Trigger Warning: Trauma, Depression, Abuse
If you are a 20 to 30 something human in the developed world, you know that topics surrounding growth, healing, and self-improvement are becoming more mainstream. We live in a time where we are privileged enough to have these conversations and tools like therapy, counseling, and coaching are more accessible to the masses. I believe that’s what makes this generation the most powerful: we are willing to humble ourselves and focus on being better both individually and collectively.
“A seed neither fears light nor darkness, but uses both to grow.” - Matshona Dhliwayo
I consider growth to be one of my top values. When major life events happen either to me or to those around me, I search for the learning opportunity in them. I’m not necessarily a glass-half-full type of person but I try my best to look for how I can improve through life’s tribulations. Although certain situations will likely never feel purposeful, most of the time I find that this mindset helps me find meaning in my experiences, as well as a general sense of gratitude for my life.
How it Began...
About 5 years ago, I was first presented with the concept of trauma. I recall sharing a few stories about my childhood and a friend nervously advising me that I should consider going to therapy. I knew that my upbringing was a bit “rough” but I just saw it as a part of my story. At the time, I couldn’t fully comprehend why I would need therapy or the significance that my childhood had on my current behavior. Regardless, it was then that the seed of going to therapy was planted.
During a taxing 10-day silent meditation retreat, my only moments of solace were during the mid-day break and bedtime. As if meditating for 10 hours a day wasn’t enough, I used any free time I had to get some more shut-eye. One afternoon I entered my cold, jail cell-esque room, and laid on my bed, underneath a small skylight. As I stared up through the skylight, I peacefully dozed off and began to have a dream that would become the catalyst to my growth.
This dream was not particularly remarkable by any means, but what made it memorable were the feelings associated with it. The dream began with me being guided to a door and upon opening it, a man reached his hand out towards me. For a brief moment, I thought the hand was my boyfriend’s but quickly realized that it was the hand of a man who had caused me a great deal of pain throughout my childhood.
Upon realizing that it was him, I gasped and took a step back. Immediately after, I was transported to another scene in this dream where I saw myself as a young girl standing in the corner of a room while this man lay in front of me. Upon seeing this scene, a wave of fear washed over me and my eyes burst open. It was as if I had just woken from a nightmare as I lay there with wide eyes, trying to catch my breath. At that moment, I heard a whisper inside of me say, “You need to go to therapy.” As you can tell, nothing really happened in this dream but the fear and shock that I felt made me feel like there was something about my past I had to explore further.
Fast forward a few months, deep bouts of depression, back-to-back health problems, and a complete loss of motivation later I decided it was finally time to search for a therapist. As I searched the internet I began to question what exactly I was looking for and I felt a bit foolish. This situation resembled a few others in my life, where my intuition was telling me to do something, even when I did not necessarily understand why. I had an inner knowing that I needed to go to therapy but it mostly stemmed from that strange dream I had. How would I explain this to a therapist? Would I say, “So… I had this dream during a meditation retreat and for some reason, it terrified me and now I think I need therapy?” Or would I say, “ Umm... I’m here because my friend thinks I need therapy?”
Reflecting on it now, I don’t think there could ever be a wrong reason to go to therapy but at the time I felt quite ridiculous.
Lightbulb! I glance around my therapist's office with a look of both understanding and concern on my face.
“So because X happened, I now beat myself up incessantly whenever I do something wrong?”
“My memory, depression, AND health problems are closely linked to the trauma I experienced as a kid? Seriously??”
Realization after realization came and I now had a deeper understanding of trauma. In addition to therapy, I also began to devour books about childhood trauma and read journals and articles about the long-term effects of trauma on children. Effects ranged from personality disorders, depression, health problems, and addiction, to more subtle things like the way children coped with stress, how they communicated with those around them, and their ability to retain information.
Initially, the more I learned, the less in control I felt. It became difficult to move out of a place of resentment and victimhood. I began to despise a lot of the traits that made me who I was and felt as though I would never be able to change. I felt powerless. All I knew was that I wanted to be less like me and more like someone other than me.
The thing I would eventually come to learn is that growth is multi-layered and certainly non-linear. Although liberating, learning about why I reacted the way I did in certain situations was only the first step towards change. Take, for example, becoming less of an angry person. Anger had been my constant companion and it took very little for me to see red. Growing into a person who had different reactions involved falling short time and time again.
Many times, I felt deep shame after an outburst because I now understood that my outbursts had more to do with my inner world than the people I was lashing out against. I saw this pattern repeat itself with other behaviors of mine such as jealousy, fear of abandonment, and my constant self-loathing, to name a few. My thought patterns and reactions were mostly coming from a wounded spot from my past and not the actual present moment. It’s like the quote from Anaïs Nin, “We don't see the world as it is, we see it as we are.” I had been observing the entire world through my lens of pain and trauma and although it felt like reality to me, it didn’t make it real.
Striving for Growth Humbles You, Again and Again.
This level of awareness was helpful but it did not automatically mean I would be able to transform all of the behavior traits I so desperately wanted gone. As much as I wanted to grow, my reactions stayed the same for quite some time; the only thing that would change was my awareness surrounding these reactions. This inability to immediately change my behavior left me with great amounts of shame. Although difficult, the uncomfortable feeling of shame forced me to attempt to react differently, despite how utterly unnatural it felt to do so.
This is why I say that growth is multi-layered. Therapy was the first step. Awareness was probably the second, third and fourth, and eventually came actual change. Growth is a process of uncovering, understanding, failing again and again, and trying things that initially feel unnatural in order to create long-term change.
Having an understanding of how our past affects our present can be very illuminating and even validating. Growth can occur when we realize that although many of our “negative” behaviors and personality traits may not be our fault, we are now the only ones responsible for changing the parts of ourselves that are not representative of the person we want to be. Growth is beautiful, it’s messy and it’s likely going to be a never-ending journey. The magic is in the dance of becoming a better version of yourself every chance you get and accepting yourself fully for all that you are, now.
About the Author
After spending her early years on the beaches of sunny Miami, Florida - this beach girl moved to the desert of Las Vegas, where she has spent most of her life. Leslie’s background is in Event Planning, Digital Marketing and Management. Her happiest moments are spent in nature - either swimming in the ocean, relaxing on the river or playing beach volleyball for hours on end. She is constantly exploring the world around her and strives to create a life that allows her to find contentment in career, health, finances and relationships. A quote that she uses as a constant reminder that she is capable of creating life on her terms is by Andrea Balt which says, “Your life is the greatest work of art you’ll ever create.”