“Why bother?”

One of the hardest thoughts to deal with in recovery is “why bother.” 

Of all the distorted thoughts that kick our ass in recovery, “why bother” is one of the toughest ones for me to shake. 

It seems such a simple thought. Surely a smart, committed person “should” be able to put it in its place pretty easily, no? 

Not so much, as it turns out. 

“Why bother” particularly decimates me when I’ve been struggling to follow through on my recovery commitments. 

This will sound familiar to many people also in recovery: I will come through a bad patch, having made series of decisions or commitments about what I will or won’t do going forward. 

Then— life will happen. Stress will happen. Bad days will happen. Interpersonal difficulties will happen. 

Triggers will happen. 

Consequently my resolve to follow through on those decisions and commitments will weaken or dissipate— and I’ll cave. 

It won’t be a relapse, exactly— but I’ll find my streak of bad days extended, when I thought I was at a turning point. 

It’s an enormously discouraging experience. 

That’s when the “why bother” monster shows up and does the most damage. 

When I’m picking myself up and trying to dust myself off, having NOT bounced back from a streak of bad days…that deceptively simple thought will occur to me. 

“Why bother?” 

It’ll invariably be followed by other thoughts that make me progressively more discouraged. 

Why bother? You’re already on a bad streak, what’s another day? 

Why bother? You know you’re going to hit another bad streak eventually. 

Why bother? The day is almost over anyway, doesn’t it make more sense to start fresh tomorrow? 

My depression, addiction, or trauma will USE that simple, intrusive “why bother” question to insert more of their BS (Belief Systems) into my head. 

And the worst part is, when the conversation in my head had led off with “why bother,” my ability to argue back is ENORMOUSLY weakened. 

The only way I’ve found to effectively push back against why bother is the single word: “because.” 

“Why bother?” “Because.” 

Yes. I know the word “because” doesn’t ACTUALLY answer the question “why bother?” 

But here’s the thing: “why bother” doesn’t actually HAVE a great answer. 

It’s not an honest, good faith question. 

“Why bother” is never anything more than your— my— depression, anxiety, or trauma trying to get its foot in the door. 

Consequently, engaging the “why bother” monster with good faith dialogue is pointless. 

It’s not asking in good faith. It will not argue in good faith. 

“Because” is absolutely a dismissive answer— and “why bother” DESERVES a dismissive answer. 

It may not be a particularly motivating answer— but in recovery, we cannot let our decisions be made solely by how motivated we do or don’t feel in any given moment. 

We all have our individual reasons for even making the effort to be in recovery— but the “why bother” monster doesn’t care. ANY substantive answer we give to “why bother” will be met with a shrug and yet another disingenuous question. 

Do not engage the “why bother” monster.

Just get in the habit of responding with, “because.” 

“Why bother?” “Because.” 

“Why bother?” “Because.” 

“Why bother?” “You know why. Because.” 

“Why bother” will derail our recovery if we seriously engage it. “Because” isn’t supposed to answer its question— it’s supposed to set aside the entire conversation while you take the teeny, tiny, realistic baby step you need to take RIGHT NOW to get back on track. 

So no one told you life was gonna be this way.

I’m not a big fan of certain developments in my life. 

I could have lived without the painful, complicated relationships, especially growing up. 

I could have lived without the bullying at school that went on year after year. 

I could have lived without the ADHD that made succeeding at school and following through in friendships and relationships near impossible— and/or, I really would have preferred an adult in my sphere maybe catch the fact that I HAD ADHD, instead of conceptualizing my difficulties as “you’re lazy.” 

I could have lived without being molested— and I wish I’d not had a reputation as a weird, dramatic, attention-seeking kid, because I imagine things might have gone a little differently when I finally told that I’d been molested. 

I certainly could have lived without the addictive tendencies and behaviors. I wasn’t a big fan of laying on the floor, shivering in withdrawal, crying because I had once again “done it to myself.” 

No. To quote the “Friends” theme song, no one told me life was gonna be this way. Clap clap clap clap. 

Chances are, if you’re reading this, your life didn’t go to plan, either. 

I remember, when I was a kid, I had this whole idea that not only was I NOT meant for this sh*t show of a life— but I was meant for something special. 

For while, I actually had this idea that I was going to grow up to be elected president. True story, ask anyone who knew me in junior high. I truly thought that not only was I going to hoist my way out of how I’d been feeling and functioning— but I was going to overachieve from that point on, literally go on to be elected leader of the free world. 

