But what if you DO matter?

Yeah. It’s hard to believe we matter, when we don’t, or didn’t, seem to matter to the people who should care about our existence. 

Lots of us use that experience— of whether we seemed matter to those people— as our baseline for determining whether we do, in fact, matter. 

Very often I’ll tell someone they matter— and they’ll disagree. 

How is it possible that I matter, when I didn’t matter to my parents? 

How is it possible that I matter, when I apparently didn’t matter enough for that relationship partner to fight for me? 

How is it possible that I matter, when I withdraw, and nobody seems to notice or care? 

When we’re convinced we don’t matter, we filter everything through that belief— and we’ll find TONS of “evidence” that we just don’t matter. 

Sometimes our brain will then pile on, and tell us we don’t matter because we don’t “contribute” anything of value to anyone. 

We get convinced that in order to have “value” as a human, we need to contribute value to other people in very specific, measurable ways…and if we don’t, we “must” be worthless. 

After years— decades, sometimes— of all of this, we wind up in a place where we are convinced we are worthless and we don’t matter. 

And if we’re convinced we’re worthless and that we don’t matter, we simply don’t see the point of trying to improve our lives or NOT go down self-destructive behavioral paths. 

Trauma and addiction recovery ask us to take a radically different approach to the question of whether and how we matter. 

It asks us to start out from the premise that we DO matter— whether or not we SEEMED to matter to those to whom we should supposedly matter the most. 

It asks us to start out from the premise that we DO have value— even if we’ve been in positions in our life where we didn’t SEEM to contribute much, if anything, to other peoples’ lives. 

Mind you: YOU don’t have to accept those premises, if you don’t want to. All I know is that I strongly do accept those premises. 

I think you matter, and I think you have value— whether or not anybody has seen it or expressed it. 

I think sh*t happens in life that prevents us from contributing to the world at times. It’s hard to contribute to the world when you’re busy just trying to survive. 

I think people DO have value— even if the people in their lives, such as their parents or caretakers, don’t see it or don’t express it. 

I don’t think our value or worth decreases if the people around us can’t or don’t see our value. 

I don’t think our value or worth decreases if we happen to be in a position at the moment where all we can do is keep our head above water. 

I don’t think our value or worth decreases even if we have painful things happen to us.

I don’t think our value or worth decreases if we go through periods where we make decisions we later come to regret. 

At the risk of sounding controversial, I think we’re all human, and sh*t happens. 

If we’re going to realistically recover from addiction or trauma, we have to start out by “acting as if” we DO matter. 

As if we DO deserve better. 

As if we DO deserve the benefit of the doubt. 

As if we DO deserve support and dignity. 

I know— that flies in the face of a LOT of our old conditioning. 

“I don’t matter” and “I am worthless” are beliefs that die hard— especially if we’ve been accumulating “evidence” for those beliefs for decades. 

But beliefs change. 

Beliefs change every day. 

Even strongly held beliefs. Even beliefs that have been held for a long time. 

It all starts with openness to the possibilities. 

Opening the door a teeny, tiny bit to “maybe I do matter.” 

“Maybe I do have worth.” 

“Maybe ‘they’ shouldn’t be the standard by which I judge myself.” 

Just crack that door. 

It all stars here. 

If recovery’s gonna work, it has to work when we’re at our lowest.

I feel that if trauma or addiction recovery’s gonna work, it can’t just work if we have access to resources. 

It can’t just work on days we feel like doing the sh*t. 

It can’t just work if we have the luxuries of time or safety. 

If recovery’s gonna work, if it’s gonna stick, it has to work and stick under the worst of circumstances. 

The truth is, having access to resources and safety makes recovery 1000% easier. Of course it does. Access to resources and safety makes EVERYTHING 1000% easier. 

But not everybody has access to resources and safety. 

Not everybody can pay for specialty therapy or inpatient work. 

Not everybody can take time off of work to do specialty therapy or inpatient work. 

Not everybody has the luxury of life or employment situations where they can always call a sponsor when they’re in danger of relapse or self-harm. 

There are a LOT of people who have to piece together their recovery plan as they go— WITHOUT access to the resources and privilege that would otherwise make recovery easier. 

Recovery is very much a DIY project. It has to be. 

I hope we can someday create a world where more people have realistic access to certain resources. 

But we can’t wait for that world to materialize. 

If trauma or addiction is ruining your life now, your recovery has to begin now. 

