Three Life Lessons From Growing Out of Trauma

  1. Life is precious.

One day you are going to die.

I am going to die.

It could be tomorrow by getting hit by a bus, it could be in 20 years time with a horrible illness but the truth of the matter is that one day I will be a lifeless, cold, corpse and everything will be over.

Yes, this is pretty morbid, especially as most of my posts are bringing messages of ‘yes you can conquer anything, love life to the full etc’ but that joyful message doesn’t hit home as hard as the realisation that we are all going to die someday, life is short. Embrace it.

While thinking about that, ask yourself these questions:

  1. If you dropped dead right now would you be happy with how you’ve spent your life?
  2. Did you chase your dreams?
  3. Did you tell the people you love often enough?
  4. Were you happy with what you achieved?

If the answer to any of these questions is no then I seriously insist that you explore these questions more and ask yourself what the hell are you doing with your life?

We can often get wrapped up in the nitty gritty of life, and I get it, we’ve all got our things to do, got to pay the bills right? When you’ve come through a life threatening situation though, you see things a little differently and it’s as though you really see what matters.

I remember when I experienced this mindset change quite vividly. There was a poignant moment during the attack that I seriously thought “I am going to be raped, murdered and then left here to rot”. This was the exact moment that I seemed to spring into life. As though something inside me said “No fucking way”. It was the moment that I pulled out all the stops to get out of that situation, and I did get out of it. I survived and I’m here writing about it today. That situation was the scariest thing that has happened to me in my entire life and it has brought me a whole load of uninvited emotions that I otherwise wouldn’t have experienced. They weren’t pleasant and I would never wish for someone to go through something as horrific as having to literally fight for their survival or to experience the rickershay of emotions that pop up at every trigger in the aftermath – the panic, the fear, the depression, the shame, the guilt, I could go on. However, without this experience I wouldn’t have the perspective I do now, so I’m passing this message on to you. We only have one life, don’t take it for granted.

  1. Fear is a signpost for growth

Fear is a funny thing, sometimes I know it’s there and I can really feel the terror, the butterflies, the anxiety – like I’m going to physically vomit  because of it, and then sometimes I can’t feel it at all but it’s there lingering in the background controlling my thoughts and actions behind my subconscious state. The second type of fear is the most debilitating, it’s the unconscious state of fear that causes us to disengage in a relationship, cause arguments to create distance and generally provoke negative actions in a way to protect ourselves.

What I’ve come to realise as I unpick the triggers in my post trauma state is that every negative reaction we have usually comes from fear. That means any judgment or blame towards others, the avoidance of a particular subject/person, numbness, suppression or outright anger – all of these deflection techniques are the ego’s way of protecting us when we’re in a state of fear. When we become aware of this and we can see the ego’s behaviour it becomes easier to question it and find out why the fear is there in the first place and from my own experience I’ve found that underneath fear are almost always signposts for growth.

In a recent situation where I was starting to become vulnerable with a man I found myself judging, blaming and becoming angry with him, I didn’t even realise that I was doing it until a friend pointed this out to me. So I decided to address it like all my other triggers. When I did this, at first I found myself in tears. I was terrified. I was scared that if I let someone into that vulnerable emotional space that something awful was going to happen to me and that I would experience all the emotions from heartbreak, attempted rape and the death of someone close all over again. I desperately did not want to feel all those emotions in that intensity again and I was terrified that this situation was headed that way. Having got to know my triggers very well, I know that they create a whole world of illogical scenarios in my head based on a couple of situations in my life and during those moments of fear I remember what those scenarios feel like which causes me to back out fast. The reality though, is very different because the past doesn’t determine the future and the trick is to remind myself of this reality when I’m experiencing what feel like very real occurrences. Practising that continuously is what has allowed me to grow out of trauma in to a more authentic and stronger person than I was before. The next time you find yourself bearing way from something, as yourself why? If it comes down to fear then it could be an opportunity for growth too.

  1. Communicating that we don’t know how to feel is the first step to connecting

Anyone who knows about Brene Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability will already know that vulnerability is where human connections thrive. I’ve watched her TED talks, I’d read the books but what I hadn’t done is really practiced what she preached when it came to vulnerability and to be honest it’s because I wasn’t aware that I didn’t know how to be vulnerable. To be completely honest, I thought I knew all about vulnerability before I experienced my traumas but in reality I was running away from all negative feelings in my very privileged and somewhat entitled life, without the awareness that I was running. So when I was faced with so many difficult situations I got to experience first-hand what she meant in The Power of Vulnerability, especially when she explains about those vulnerable moments:

  • Making that phone call to the relative who just lost someone, even though you have no idea what to say
  • Telling someone you love them, without knowing if they feel the same
  • Admitting to someone you care about that you did something wrong and that you’re sorry

What all these situations do is communicate our feelings at the times when it’s the hardest because those are the times when it matters the most. When I was on the receiving end of these situations I appreciated the friends who called me and said “I don’t know what to say”, over those who just avoided me altogether because we could at least converse over the fact that neither of us knew how to deal with the situation which meant we were in it together. I also did this with the vulnerable situation where I acted reactively with the guy I previously mentioned, after I had become vulnerable. I explained that I was terrified and that I didn’t know how to handle the situation and because of that I had pushed him away. In both these situations I found that communicating the very observation of the feeling led to me becoming a lot closer with these people and that is the start of practicing vulnerability.

