“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can't cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It's just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”
― Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things
When someone said that I'm similar to an elephant, I didn't take it as a compliment at first. Being compared to a large, big-eared animal didn't seem like a very nice comparison, but after doing some research I realized we share similarities - and it's not just the fact that we are both horribly near-sighted. Like elephants, I have a very good memory - especially when whatever is being remembered had a severe impact on me. I find details of moments and memories very important; the exact degree of temperature when I was heartbroken, the drink that I ordered on a first date, the dress I wore when I got my heart broken, the time I discovered I was being cheated on (it was 2:04pm on a Wednesday, if you were wondering.) All of these things are embedded in my brain and come to the forefront of my thoughts when something triggers them. Healing takes time,
is what people would tell me. The statement is true, but it disregards the fact that healing is also something that you have to work on yourself. Time does help create distance between the moment of pain and helps the healing process begin, but time doesn't always help heal you completely.
Studies conducted on African elephants showed that the smells or sight of certain clothing worn by those that injured them years prior would react a negative trigger, which is exactly what happened to me when I found myself on a bus sitting behind a boy that was wearing the same ratty tee and cologne of someone that I had a troubled, toxic friendship with brought up negative emotions that I thought were gone years ago. The situation happened years ago, so I assumed the healing was done and over with. It was over five years ago and as soon as I smelled that cologne, I was back in that moment, emotions pouring over me. Time might've created a distance between that hard period of my life but I didn't embrace the healing process myself. My idea of healing was burying my feelings so deep that they became unable to be properly healed. I spent more time focusing on becoming healed and untainted from my past that I wasn't properly tending to the wounds that came from the struggle. I was more obsessed with the final product of healing than doing the actual hard work that calls for it.
I always thought that healing would be something that would completely change me inside and out. I believed that whatever I was going through would be my genesis story - the moment where I would begin again, fresh and new and reborn from all of the pain and struggle. When I would throw the covers over me and cry, I would obsess over the thought that one day I would be okay. I believed that one day I would wake up and feel at ease with the past. It's the optimist in me that believed good would come from struggle. But there has never been a morning that has come where I've felt completely healed. Instead I've had to wake up and work on it each day, which means uncovering wounds that never healed from years ago and dealing with them properly - through validating my own feelings, reading the words of others that have gone through similar experiences, and talking about it instead of hiding it away.
Time has not healed all wounds perfectly, but it has taught me that healing isn't linear. Healing is an on-going process; it's something that is happening every day for the rest of our lives. The scars will fade with time, but they are still there - acting as marks of a lived life and the things we've had to overcome. Healing, for me, is not something that means we have completely moved on from something or someone. It means that everyday I am becoming further and further from the beginning of the struggle, but I'm also working on being okay with the struggle that comes from trauma. Learning to go through a process of healing that comes from accepting what happened instead of burying it away has been one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, but it's allowed me to be open with my past and who I am. There may be no alternate timeline where my past and struggles didn't exist, but that doesn't mean they have to hinder my growth.
There is no perfect way to heal from traumatic events, and when I encounter triggers from my past I try to remember that I'm a work-in-progress. I try to accept the parts of me that aren't very picturesque and accept the parts of my past that I've tucked away from everyone else, praying they'll never see the light of day to not tarnish that pristine image. There may never be a time when the smell of stale beer or the daunting sound of footsteps down a hallway doesn't give me nervous goosebumps. There may never be a time when my heart races when I hear the song Trasatlanticism. There may never be a time when I'm completely carefree and careless. There may never be an end-all moment when I can say that I am completely healed, but by learning that healing is an on-going process I am able to accept that there isn't a perfect way to heal from trauma. My past is just my past - something that hurt but has helped me grow into the person who I am today, and I'll be damned if I let my past hinder my growth any longer.
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