After talking with a friend about the concept of growth and learning from the crap and trauma in life she made me a wonderful glitter-turd broach to remind us both of our power to alchemise the shit life throws at us into something magical and transformative. To find the sparkle in the darkness and let it guide us back into the light, transformed.
These days most people know about PTSD-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but what is not discussed as often is that Traumatic events can also be a catalyst for personal and spiritual growth.
I will outline here what a traumatic event is, how it affects us and how it has the potential to catapult us into previously uncharted waters and find new and exciting treasure within.
Exposure to highly stressful traumatic events is common and what is experienced as traumatic can be different for different people depending on their current skills, supports and resources. For example; A baby does not have the same coping skills as an adult so things that happen early in life can be perceived as life or death threats because to an infant they are but for an adult to be alone for a day, for example, does not have the same psychological impact.
A traumatic event is often defined as a situation in which a person is thrown into questioning what they thought they knew about themselves and the world. The traumatic event can have a massive effect on one’s worldview of life being mostly safe and predictable. It will feel like their foundations have been shaken to the core.
’ So how can this lead to Growth?’…I hear you say.
Post Traumatic Growth is what can happen after a traumatic experience when we find a way to integrate and make meaning of the experience and possibly see it as a learning opportunity. Sometimes it takes a while to navigate the void that we are thrown into to find new meaning and a new way of being in the world. It can feel like the wake-up call we didn’t know we needed.
You are not your experience. You are not your symptoms. All symptoms are your amazing system working to help you to survive. There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing to fix because you are not broken. What’s the old saying?…’What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” You have the opportunity to learn more about yourself to grow and thrive and flourish after trauma but it’s a process and a journey and it’s not a walk in the park, it takes courage and sometimes setbacks, other times tears and times when the only thing you want to do is curl up under a doona.
…but the potential benefits of alchemising your trauma are worth it. Trauma symptoms affect not only you but your family and others in your life. The department of Veterans Affairs in Melbourne published a book about walking on eggshells and walking through minefields. Such a great analogy for living with someone who experiences PTSD. Healing yourself has a ripple effect on those you love. Your growth and healing is also their potential to grow and heal.
If you are someone who experiences the effects of trauma you know how painful and difficult this can be. Many people have clear traumatic events like; rape, domestic violence, war, natural disaster, accidents, deaths of loved ones etc others it’s less clear because things happened in our childhood that we may not recall or we can not see how events that happened in the past are shaping the way we behave, experience and interact today.
Alchemising trauma is a journey and process of going into our shadows and making sense of what has happened and how the impacts manifest in our daily lives. It is important that we feel safe and ready to go on this journey and that we have developed good tools and have excellent supports. There is no right time and scary as it may feel it is important to ask yourself ‘Do I want to continue living like this or do I want things to be different?’ If the answer is Yes, then now might be the right time for you. As I said, it’s a journey and starting might be as simple as making the intention or looking for expert support, practising tools that help reduce distress.
Remember you are a survivor, you have unmined strength you could not imagine. Just as a caterpillar can not imagine itself as a butterfly. Sometimes you need to disintegrate, like the pupae, in the alchemy process to become the magical being you were always destined to become.
To Alchemise Trauma is, in my experience, a spiritual journey of trying to make sense of something that does not make sense. For example; when I was a teen I had two significant deaths around the same time. One of my best, most loved friends was killed in an accident and an older family member committed suicide. Both were kind of earth-shattering experiences for me, but making sense of these events triggered my spiritual growth in untold ways. It helped to shape my ideas and beliefs around existence, control and acceptance of forces greater than myself, all of which have kept me in good stead over the following years 35 odd years.
The way to alchemise trauma and grow from it is a unique and individual journey. There is no one-size-fits-all approach but there are things you can do to help. If you want support turning the crap life has thrown at you into gold, Gaby from My Way Therapy has been working in the trauma, mental health and addictions fields for over 30 years, She has written a publication for ReGen called ‘Putting together the pieces: Responding to trauma and substance use,’ and has a holistic and creative approach using evidence-based theory to support people on the healing journey and helping them to alchemize their trauma.
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