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.
One thought on “Trauma recovery is not about character or (ew) resilience.”
Anger fuels the “fight back” – at least in the early adult years. I was told and made to feel during my childhood and adolescence that my ever-present anger was NOT acceptable, without ever inquiring what was feeling this emotion. I “got in touch” with my assertive side as a young adult, and had my radar keenly set on injustice, bigotry and hypocrisy. Lately, I’ve learned that to gain support, it’s necessary to speak my truth plainly, and without rancour. I’ve never had professional psychiatric help or even a an effective mentor who understood my journey and didn’t have their own agenda. Today, in my retirement years, I’ve more time and opportunity for extensive reading and out of doors activities, reducing stressors and aiming for contentment. Even now, I’m inclined towards demanding a lot of myself and those who are closest … I need to keep in mind I’ve got all the time in the world.