Trauma, loss, grief, and mourning.

When our lives are shaped by traumatic events, we develop a particularly complex relationship with grief and mourning. 

It’s never quite as straightforward as we experience a loss; we mourn; we move on. 

Often times trauma survivors find themselves wrestling with grief in confusing ways, at unexpected times. 

A LOT of the process of trauma recovery involves coming to terms with losses we didn’t even register as losses at the time. 

Frequently, times of loss and grief activate or reactivate trauma symptoms and defenses we thought were dormant or healed. 

Grief and loss often knock trauma survivors out of the precarious patterns we’d established to get by in our everyday lives. 

Mourning for people and pets “out there” in the world often trigger a flood of feelings and memories inside us from a long time ago, which may not seem to have anything to do with the loss we’re “supposed” to be grieving. 

A huge part of trauma recovery is reconstructing a version of ourselves that can function AFTER painful things have happened in our lives— which is very similar to what we need to do in the process of grief and mourning. 

Recovery from trauma depends greatly on the extent to which we are able to acknowledge losses— and willing to give ourselves the emotional oxygen we need to process the meaning and implications of those losses. 

The loss of a person, a pet, a job, or a relationship can trigger feelings we have about earlier, more fundamental losses. 

Many trauma survivors don’t register that their loss of safety, loss of connection, or oss of innocence really ARE important losses— losses about which we can experience grief, and losses it is okay (important, even) to mourn. 

Many trauma survivors are used to feeling things more intensely than the people around them. 

Loss and grief are no different. 

One of the CENTRAL tasks of trauma recovery is to build a sense of safety WITHIN ourselves, and a supportive relationship WITH ourselves— partly because grieving requires us to extend a great deal of compassion and patience to ourselves. 

It’s really hard to grieve and mourn if you’re telling yourself to suck it up, that you have no right to feel what you feel, that you “should” be over it or not feel it as intensely as you do. 

It’s hard enough to experience loss. 

It’s much harder if we’re also wrestling with basic questions of our worthiness and durability as the result of a trauma history. 

The difficult work we do in recovery of forming a loving, supportive, realistic relationship with ourselves becomes really important when we get hit with grief and loss out there in the world.

You need to know that you’re not crazy: grief and loss really are harder for you if you have a complicated, painful history. 

You need to know that the skills and tools you’ve been working on to grow past your trauma history will be useful to you during times of grief and loss. 

You need to know that the more you work on being there for yourself, cultivating a supportive, consistent, compassionate relationship with yourself, the easier it will be for you to handle grief and loss— though nothing ever truly makes grieving “easy.” 

I know that nothing I can say here will ever truly soothe or heal the pain caused by grief and loss. 

But how you relate to yourself and your pain will make a BIG difference in how— and how fast— you feel differently. 

Be patient with you. 

Be there for you. 

We are NOT stuck with our early programming.

Once upon a time, as we were growing up, we had very little control over our programming— in fact, virtually none. 

We had very little control over what we watched. 

We had very little control over what was read to us. 

We had virtually no control over what was told to us. 

At the same time, we were learning what relationships and attachment were all about through our relationships at home and at school— and those relationships were shaping our beliefs about who we were and what we deserved. 

Some of us had relationship and attachment experiences that taught us we were basically good, basically competent, and able to adapt to and master situations. 

Unfortunately, many of us did not. 

Many of us had early relationship and attachment experiences that programmed us with the beliefs that we were basically undeserving. That we were essentially incompetent. That no matter what we tried to adapt to a situation, we’d feel “wrong.” 

Looking back, it’s staggering to realize how little control we had over our early programming— over those beliefs that became EXTREMELY important in how we viewed ourselves, the world, and the future. 

Fast forward several decades, and now we’re adults— but many of us are still operating on beliefs that we acquired when we were kids. 

Many of us still FEEL as undeserving as when we were kids. We FEEL incompetent. We FEEL unable to adapt. 

The thing is, our early programming may have had NOTHING to do with who we REALLY are or what we can REALLY do. 

Our early programming was very often a mishmash of the relationship styles and attachment issues of the people who raised us, taught us, and surrounded us. 

But many of us grew up thinking certain feelings were “right” because, over time, feeling those things felt familiar. 

We assumed we must BE undeserving, or incompetent, or maladaptive, because we were very USED to feeling those things. 