I was serious, too. 

Sometimes I look back on the way my life was “supposed” to have gone…and I don’t know what to think. 

Part of me very much blames myself. 

Part of me wonders what I did wrong. 

Part of me is convinced all this isn’t part of a bad dream. That someday I’ll wake up, roll over, and jot down in my dream journal this crazy dream where I was an addict and trauma survivor and MAN am I glad that wasn’t real. 

But it is real. 

Don’t get me wrong— I am not past the challenges. 

I don’t think I’m ever going to be shivering on the floor again…but you never know. 

I’ve learned things about containing and processing traumatic stress that have nudged me past certain pain points. I don’t think I’m going back…but you never know. 

As I write this, there is absolutely a part of me that is whispering in my ear that even the successes I’ve had have been unearned. 

That I’m a month removed from having no place to live, no way to take care of my cat. 

Part of me knows that the part that believes those things is probably still coping with the woundedness of yesteryear, the deficit of self-trust and self-belief that comes with the kind of history that I have. 

But it feels very real. 

And because it feels real, I have to deal with it. Because I don’t have the option of just turning that insidious whispering voice off. 

I think I’ve done the mourning I need to do about the life I “should” have had. 

I’m not aware of feeling anger or grief about it anymore. 

I’m probably not going to be elected president. (Which, let’s face it, is probably a blessing, given what American politics has become in our lifetimes.) 

I don’t think I’m about to wake up from a dream. 

I have the exact same choice you, reading this, has: to live life on life’s terms, no matter how afraid I am. 

No matter how overwhelmed I am. 

No matter how sad I am. 

No matter how unfair it is that I didn’t get the chance to become who I thought I would. 

Whatever my feelings about any of that, I have a life to life. 

Patients who count on me. A cat who has become accustomed to a certain lifestyle and who has never given up on me. 

(Yeah, that might sound funny, but a LOT of survivors stay in the game because of their pets. If you know you know.) 

All I— all we— can do is take this one day at a time. 

So let’s do that. 

No, you’re not “doing it to yourself.”

“Gaslighting” refers to a tactic abusers use against their victims. 

In order to prevent their victims from escaping an abusive situation or seeking help, abusers say things to their victim and manipulate the situation and people around them in order to get the victim to question their grasp of reality. 

It’s hard to set a limit, escape a situation, or seek help if you think you’re the one who is going crazy. 

Gaslighting is very often used by abusers who have more situational or social power than their victim. 

A power differential, especially in social influence, makes it easier for them to enlist other people or draw on their reputation to help them make their victim feel crazy. 

Gaslighting is a form of deception— but it’s not just lying. 

We do not gaslight ourselves. Gaslighting is done to us. 

Some of us have been so gaslit for so long, they can’t imagine truly trusting themselves or their perception of a situation. 

Victims of gaslighting often believe that they are at fault for pain that has been inflicted upon them. 

Gaslighting hits at the core of our self-esteem and self-trust. 

When it comes to trauma recovery, there is always a subset of people who think they’re being helpful in emphasizing the symptomatology they say we inflict upon ourselves. 

There is often someone telling us to “stop gaslighting ourselves.” 

These people may mean well— when they say “stop gaslighting yourself,” I assume what they mean is, “be honest with yourself” (about what you need, about what your challenges are, about what’s happened to you.). 

But to say “stop gaslighting yourself” is to deemphasize what was done TO you— and to overstate the role we supposedly play in our own self-deception. 

If your self-trust or self-esteem has taken a hit because of what you’ve been told and how you’ve been treated in a relationship, it is not because you’ve been “gaslighting yourself.” 

It’s because someone has related to you in such a way as to stoke your anxiety and self-doubt. 

Gaslighting is an abuse tactic. 

It is something that was purposefully used against us— not accidentally. 

“Stop gaslighting yourself” always struck me as functionally similar to “stop hitting yourself.” 

Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides to inflict abuse tactics upon themselves. 

Healing the damage gaslighting has done to our self-confidence and self-trust does not begin and end by telling ourselves that we are “gaslighting ourselves.” 

It begins with acknowledging that we’ve been manipulated. 

How we were related to— what we were told about ourselves— absolutely impacts our perception of how at fault we are for our pain. 

But that’s not us “doing it to ourselves.” 

That’s us dealing with the fallout from what was done TO us. 