The people and pets we love, who count on us and need us— and they need us actively dealing with our trauma or addictions. 

There are lots of things that impact our ability to recover from trauma or addictions. 

Money. Health. Ability and disability. Age. Social and power dynamics. Events happening in the culture and the world. 

I wish I could tell you this was a perfect world where everybody has the same opportunities for trauma or addiction recovery— but of course it’s not. 

What I don’t want is anybody giving up because of that fact. 

You will meet PLENTY of people who are VERY invested in telling you ALL the reasons why you cannot recover from trauma or addiction. 

They are entitled to their viewpoint. 

But I don’t want you— you, there, reading this— to give up because you’re facing what looks like an insurmountable climb. 

I know. This shit is NOT easy, and there are DOZENS of factors that make it infinitely harder. 

But you are worth it. 

What happened to you is not your fault. 

You did not choose the environment you grew up in and you did not choose your genetic predispositions. 

You and I were dealt the cards we were dealt. We didn’t choose ‘em. Hell, we didn’t choose to sit down at the table. We came online holding the hand we were dealt with the game already underway.

But I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t think there were realistic ways that you and I could take baby steps toward a better life— a life that is not dominated by trauma or addiction, and not determined by our past or our genes. 

Our recovery may not be perfect. In fact I guarantee it will not be perfect. 

We don’t have the resources we don’t have, and all we can do is what we can do. 

But god dammit— we can do that. 

One day at a time. 

About survivor’s guilt.

Lots of people reading this know what “survivor’s guilt” is all about: having feelings about having survived or made it out of a painful or dangerous situation…while others may not have made it out. 

We see survivor’s guilt talked about a lot in the context of military trauma— the emotional dilemma of soldiers who came back from conflict, but whose fellow soldiers did not. 

Survivor’s guilt can be awful. It can lead us to question our very worth. 

Many survivors have a voice in their head telling them, “it should have been me.” Many survivors are left questioning what value they contribute to the world, having survived what they went through out of “dumb luck.” 

There’s a particular kind of survivor’s guilt that is specific to victims of violence, especially sexual assault: the knowledge and/or worry that the person who perpetrated their assault is still out there. 

It is an enormously unfortunate reality that many perpetrators of assault, especially sexual assault, aren’t apprehended; or even if they are, they’re often not convicted. 

This results in a situation where a survivors is left trying to recover— but they are saddled with the reality that their perpetrator is out there. 

It’s often observed that it’s really hard to recover from trauma if someone isn’t in a fundamentally save environment now. Recovery can be almost impossible if a trauma is still happening. 

For survivors whose perpetrators got away, who might be still out there, the safety of “at least it’s over now” may not be wholly achievable. 

After all, we don’t know what we don’t know. And we often DON’T know where our perpetrator is, what they’re doing— or what their intentions are. 

A related fear among survivors is whether their perpetrator is out there victimizing other people, like they victimized us…and feeling utterly helpless to do anything about it. 

There isn’t any easy fix for this anxiety. 

I often write about the fact that telling a survivor “you’re safe now,” as so many trauma treatment resources recommend, may not always be the best thing— because the truth is, the world out there IS unpredictable and uncontrollable in many ways. 

I’m actually NOT a fan of deactivating all of our danger-sensing instincts and habits. 

It may be true that, right here, right now, you’re not vulnerable in the same way you were vulnerable back there, back then— but the reality is, all of us need a certain amount of vigilance in order to be realistically as safe as possible. 

Yes. We need to be as realistically conscious and careful as is practical, when we know there is a perpetrator out there who has hurt us before. That’s reality. 

By that same token— our lives can’t be held hostage to either the possibility that our perpetrator will hurt us again, or to the reality that our perpetrator might target someone else for victimization. 

I absolutely hate it, but that falls into the “things we cannot control” category. 

This whole thing is one of the reasons why so many victims of trauma and violence, as part of their recovery, get involved in anti-violence advocacy and peer support: because they are aware of some dark realities. 

All we can do is what we can do. 

We can speak up and speak out about the fact that bad things DO happen, and bad people ARE out there. 

We can design our lives in such a way that we’re living as safely as practical— while acknowledging that no adjustment we make to our lifestyle will EVER guarantee 100% safety. 

We can use our trauma recovery tools, skills, and philosophies to stay grounded, realistic, and stable as we rebuild our life. 

In the end, survivor’s guilt must be met with acceptance and compassion— radical acceptance and radical compassion. 