We were never taught that we could take charge of our OWN programming. 

We were never taught that our nervous system can change, even well into adulthood. 

We were never taught that we can change our beliefs about ourselves, the world, and the future— that we are NOT stuck with what the people around us believed or passed on. 

If you’re struggling to believe that you can feel and function differently, you’re not broken or hopeless— that’s a function of your programming. A lifetime of conditioning. 

It’s going to take time and consistency to feel and believe different things. 

I’m not just saying these things out of optimism or hopefulness. I’m just talking about how beliefs and characteristic patterns of feeling come to exist— and how they change. 

It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to believe in the possibility of change. It takes a basic knowledge of neuroscience— and an openness to the idea that you deserve the opportunity to feel and function differently. 

Nobody reading this is doomed to the patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving they established early in life. 

We are not stuck with our early programming. 

But reprogramming ourselves takes exactly as long as it takes, and it’s exactly as difficult as it is. 

You’re worth the hassle. You’re worth the effort. You’re worth the time. 

No matter what your early programing is trying to tell you right now. 

Recognizing emotional flashbacks and body memories.

Emotional flashbacks and body memories can be confusing and scary— because we often don’t realize what’s happening at first. 

In an emotional flasbhack, we’re suddenly feeling like we did once upon a time— often small, vulnerable, ashamed, unreasourceful. 

What’s happened is that our nervous system has gotten triggered, and plunged us back into emotional headspace from the past— but it may not have been accompanied by the immersive sensory phenomena was associate with a post traumatic “flashback.” 

In an emotional flashback, we’ve been plunged into headspace from “back there, back then”— often without even realizing it. 

Body, or “somatic,” memories are similar: our nervous system has been triggered by something external, and in response our muscles and organs are reexperiencing things they did once upon a time. 

Body memories can be painful or just strange; and they can impact a small area of your body, or they can overwhelm your entire physical being. 

Both emotional flashbacks and body memories are way more common than many people realize. 

Often we know something is wrong— we can feel a shift in either our feelings or our body— but we can’t quite put our finger on what’s happening. 

What we need to understand is, when we have a complicated, painful history— whether or not we remember all of it— our nervous system is frequently on alert all the time for warning signs that we’re about to be plunged BACK into those complicated, painful situations. 

When we get triggered, our nervous system has detected something that it’s interpreting as a danger signal— and it’s sounding the alarm bells. 

Very often, we may not know what exactly has triggered us. 

Sometimes a trigger won’t even seem to make sense— all we know is that, for whatever reason, it makes PERFECT sense to our sensitized nervous system. 

We can argue all day with our nervous system about whether it “should” react to a trigger or not— but whether a trigger “makes sense” to us or not, when we’re triggered, we’re triggered. 

We need to handle it. 

As we learn to recognize what emotional flashbacks and body memories feel like, we can start to formulate strategies for dealing with them when the occur. 

When we are triggered, we need to talk and visualize ourselves through it. 

Our nervous system— that scared, overwhelmed kid that exists within all of us— needs to be reassured that things are safe, DESPITE whatever it has detected as a potential threat. 

(Or, alternatively, if our nervous system HAS detected a legitimate threat, it needs to know that we’re actually DOING something to escape or otherwise deal with it.) 

Recognizing emotional flashbacks and body memories as trauma responses can be essential when it comes to calming ourselves down and making ourselves feel better. 

When we’re experiencing trauma responses, how we talk to ourselves and the resources we seek out really matter. 

Trying to deal with an emotional flashback like a simple “bad mood” isn’t going to work well. 

Trying to deal with a body memory like just a passing spike of physical pain isn’t going to work well. 

When we accurately perceive that our nervous system is making a specific request of us— that is, it need to know that we are safe, and that we are here-and-now, instead of back-there-back then— we can meet our own needs with clarity and precision. 

Lots of trauma responses SEEM to make no sense at the time— but when we take a step back, we realize that they actually do have at least a little rhyme and reason. 

It takes patience and self-compassion to SEE that rhyme and reason, though— and to respond accordingly. 

Ultimately all of this is part and parcel of learning to be on our own side. 

We can work WITH our nervous system as we deepen our understanding of our own pain and our own needs. 

We are, after all, all on the same side. 