Sometimes people seeking to “empower” us in trauma recovery unwittingly slip into victim blaming. 

They may not mean to— but it’s super important we be VERY deliberate about how we think and talk about our symptoms and their causes in trauma recovery. 

We need to be crystal clear about the fact that we didn’t ask for this. 

We didn’t deserve it. 

We didn’t do it to ourselves. 

Even if the fallout from our painful past includes habits of thinking and self-talk that perpetuate our pain, that’s not us “doing it to ourselves.” 

There’s a fine line between empowerment and self-blame. 

Especially when we HAVE been gaslit into thinking that we’re probably “doing it to ourselves.” 

There are no do-overs. Just do-nexts.

Taking responsibility for our choices doesn’t mean torturing ourselves about them. 

There’s a difference between realistically acknowledging our responsibility and beating ourselves up for winding up in a situation. 

It’s easy to confuse the two. 

Sometimes people are going to WANT you to feel blame or shame for a situation— and they’ll tell you if you DON’T feel blame or shame, then you’re “not accepting responsibility.” 

There are certain situations about which it’s very difficult NOT to feel blame and shame. 

If we’ve ended up in a situation the world says we “shouldn’t” have, it’s easy to get down on ourselves. 

If we’ve had a relationship, or multiple relationships, that have been painful or traumatic, it’s very common to blame ourselves for “choosing” those relationship partners. 

If we’ve ended up in challenging economic circumstances— if we’re broke— the culture really loves to make us feel bad about ourselves. Smart, “responsible” people know how to manage their money, after all. 

On a more basic level, if we’re suffering, the culture very often encourages us to examine our own role in that suffering, and “take responsibility” for it. 

I am all for taking personal responsibility. 

But a lot of what people think is “taking responsibility” is actually just shame and blame in different gift wrapping. 

If we’re actually going to take responsibility for a situation, we can’t allow ourselves to get tangled up in shame and self-blame. 

Shame and self-blame go nowhere. They do nothing but make us feel bad about ourselves and a situation we already feel bad or stressed about. 

Moreover, when we beat ourselves up over ending up in a situation, we’re almost always distorting and oversimplifying the real story of how we wound up there. 

I have ended up in plenty of painful situations that were of my own making. 

I have wasted plenty of time calling myself stupid and irresponsible. 

Do you want to guess how helpful calling myself stupid and irresponsible has ever been to actually extricating myself from a painful situation?

Actually assuming responsibility means containing those impulses to shame and blame ourselves. 

It means noticing when we’re getting stuck in shame and self-blame, and consistently wrenching our focus in a more productive direction. 

I knew I was ACTUALLY starting to “take responsibility” when I realized that I didn’t have the luxury of wallowing in shame and self-blame. 

It may be the case that you’ve contributed to the circumstances you’re in now— though it’s very unlikely that the story is as simple as “it’s your fault.” 

Nobody wants to be the type of person who “makes excuses.” I understand why we over assume “responsibility” for our circumstances. 

Trauma survivors in particular are absolutely vicious with the self-blame. 

We VERY MUCH don’t want to be like the people in our lives who REFUSE to take responsibility for their role in our pain. 

But beating yourself up isn’t “taking responsibility.” 

Calling yourself names isn’t “taking responsibility.” 

Oversimplifying the narrative of how you got to where you are isn’t “taking responsibility.” 

However we relate to what’s come before, REAL “taking responsibility” is taking responsibility for what comes next. 

That’s literally all we can do. 

We can’t go back and un-make old decisions. 

All we can do is make the NEXT decision— the one right in front of us, right now— as consciously and purposefully as we can. 

There are no do-overs. 

Just do-nexts. 

Don’t tolerate gaslighting and guilting.

There’s gonna be a subset of people out there who try to get what they want by making you feel crazy or guilty for not going along with their wishes. 

I wish that wasn’t true, but it is. 

Some people bully, overtly or subtly, to get what they want. 

Some people gaslight to get what they want. 

Sometimes the people who do this include professional colleagues or even family members. 

And the truth is that survivors of complex trauma tend to be particularly vulnerable to these exploitative interpersonal tactics, because often they’ve been made to feel crazy or guilty for a long time. 

Trauma survivors tend to be highly sensitive people who often struggle with self-doubt and setting boundaries— so we’re kind of prime targets for people who use gaslighting and guilt to control our behavior. 

It’s really discouraging. 

Here we are, trying to recover from depression, trauma, or addiction, doing our best to untangle the knots created by complicated, painful histories…and along come these people who are perfectly willing to take advantage of our reflexive self-doubt. 

When we run into people willing to gaslight or guilt us, it can really throw a wrench into our recovery. 

After all, it’s hard to move forward through recovery with confidence and certainty when someone is trying to mind-f*ck us into not seeing what, in my cases, is right in front of us. 

On of the core tasks in recovery is relearning— or, often, learning for the first time— how to listen to and trust ourselves. 

Very often we’ve had years, sometimes decades, of people trying to tell us that our perceptions and interpretations are wrong. 

That we’re making too big a deal of something. That we’re not really seeing what is very obviously happening right in front of us. 

Often, we arrive in adulthood NOT trusting what we see and perceive, no matter how clear it is…because we were told, over and over again, that what we saw was not what we saw, or what we experienced was not what we experienced. 

Many people reading this know what it’s like to wonder if their experience was really “that bad.” 

Whether they were really “abused” or “neglected.” 

Whether their physical pain was really all that debilitating. 

Why do you think we develop those doubts— despite the fact that WE are the ones on the inside of our experience, the literal experts on what we went through? 

Often it’s because we’ve had someone over our shoulder, whispering in our ear a version of, “Are you sure you’re not just being too emotional?” 

“Are you sure you’re not just crazy?” 

“Are you sure you’re not just being selfish or entitled?” 

It is what we psychologists call a mind-f*ck. 

(That term may not be in the DSM yet, but give it time.) 

You need to know that, despite the fact that depression, trauma, and addiction DO tend to distort our thinking and beliefs in some ways, you DO have the capacity to accurately perceive, interpret, and respond to the events of your life. 

You DON’T have to play along with someone else’s guilting or gaslighting. 

NOT playing along might be a bit of a risk— if someone’s willing to guilt or gaslight you in the first place, they might also be willing to get aggressive with you if you refuse to play along— but standing up for yourself when someone is trying to manipulate you is a MASSIVE step forward in recovery. 

Don’t tolerate even a “friend,” “partner,” or “colleague” trying to f*ck with your head. 

Gaslighting and guilting are not things that happen in healthy, safe relationships. 

And a BIG part of recovery is getting real about who is and isn’t safe to have in your world. 

“Letting go” can be hard and complicated. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t.

Giving up things can be really complicated. 

There’s a reason why a whole industry exists abound professional “declutterers” who support and organize peoples’ efforts to give up physical things that they don’t need or use in their spaces. 

Sometimes we “know” we need to give something up…but there’s a difference between knowing something in our head, and being ready to do it in our gut. 

Sometimes we “know” something’s toxic for us…but we can’t imagine life without it. 

Sometimes we “know” something has outlived is usefulness…but we get anxious about not having it if we suddenly need it again. 

Sometimes we “know” that something is no longer consistent with who we are or what we’re all about…but we can’t quite let go, because we’re not at all sure that WE truly understand who we are and what we’re all about. 

Giving things up can stir up all kinds of memories and emotions. 

We remember times when we were forced to giving something up before we were ready. 

We remember times when we didn’t have any choice BUT to let go, because something beyond our control had taken a thing or a person away from us. 

When we give something up, we also have to give up the fantasy of our life with that thing in it. 

Letting something go is an admission that we’re never truly going to have a life with that thing or person in it. 

Acknowledging those realities can be painful. They can be sad. They can be infuriating. 

Giving certain things up can be a blunt reminder that our lives haven’t gone how they were “supposed” to go. 

Letting something go may feel like admitting defeat— especially if we’re letting go of a thing that we purposefully let into our life in the first place. 

We allow certain things and people into our lives for specific reasons. 

We think we have an idea, a vision, or what our life can look like with them in it— and we like that idea. We want to move toward that vision. 

Giving the thing or person up is an acknowledgement that we were wrong.

It can make us feel silly, stupid, or immature for having hope that things could be different. 

Letting go of certain ways of thinking about or being in the world can feel like we’re just asking for pain or victimization. Especially if we’re talking about beliefs and habits we acquired in the aftermath of trauma or abuse. 

Even if we “know” that certain beliefs or habits aren’t serving us anymore— aren’t actually keeping us safe, even if that was their original function— it’s not easy or simple to just let them go. 

If only. 

We have to give the “letting go” process the time, space, and work they deserve. 

We have to let our feelings be exactly as they are, at least for a minute— exactly as big as they are, exactly as confusing as they are, exactly as painful as they are. 

We have to come to terms with exactly how important this thing or person has been to our life. 

We have to acknowledge that, even if we’re letting go for a good reason, letting go is always going to entail loss— and loss is always going to entail some form of mourning. 

We need to not insist that this process be quick or easy. 

You’re going to run into plenty of people who will advise you to let plenty of things go. 

The way they say it will sound effortless and obvious. 

Some people will suggest that the only reason you’re NOT letting something go is “you must not really want to let it go.” 

You’re allowed to have mixed feelings. This whole thing is complicated. 

To effectively let go, we need to know that our decision is coming from a place of committed, consistent self-care. 

Letting go is a risk. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. 

But some risks are absolutely worth taking for our own health, safety, and realistic growth. 

Peeling the recovery onion.

Very often, recovery is like peeling an onion. 

And not just because there’s a lot of crying involved. 

We peel a layer— only to find a layer underneath that one. 

Then another. And another. 

We keep peeling and peeling, thinking that after we get through THIS layer, we MIGHT have arrived at the issue at the core of our recovery…only to find that, nope, it’s another layer. 

We peel and peel, and eventually we can’t help but wonder: is this whole thing— my depression, my trauma, my addiction— just layer after layer? Is there not something at the core of all of this? 

Peeling the recovery onion, layer by layer, is frustrating. 

It’s time consuming. It takes a maddening amount of patience. 

The truth is, we’re never quite sure when when we’re gonna come to the core of our depression, our trauma, our addiction. 

The more complicated truth is, there may not be one “core.” 

There may be multiple cores. Multiple hearts. Multiple vortexes. 

As a therapist, I’m a trauma specialist. I’ve heard it opined that trauma is often at the “core” of depression, or especially addiction. 

I think trauma can often be one of the “core” issues of depression and addiction— but I also think that trauma can also be just one of the layers. 

Yeah. Core issues can also be layer issues. 

You may peel back a layer of your depression or addiction, find a layer of trauma, deal with it, process it…and then find that, while that layer of trauma was central to what you were feeling and dealing with, it too was another layer on top of yet another core issue. 

Often when we’re peeling the recovery “onion,” we find depression, addiction, and trauma, in layer after layer, all the way down. 

That’s why I think it’s a mistake to think that we’re peeling away layer after layer, looking for that one “core” issue. 

I think looking for that one issue over time can get exhausting and demoralizing— and, for all we know, it might be impossible to really know if we really HAVE gotten to the “core” issue when we get there…or if it’s just another layer. 

As we peel the recovery “onion,” it’s really important to remember that recovery work is all about restoring our safety and functionality. Improving our daily quality of life. 

Peeling layer after layer, frantically trying to get at the core issue, might feel instinctively “right”— but it might also create unsustainable pressure and chaos in our everyday life. 

If doing recovery work is more destabilizing than stabilizing, it’s not working. We need to push pause and reevaluate. 

Yeah, we often need to keep peeling the recovery “onion.” The alternative to recovery is very often not sustainable or survivable. 

But we also need to substantively deal with each layer as we peel it. 

We can’t just go ripping emotional and behavioral layers off of our recovery “onion”, hoping that we hit that “core” issue before the layers we’re stripping off catch up with us. 

As you peel the recovery “onion,” and as you discover layer after layer of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and memories, I want you to deal with each layer as you peel it— with patience, with compassion, with skill. 

Don’t discard those layers you’re peeling— until it’s time to discard them. 

Until you’ve honored and processed them. 

Yes, we want to keep peeling. We often need to keep peeling. As I say, the alternative doesn’t work— that’s why we’re in recovery in the first place. 

That’s why you’re reading this. 

But don’t get obsessed with hitting that “core” issue. 

Give each layer its due. 

Each layer of the recovery “onion” has a story to tell. And we need to listen to it, process it, internalize it. 

I know. It’s complicated. It’s complicated for me, too. 

But all we can do is what we can do: honor what we’re scraping up, peeling off, learning, realizing, remembering…today. 

Multiple worlds and rescue missions.

People who have survived abuse, experienced neglect, or been through other trauma, tend to live in multiple worlds. 

One world is a past that consumes us— even though we “know,” for what it’s worth, that we’re not there now. 

Sometimes our past consumes us in that we see it, hear it, feel it— even smell it, taste it— as if it WAS right here, right now. 