And yes, you deserve both. Because you’re here. You’re alive. You’re reading these words. 

Fight, flee, freeze, fawn, flop.

Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, you know, I think I’m going to jump into the stratosphere at every moderately loud sound. 

Nobody starts the day thinking, you know what, I think every single relationship in which I start to feel vulnerable, I’m going to scramble to get the hell out of there while simultaneously pushing them away with all my might. 

Nobody makes the conscious decision to fall all over themselves trying to appease, entertain, or otherwise gain the approval of someone they just met— or someone they know isn’t good for them. 

Trauma responses aren’t choices. 

Fight, fight, freeze, fawn, flop— all those describe nervous system responses that are triggered by…well, by a lot of things, potentially. 

It’s a misunderstanding about trauma that triggers are only related to the trauma. 

The truth is, trauma tends to sensitize our ENTIRE nervous system— so LOTS of things that might not seem to have ANYTHING to do with our trauma might become triggers. 

When we’re triggered, we run a pattern. 

It’s as automatic as pushing a button on a machine. The machine doesn’t “decide” whether to run the function that is connected to that button; it just runs it. 

Yet, lots of us feel guilty about and frustrated by our trauma responses. 

We’re aware that our trauma responses often get in the way of living— and, especially, relating. 

We’re taught by our culture that the key to changing a pattern of behavior is willpower. 

We’re taught that people of good character can essentially “make” themselves stop doing something if they try hard enough— and “good people” try “hard enough.” 

Trauma responses aren’t normal behaviors, though. 

Just like we didn’t ask the trauma to happen to us, we don’t ask trauma reactions to kick in. They just do. 

Feeling guilty about trauma reactions kicking in when a trigger is tripped is like feeling guilty we gasp when we’re surprised or shiver when we’re cold. 

The same is true fo seemingly more complex behavioral patterns that have their roots in trauma reactions. 

We don’t WANT to be suspicious of new relationships— or, on the other hand, to go diving in head first. 

We don’t WANT to procrastinate because we’re anxious about our ability to do the thing— or because we’re anxious about the consequences of not doing the thing perfectly. 

We don’t WANT to explode in anger at people or situations that we “should” be able to handle. 

When a behavioral pattern has its roots in a trauma response— fight, flight, freeze, fawn, flop— that means at least a certain amount of it is on autopilot. 

If we want to change those behaviors, we need to first give up the idea that we’re “choosing” them. 

That doesn’t mean we abdicate responsibility for them. Very much to the contrary. 

Getting real about behaviors that are rooted in trauma responses is the first, necessary step to taking REALISTIC responsibility for them. 

We can’t change a behavior if we don’t understand its purpose. 

We don’t do things just for the hell of them. 

If we really want to manage those behavior patterns that confuse and frustrate us, we first have relate to it just like we’d relate to the underlying trauma response: with compassion. 

We have to approach it from the perspective that it is a somehow adaptive response— at least as far as our nervous system is concerned— to something that happened to us once upon a time. 

Our nervous system isn’t trying to ruin our life. It’s trying to save it. 

I know. It’s hard to relate to a behavior that’s frustrating us with compassion. 

We get better at being patient with ourselves— with being on our own side, giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt— as recovery goes on. 

Stick with it. Day by day. 

I believe you.

When you’ve been abused at an early age, it’s pretty normal to be confused or hazy about what you remember. 

And it’s normal for kids’ stories to change based on who is doing the interviewing and how they’re doing it. 

Mine did. 

A few years had elapsed between the period of time when I was sexually abused, and when I told anybody about it. 

I feel like I remembered what had happened and for how long— but I’m aware that I was in elementary school. Time can be hard to gauge when you’re that young, and memory can do odd things around abuse memories. 

In any event, I know what I thought had happened— and I was asked to give an account of it to at least two professionals. 

One was a male counselor who I barely remember at all. I might have seen him twice. I remember kind of being unsure what I was supposed to talk about— and being very anxious. 

I know I didn’t tell him the full extent of what had happened— even though I did remember it. 

I couldn’t tell you exactly why I didn’t tell him everything. At least part of it had to do with the fact that I felt I had actively colluded with my abuser, and aspects of the abuse had felt physically pleasurable— so I think part of it was about not wanting to be in trouble. 

But the point is, anyone looking at my case would have one version of the story, based on the purposefully incomplete version I’d told him. 

