It’s normal to miss certain undeniably toxic things and people.

It’s not weird to miss certain things about a situation that was, on the whole, painful. 

It’s not unusual to miss a person who hurt you more than anything else. 

Our memories and attachments are often complex. 

Sometimes, being abused was the most attention we got, positive or otherwise— and that was preferable to the emptiness and yearning of being ignored or neglected. 

It’s very common for victims of sexual abuse to be confused about sensations they experienced in their body while they were being abused. 

Especially if we were living lives that didn’t include a lot of physical affection or pleasure, our nervous system may not have known what to make of some of what we experienced while being abused. 

Later on, our mind may not have known what to make of the fact that many perpetrators of sexual abuse don’t use physical coercion s their weapons of choice— but often gaslight their victims into believing that the victim had in fact “seduced” perpetrator. 

Even as adults, we can have mixed feelings about people who we know, on the whole, were abusive to us. 

We may be attracted or drawn to someone we know was toxic for us— even after a painful relationship has ended. 

We may have mixed feelings when someone who abused us moves on with their life, experiences milestones like getting married or having children, or dies. 

It would be much easier if we humans were wired to think in black and white terms about people with whom we’ve been close. 

But we often don’t. 

Painful memories and knowledge may be entwined with stimulating or even comforting memories and knowledge. 

Some survivors of abusive relationships even experience regret about how a relationship ended, or guilt about their role in how the relationship played out or ended. 

If any of this sounds familiar to you, you need to know you are not crazy— and you’re not alone. 

It doesn’t mean it was your fault that you were abused or victimized. 

It doesn’t mean you “asked for it.” 

It doesn’t mean you must want it back, or that you have a fetish for abusive relationships. 

It means that trauma often scrambles our wiring when it comes to attachment— especially if our early attachments weren’t all that positive and stable to begin with. 

Many of the distorted beliefs that trauma survivors develop about themselves stem from how we interpret things we experienced and felt in certain relationships. 

When we get distance on an abusive relationship, it can be easy to feel stupid or complicit in our own pain— and others sometimes implicitly or explicitly reinforce those feelings. 

We need to be super clear about the fact that human emotions and relationships are always complex and frequently paradoxical. 

Missing a childhood abuser, at least in some ways, is pretty common among survivors. 

Wanting a parent who abused or neglected us to apologize or approve of us in adulthood is VERY common among survivors. 

You’re not weird and you’re not bad. 

And missing aspects of a person or relationship does not mean that we need or want that person or relationship back. 

We can feel what we feel and still be realistic about what we need to heal and protect ourselves. 

Always, always, always come back to accepting WHATEVER you are feeling with curiosity and compassion. 

Always, always, always come back to meeting the kid who you once were, and who you still carry around with you in your head and heart, with radical acceptance and care— no matter what they’re feeling. 

Always, always, always remember that what you FEEL is not “wrong”— it’s just what you feel— but that DOESN’T mean it must be acted upon…or that it’s the final word on “who you are.” 

I like you, and I’m on your side. Yeah, you.

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need to be told that life is difficult. 

You probably know all too well. 

And you’ve probably been told this, over and over— by parents, teachers, coaches, peers, the culture at large. 

Yeah. We know life is hard. 

We know that painful things are going to happen. 

And we know we’re not entitled to either a perfect childhood or a perfect adult life. 

Nobody goes into therapy to be told how difficult life is, or how they’re going to have to suck it up if they want to get better. 

Yet there is a subset of people out there who seem to think that’s what we “need” to hear. 

There really is a subset of people out there who think “entitlement” and the desire for a good life without work or pain are the big problems many people bring to therapy. 

This hasn’t been my experience. 

My experience is that many people who come into therapy or embark upon recovery have plenty of experience with “sucking it up.” 

Many of them have been “sucking it up” for years— treating themselves with the “tough love” that had been shown to them their whole lives (well…the “tough” part, anyway). 

Chances are you already have plenty of relationships in your life where you have to prove how “tough” you are. 

You’ve had plenty of situations where you felt you had to “earn” your success or prove your worth. 

If you’re seeking the support of psychotherapy or a recovery community now, you’re probably not seeking yet another environment in which you’re going to be reminded that life has sharp edges and the world doesn’t owe you anything. 

Different therapists have different approaches to their work. I would’t dare tell any other therapist how to apply their skills. 

But the people I see most in therapy aren’t there because they want to find the “easy” way out of suffering. 

And they don’t need yet another relationship in their life where they feel their worth is conditional. 

I don’t want my patients leaving my office wondering if I like them, if I support them, or whose side I’m on. 

They deserve one relationship in their lives in which they can feel secure and safe. 

It’s not, at all, that I want the therapy relationship to replace the flawed attachments they may have experienced growing up. I couldn’t be their “surrogate parent” even if I wanted to. 

But I do not believe in therapy relationships that reenact the childhood dynamic in which they were left alone in times of fear or pain to “cry it out.” 

As I say: different therapists have different training, styles, and goals. I like to say every therapist out there is right for someone, and every patient out there can make HUGE strides when paired with the right therapist. 

My perspective is undoubtedly colored by the fact that I work mostly with people who have experienced trauma, often in their closest relationships. 

Complex trauma survivors have had enough relationships in which they’re not quite sure if they’re liked, wanted, or respected— and what they’ve experienced is not their fault. 

They don’t need the therapy relationship to recreate the doubts and pressures of relationships past. 

You deserve to know I like you. 

You deserve to know I’m on your side. 

You deserve to know that, while we might disagree and I may not agree with or approve of everything you say or do, my regard for your worth as a person is unconditional. 

You deserve to know that you are— for once— emotionally and physically safe in my presence. 

I don’t think that’s unreasonable to ask for or expect in a meaningful therapy relationship. 

Don’t let a bad day knock you out of recovery.

A bad mood or bad day doesn’t have to knock you out of recovery. 

I’m in a bad mood right now. Bad moods happen to humans. 

Often when we have a history of depression or trauma, our bad moods are particularly intense. We can really go down the rabbit hole of feeling irritable or sad— and it can often be unclear if or when the mood will lift. 

On days when we’re feeling awful, it can seem pointless to stay on course with our recovery. 

Recovery for depression, trauma, addiction, an eating disorder, or other emotional and behavioral struggles doesn’t require us to feel awesome every day. 

Lots of days in recovery are going to feel less than awesome. 

What recovery does ask of us is that we don’t let an awful-feeling day push us into relapsing into old habits. 

Recovery is a routine of things we DO every day to minimize the chances we go tumbling down a destructive rabbit hole, and maximize the chances of us being able to live our values and create a meaningful life. 

When we’re in a terrible mood, the temptation to say “screw it” is strong. 

Why bother with recovery, we might wonder, if I’m going to experience days like THIS in recovery? 

It’s not a dumb question. 

The point of recovery, after all, is to eventually get to the point where every day doesn’t FEEL awful, and we’re not tempted to DO self-destructive things to cope with those awful feelings. 

Recovery is going to ask us to wait out some bad days. 

I wish there was a guaranteed way to ensure that bad days would never happen, but there’s not. 

If we’re human, we’re going to have bad days. 

It’s not that you’re “failing” at recovery. It’s not necessarily that something is irreparably “broken” in your life, and that’s why you’re feeling this way. 

To stay in recovery, even on a bad day, we need to engage the skill of meeting our feelings with honesty and compassion— and without judgment. 

Yes. We have to meet this awful feeling with compassion. 

A BIG part of recovery involves getting on our own side, having our own back— and a big part of THAT is directing compassion toward ourselves when we’re hurting. 

For many of us, this is a new, maybe uncomfortable idea. 

But we’re NOT getting out of this emotional slump by demanding we do or feel something that we just can’t do or feel at this moment. 