We can’t people-please our way to safety.

Sometimes we’re going to have to do things to protect and care for ourselves that inconvenience others. 

And that’s okay. 

Just reading that probably made some people uncomfortable. 

Many of us HATE the very IDEA of inconveniencing others. 

For some of us, it goes even deeper: we’ve come to associate the idea of inconveniencing others as inviting pain.

That is to say: some of us have concluded, either consciously or not, that it’s not SAFE to inconvenience others. 

This idea is related to other ideas we get in our head about what reactions it may not be safe to elicit from other people— for example, MANY people truly believe that it isn’t safe to “make” other people angry. 

Their only experiences with people being angry with them are frightening and painful, so they develop the belief that “safety” involves NEVER “making” anyone angry. 

All of this gets wrapped up in a larger idea that “safety” can be created by accommodating other people at all times— and to NOT accommodate someone is to make yourself vulnerable to attack (either physically, or verbally, or emotionally). 

It’s a type of trauma response called “fawning.” 

People-pleasing is a form of fawning. Being reluctant to set boundaries because we don’t want others to be mad at us is another form of fawning. 

The common denominator of these fawning behaviors is that we have decided that our best chance at safety is in scrambling to never displease, inconvenience, or otherwise elicit a negative feeling or impression from somebody else. 

The thing is, we’re human beings and this is real life. 

We’re GOING to displease someone, sometime. 

There WILL be times when our needs— not just our wants, but our needs— WILL be incompatible with what someone else wants or needs just then. 

In those moments, when we have to choose between meeting our needs and caring for ourselves, OR minimizing our anxiety by putting our needs and self-care on the back burner so we don’t “make” somebody mad or inconvenience them…anxiety management frequently wins out. 

When we do this over and over again, over the course of years…our self-esteem takes a nasty hit. 

After all, it’s really hard to esteem ourselves when we’re constantly putting the comfort and convenience of others above our actual needs. 

And it’s nearly impossible to establish a sense of REAL emotional or physical safety when we don’t think we have the right to set boundaries. 

Recovery from people-pleasing involves us giving up the fantasy that safety can be found in someone else’s positive response to us. 

When we pin our only hope for safety on someone else’s positive feelings toward us, we’re setting ourselves up for a permanent state of anxiety. 

We will be CONSTANTLY checking and re-checking others’ responses for evidence that we have, or are about to, displease them. 

Eventually it becomes more than a preoccupation. It can become an obsession. 

Not to mention: that sense of safety isn’t real. 

We can’t ensure that someone will NEVER think negatively about us. 

We can’t ensure that we will ALWAYS make a positive impression. 

And there will ABSOLUTELY be times when we have to say or do something that WILL displease someone else in order to get our needs met. 

There WILL come a time when you have to prioritize your needs over someone else’s comfort. 

That doesn’t make you mean. It doesn’t make you “high maintenance.” It doesn’t make you entitled. 

Your needs are as important as anyone else’s needs. 

And your needs are almost always MORE important than others’ convenience. 

The point of recovery is to move beyond recovery.

I reject the idea that having bad things happen TO us means that the rest of our life is just day after day of “just getting by.” 

When traumatic things happen to us, either in the distant or recent past, it means we face some specific struggles and challenges. 

We can’t ignore those struggles and challenges. We can’t pretend they don’t exist— they’ve very often in our face in the form of flashbacks and dissociation and depression and other symptoms. 

Living a life after painful things have happened to us means learning specific tools, skills, and strategies to mange our symptoms and integrate overwhelming memories. 

Recovery is an involved project. We can’t treat it like a side project. 

When we’re trying to build and life a life after bad things have happened to us, it means we have to look at ALL of our life projects— our relationships, our career, our hobbies— through the lens of recovery. 

Trauma— and recovery— will touch EVERY aspect of our lives going forward. We don’t get to opt out of that. (I wish we did.) 

All that said: I don’t believe our life THEN consists of ONLY recovery. 

I believe recovery is the paradigm, the framework, that allows us to do the things we REALLY want to do with our lives. 

Once we accept that we have to live our lives within the framework of recovery— that we will never NOT be trauma survivors— that allows us to ask questions about what we want to do WITHIN that framework. 

What kind of relationships we want to have. What kind of career we want to have. What kind of goals and dreams we want to create and pursue. 