We experience visual flashes and body memories. We hear voices, sometimes quite literally, that thoroughly convince our nervous system that the past really is present— and we are really quite trapped in it. 

Sometimes our past consumes us in how it informs what we think, feel, and believe in the present. 

We may have things we “know” aren’t exactly “true” lodged in our heads— but we feel and act as if we do believe those things are true, because of memories and past experiences that we just can’t shake. 

Sometimes our past consumes us in the choices we make. 

We may “know” that we need different things now than we did then— but we still make choices as if we were who we were decades ago. 

Then there are the times our past consumes us in what we don’t remember. 

We “know” that we’re being impacted by something just outside of our consciousness. 

It’s like getting scared of something we can’t see— but we don’t need to see it to be afraid of it. 

We can see its shadow. 

We can feel the temperature drop as that shadow draws near. 

Whether our past consumes us in what we remember or what we can’t remember, we still know that at least part of our life now is being lived through the eyes and needs of a part of us who is stuck back there, back then. 

Many people tend to get frustrated with the emphasis that trauma recovery places on grounding in the present moment. 

We don’t see the value in being “present” in a “now” that may very well suck. 

The present moment may contain emotional and physical pain. The present moment may contain loneliness. Who wants to be grounded in the present moment? 

I know. I don’t think the present moment is all it’s cracked up to be, either. 

The reason we need to be grounded in the here and now, though, is to break the hold of the past on us. 

As long as part of us is stranded in the past, we cannot create something new. 

As long as part of us is stranded in the past, our nervous system is going to be confused about whether what we went through back there, back then, is really over. 

As long as part of us is stranded in the past, we’re going to feel fractured and incomplete in the present. 

We NEED that part of ourself that is stuck “back there.” 

Why do you think “back there, back then” is constantly intruding upon our present awareness? 

Because the part of us that is stuck back there is crying for help. 

It doesn’t want to be stuck in the past any more than we want the past intruding upon our present. 

So part of trauma recovery involves going on a rescue mission. 

In order to meaningfully recover from trauma, we need to integrate and unify our Self in the here and now. 

Again: it’s NOT that the here-and-now is so great. 

It’s that we can’t move forward as long as we keep living in these multiple worlds. 

We can’t create a life consistently worth living if we keep getting yanked around between those worlds. 

Your past self needs you. And your present self needs your past self. 

And your future needs all of you. 

Do we need other people to recover?

I hate when mental health professionals or advocates say that trauma can “only” be healed in relationships, or that addiction can “only” be overcome in a fellowship. 

It’s true that attachments and connections can often be very helpful to people in recovery from trauma or addiction. 

But it’s also true that many people really struggle with forming and maintaining relationships— especially if they’ve been harmed or traumatized in them. 

Telling people that their emotional or behavioral struggles can “only” be healed in relationships— including professional relationships, like therapy— can have the effect of encouraging some people to not even take the first step in their recovery journey. 

Some people would prefer to continue suffering rather than take the risk of getting into new relationships, including relationships that are supposedly healing or supportive. 

Not to mention the fact that I just don’t believe it’s true that we can “only” heal in the context of relationships. 

The history of understanding human behavior is largely the history of trying to understand how humans relate to other humans. 

Some version of the sentence, “we are wired to connect” or “we are social creatures” is in virtually any introductory psychology textbook out there. 

Psychotherapy is largely framed in relational and attachment terms, because therapy is, fundamentally, an intense, intimate relationship. 

The Twelve Step addiction recovery traditionally holds that involvement with the fellowship, specifically “getting active” within one’s group and forming trust with and attachment to other members, is integral to recovery— and that isolation is a major risk factor for relapse. 

I’m not denying that connection and social support can play a huge role in our human experience. Of course they can. 

However, I know that, growing up, I was an introverted, anxious kid. 

The very reason I got into self-help literature— which was how I initially got into psychology in the first place— was because I was looking for answers to my depression that DIDN’T involve me interacting with other people. 

Given the choice between continuing to suffer and forming new relationships, I would absolutely continued to suffer. 

And I know I’m not the only person out there who was or is dismayed by the idea that we can “only” heal in the context of relationships. 

There are LOTS of reasons why you may not need or want to form new relationships right now. 

There are LOTS of reasons why supportive relationships like therapy aren’t available to you right now. 

For a lot of people reading this, it may very well be you— and maybe your pet— agains the world. 

