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The Healing Journey--How long is this road, anyway?

A "Healing Journey" sounds like something you finish, doesn't it? Don't most journeys have destinations--where you actually get somewhere, and you can think "I am here. I have completed the journey." Well, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this journey is one that unfortunately, never ends.

Radical acceptance. Have you heard the term? From Bing: "Radical acceptance is a practice that involves accepting emotions, thoughts and circumstances that are unchangeable and out of your control. To radically accept means to completely recognize and accept the reality you’re in—even when that reality includes pain or discomfort." Radical acceptance is one of the basic concepts that I work with my clients on from day one and has applications across the board when dealing with divorcing an abusive partner. It's definitely a topic for another blog entry, but for today, we're looking at it through the lens of our personal healing journey.

The part that you have to accept is that the healing journey after you've experienced being in an abusive relationship will never end. You will move on, maybe even find a new partner and get remarried. But the damage has been done, and if you don't take the time to understand the damage, and the responses that it created in you, you may find yourself repeating unhealthy relationship patterns or responding to the natural ups and downs of normal relationships in seemingly inappropriate ways.

The bright side is that once you really accept that fact, you won't get knocked you to your knees every time you're confronted with triggering circumstances. You'll start to recognize cues in your physical body--increased heartbeat, maybe you start to sweat a bit, or feel yourself slipping into fight or flight mode. What happens as you get further down the path of healing, is that you start to be able to recognize what's happening in a way that you couldn't before. You can remind yourself to breathe--that the person standing before you is not the person or thing that harmed you (even if they are behaving in similar ways). "Healing" represents that space--the space to choose your response and to not allow that person or situation to trigger your trauma response.

So where do you start? A good trauma informed therapist is a good place to start--emphasis on the trauma informed. But I realize that that's often easier said than done for a variety of reasons--cost, time commitment, etc., and I while I believe strongly in the value of a good therapist, I also believe that it's not a requirement for true healing. I've got a whole blog post dedicated to what I think is the best first step, along with some great book recommendations to get you started with that. This is another outstanding book: What Happened to You: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing. It's more specifically about the connection between trauma and addiction, but it has much broader scope application. Trauma changes how our brains function. Trauma is not the thing (or things) that happen to us. Trauma is what happens in our bodies when we experience these events and is stored in the cells of our bodies.

This book is co-authored with Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah and is conversational in tone (it's an excellent audiobook as well). It's written for those of us that don't have PhDs in psychology. I believe strongly that real healing comes from understanding. If you don't understand what's happened to you and what is happening within you when you are triggered by something, you'll never be able to make the changes you need to in order to have peace.

To recap: you have to radically accept that you will never be fully "healed" and that your healing journey will take many different curves throughout your life. You may be cruising along happily for years, thinking you've got everything under control--and bam! Something blindsides you and sends you spiraling. It's so much harder to come out of that spiral when you don't really understand what's happening--it's just scary and you're angry, depressed, maybe even lashing out at those you love or slipping back into self-destructive patterns.

But also, maybe one day you'll be confronted with a situation that pushes every single one of your buttons. And as you start to feel yourself getting agitated, sweating, you can feel your heart start to race a bit...something inside you clicks and you realize what's happening. You take a breath, and instead of telling the douche bag pushing your buttons on the other side of the counter to fuck off, you tell him that you're sorry for whatever happened in his life to make him so miserable and mad at the world. And when he keeps trying to push those buttons, you yell after him as he's leaving, "I hope you have a beautiful day, full of rainbows, and sunshine, and unicorns (you grumpy old bastard--that part is under your breath--you're still human)!!"

Buckle up, my dear. It's a long, beautiful road.

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