“Radical acceptance” is an idea often associated with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and a lot of people have a lot of mixed feelings about it— but the idea of meeting WHATEVER is going on inside you without judgment or without demands for immediate change is KEY to our recovery not crashing with every bad mood. 

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve had enough of being judged for things you experience and feel. 

Once we meet what we’re feeling with honesty and compassion— and WITHOUT demanding of ourselves that we immediately do or feel something different— only THEN can we realistically look at what we can do to feel differently. 

Don’t shoot for changing your mood 100%. That’s not gonna happen. 

Start experimenting with what MIGHT change your mood .01%. 

Start experimenting with what you can realistically do, given the resources you have— what you can focus on, what you can say to yourself, what teeny, tiny variable you can shift to feel .01% different. 

That can be a TALL ask when the only things that have been successful in changing how we feel in the past have been self-destructive. 

I’m not asking you to believe in miracles. 

I’m not suggesting that the tools we know about in terms of changing how you feel are going to work perfectly for everyone all the time. 

What I’m saying is, don’t let a bad mood freak you out and ditch your recovery. 

Sometimes the name of the game is waiting it out. 

Radical acceptance and baby steps are the skills to focus on. 

Self-compassion is the essential frame. 

You— and I— can do this. 

I really believe that. 

Give it a minute. (It’s gonna take a minute, anyway.)

We’re not going to be ready to pull our sh*t together and move on from a traumatic stressor until we’re ready. 

We’re DEFINITELY not going to be ready to do so in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic stressor. 

Still: we might feel pressure to pull ourselves together and look to the future— right after a big, painful thing has happened to us. 

Sometimes that pressure comes from the world or the people around us— but sometimes it comes from within us. 

We don’t want to look “weak.” 

We don’t want people to see us reeling or crying. 

We don’t want the world to assume that we are incapable of handling whatever just got thrown at us. 

When a traumatic stressor happens, we’re most often thrust into a cycle of emotional and behavioral responses that look a lot like the classic model of grieving— which starts with a period of shock and/or denial. 

Humans are just not wired to endure a traumatic stressor and immediately look to the future. 

Rather, we’re wired to cycle through certain emotional states, such as denial, anger, and depression, and to engage in certain compensatory behaviors, like bargaining, as we come to terms with what has just happened to us. 

It’s NOT a process that happens instantaneously. 

The fact that we need to take a minute to absorb the shock of a traumatic stressor doesn’t mean that we’re incapable of handling it or moving on— eventually. 

It means that reality has shifted, and we need time to adjust our model of the world. 

We need time to catch up to how the world is now, compared to how it was before the thing happened. 

The culture around us tells us that it is the epitome of resilience and mental toughness to accept a tragic event in stride and look to the future. 

This often gets oversimplified in “look on the bright side” takes. 

Whether or not a stressful event contains the seed of an opportunity or the potential for personal growth isn’t really the point— the point is that, right after the event happens, our brains are simply incapable of thinking in those terms. 

The temptation to immediately pivot to “what’s next” or “how am I going to fix this” in the wake of a traumatic stressor is often a shock response or a bargaining behavior. 

Part of us might think that if we can immediately come up with a plan for how to make lemonade out of the lemons that were just launched at us, it just might seem as if the thing didn’t happen. 

But it did. 

And we need time to absorb what that means. 

In the hours, days, and weeks after a traumatic stressor, your job isn’t to come up with a comprehensive plan for how to move forward. 

It’s to be gentle and compassionate with yourself. 

It’s to be there for yourself. 

It’s to keep yourself safe— and away from the sometimes self-harmful behaviors that can get tempting during times of emotional dysregulation. 

We don’t know what comes next— and in the immediate wake of a traumatic stressor, we don’t need to know. 

We need reassurance. 

We need to know that we haven’t lost everything. That we still have the right to basic dignity and safety. 

