There is a phase, early in therapy, where you think yes, you are really messed up. You can barely hang on. But there is a sliver of hope: now you are actively working through your old trauma, you think that someday–some glorious day in the future–you are going to be “healed” or “whole” or whatever. It’s a hopeful but naïve vision.
Somewhere later along the line, probably years into therapy, you realize that it isn’t that simple. Even when you get better, you will never really be free of your old trauma and whatever it did to you. It’s part of you.
That doesn’t mean you won’t get better. Things do change. Your life is no longer shaped by the enormity of your distress. You have more periods of stability and contentment. You no longer make the same painful choices, and you don’t enter into as many relationships that echo and replay your old wounds. And that’s no small thing.
But you still aren’t “cured.”
Life remains life, which means not everything will go the way you wish. Your boss will be rude and annoying, or maybe a coworker will. Someone you love will disappoint you. You will get sick, or your body will let you down in some way. You will lose some money or be denied the raise you expected. I mean, everyone experiences bumps in the road, and that’s without even mentioning the big things, the grief and heartbreak that visit all of us.
And some of those losses and disappointments will be triggering. The old monsters that used to torment you all the time will crawl out of their holes and start to poke at you. Self-doubt. Shame. Nightmares. Depression. Self-loathing. Anxiety. The monsters can such a variety of forms.
“Not again!” you think, as they start to surround you. “Why are you here? I worked to overcome you! How can you be back?”
You feel cheated, maybe. You get angry at yourself: shouldn’t you know better? You feel hope slipping away: will you be dealing with this forever?
If you are like me, at least, you curse at the monsters while they nibble away at your sense of well-being. You struggle for a while, cheated, angry, hopeless, exhausted, discouraged.
And then you remember. You remember all those hard lessons that you spent many hours and many dollars to learn. Right, right, of course! Acceptance. Self-compassion. Listening to wounded parts. Connecting to one or two trusted people. Letting go of unnecessary demands on your time. Reading things that are uplifting. Protecting yourself from additional triggers, to the degree possible. Maybe a guided meditation. Maybe some very gentle yoga.
It seems like a lot of work, and you are feeling drained already. Part of you rebels, but a deeper, wiser part knows that it works. That part whispers to you, “I know it’s hard, dearest, but it truly is the only way.”
So you take a breath and nod to yourself, to that wise part of yourself, and you commit yourself once again to the healing path that has already brought you so far. Onward.