PTSD & Identity

ptsd identity

Photo: Jscreationzs

Trauma changes us, there’s no doubt about it.

For years I tried to pretend I had not been changed, even while knowing, feeling, imagining all the changes that had taken place. For example:

– I was very aware that I no longer felt safe.

– I was very aware that the girl I was had been replaced by someone who was similar to her, but knew more than she did about pain, suffering, endurance, terror and fear.

– I was very aware that I didn’t want anyone to know the ways in which I felt changed.

I wanted everyone to treat me as if I was the same as before. To make sure they did, I learned to fake my old self while I tried to reconnect, reengage and once again, become her in all of her innocence.

Of course, I was unsuccessful. It was impossible to go back to who I was before the world intruded because the new knowledge I had would not be denied. I couldn’t forget what had happened and so I could not go back to the girl I had been before. That sweet young girl didn’t know anything about survival or trauma. I could only look back at her and grieve the enormous distance between us.

For years the chasm between my Before and After selves really bothered me. There were things about my old self that I really liked, traits and characteristics I wanted to maintain. My perception, though, of the distance between who I had been and who I had become made me think that it was impossible to reconnect to my old self while still being my new self. I was so wrong.

When you recover from trauma you absolutely can reconnect with that former self and utilize, embrace and bring forward the aspects of it that feel familiar, safe, comfortable and identifying of who you are. As a matter of fact, one of the gifts of trauma is that it forces you to consciously be aware of whom you are and make choices and take actions to build exactly the person you wish to become. Without my trauma I’m not sure I would have taken the time to assess who I was, am or wish to be. I would have probably moved through life more on the surface because nothing would have made me question or deliberately construct an identity.

When discussing his evolution as a painter, Pisarro, the father of Impressionism, said, “I continue to believe that it is better to perfect oneself little by little and by one’s own efforts.” This is the philosophy I adopted for myself in trauma recovery. I approached constructing my post-trauma identity in small pieces, one thing at a time.

First I decided to find a way to reconnect with joy. I began with learning to dance, which led me to develop a reconnection to the present moment, which led to a reconnection between my mind and my body, which led to a renewed sense of connection to myself. Once I engaged in doing the work of recovery, I sought support from others in all phases of my healing, but in every phase, I alone made the effort to choose, to act, and to rebuild the woman I wanted to be. When I began I didn’t have the faintest idea of who she was; I allowed her to reveal herself to me little by little over time and through my own efforts.




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