This story may contain descriptions of PTSD symptoms, discussion of child sexual abuse, and the effects of trauma.
As I write this, HealingHonestly.com is experiencing its highest web traffic in its four-year history with over 16,000 readers in the month of June and 54% of pageviews of stories about not remembering childhood sexual abuse and experiencing body memories of our trauma. With all these readers my inbox has exploded with emails from all over the world about how triggering a time this is for you, how you were okay for so long until simply you weren’t, and how overwhelming it is to try to process all this trauma during a global pandemic.
To all of you I simply want to say: you are not alone. You are in tremendous company. One of the most healing parts of my work is that I get to actually see the numbers and read the emails that affirm just how common my own feelings are and I want to be able to offer that same validation to all of you via this article!
It’s so common to be experiencing body memories, flashes and nightmares right now
I’ve been hearing from so many of you that the trauma you’re experiencing right now is really confusing and overwhelming. You all have been sharing with me that you are having memories that don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end, but rather are having memories that show up as flashes, as feelings in the body and as dreams and nightmares.
I am also hearing a lot from you about how it feels like that there is a battle going on within you. Many of you have described a war between your mind and your body, like your body is trying to tell you “HEY things are not safe nor okay” and your mind is responding to that message with feelings of guilt and invalidation.
I know these feelings so well. Even after doing this work publicly for so many years I still experience these triggering thoughts of not being able to trust what’s going on in my body, feeling guilty for my own trauma, and feeling like my mind and body are not at peace with each other. I say this not to discourage anyone, but rather, to level with you all and just to say that these feelings are so incredibly normal, especially right now. I’ve noticed that it gets easier for me to talk back to the voices of guilt and shame, to promptly tell them to fuck off, and to turn to people in my life who I’ve trained to help remind me that the guilt and shame I feel is not mine to carry.
I want to remind you that body memories are REAL memories. There is a lot of science behind this, but the gist is that it is normal for us to not remember, either because our brain has suppressed the memory or because our brains never made the memories to begin with. Our bodies are then tasked with signaling to us that something bad happened to us that made us feel unsafe and violated. No, you do not have to remember in order to heal and I definitely do not recommend trying to force yourself to recover memory (especially since we know, in terms of neuroscience, it’s very possible those memories we never made to begin with). I know how these memories can make us feel like we aren’t “real” survivors, and if you’re feeling that way just know you’re in extremely good company! Your pain is real and I believe you even when you have difficulty believing yourself.
It’s totally normal to feel triggered “all of a sudden”
I’m also seeing a lot of messages from you describing feelings of being completely sucker-punched by how a lot of this trauma came out of nowhere for you or hit all of a sudden after so many years of not feeling this way. Yo, I know. Trauma fucks with you like that. Trauma doesn’t care how long it’s been and doesn’t really care about the passage of time. Our nervous systems lack an internal clock and will respond like it’s the day we were harmed when the right switches are turned on. Sometimes we know what turned the switch on, like a clear and obvious trigger, and sometimes we don’t know what activated it. As I always say, PTSD: what a fun and sexy time.
As your fellow survivor-friend it makes total sense to me why now the trauma may be hitting you so hard. There are so many traumas we may be experiencing right now and the coping mechanisms we’ve relied on for years are suddenly not available to us. For so many of us, we just feel alone with our thoughts all day which is an incredibly intense and challenging thing to experience.
My wish for you, survivor-friend, is to be super kind to yourself if you’re feeling this way and to not hesitate to ask for professional and personal support as much as you can right now. I know it can feel scary to ask for help, especially in feeling like we have to explain why something that happened to us so long ago is impacting us so intensely “all of a sudden”, rust that this is a completely normal and common response to childhood sexual abuse and you deserve all the support you can get.
There are so many traumas survivors may be experiencing right now
Wouldn’t it be helpful to experience the various traumas we’ve endured one at a time? Sometimes it is impossible to separate out our traumas. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could say , “Right here is my childhood trauma, and as we turn the corner over there is my adult trauma, and just to the left is this other trauma I experienced and I don’t know what to call it.” That is simply not how trauma works.
There are so many traumas survivors may be processing right now. Survivors who are Black and Indigenous are experiencing the traumas of racism and living in a white supremacist world admidst a pandemic that is disproportionately harming them. Survivors who are POC, LGBTQIA, living with a disability, who do not have financial security have experienced the traumas of racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and poverty especially if they are not surrounded by their usual support systems during the pandemic.
It would be so neat and tidy if we could just identify the one trauma making us feel shitty and vulnerable right now, but that’s not really how it is to be alive. Our nervous system isn’t really distinguishing between which horrible thing is making us feel unsafe right now from the other horrible things that have made us feel unsafe before. We feel it all. This can make it all feel overwhelming and at the same time make it difficult for us to explain how we are feeling to others. I hope if you’re feeling this way it doesn’t stop you from reaching out to get all of the emotional support you need and deserve.
All our healing work didn’t disappear
Many of you have shared with me that your healing was really advancing before the pandemic and that you feel discouraged that all that hard work has disappeared or that you are “backsliding”. I know we talk a lot about healing being non-linear and I think that often the curvy winding
nature of healing is talked about in a day-to-day context, like sometimes we have good days and sometimes we have hella traumatic days. While that’s true, what feels more accurate to my life is to think about healing being non-linear in longer terms. It’s okay if there are months-long periods where our healing doesn’t feel accessible to us. It doesn’t mean all that hard work has gone away.
I see this in my own life today.efore the pandemic I was flying through a really intense long-term writing project around healing from childhood sexual abuse and in three weeks I accomplished more than I had been able to in the proceeding three months combined. But all that deep trauma work just stopped being available to me with the pandemic. It’s been an ongoing daily process to try to find the trust within myself to believe that I still have that all in me, just not accessible right now, and maybe that’s for the best because my brain is trying to keep me safe during an unsafe time.
Trauma healing work necessarily requires breaks and a break may be a day or it may be six months. It’s difficult to do trauma healing work when we don’t feel safe,and I think, for many many people, it isn’t possible to feel safe right now (and that is in no way, your fault). Maybe for you right now isn’t about healing, it has to be about survival, and that’s okay. All the hard work you’ve done to heal yourself is still there and hasn’t gone away, it just maybe isn’t available to you right now. I know that it still is alive within you and will be there for you to pick up again when the time is right.
I hope reading this article reminds you of what writing this article has reminded me: this is an extremely difficult time. If it feels hard it’s because it is hard, not because we are doing it wrong. If we feel full of shame it is not our shame to carry. If we feel angry it’s because it is an infuriating time and we are experiencing literally being less safe because of the selfish and harmful decisions that people around us are making. You are never ever alone in your feelings. Your pain is real. Your pain matters. You are worthy and deserving of support, safety and healing.