Ironically, accepting that we will never NOT be in recovery is what allows us to focus on things OTHER than recovery without the risk of our symptoms overwhelming us and dominating our lives. 

I know it can be really difficult to imagine ever having anything that resembles a life outside of our pain. 

I know how frustrating it is when we’re told to not let our pain dominate our life, when we’re used to our symptoms being SO painful and SO pervasive that we can’t IMAGINE pain NOT dominating our life. 

But I also know how depressing it is to imagine our futures being nothing BUT pain and symptom management. 

Your mileage may vary, and you’re always the expert on your own experience— but I reject the idea that all we can ever hope for is misery management for the rest of our lives. 

I think we still have lives to live that go beyond “just getting by.” 

I think the entire POINT of developing coping skills and tools is to get back to what ACTUALLY matters in our lives. 

I think that developing skills and tools and strategies to mange our symptoms is about MORE than just managing our symptoms. 

I think that recovery isn’t a goal. It’s a lifestyle. 

Will we have days where all we can do is JUST manage our pain? Sure. 

Will we have days when we feel so overwhelmed that we can’t IMAGINE doing much else with our lives OTHER than just get by? Sure. 

But effective recovery opens up the door to more. 

It opens up the door to you being YOU again— and YOU are MORE than JUST someone to whom bad things happened. 

YOU have interests and hopes and dreams. 

YOU have goals and values. 

YOU have things that you like and love and want. 

I want you to create and experience a life that is as close as possible to the life you once imagined. 

That’s why I believe in recovery. 

I believe in recovery because of all the OTHER stuff it makes possible. 

Life’s NOT perfect…but don’t panic. (Really.)

I struggle when a situation isn’t perfect. You too? 

When a relationship isn’t perfect— isn’t exactly what I want, isn’t exactly what I fantasized about, isn’t exactly what I expected— my brain often tries to tell me that it’s NOTHING that I want. That I HAVE to get out of it, the sooner the better. 

When a business arrangement isn’t quite what I had in mind, my brain often tries to tell me that I’m in over my head, that business isn’t my thing, that I need to get out before I get taken advantage of. 

When a day doesn’t go as I would have preferred, my nervous system often tries to tell me that there is nothing salvageable, nothing good about this day…and the ONLY way I can handle this TERRIBLE day having occurred, is to dive into a behavior that might be soothing— but which I know is ultimately self-harmful. 

(More straightforwardly: my addiction uses the excuse of a bad day to see if it can get me to relapse.) 

I know life isn’t perfect. My “rational” brain doesn’t EXPECT life to be perfect. 

I know compromises have to be made in the course of real world living. 

It’s not that I have a child-like insistence that everything be perfect or else I’m going to melt down. 

But something unusual DOES happen when certain situations aren’t perfect that isn’t entirely about my “rational” mind. 

When we grew up with complicated, often painful relationships in our lives, things not being “perfect” is sometimes more than an inconvenience. Things not being perfect can sometimes hit a sort of panic button in us…because it means something Really Bad might be about to happen. 

There are people reading this who were punished when things weren’t perfect— even if it wasn’t their fault. 

There are people reading this who truly fear— not with their “rational” minds, but something deeper— that if things aren’t “perfect,” they are going to be rejected, abandoned, or shamed. 

All day long we are told not to be perfectionists. 

But some people don’t quite know what they’re asking when they ask us to give up perfectionism as a kind of hypothetical safety net. 

Perfectionism often isn’t about any kind of real world expectation or even a real world goal. It’s about anxiety. 

It’s often about anxiety that we’re going to be blamed. 

Sometimes it’s about anxiety that we’re going to be hurt. 

Sometimes it’s about anxiety that we’ve failed, and we’re gong to experience the consequences of that failure — even if we can’t quite put words to why or how we’ve failed to make things “perfect” that we didn’t actually have any control over. 

Almost nobody I know ACTUALLY expects themselves or the world to be perfect. 

We know that human reality just doesn’t work like that. 

But we also have this anxiety that rears its head when things AREN’T perfect. 

It’s as if certain things going wrong in certain ways makes us regress. It’s like we become anxious kids. 

Kids who feel like they’re in trouble…but can’t quite understand how, or what they’d need to do to be “good” kids. 