At some point after, I was being interviewed by another adult, who I assume was a type of social worker who specialized in child sexual abuse. 

Before she interviewed me, she gave me a spiel: I specifically remember her saying that she had “heard everything under the sun,” so I shouldn’t be embarrassed about whatever I had to tell her. 

It was at that exact moment that I decided I was DEFINITELY not telling her the entire story. 

I mean, if she’d heard “everything under the sun,” surely she’d heard MUCH worse stories than what I remembered happening to me. 

In that moment I felt foolish for even being there. I felt like I was what my peers, and probably my parents, thought I was: a lonely, dramatic, imaginative kid who was probably just seeking attention. 

Not only did I not tell that lady what had actually happened, I specifically remember making up certain small details in what I DID tell her. 

Afterward I was ashamed. I wished I’d never told anyone anything. 

Anyone looking at my case would notice the discrepancy between what I told the counselor and the social worker. 

I had reasons for telling different versions of the story to them. Yes, they were elementary school kid reasons, but I was aware even then that what I’d told the two professionals was inconsistent. 

As I write this, I’m a 46 year old man remembering the experience of a kid who was probably, what, ten? 

Yeah. It’s a little hazy. 

Here’s my point: even if your memories of what happened are rough; even if it happened when you were very young; and even if your story changed over the years— it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. 

It doesn’t mean you should be disbelieved. 

It doesn’t mean you should don’t “count” as an abuse survivor. 

It’s real easy to get up in our heads about what we do and don’t remember. Our culture often tries, hard, to convince us what happened to us wasn’t a big deal, especially if we’ve gone on to achieve things in later life. 

What you experienced counts. 

Even if it’s hazy. 

Even if your story changed. 

Even if others have tried to get into your head about how “easy” it supposedly is to “remember” things that didn’t happen. 

Don’t let it get in your head. 

There are those of us out here who believe you. 

I believe you. 

Dealing with “traumaversaries.”

“Traumaversaries”— the anniversary of when you experienced a traumatic event— are hard for lots of reasons. 

But it’s not just about seeing a date on a calendar and remembering, “Oh yeah, I remember that.” 

In fact “traumaversaries” are usually not just about one date. They’re more often about a time of year. 

It’s about the FEEL of a time of year. 

Sometimes it’s about the cultural stuff around us at particular times of year— especially if our “traumaversaries” happen around holidays. 

(And, if we’re honest, what complex trauma survivor DOESN’T have at least one “traumaversary” that occurs during a holiday season?)

The nervous system of a complex trauma survivor is REALLY sensitive. We notice a LOT. 

Yes, we notice dates on a calendar. 

But we also notice slight changes in air temperature. 

We notice the SMELL of a month or season. 

We notice whether leaves are green or whether there’s snow on the ground. 

The onset of winter means we’re often wearing different clothes and coats than we were during spring or fall— our nervous system notices that. 

So much of our reactivity to trauma memories hinges on sense memory. This is one of the reasons why my approach to treating trauma is so firmly rooted in sensory grounding— because, for all the talking we ever do in trauma therapy, we are NEVER going to escape the sensory triggers and reactions. We HAVE to deal with them. 

The thing about “traumaversaries” is that they are often unique to us. That date on the calendar doesn’t mean to other people what it means to us. 

Even if we describe or explain to someone else what we’re experiencing on a “traumaversary,” there’s only so much about that experience they can really hook into. 

Whereas we have to live with that experience all day, every day, for however long the “traumaversary” experience extends. 

Effective trauma treatment and committed trauma recovery does tend to blunt the impact of “trauamversaries.” You won’t be as affected by this season and this day in EXACTLY this way, at EXACTLY this intensity, for the rest of your life. 

But that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with NOW. 

The other thing about “traumaversaries” is that they are expertness we literally can’t avoid. 

We can often avoid people and places that are reminders of our trauma. 

But we can’t avoid a date on the calendar or a time of year. It WILL come. 

And we KNOW it will come. 

Which means that, for as difficult as some “traumaversaries” can be, the lead up to them can be difficult as well. 

We never know quite how reactive we will be to a “traumaversary.” Some years it may come and go, and we don’t experience anything huge. 

A lot of it depends on where we are in our recovery, what kind of therapeutic and other support we have, and the other things we happen to have going on in our lives. 

Then there are the other years— when the time of year around our “traumaversary” feels like Groundhog Day, experiencing the same thoughts and feelings and reactions, again and again and again and again. 