We need to be there for ourselves in ways that we needed a caring adult to be there when we fell down and hurt ourselves as kids. 

We need to know there IS no rushing— and there is no rush. 

We WILL pick up the pieces. 

AFTER we’ve had a chance to absorb what’s happened and feel what we need to feel about it. 

Follow Dr. Glenn Patrick Doyle on Twitter and Instagram at @DrDoyleSays.

Setting boundaries is hard. But trying to function without boundaries is miserable– and dangerous.

The people with whom we most need to set boundaries, are often the people with whom it is the hardest to set boundaries. 

Some people make it very hard to set boundaries with them. 

They can get very reactive to even the gentlest, most polite, most normal or appropriate boundaries. 

Setting a boundary doesn’t mean someone has necessarily done something wrong. It doesn’t mean that a relationship is bad or that we want the relationship to end. 

To the contrary: setting boundaries is something we do when we want the relationship to continue— and when we want to feel good and safe as the relationship continues. 

But some people are going to react as if setting a boundary is a personal insult. 

Some people will react to you setting a boundary as if you are accusing them of something. 

They may demand to know why you want to set a boundary. 

They may put pressure on you to justify the boundary you want to set— and they may expect you to supply concrete examples of their behavior that “proves” the boundary is necessary. 

Here’s the thing; you don’t have to justify your interpersonal boundaries. 

Someone doesn’t have to have done something “wrong” or violating for you to want to set a boundary with them. 

Boundaries exist for our physical and emotional safety— and one of the essential purposes of setting boundaries is to minimize the chances that something violating WILL happen. 

You don’t have to justify your comfort zone. 

You can choose to explain to someone why you feel the need to set a boundary— but that’s your choice. 

You DON’T have to get someone to agree that a boundary is necessary. 

There is a subset of people out there who, for their own reasons, will always bristle when you try to set a boundary. 

They’ll try to convince you that your need or desire to set a boundary represents a problem on YOUR part— and it’s not “fair” for you to put that problem on THEM by setting a boundary. 

For many people, this line of reasoning hooks into the doubt and shame that keeps us from asserting our boundaries and stating our needs in many areas of life. 

Sometimes this even happens with people we don’t know particularly well. 

There is a subset of people who you’ll meet, even socially, who will then feel entitled to be a presence in your life unless they are furnished with a “good enough” reason otherwise. 

(Unsurprisingly, this subset of people tends to find most reasons people give for NOT wanting them in their lives to be “not good enough.”) 

You don’t need a “good enough” reason to not want contact with someone or not want them to have access to your life. 

If you choose to give someone an explanation for why you’re setting a boundary or severing contact, do so for your reasons— and be clear with yourself that you are extending them a courtesy. 

There are absolutely people who will try to leverage your anxiety, self-doubt, and shame, in order to keep you from setting limits with them. 

Whether these people are strangers, acquaintances, professional contacts, current or former romantic partners, or family members, they tend to operate in the same way: they want to make it more of en emotional hassle to set boundaries with them, than to just let them do what they want. 

Their motivations may vary, but the result is often the same: damage to your sense of self-esteem. 

It’s really hard to build realistic, stable self-esteem when we feel we can’t set effective boundaries and limits with people.

If anybody has the power to barge into our life and stay as long as they want, regardless of how we feel about it, it’s difficult to create a life that we can reliably trust and enjoy. 

Setting boundaries can be incredibly difficult when we’re already fighting beliefs about our own “meanness” or “badness” in our own head. 

But not setting boundaries DOESN’T prove how “nice” or “good” or “mature” you are. 

Yes, setting boundaries can generate anxiety. 

But trying to function WITHOUT boundaries generates even MORE anxiety— not to mention actual danger— over the long term. 

“But it wasn’t PHYSICAL abuse, so…”

There are lots of ways and reasons people get trapped in painful relationships or situations. 

It’s often not as easy as “just walk away if it’s so bad.” 

