Emotional & Mental Wellness
What It’s Really Like Recovering From Trauma
By Karyn Rescj, Licensed Professional Counselor Candidate
What is emotional trauma?
A few months after finishing grad school, I found myself in need of a new dresser. Since I was just out of school and a little low on funds, I went with my roommate to a local ReStore to find a used one.
The two of us had only been wandering around the aisles of cast off furniture for a few minutes when I saw it: a scratched and worn behemoth of a dresser, ugly, old, and dreadfully heavy.
I loved it instantly.
My roommate and I couldn’t lift it between the two of us, but we got it loaded into the truck with the help of a ReStore employee.
When we got home, we left it at the foot of the driveway until we could find a couple of strong guys to come over and help us lug it into the garage. It wasn’t fit for the house yet; it would take many long, hard hours of manual labor to make it ready to use.
Many of us reach moments in our lives where we are like that dresser—sitting by, feeling cast off or abandoned, beat up by losses and cruelties and shame, worn down by the effort it takes just to keep going, feeling ugly, past your prime, worthless, and unwanted.
Maybe it’s the effects of a traumatic past, maybe it’s the dark pull of depression, maybe it’s the endless oppression of addiction, anger, or anxiety, but you feel too heavy and weighed down to move yourself into the life you want.
This is what emotional trauma feels like. You feel like life has given you some things that are too much to handle. You may not know if there’s really any hope of letting go of your depression, anger, or anxiety.
The good news is that there is hope! Recovering from trauma is possible.
Healing from trauma is a process
It took weeks to refinish that dresser—far longer than I had expected when I first brought it home. I had to dismantle it. Then I had to sand it down to the raw wood.
I had to do much of the sanding by hand because of the design of the dresser. It wore the skin off my thumbs.
My back hurt from hunching over it. I got sawdust in my eyes and nose. At times, I wanted to quit. But I kept going, because I knew the finished product would be worth it.
The process of recovering from trauma—the process of healing—is a lot like my furniture project. There is no quick fix. There is no short cut.
There is no magic pill; an antidepressant can help, but it cannot heal on its own. Whether you’re facing a mental health struggle, an emotional wound or a harmful pattern of behavior, it takes work to heal from trauma, hard work and diligent commitment to the process.
Healing an emotional wound takes:
- daily self-care
- challenging your negative thoughts
- conscious choices to speak truth and compassion to yourself
- eyes that look for the small changes to encourage yourself to keep going
- practicing breathing or relaxation techniques
It’s important to remember that healing from emotional trauma is a process. It’s not an overnight change, but with the right help and support it’s possible to move past the pain that feels stuck.
It takes work to heal from trauma, hard work and diligent commitment to the process.
Other people can help you learn how to heal from trauma
I had never refinished a piece of furniture before, so I had a friend come over and help me.
The summer before, she had completed her own refinishing project, and she was able to guide me through the process.
What equipment do I need? Should I use 60-grit sandpaper or 360-grit sandpaper? How do I apply the stain? How many coats of polyurethane is enough?
Beyond her guidance, it was just good to have her there with me.
She worked beside me. We didn’t have to talk; it was enough just to know I wasn’t working alone.
Those days she came to help, the work went much faster and we got a lot more done than I would have on my own. She kept me focused and motivated. It was good for our friendship, too, to share that project.
As humans, by nature social creatures designed to live in relationship, we don’t heal well on our own.
The support of a close friend, the comfort of a loving family member, the encouragement of a faithful partner can make a world of difference as you’re recovering from a traumatic experience.
In your pain, shame, or feelings of worthlessness, the temptation is often to pull away, to isolate from others. But this will only make the road to wellness longer, darker, and harder.
Sometimes, it can help to spend time with someone who knows a bit more about the process of healing from trauma—such as a therapist, coach, or mentor. You can check out another article on why feeling safe is important during trauma therapy.
There’s nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know the way forward. Looking at that dresser sitting in my garage was a little overwhelming until someone showed me how to start.
Recovering from emotional trauma takes work and time
There were a few delays to finishing that dresser—unforeseen setbacks that put the work on hold for weeks.
A project I thought I could finish before Halloween wasn’t done until almost Christmas. But I did finish it. And when it was done, it looked like a brand new piece of furniture.
Gleaming, smooth, a deep reddish chestnut color, I looked at it and felt proud of my work. When I brought it inside at last, it made my whole room look more beautiful.
Unlike refinishing my dresser, recovering from emotional trauma, depression, or any other wound isn’t always a one-time thing.
For most people, you don’t do it once and never have to think about it again. There are ups and downs, times when things get worse, times when things go so well that you can forget how bad it used to be, and times when you lose sight of emotional wellness all over again.
The encouragement of others and the reminders you learn to give yourself can be so important to help you keep moving forward.
Research has shown that writing about trauma can be effective at helping you process your experience as well. These studies have found that keeping a diary or a journal can help you reduce stress and improve your immunity.
I can tell you this, based on my work as a trauma therapist in Denver, Colorado and my own personal journey: if you want to learn how to recover from trauma, you will work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life before, but it will be worth it.
What you will have to show for it at the end will be something that will last, and something that will be a gift to others—a whole self.
Karyn Resch, MA, LPCC
Karyn is a therapist in Denver, Colorado and works with a group practice. As a counselor she enjoys helping teenagers and young adults work through challenges related to Bipolar Disorder, anxiety, addiction, and relationships. Want to connect with Karyn? Call (720) 507-8170 or connect with her online by clicking the link below!
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