We can’t yeet our “traumaversary” off the calendar. It’s there. 

All we can do is what we can do: use the skills, tools, and philosophies we’ve developed in trauma recovery to support ourselves through it. 

A “traumaversary” is a trigger. It’s a particular kind of trigger, that comes with particular baggage. 

But you’ve come this far in trauma recovery. You know how to strategize around a known trigger. This isn’t your first rodeo. 

Easy does it. Breathe; blink; focus. 

We take this the way we take everything: one day, one hour, one minute, at a time. 

Trauma recovery isn’t so much about “the past.”

Trauma recovery isn’t entirely— or even mostly— about “leaving the past in the past.” 

The truth is, “the past” isn’t what’s making our lives difficult now. 

Our lives are difficult NOW because of what happened in the past— but it’s the “now” part we need to change. 

It can get confusing, because when we struggle with post traumatic or dissociative disorders, it often FEELS like the past is happening right now. 

Flashbacks in particular make it FEEL like time has kind of collapsed right on top of us— and we really do FEEL like we’ve been yanked from the present and transported back there, back then. 

Because PTSD so often makes it FEEL like the past is present, it can be tempting to think that the work to be done is “back there, back then,” too. 

But it’s not. 

The work is right here. Right now. 

The truth is, even if the past FEELS like it’s happening right here, right now, it has already happened— and we’re never, ever going to be able to change it. 

What we CAN change is our understanding of and relationship with the past— and our relationship with and understanding of the younger version of ourselves that lived THROUGH the past…and who we still carry around in our head and our heart. 

In that way, it’s true that in trauma recovery we very often have work to do that FOCUSES on the past. 

But if we focus exclusively on the past, we run the risk of making ourselves unsafe in the present. 

The present is what matters, in the end— because that’s where we are. That’s where we’re living. 

The present his where we’re creating a life, day by day— and the present is the ONLY place where we have ANY opportunity to change, evolve, or choose. 

As we work through our trauma, at every step, we examine how the past impacted us. 

We look at how what happened to us f*cked with our sense of purpose and personhood. 

We acknowledge how people and institutions who should have protected or guided us, didn’t— or, in some cases, were even complicit in our pain. 

We get real about what the past version of us needed— and what happened to that past version of us as a result of not having gotten what they needed (or, often having gotten an imperfect or incomplete version of what they needed). 

But we keep coming back to what we need today. 

What we struggle with today. 

What our current situation is— both inside ourselves and out there in the world. 

I find this to be a major misunderstanding on the part of some people about what trauma recovery is actually all about. 

It’s not about “blame”— though in the process of coming to terms with our past, sometimes it’s appropriate to assign realistic blame. 

It’s not about regret— though of course this processes is going to scrape up LOTS of things we regret. 

But ultimately, trauma recovery isn’t about trying to have a better past, at all. 

It’s not even about the future— at least, not directly. 

Trauma recovery, as I envision it, is about today. Right here. Right now. 

This moment. This challenge. The tool, skill, or philosophy that can get us through THIS thing. 

I don’t know what the hell people even mean when they tell trauma survivors to “leave the past in the past.” 

All I know is refocusing on today— relentlessly. 

Safe relationships don’t involve guilt or gaslighting.

When you’ve been gaslit in important relationships in your life, it changes your relationship needs going forward. 

That’s true of complex trauma generally— when our trauma is entwined with our important relationships over time, it impacts what we need out of relationships in recovery. 

But recovering from trauma that involved gaslighting is a particular struggle. 

Gaslighting is when someone tries to deflect their harmful behavior by making YOU feel crazy or guilty. 

When we notice or have a problem with something having to do with “their” behavior, they respond in such a way that it makes YOU feel like the problem— and sometimes they add a layer that makes YOU feel sh*tty for trying to say anything. 

Experiencing trauma in close relationships growing up is a mind f*ck in the first place. 

Humans aren’t psychologically equipped to accept the fact that maybe the people on whom I rely for survival are abusing or neglecting me. 

Instead of accepting that fact, we’re far more inclined to attribute “the problem” to ourselves— WE must have done something to “deserve” the abuse, or WE must be inadequate in some way to “deserve” the neglect. 

When we’re STARTING OUT from a place of questioning our reality and blaming ourselves, we become particularly vulnerable to others’ attempts to gaslight us into accepting or ignoring their behavior. 