Sometimes, walking away from a complicated, painful situation is dangerous. 

Sometimes trying to escape a painful situation invites overwhelming questions or problems that we simply don’t have the resources to handle at the moment. 

So we stay. 

Not because we like it. Not because we want to. But because the alternatives just aren’t realistic or safe at the moment. 

There are people reading this who have significantly struggled with the question of why they didn’t try harder to get out of a painful situation. 

There are people reading this who have literally been told that the fact they stayed in, or in some cases returned to, a painful situation means that it couldn’t have been THAT bad. 

Sometimes people are told that the reason they’re NOW saying that the situation was “abusive” is because they want attention or sympathy…whereas if the situation was “really” abusive, they would have spoken up or left it much earlier. 

I wish this was an uncommon thing. 

But all too many people reading this know all too well how often it happens. 

Many people reflexively disbelieve accounts of abuse— especially abuse that isn’t physical. 

Many people believe that emotional or verbal abuse exists in a “grey area” that can be hard to define and may vary from person to person— whereas physical abuse is “objectively” violent. 

This often results in victims of verbal or emotional abuse doubting their experiences and being reluctant to seek support for them. 

Working to cope with and reduce the frequency and intensity of trauma responses is REALLY hard when we’re reluctant to acknowledge how bad a situation was, or how seriously it impacted us. 

And it’s REALLY hard to acknowledge those things if we’re constantly bombarded with questions and doubts about whether the verbal or emotional abuse we endured was “really” as bad as the “objectively violent” physical abuse others experienced. 

In the end, it doesn’t matter if your trauma measures up to someone else’s idea of “trauma.” 

It doesn’t matter if you had it “better” or “worse” than anybody else. 

It doesn’t matter if someone else thinks your verbal or emotional abuse was as bad or violent as someone else’s physical abuse. 

What matters is how these experiences impacted you. 

What you have to go through every day to stay alive and functional. 

What you need to recover and create a life worth living. 

Be prepared for some people to mess with your head with questions like “why didn’t you leave?” or “why did you go back?”

Be prepared for some people to tell you “at least you weren’t hit.” 

Be prepared for some people to tell you that “words can’t hurt you unless you let them.” 

These are all VERY common things for abuse survivors to hear— and they all reflect the attitudes and beliefs of the person saying them. NOT reality. 

The reality of abuse and neglect is that they are very often woven into our closest relationships, in which we are the most vulnerable, dependent, and isolated. 

There are many types of violence, and they can affect human beings very differently depending upon their personal history and current situation. 

Keep coming back to what YOU need, now, in YOUR recovery. 

Don’t sweat definitions of words like “trauma” and “violence.” 

Don’t sweat stupid questions like “why didn’t you leave?” 

You stay focused on what YOU need to create safety and stability in YOUR day, today. 

When you can’t get away from what everyone’s talking about.

Let’s talk about some things many people reading this saw and experienced growing up when it came to anger, violence, and bullying. 

Some people reading this have first hand experience of how, one minute, someone might be smiling and laughing— and the next minute, be angry and on their way to hitting somebody. 

Some people reading this have experienced watching violence happen— in a room full of people, none of whom did anything so stop it…or much of anything after it happened. 

Some reading this have had the experience of, after someone has been assaulted, people opining that the assault was really the victim’s fault— that they were “asking for it,” or that the aggressor “had no choice” but to attack them. 

Some reading this have had the experience of having a vicious “joke” made about them— and then being expected to either laugh along with it or pretend it wasn’t hurtful, because, what’s the matter, don’t you have a sense of humor? 

All of which is to say: what many of us have been seeing and hearing discussed, over and over again over the last couple days, has layers— and many of those layers touch upon sensitive, triggering aspects of our personal history. 

It’s not weird to be triggered by all of it. 

It would be kind of weird to NOT be triggered by it. 

Many of us grew up with a complicated relationship with anger and humor. 