All of which is to say: handling the imperfections and complications of life ma not come naturally to you— and it has nothing to do with your ability to actually handle life. 

You may be getting triggered— and you need to know that being triggered by life’s imperfections is a more common occurrence then you may know. 

The anxiety that gives rise to perfectionism is VERY common among people with abuse, neglect, or other trauma in their history. 

As with any painful emotional experience, though, it’s up to us to meet it with compassion and patience. 

We won’t get anywhere shaming ourselves for panicking or melting down. 

We can only understand what’s actually going on if we’re willing to stay with ourselves when we’re anxious. 

It’s a big ask, I know. My first response is to DO something, ANYTHING, to take away that anxiety. 

Waiting that anxiety response out is both really hard— and really important. 

Yup. Others MIGHT be talking about you. And they MIGHT not like you. So?

Yup. Someone might be talking about you. In fact, someone almost surely is talking about you. 

They might be saying unkind things about you. They might think and feel negative things about you. And they might be sharing those unkind things with other people. 

I’d love to tell you none of that’s true. I’d love to tell you that people are only thinking, feeing, and saying nice things about you. But how the hell would I know? 

Realistically, we’re going to run into people who feel positively AND negatively about us. 

The thing is: a lot of that’s not going to actually be about us. 

Much of that stuff is going to be about them: their expectations, their preferences, people in their lives or pasts, their mood, their personalities. 

The truth is, we couldn’t leave everyone we meet with a positive impression if we tried. 

Think of the most likable person you know. I guarantee, that person has made a negative impression on SOMEBODY. 

When we’re depressed or anxious, we often get up in our head about what other people are thinking, feeling, and saying about us. 

Depression and anxiety REALLY love to speculate about ALL the negative things other people MIGHT be thinking, feeling, and saying about us— and depression and anxiety ESPECIALLY love to tell us that what other people think, feel, and say about us is REALLY important. 

Don’t get me wrong: I prefer when people think, feel, and say positive things about me. It’s a bummer when someone doesn’t like you. 

It’s also GOING To happen. 

And the fact that SOMEONE is going to think, feel, or speak negatively about us isn’t NEARLY as important as our depression and anxiety want us to believe. 

Let’s be clear: when people don’t like us, sometimes they can absolutely try to make life difficult for us. That’s real. 

My childhood has many LENGTHY periods where the bullying of other kids really ruined the experience of being alive for me. Our peers’ opinions of us and behavior toward us DO have realistic consequences. 

But our depression and anxiety often WANT us to leap to the conclusion that other people are thinking, feeling, and saying negative things about us without much evidence…and our depression and anxiety want us to take the further step of letting these possibly-imaginary thoughts, feelings, and words to largely define our self-image. 

We can’t let our depression and anxiety convince us that we are DEFINED by what others may or may not think. 

Unfortunately, when we were growing up, many of us are not taught how to cultivate self-esteem independently of the positive regard of others. 

We were often taught that we “should” feel good about ourselves when OTHERS felt good about our behavior or achievements. 

The truth is, it’s nice when others approve of our behavior or when we achieve goals. It’s certainly nicer than when others don’t like us or we fail to achieve our goals. 

But achievements or popularity aren’t sustainable foundations of self-esteem. 

They weren’t sustainable when we were kids, and they’re not sustainable now. 

We build self-esteem by deciding who we are, what’s important to us— and by living congruently with our values. 

We build self-esteem by living with self-awareness, self-compassion, and personal integrity. 

We can do those things whether or NOT we happen to be liked by our peers, or wherever we happen to be in the journey toward our goals. 

Depression and anxiety want to make our self-worth dependent upon what others may or may not be thinking, feeling, or saying about us. 

It’s up to us to appreciate the truth: our self-worth is created and nurtured by us. 

No one can give it to us, and no one can take it away. 

No matter what depression or anxiety whisper in our ear. 

About that “worthiness” thing.

Often we feel we need to cram who we are and what we experience into the mold of someone else’s expectations or needs in order to be worthy. 

I don’t mean ESPECIALLY worthy. I mean just worthy to exist. To breathe. To take up space. 

We don’t have to “earn” the air we breathe or the physical space we occupy. 

But we instinctively feel we do. 

We’ve don’t want to be a “waste of space” or a “waste of oxygen.” 