Many people reading this know what it’s like to grow up ALREADY feeling guilty for having negative feelings about our caregivers— and we’re particularly susceptible to “explanations” for behavior that turn US into “the problem.” 

It’s not that we go looking for friendships or relationships that are manipulative— it’s that when those patterns DO occur in relationships, we’re particularly vulnerable to gaslighting as a tactic. 

Because of our past conditioning, we’re “ready” to believe it’s really a problem with our perception, rather than a problem with their behavior. 

What all of this means is that, in recovery, we need a certain kind of safety out of our friendships and relationships. 

We need to know that if we have a question or problem with something, it won’t automatically be turned back on us as evidence of our craziness or disloyalty. 

We need to know that we can set boundaries with someone without being made to feel guilty about it. 

We need to know that anybody we let into our lives as a friend or more WON’T contribute to the problem we’ve had the past of people making us question or doubt our perceptions just because it may reflect negatively on them. 

Reasonable people can disagree about certain things (though, it must be said, there is a limit to the things about which “reasonable people” can disagree and still remain close). 

What friends or other close relationships CANNOT include, though, is gaslighting or guilt as communication strategies. 

To be genuinely close to a trauma survivor means accepting that we need certain things out of our friendships and relationships in our trauma recovery— first and foremost, we need our new relationships to not recreate the dynamics of our old ones. 

We don’t need to be questioning our perceptions and realty in our closest relationships. 

We don’t need loyalty tests in our close relationships. 

We don’t need to feel we have to stuff our perception of reality or overlook a behavior we have a problem with in the service of keeping a relationship stable and conflict-free. 

Safe relationships don’t include guilt or gaslighting. 

We’ve had enough of questioning our reality. 

We’ve had enough being made to feel like we’re the problem. 

We’ve had enough of stuffing what we really perceive and feel because we know to express it is going to invite a backlash. 

If relationships are going to play a part in our healing, they have to look and feel different than the relationships that hurt us back then. 

Surviving trauma and wanting to die.

It’s basically impossible to talk about realistic recovery from complex trauma or dissociative disorders without talking about suicidality. 

If you’re in recovery from a complex trauma, it’s highly likely the thought of killing yourself or wanting to be dead has crossed your mind. 

It’s also likely that, if you’ve mentioned that to someone, you’ve had at least one person, probably more, respond VERY strongly— and perhaps very negatively. 

Our culture famously doesn’t quite know what to do with the concept of suicide. It stokes all kinds of emotions and fears in us. 

But if we’re going to be real about what trauma recovery entails, we have to address it— because the desire to be dead is overwhelmingly common among people who have abuse and neglect in their history. 

You’re not weird, bad, or unusual for having those thoughts. 

Not all thoughts or wishes to be dead are the same. Like any thought or urge, thoughts and wishes to be dead exist on a continuum, and have different meanings for different people. 

For many people the thought is no more developed than, “I wish I didn’t have to deal with this every day, or ever again.” 

For some people the thought is entangled with overwhelming shame— “how can I live knowing what was done to me/what I did?” 

For some people it’s just a matter of exhaustion and utter burnout— having over felt and over functioned day after day after day for decades, they just can’t imagine continuing on. 

For some people the idea of dying is entwined with dissociative self-states, sometimes with various parts having different reasons for wanting “the body” to die. 

As far as I’m concerned, we have to be honest about our thoughts and urges when it comes to suicidality for the simple reason that realistic trauma recovery means we are not ducking or dodging ANYTHING important anymore. 

A bedrock of my trauma recovery philosophy is that we have to size everything up as realistically as possible— and if thoughts of dying are a big part of your world, we have to acknowledge that. 

Here’s the thing about the suicide fantasy, from a trauma recovery standpoint: I don’t care if you have that fantasy of an “escape hatch.” Many more people have that fantasy as an “escape hatch” than will ever admit to it. 

I guarantee you encountered an actively or passively suicidal person today, whether you know it or not. 

I DO care, however, if that fantasy is getting in the way of your trauma recovery work. 

Make no mistake: the work of trauma recovery takes a lot of effort and a lot of patience. It often sucks. It’s often frustrating. It’s often boring. 

I’ve seen the fantasy of suicide as a way out get in the way of some survivors’ motivation and focus in their recovery. 

Why bother with all this stuff that sucks, part of them might think, if I can just push the “eject” button and be done with it? 