Our culture itself has a very complicated relationship with anger and humor. 

We’re a culture that values “free speech”— though we’re constantly exploring and debating what it means to protect “free speech,” when certain speech can demonstrably (and needlessly) harm vulnerable people. 

We’re a culture that values “personal responsibility”— though we’re constantly exploring and debating the limits of one’s personal agency when they’re exposed to stressors and triggers that they didn’t choose and may not be equipped to handle. 

We’re a culture that values autonomy and choice— but in which it is virtually impossible to escape a viral clip of one person assaulting another person on live television, no matter how carefully we try to curate our social media feeds. 

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re having a reaction to the many discussions that are currently happening about violence, provocation, personal responsibility, and our cultural attitudes toward humor and boundaries. 

Your mileage might vary about who, if anyone, you feel was “right” in the inciting event— and you might have some VERY strong feelings about what unfolded in the minutes and hours after that event. 

It’s really, really important that you give yourself room to have and explore whatever feelings and reactions you ARE having. 

Pay attention to what’s coming up for you. 

Get curious— and compassionate— about what memories and feelings all this is scraping up. 

Give yourself room to be confused or upset about both what happened, and other peoples’ strong reactions to it. 

Staying present when we can’t seem to get away from a triggering image or video clip— or the endless discussion of a triggering event— can be really hard. Our nervous system may very much want to get some distance from it all by dissociating. 

Yeah. Even though we weren’t directly involved, an event that’s in our face again and again can ABSOLUTELY trigger a dissociative response. 

Easy does it. Remember your grounding skills. Go through your senses one at a time. 

Talk yourself through the tough moments. Remind yourself of who, where— and even when— you are. 

Our culture isn’t great at holding these conversations in a trauma-informed way— so we have to use our tools, skills, and supports to manage our own reactions. To stay as safe and stable as we can, even as triggering images and conversations swirl around us. 

You can do this. 

It might not be easy— but you can do this. 

Staying in recovery on sad, lonely nights.

Some nights we’re going to be sad or lonely— and we’re not going to be sure why. 

We’re going to want to feel better, or even just differently— and we’re not going to be sure what, if anything, we CAN do to change how we feel. 

I wish choosing recovery meant that we’d never have sad or lonely nights. But it doesn’t. 

In fact, in some ways recovery means certain nights will seem sadder or lonelier than they used to, because in choosing recovery we’ve committed to not using the self-sabotaging or self-destructive shortcuts to changing our feelings that we used to. 

So we’re left with the sadness and the loneliness. 

Sometimes we’re left with memories that we’d do anything to NOT be aware of. 

Perhaps we’re left with feelings of worthlessness or emptiness that, in the past, we were ether not aware of, or had developed self-harmful distractions to cope with. 

On nights like this it’s hard to take a step back and remember why we’re choosing recovery instead of immersion in depression, anxiety, addiction, trauma, or an eating disorder. 

We know we “should” be in recovery. We know we’re “supposed” to fight. 

But what do we do when the struggles of our recovery are in our face— and we can’t clearly remember why it’s supposedly preferable to be in recovery at all? 

I wish there were magic words I could write here to make it all make sense on a sad, lonely night. 

I wish there was an airtight argument I could make here that would instantly get you motivated and hopeful about recovery. 

But the truth is: sad, lonely nights are going to happen. 

Nights when we feel lost. Unloved. Unworthy OF love. 

Even if we know in our head that these feelings are the results of distorted thoughts or beliefs, even if we intellectually know that past trauma is clouding our thinking and judgment, even if we know that addiction or anxiety is whispering in our ear a worst-case-scenario interpretation of everything we’re experiencing…the fact is that nights like this STILL hurt. 

Yes, we can learn coping skills. And yes, those skills often take the edge of of some of the sadness or loneliness. 

But even the most effective coping skills sometimes feel like trying to combat a forest fire with a squirt gun. 

So why be in recovery? Why stay in recovery? Are sad, lonely nights all we ever have to look forward to? 