We’ve been told, all our lives, that some people just aren’t worthy. 

Often we’ve been told that people who don’t “contribute to the world” aren’t worthy. 

Sometimes we’ve been told that being alive is a “gift” we have to “earn” with our behavior or accomplishments. 

(Seems to me if something is truly a gift, we don’t have to “earn” it, but whatever.) 

We DON’T have to “earn” or “deserve” the privilege of our existence via our behavior or accomplishments. 

We are “worthy” of being alive by virtue of the fact that we are alive. 

So why do we get so obsessed with “earning” our very lives? 

Most of it is programming. 

Some of us truly feel that if we don’t have SOME sort of incentive to achieve things or behave well, we just…won’t achieve things or behave well. 

If we are worthy just because we exist, where is the incentive to be better? 

Every single time I write about the subject of self-worth, I get asked: if we don’t “earn” our worth though our behavior, then what is the basis of our worth? What gives human life value? 

I don’t know. 

Different people are going to have different ideas about what gives human life value. Your mileage may vary on whether your, or anyone’s, life has “value,” I suppose. 

But the real truth is, I don’t care. 

I don’t care if you think your, or my, life has value. I don’t care if you think your, or I, “deserve” to exist. 

The fact is, we DO exist. 

That’s what I DO know. 

And as long as we exist, we have the responsibility to manage our quality of life. 

There are things about our quality of life that we don’t control. We don’t control many of the things that happen TO us. We don’t control the genes or many of the other biological factors that are handed to us. We don’t control many things about our environment. 

Our job is to get real and proactive about what we DO control. What we CAN impact and manage to create the kind of quality of life we’d prefer. 

I think getting wrapped around the axle about “worthiness” is often a distraction. 

There’s NOT going to be a world in which I just decide that it’s pointless to try to manage our quality of life because we are “unworthy.” 

Worthy or not, I prefer humans to live quality lives. 

I can’t speak to what would make someone “deserve” a high quality of life or not. 

I can only speak to the fact that I want people to live high quality lives. 

I don’t care whether they are “worthy.” I don’t care whether you, reading this right now, think you, or I, are “worthy.” 

I don’t care if you achieve amazing things or no things in your life. I care that you are as happy and comfortable and fulfilled as you can be. 

Why? Not because you do or don’t “deserve” it. 

But because it improves MY quality of life to help you improve YOUR quality of life. 

Don’t sink in the quicksand of ruminating on “worth.” 

Focus in on improving your quality of life today in realistic ways. 

Is avoiding triggers always bad?

You might be shamed— by yourself or others— for avoiding something that triggers you. 

You might tell yourself, or be told by others, that the ONLY way to neutralize a trigger is to expose yourself to it. 

To “white knuckle” your way through it. That you can’t run away from a trigger forever. 

It’s true that there ARE triggers out there in the world, and there’s NO escaping some of them. 

It’s also true that indefinitely AVOIDING certain things keeps them stuck in our heads as threatening or overwhelming, because we don’t get a chance to NOT be threatened or overwhelmed by them out in the real world. 

Here’s the thing: coping with triggers takes energy. Sometimes a LOT of energy. 

Discovering and designing ways to COPE with our triggers takes time. Sometimes a LOT of time. 

It’s just not a practical strategy to go out into the world every day and DEMAND that you white knuckle your way through EVERY trigger in your path. 

We have to pick and choose. 

Sometimes making a strategic decision to AVOID a trigger IS the intelligent decision. 

We don’t have to go down the rabbit hole of shaming ourselves for choosing to avoid certain things at certain times. 

We have a limited amount of focus and energy. Managing that focus and energy intelligently is our BIGGEST job EVERY day. 

There’s no shame in strategically avoiding certain triggers— certain situations, certain people. 

There is also no upside in intentionally confronting certain triggers, situations, and people before we’re ready. 

I deeply understand the impulse to NOT want a memory or a trauma reaction to control you. 

I completely understand WHY some survivors very much WANT to revisit certain physical places in order to “prove” they can be exposed to them without dissociating or otherwise decompensating. And there are times in the healing process when something like that CAN be helpful.

But very often the juice is not worth the squeeze when it comes to intentionally exposing ourselves to certain triggers if we can avoid them. 