That’s the danger of the suicidal fantasy, in my experience. It can distract us from doing the things we need to do in trauma recovery to actually build a life, little baby step by little baby step. 

It is easy to get judgmental with ourselves or others when we have suicidal thoughts or wishes. 

But when we are in that space, we do not need judgment— and we do not need pressure. 

We do not need to be lectured— and we very much do not need to be labeled “selfish.” 

What we DO need is a teeny, tiny glimmer of hope that trauma recovery MIGHT be possible. 

There is a reason why I have chosen to focus my work not just on trauma recovery, but REALISTIC and SUSTAINABLE recovery from trauma and addiction: because I need you to know that, to me, this “recovery” stuff isn’t hypothetical. 

I want recovery to be a REAL WORLD thing that can ACTUALLY compete with the escape hatch of suicide. 

And here’s the thing: it can. 

I wouldn’t say that, certainly not on a blog that’ll be read by thousands of people, if I didn’t believe it. 

I want your recovery to be so real world, so realistic, so doable, DESPITE how much it can suck some days, that you DON’T feel like your only option is to hit that “eject” button. 

That’s why I say take this one day at a time. 

That’s why I say focus on practical skills, tools, and philosophies. 

That’s why I say work on making the inside of your head and heart a safe place. 

Because I don’t want ANYONE to feel like dying is their ONLY option. 

I swear to you, it’s not. 

Trauma recovery is not about character or (ew) resilience.

Our culture loves to pretend our vulnerability to trauma and our recovery from it are matters of “character.’ 

We constantly hear trauma and recovery discussed in terms like “resilience” and “determination.” 

Popular media loves to tell stories of people enduring horrific situations because they possess “heroic” qualities. 

Don’t get me wrong— the people who endure traumatic situations often DO have heroic qualities. They often ARE very resilient (though almost every trauma survivor I’ve ever worked with has absolutely hated that term). 

But vulnerability to trauma is NOT about character— nor is healing from trauma. 

Most trauma survivors don’t get the choice whether or not to be “resilient.” 

That’s a word that gets attached to them after they come through their experience— but it’s not as if they sat down and made a decision to be “resilient.” 

All they knew was what they knew— they had to do what they had to do to survive. 

It was never an option for them to NOT be resilient. 

The world may look at certain trauma survivors and call them “heroic”— but most survivors were doing what they HAD to do to survive, and protect the people and pets they loved. 

If you were injured by post traumatic stress, it’s not because you were “weak” or lacked “character.” 

If you are struggling in your trauma recovery, it’s not because you lack “grit” or “determination.” 

Trauma is awful, and trauma recovery is complicated and often panful. That is the reality. 

Few of us sat down and made decisions about how we were going to survive and endure. 

Hell, for many of us, what happened didn’t even register as “traumatic” at the time. It was our normal. 

We didn’t realize the things our nervous system was doing to compensate. 

We didn’t realize the price we’d eventually have to pay for those survival-focused adaptations. 

As a trauma specialist, I can affirm that I have seen more courage in my career as a therapist than I ever thought I would— and I can also tell you I absolutely hate when we talk about “courage” being the thing that gets us through trauma. 

Many of us didn’t have the option, at the time, to NOT be courageous. 

For many of us, that “courage” came at the price of chronic, identity-disrupting dissociation. 

For many trauma survivors, the REAL test of courage comes in the years AFTER we were traumatized. 

Because make no mistake: it takes courage to commit to trauma recovery. 

Trauma recovery is an uncertain, non-linear process. Even with all we DO know about trauma and recovery, there is plenty that we DON’T know. 

I’m really good at supporting people through trauma recovery— at least partly because I am committed to my OWN trauma and addiction recovery— but even I cannot give you a firm time frame on when things will get better. 

The only guarantee in trauma recovery is that there are no guarantees. 

Waking up and staying committed to recovery DESPITE the fact that there are no guarantees— THAT takes courage. 

Especially since, at a certain point, we have to give up chronic dissociation as a coping strategy. 

I am staggered by the courage I see every day. 

I am honored to be part of anyone’s recovery journey. 

But none of this is about character. 

it is about knowledge and skills and philosophies. We LEARN recovery. We learn how to do it. 

And we CHOOSE to do it, one day, one hour, one minute at a time. 

Those who succeed in recovery don’t succeed because they are better or more moral or more courageous people. 

They succeed because they pace themselves and keep returning to the basics. 

Magic formula, that.