Over the weekend, someone asked me if I was happier now than I was eight years ago when my PTSD took over my life. I was surprised when my answer without thought was, “no, I’m not happier.” The answer stopped me in my tracks. I have worked my ass off to find some semblance of health these past years. I have gone from having a repressed, all dark past, to a congruent timeline with all puzzle pieces filled in. I know the who, why, when, how-the-heck these things could happen, all of it. I know the big picture and the minutiae. But I had mistakenly thought that my PTSD would be gone, (like my cancer was gone after treatment) cured, and I would be skipping back to work with no lingering symptoms. No one put that in my head but me. My symptoms are still active, and that’s the way it is right now. PTSD has left me with a disability. Is it forever? I don’t know, but it’s right now, and that doesn’t make me feel happy.
But…I feel a sense of contentment! I emerged from the shadows.
Eight years ago, I had a life with no past. I was a high-functioning trauma victim whose symptoms were coming out sideways in the form of perfectionism, control, drama, being everyone’s friend, super-mom, super-worker, super-wife, super-happy, let’s go on a road-trip and never stop until I come down with some bizarre physical illness that puts me in the hospital person. Whew, I have to shake off the frenetic energy just writing that.
My life turned upside down because of my post-traumatic stress disorder and I had to decide, both consciously and unconsciously to heal, to change, or I would most probably die. It’s a sobering thought as I sit down to write this, but it was true. One day, very early on in therapy, my therapist and I were discussing the book The Alchemist, and he asked me to go home and think about what I wanted my personal legend to be and report back next session. I took that homework very seriously, and I decided that my personal legend was to know the entire truth of my past, live with my eyes wide open, blinders off. To continually operate in a place of self-discovery, growth, and change.
I know the definition of my life’s purpose is who I want to be. I know I’m the author of my own story, and I get to choose how I want to be in the world. At this point in my life, it’s about choices and being proactive rather than reactive. It’s about aligning my personal values and beliefs with my actions and words while maintaining my integrity.
At the beginning of my endeavor it often looked like a question/answer session. What does it mean to live life with my eyes wide open? Is it about knowing and accepting the past without forgetting it, so I can become my version of complete? Or is it a metamorphosis of who I was, who I am and who I will be? Maybe it’s all three. As I think about how I want to spend my life and who I want to be, I am guided by a more mature and spiritual self because of the time I spent in therapy, meditation, growth and self-reflection.
I love that we live in a time where self-discovery is an accepted way of life. I spent so much time in fear and hiding, squelching any dream of a life lived, only a life survived. Now, most times, I am able to live, speak, listen and learn from a place of safety and truth. Discovering the wonder and accepting of life and what it has to offer. Not getting in the way of who I am, but instead letting myself be who I am, without my ego reminding me of the should haves, did nots, or can nots.
Self-discovery also comes with the knowledge that the truth often hurts and is uncomfortable on many levels including physical, spiritual, emotional and mental. There were times when I would begin processing a memory and I had to fight not to ignore it, or repress it again. I learned that by repressing what I had painfully remembered was making a choice to live in fear. If I wanted to live my life’s purpose, I had to begin to learn to forget how to forget. It wasn’t an easy path or the path of least resistance, but it was the only way I could see to begin to create the life I wanted.
My PTSD was the catalyst of change for me. I had to face certain truths about myself and was forced to look at the direction my life was going. Was I going to continue to allow my perpetrators to define who I am and how I live my life? Or do I find the strength to uncover who I really am at my core and how I want to live my life moving forward? My illness gave me the choice to put my foot down and say, “enough is enough. I am not going to ride the tide of fortune and misfortune anymore. I’m going to make different choices because I have the power to do so.”
It’s been a very painful, yet purposeful journey the past eight years. I am resolute on my goal of living with my eyes wide open, blinders off. To continually operate in a place of self-discovery, growth, and change. Emerging from the shadows helped me create and restructure my life’s purpose. Choosing who I want to be is a life-long, ever changing, non-linear journey.
Did it leave me happy? Nope, I’m not happy that I’m still disabled by many symptoms that still have a firm chokehold on me. But I’m content that I know the truth of my life. I’m content that I can choose to live my life with authentic feelings, have hopes, dreams, desires and less shame and fear. I’m content that I can feel happiness and recognize the perfect moments in a day but I don’t get attached and crave their permanence.
I’m empowered that I emerged from the shadows. Maybe for me, that’s where I need to be right now. Content and Empowered.
Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph