harm. But their actions were, indeed, harmful; it would take me years to fully process the extent of the trauma.

I’ve learned that there is no taking back past actions and changing our history. But there can be healing.

Healing Is Not Linear

The thing about healing is, not only do many of us not know it’s possible — we do not even know we need it. For a long time, I didn’t. But five years ago, with the help of a therapist, I realized that the word “trauma” applies to some of my past experiences. Since then, I have made baby steps in my healing journey.

At first, I believed that childhood trauma could be dealt with quickly; after my therapist and I revisited some of these past traumas, I thought, well, that’s that, I’m healed.

In reality, I had a long way to go. Sometimes, having revisited my past feels like opening a floodgate of utter chaos. Often, I find myself drowning in my emotions.

I Faced Setbacks and Hit New Lows

In addition to processing my past, I had to face the challenges of our mental health care system. My therapist left the practice for another one that didn’t take my insurance. After that, I bounced around to several different therapists, which added more stress to my journey.

With my current therapist, I feel like I’m making progress again, although slow. Painfully slow. So slow that the day before Easter Sunday, I got triggered and began experiencing suicidal thoughts. I planned to take my life and wrote goodbye letters to my mom, my two children (who were with their father) and my two best friends.

I cried so hard, writing those letters. I have lost a loved one to suicide, so I knew, as I wrote them, exactly how my loved ones would feel once I was gone. In the moment, I was willing to inflict that pain to alleviate my own. But by the time I finished writing the fifth letter, I was spent. I just wanted to sleep. I decided to reassess in the morning.

I Took Control of My Health and My Future

The next morning, I went for an assessment at a behavioral health hospital near my home. I was admitted to an inpatient program, where I stayed for eight days. Currently, I am completing an outpatient partial hospitalization program. The group therapies, both inpatient and out, have been incredibly helpful to me.

In one group discussion, we talked about radical acceptance — specifically, about “turning the mind” toward acceptance. We talked about willfulness and combating willfulness. I shared how it was only very recently that I learned it is often necessary to “sit with” uncomfortable emotions — to fight the urge to avoid or immediately “fix” that uneasy feeling.

When I felt loneliness or grief or overwhelming sorrow, my mind often chastised me and demanded I think differently: “Reframe the thought! Positive affirmations!” But my time in therapy taught me that I can talk back to this voice in my head without being negative. I can answer it with “I’m allowed to feel this way!”

Giving myself permission to feel my grief and sorrow — for things that happened at all stages of my life — was an important step.

I Still Have Work to Do

There is nuance in every lesson. I need to learn to “sit with” the difficult feelings — but without sitting so long that the pain overwhelms me for an extended amount of time. I never want the pain to cause me to question whether I want to continue living again. But I am learning.

As I shared in group, I am unlearning just as much as I am learning. When I was a kid, I was punished for my emotions; now I have to recognize that I am allowed to have them. That moment of sharing in group was the first time I put it together.

The depth of the pain I feel, when I allow myself to feel it, is not necessarily lessening. And I don’t know if it ever will. But what I do know is allowing myself to feel my feelings is progress.

I am not okay, and that’s okay. I am not alone. I am allowed to feel the way I feel. We can’t heal what we don’t let ourselves feel.

This blog post was written by an anonymous contributor with the help of NAMI Staff.

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