I STRONGLY feel you deserve the tools to recover, too. 

I think psychology, as a field, owes it to people in pain to not only focus on healing-through-relationships. 

One of the reasons I talk and write so much about coping skills and what goes on on the inside of our head and heart is because I know there are moments when we will not be able to access external supports. 

There are gonna be moments when we are all we have. 

We need to be realistic about the fact that, in the end, we are kind of in this on our own. 

There may be people who have our back out there. I hope you, reading this, have people who will have your back, who are on your side. 

But whether you do or don’t, YOU still need to have your own back. 

YOU still need to be on YOUR side. 

I am on your side— but to most people reading this, I’m a guy on the other side of a computer or smartphone screen. It doesn’t matter if I’m on their  side, I’m not physically there with them when they’re triggered. 

I believe that you can recover, whether or not you find it easy or possible to form new connections or relationships right now. 

Yes, social support can be enormously helpful— to some people, sometimes. 

But you, you right there, reading this— you have the tools to recover. Even if you DON’T happen to have people in your life who would make it easier and safer. 

I really believe that. 

Our complicated relationship with our complicated past.

One of the most common experiences in trauma recovery we don’t talk about enough is the doubt and anxiety that weighs on many survivors’ minds about whether what they remember was real at all. 

We want to think that would be obvious— we remember what we remember. 

But for many survivors, particularly survivors of complex trauma (i.e., abuse, neglect, or other trauma that occurred over time; was inescapable; and/or was entwined with their close relationships at developmentally sensitive ages), remembering and acknowledging what actually happened can be a tricky thing. 

Many survivors have the experience of “knowing” what happened to them, but not really believing it was that bad…even if they would tell anybody else that the same things happening to THEM was horrible. 

Some survivors have the experience of their memories being inconsistent or incomplete— leaving them insecure about how accurate or valid what they DO remember is. 

For many survivors, thinking about what happened to them is a sad, overwhelming experience— and the temptation can be to deny or minimize what happened as a way of managing those painful feelings. 

There are LOTS Of reasons why remembering what we went through and managing how we feel about it can be complicated. 

It subsequently makes recovery complicated, in that some survivors arrive at adulthood, wanting to heal, wanting to move past the trauma responses and other emotional and behavioral struggles that are ruining their lives…but they’re not quite sure where to start, given their complicated relationship with what they do or don’t remember. 

Even trauma survivors who have been doing recovery work for awhile fall into the trap of wanting to deny or disown what happened to them. 

Very often the culture and the people around us send us VERY mixed messages about how we “should” be thinking about or responding to what happened to us. 

We’re told that we shouldn’t “dwell on the past,” or that we should “move on”…yet, when we try to “move on” by getting clear and realistic about what happened to us, we’re told we’re “choosing” to remain “stuck” in our painful memories. 

Multiply that kind of feedback times years or decades, and you end up with many survivors having ambivalent relationships with the reality of what they went through and the appropriateness of what they’re experiencing now. 

No question: it is super frustrating for our memories to be a little (or a lot) scrambled. 

It’s hard to know how to feel about a past that doesn’t neatly fit into a coherent narrative. 

A big part of recovery is piecing together the narrative of our life in such a way that it makes sense— and allows us to relate to ourselves and our experience with compassion, instead of confusion or frustration. 

You need to know that it’s not unusual to have mixed feelings about what you do and don’t remember. 

You need to know that it’s common to go back and forth on the question of whether what you went through was “really” “all that bad.” 

You need to know that almost everybody who has experienced complex trauma has a complicated relationship with their memories— and, often, their sense of self. 

You need to know that, even if you doubt how valid your experiences, reactions, and feelings are at times, you DO deserve compassion and support. 

You need to know that acknowledging the weight of what you went through doesn’t make you “weak” or “attention seeking”— though there’s also nothing wrong with seeking care when you’re in pain. 

Yeah. It’s not fun, having to tiptoe our way through the emotional minefield that is our complicated pasts. I, too, wish it was all easier, more straightforward, less laden with anxiety and potential shame. 

Just keep coming back to your commitment to being on your side. 

To having your back. 

To not attacking yourself. 

To not picking up where your abusers and bullies left off. 

Keep coming back to the fact that you are, first and foremost, committed to your recovery— even when the voices of anxiety and doubt seem determined to drag you off course. 

Just manage today. 

This hour. This minute. 

You can do this.