No. 

Our quality of life DOES improve as we stay in recovery. 

That may  not feel realistic on a sad, lonely night— such as you might be experiencing right now— but it’s true. 

We DO feel better as we heal. 

There’s no denying that it happens tiny bit by tiny bit— and there’s no denying that we have to endure plenty of awful nights where we’re going to wonder if any of this is worth it. 

I can’t speak for you. I can only speak for me. 

I believe it is worth it. 

I believe it’s worth it because I believe you and I are worth it. 

I don’t believe we were born to suffer. 

I don’t believe we were born to quit— or to lose. 

I don’t believe we were born to live at the mercy of depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, or an eating disorder. 

Don’t get me wrong: there are frequently parts of me that doubt or dispute that assertion that “I’m worth it.” 

Those parts remind me of me when I was a kid— wondering or doubting whether I was “worth it.” 

At the time, I could have used a safe, consistent adult to tell me I WAS, in fact, worth it— and to stay with me even as I doubt it, even as I disputed it. 

I could have used an adult to just stick with me, even when I felt I didn’t deserve it. 

Many people reading this didn’t have that adult then. 

We have to BE that adult for that young, anxious, doubting, despairing part of us now. 

I choose recovery because I refuse to abandon myself— either the adult I am now, or the child I once was, who I still carry around with me in my head and heart. 

Yes. The night can be dark, and cold, and lonely, and sad, and long. There’s no denying that. 

It’s when the night is darkest and coldest that we need ourselves more than ever. 

The parts of you that got you through, need you now.

Many people who have survived complicated, overwhelming circumstances get confused about why they seemed to be “fine” at the time— but then kind of fall apart in the weeks, months, or even years after. 

It can feel strange to kind of coast through what most people would consider a traumatic event— only to melt down AFTER the event is behind us, when we “should” feel safe. 

Our nervous system very often knows how to get us THROUGH trauma. 

One of the ways it gets us THROUGH it without us falling to pieces is, it compartmentalizes the impact of what’s happening to us so we can prioritize survival. 

Many survivors are familiar with the narrowing of attention that happens when we’re under the gun. 

Even when things seem overwhelming, even when the pressure seems like it’s mounting, many survivors experience an almost Zen-like state of calm as they deal with what needs to be dealt with. 

Often we’re even complimented on our ability to handle what to the entire world looks like an incredibly stressful or painful situation. 

However, it’s very often AFTER we get a little bit of time and distance on what happened that we really start to feel the impact. 

It’s a lot like getting a sunburn on a summer day: you may not feel it AS you’re out in the sun…but that evening, after the sun has gone down, everything starts to sting; and the next morning, you can barely move, because the sunburn is so painful. 

Sometimes the impact of trauma can be so delayed, or is so seemingly unrelated to what we went through, that we’re not at all sure it’s related. 

Many trauma responses may seem almost random when we first experience them. There’s often not a straightforward connection between what happened to us and the thoughts and body sensations we’re experiencing now. 

Often we convince ourselves that what we’re experiencing isn’t even a trauma response— maybe we’re just “weak” or “crazy” or “childish.” 

Often we do this because that’s what we’ve been told by someone. 

It’s absolutely frustrating to try to wade through our own responses and reactions, trying to make what we do and feel make sense— especially when our memories are a little (or a lot) fragmented, as trauma survivors’ memories often are. 

Don’t get up in your head about making all of your symptoms, reactions, and responses “make sense.” 

After all: you’re experiencing what you’re experiencing, whether it “makes sense” or not. 

The commonality between may trauma responses is that they are some part of you trying to protect itself (or you); and/or, they are some part of you enacting what they think they (or you) “deserve.” 

Whether a reaction, feeling, or behavior is or isn’t a trauma response, we’re going to get a LOT more mileage out of meeting it with curiosity and compassion rather than frustration and shame. 