All our life experiences give us a choice. The choice to deal with them, learn and grow from them or the choice to shut off, avoid and live in a life of safe guards. For me, the latter meant that I would give up the nomadic lifestyle which was the very thing that made me feel alive, so I had to find away to grow out of it or I knew that I faced a life locked in silent misery, clouded by apathy and an inability to connect with other people. Urgh, no thanks.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

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Your Situation Can Be Your Anchor Or Your Springboard. It’s Your Choice. 

This week I got in an uberpool taxi in New York and listened to some poignant words from an insightful passenger named Dante. “It’s your situation”, he said. “It can be your anchor or your spring board, it’s your choice”. He continued on, to talk about how good or bad situations could be used this way and that it’s all to do with our intention. Dante was pretty switched on. He was a 27 year old NYC actor and a bar tender which he relabelled as ‘the people’s psychologist’. In the 20 minutes that my friend and I were graced with his presence his perils of wisdom sprinkled through the taxi like flickering lights into the darkness. My friend Guy, and I talked at length about this experience after and we’re still unsure of the oracle who presented himself as Dante. Did he exist as a real person, as a figment of our alcohol infused imagination or maybe he was the ghost of Christmas past, gently directing us on our way. Whatever he was, he told me exactly what I needed to hear at that moment in time.

On that particular night I’d been pushing myself pretty hard in the area of triggers and it had ended in a spectacularly awful way. I’d had a disastrous night trying to connect with a new guy I’d met and without realising my ego had jumped up and sabotaged the evening without me even noticing. It was the first time I’d allowed myself to get into a romantic situation, with a guy who I hadn’t know prior to the attack. The first time since my Dad died at least, which is when the trust that I had in my judgement of new men disappeared completely and subconscious fear started controlling my life.

Trusting men has become difficult for me since these traumas exploded. As though my subconscious fears that all men are now going to break my heart, rape me or die on me. Sounds kind of ridiculous doesn’t it? But that’s how our neuro pathways work and it takes work to re-program them. Ive known about this for a while and it’s something I’ve started working on as I start to work on the male relationships in my life – my brother and my close male friends. The thing is that the area of romance is the one that I really need to work out if I want to lead the fulfilled life that I dream of, but these lessons don’t come easily. They’re peppered with pain, embarrassment and sharp emotional edges that all these authenticity insights have brought me as I unwind the traumas. It feels like I’m being reset back to the start of this recovery journey and every time I think I know something my whole world seems to completely morph into something unrecognisable, as though all I knew before turns out to be an illusion.

As I sat in the back of the taxi I felt deflated, upset and embarrassed. I was exhausted from spending the later part of the evening in floods of tears whilst my friend comforted me and helped me reflect on the situation. Secretly, I was wishing that I wasn’t me. That I could just switch back into being a normal person, talking about normal stuff and enjoying the friverless light conversation that modern dating life continues to provide. Unfortunately trauma processing provides no such grace and the emotional hooks that spin out when someone’s unwinding go far and wide hooking up all in their presence. It’s something which leaves me feeling outcasted and alone in a world where being emotional to any depth is simply taboo until other social confirms are met. I do reflect on this often and wonder how we got to a point where we exchange saliva and body fluids with less social policing than we do with the exchange of tears.

I don’t know if the insightful young Dante sensed how I felt, or maybe he somehow knew what had gone on that night. Maybe he got the gist from my tear-strewn make up less face. Or maybe he just said something completely coincidental and I chose to apply it to my evening and be in awe of it. Either way I found what he had to say pretty profound.

Viewing my situation as an anchor or a springboard suddenly made me see things differently. Suddenly I wasn’t upset anymore. It highlighted that I could see my situation as one that tethers me down, restricts my life’s movements and keeps me in one place. On the other hand I could see it as a springboard to jump up and down until I get the momentum to move forward. Depending on how I saw it ultimately affects my reaction and all of this is ultimately my choice.

It strung a cord with me because it also highlighted how important it is to reflect and react from our stories so that we can work at changing our situation. It sums up my whole journey of my trauma recover so far: sit and dwell in my situations or use them to my advantage and progress forward in life. As I looked back on the evening I knew I’d finally been trying the later. After avoiding dating for months after being terrified of trusting men I’d put myself out in a vulnerable situation and tested the water. I knew that I still had issues of coming across as confrontational or even aggressive towards guys. After having fought off a rapist this is unfortunately my current ‘go to’ whenever I feel the slightest bit vulnerable. The worst of it is that for the most part I’m unaware of this behaviour and it takes constant mindful practice and gentle reminders from my friends that I’m acting this way. All necessary feedback if I’m to make progress.

Its a difficult situation, balancing between consciously trying to face my triggers and subconsciously fighting them off all at the same time. I can only imagine how ridiculous it must look on the outside. In a world where words and body language usually flow in sync to see a person who contradicts themselves to such an extent.

The night had been a disaster but it had been a huge step forward too. It was the night I’d pulled up the anchor that had held me stationary for so long and I’d started to springboard. In this particular instance I felt like I’d sprung up and banged straight into a painful lesson, but at least it was movement and that means progress. A step forward from being locked in a secret solitude

That simple comment at the end of my night turned a teary deflated evening into a reflective one. It gave me the slap round the face that I needed to give myself the well needed break of self compassion. It reminded me that although I struggled to be the person I so desperately want to be on the outside of these traumas that I was at least moving forward in that direction. It showed me that the tears, the upset and deflation that I was experiencing was necessary to build momentum in my spring. It reminded me that I was doing all I needed in the right way to get there.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x