I don’t want ANYONE to feel like a trigger or a memory is controlling them. I am 100% on team “let’s rebuild your nervous system such that you’re NOT controlled by anything you don’t want to be controlled by EVER again.” 

But in the course of healing and rebuilding your nervous system, we’re going to have to make some decisions about time, focus, and energy. 

We’re NOT proving anything by charging into a triggering situation without a realistic, comprehensive coping plan (not to mention multiple backup plans). 

We’re NOT supporting our healing by placing our stability at risk just to prove a point to ourselves (or anyone else). 

The trick is knowing when we’re INTELLIGENTLY avoiding something we may NOT have the skills or tools to handle right now— versus when we’re avoiding something we MIGHT actually NEED to confront.

This is one of the MANY decisions in trauma recovery that ISN’T straightforward. 

I know. It sucks. I wish it was more straightforward, too. 

Something that we KNOW about recovery from depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, or trauma (and trauma very often underlies depression, anxiety, addiction, and eating disorders) is that it asks us to be very REAL with ourselves. 

We need to be REAL with ourselves about WHY we want to avoid that trigger. 

We need to be REAL with ourselves about whether it’s SMART to avoid that trigger (and not let fear or trauma reflexes unduly influence our judgment). 

Recovery asks us to be thoughtful and patient with ourselves as we sift through this. 

Yes. It’s a hassle. 

But you are worth the hassle. 

There IS a way to cope with that trigger. And you’re GONNA find it.

You have coping skills and tools already. Yes, you there reading this. 

You may not think of yourself as skillful. But you are. I promise you. 

I know that because you’re reading this. You’ve made it to this moment in time. You’ve studied everything that life has thrown at you so far. 

You might be a little, or a lot, worse for wear. You might be at a point where the skills and tools that have gotten you this far hands outlived their usefulness, or have started to create more problems than they solve. 

But the fact remains that you are a survivor. 

I’m not playing a semantic game here. There are people reading this who have literally survived situations that have tried to kill them, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. 

If you’re reading this, you are NOT learning how to cope or survive from scratch. 

You are, in all likelihood, more resourceful, more clever, more persistent and consistent than you’ve given yourself credit for. 

Survivors often develop distorted ideas about themselves. 

Strong people— people who have endured things that would shatter other people— come to believe that they are weak or fragile. 

Smart people— people who found ways to survive and even thrive under circumstances many people wouldn’t even believe EXIST— come to believe they are stupid or naive’. 

Kind people— people who would happily sacrifice everything they have to ensure the happiness or safety of someone else— come to believe they are selfish. 

We often come to become these things because we are programmed to believe these things— by people who do not want us to fully realize how powerful and independent we truly are. 

People who have a realistic sense of their own agency in the world are tough to control and manipulate— and they are notoriously hard to silence. Hence why you— yes, you reading this— may have had people in your life trying to downplay how capable and worthy you are. 

There really are people reading this who think they don’t have skills, or don’t have the RIGHT skills. 

The “right” skill is the skill that gets you through a tough moment.

If you’re reading this, I guarantee you have, and have had, an entire menagerie of the “right” skills. 

Successful day to day, minute by minute coping begins with reminding ourselves that we CAN and HAVE made it through rough times. 

Successful coping does NOT require us to reinvent the wheel. 

It asks to to draw upon skills and abilities that we KNOW we already possess— but we may have forgotten about in the squeeze of a painful moment. 

The most useful coping skills and tools in YOUR toolbox will build upon who you fundamentally are, how you learn and process information, and how you, specifically, are advantaged or limited in the situation you’re trying to manage. 

(Singing is a skill that makes me feel better, but it’s not exactly something I can bust out when I’m triggered in a meeting in a hospital staff room.) 

Because somebody else’s favorite or most effective coping strategies don’t happen to fit you doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out for coping. 

It means that the skills and tools that WILL work for you are going to flow from who YOU are, what helps YOU feel I’m control, what helps YOU remember your deal in the midst of the hurricane around (or inside) you. 

Where it all starts— and continues, every day of your recovery from depression, anxiety, addiction, trauma, an eating disorder, or whatever— is REMEMBERING and REINFORCING the basic TRUTH that you are a SURVIVOR (by definition!) and you are SKILLFUL. 

There IS a way to successfully, non-harmfully cope with the EXACT thing that is triggering you. 

And you’re gonna find it.