I know. I hate it when my body and nervous system throw up confusing, inconvenient, and energy-consuming reactions and responses, too. 

i wish they didn’t. I wish my body and nervous system just did what I told them to do. 

But if there’s a part of me that’s carrying something that it needs me to know about or it needs my help with, it’s going to keep trying to get my attention until I listen. 

Don’t be shocked when you seem to have a response to something that you thought you’d handled well. 

The truth is, maybe you did handle it well in the moment— after all, you got through that moment. 

Now your body and emotions are catching up. 

They’ve been holding back while you did what you did to get through— and we can be ENORMOUSLY grateful to the parts of you that held on to those feelings and reactions while you attended to the business of getting by. 

Now we have to be open to feeling what we feel— or, rather, feeling what we didn’t have the safety to feel in the moment. 

Easy does it. 

The parts of you that got you through, need you now. 

“Functioning,” but not functional.

There are lots of people out there who are hurting— but who have to keep functioning. 

As it turns out, life doesn’t pause, or even slow down, for us when we’re in emotional— or even physical— pain. 

Lots of people reading this know exactly what I mean. They’ve been in the spot of really struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, an easting disorder, or something else— but having to keep going out in the world every day to “function.” 

Many of us have jobs or roles that simply don’t let us pump the brakes, even for a day. 

So we soldier on. Even through the pain, through the dissociation, through the fatigue. 

I wish we lived in a world that was better at acknowledging the need to recover even if we’re not quite at the point of complete meltdown or burnout— but we don’t. 

The world will often look at us and say, well, if you can get up in the morning and make it in to work, you must not be all THAT bad off. 

If you can still “produce,” even in a reduced capacity, your pain must not be THAT bad. 

They don’t get it. 

It’s not that our pain “isn’t that bad.” 

It’s that our life doesn’t give us the option of taking time and space to recuperate. 

Some people will never know how frustrating it is to be hurting, emotionally or physically, every day— but to not have that pain considered particularly important, because you’re still “functional.” 

There are plenty of people out in the world who are “functional”— right up to the point where they’re not. 

We also live in a world that frequently does not acknowledge how hard we’re working to push through our pain and fatigue. 

We’re told we shouldn’t get special credit for doing things we’re “supposed” to do, like working or parenting. 

This often leaves us feeling very alone, very invisible— and very hopeless that anyone will EVER appreciate the enormous effort it often takes to just get out of bed and exist in the world day after day. 

Trying to live up to our responsibilities when we’re dragging around the weight of a mood disorder, a trauma history, or an addiction, is more exhausting and discouraging than words can express. 

It takes a tremendous amount of courage to face the day when you’re carrying an invisible thousand pound load that you can’t really explain to anybody. 

For many people, recovery has to begin in teeny, tiny increments— teeny, tiny changes in the way we talk to ourselves, in what we focus on, in what we do. 

We have to start with those teeny, tiny changes because we often don’t have the time or emotional bandwidth for bigger changes. 

Asking someone who is living a full, busy life— in SPITE of whatever they’re struggling with emotionally or behaviorally— to make massive changes just isn’t fair or realistic. 

Almost nobody has the opportunity to make recovery a full time job. So we have to start small, and we have to stay realistic. 

We start recovery with harm reduction because a day that hurts or harms us 1% less because of a teeny, tiny change we purposefully made, is realistic. We MIGHT be able to wrap our head around that. 

ANY recovery program NEEDS to take your real, daily life and responsibilities into account. 

ANY recovery program that doesn’t treat your real world priorities and responsibilities as important is in trouble from the start. 

If you’ve been going out in the world and “functioning”— whatever the hell that means— despite the emotional or behavioral load you’re carrying, you deserve to be seen, acknowledged, celebrated. 

Even reading a blog like this when you’re feeling awful isn’t easy. But you’re doing it. 

Just reading this blog counts as a baby step. 

The baby steps are realistically gonna get you there. I promise.