Courage Lives Within You and Me

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Having conversations with four year olds is always incredibly grounding. Try it! They live in the present moment, unapologetically express their emotions, have an abundant sense of curiosity, and stay hopeful. The most life-giving moments are with children that see how engaged you are to know their world and attach to you for simply validating their favorite color, food, and number. They don’t care what car you drive, your income, nor your weight. They care if you are listening and engaging, as humans were meant to support one another. They also have the power to conjure in us some of the deepest, thought provoking reflections through simple beliefs such as, “You’re not scared of anything, Ms. Crystal.” I think my heart skipped a beat at that moment. I pulled out the Moses storybook; not in a preachy approach, but to plant the seed that courage is “Moses-like faith”. That to a four year old is “Courage is when you are afraid, but you do it anyway.” Because although this four year old constantly sees me with more self energy than any past season in my life, I and my community know it was not always this way.

So here’s to you-the people who choose to recover from trauma instead of pushing it under the rug. To say to you, “me too”, I’ve been there- the involuntary psychiatric ward, struggling with the desire to live, undergone residential treatment, and continuing to unburden residual trauma. This is my take on courage I want to share in this space.

If there is one word I could gift someone recovering from an eating disorder or posttraumatic stress disorder it would be courage. This word has appeared daily throughout my recovery. Actress, Ruth Gordon describes courage “like a muscle. We strengthen it with use.” I have come to meditate on this simile and reflect on each experience that brings forth courage. Two years ago in treatment I remember sobbing over having to eat rice. Of course, it was never about the rice nor the weight as much as it was about yearning for control. The role the anorexia played in restricting food, punishing through exercise, and controlling my weight was an attempt to control my life and to suppress the trauma. The most transformative insight I received in recovery to exercise courage was to ask, “Do my choices, thoughts, actions, align with my values?” Values are the beliefs that don’t change despite circumstances. Values of integrity, self-care, community, and service. Values that remind me it’s not me against the world but that I am supported by my community and life itself. Values keep us grounded. Values align with the truth that food is not the enemy but instead a source of nourishment to the beautiful trillion cells we have that allow us to not only survive–but to feel, dream, and act.

When I was conjuring my values to allow me the freedom and courage to eat the rice, I realized why I was wrestling so profoundly with the concept of surrendering control. As humans we are wired for certainty. Like many people recovering from trauma, surrendering doesn’t settle well with young kid parts! I realized in order to surrender and to embrace the rice, family trauma, fill in your blank, I needed assurances. Assurance that I have a community that is not based on my weight, worldly success, but is there for me with all of life’s ebbs and flows. Assurance that my faith gifts me with promises of my value. Assurances that I have resources around me. Assurances of the creativity and love I gift others in my vocation. Assurances of my positive traits that trauma still has not nor ever will take from me. These are where assurances lie. Where there is assurance, there is peace. Yes, eating the rice, throwing out the scale, advocating for your needs, setting boundaries can stir up fear. But when you exercise courage, you are not only creating new pathways from a neurological perspective, but are also creating momentum to withstand greater life invitations. We all need assurances that we are loved, supported, and needed in this world. Some of us have had these assurances as a child while others of us have made the choice to create these assurances as an adult. I am thankful that certain false beliefs have lost their grip on me. It has taken me years to reach these “AHA” moments; four months of residential treatment, burning out from two careers, experiencing suicidal urges, and having to go through the process of recovering from anorexia and PTSD.

As one who has an affinity for whales as they are in tune with their community and swim gracefully into the unknown depths, one of my favorite quotes from Author Gregory Colbert is “The whales do not sing because they have an answer. They sing because they have a song.” I still haven’t received answers for most of my heart aching experiences. But, I have learned in the midst of hardships, it allows us to exercise courage, to change the things we can, that we are a being aside from the trauma, and it allows our community to shower us with love. I have experienced the depth of love and assurance from Project Heal and those around me in giving me hope, a renewed strength and opportunity to return to teaching, to vicariously experience a childhood at the age of 24, and an opportunity to confront residual trauma.

Many times before I take a courageous step, I have to care for those young anxious, grieving parts that cry out. For me recently, courage looked like waking up a few weeks ago with intense fear. But making the conscious effort to pray, go to yoga, eat, texting Liana “I’m terrified but I will care for myself”, creating a lavender dance by spraying lavender in the air to keep me present at work, and to advocate for myself. That day, I remember making lunch and taking a second look at the rice for my meal. I remember having the conscious realization that I am stronger than I was two years ago. I know if I skipped the rice, life will still happen. But I still have my assurances. Whatever is meant to happen with this situation, I know that I know that I know that I know (a thousand times) it won’t change because I try to control by not eating a carb. My wish for you in these moments is that you realize the present is ‘already here’ and what you do now is also for the ‘not yet’ in the future. When I was in treatment, the ‘already here’ moment of eating the rice was for the ‘not yet’ moments when life would present greater life invitations two years later when I was dealing with adult transitions. Embrace those ‘already here’ moments for the ‘not yet’ moments when you will eat the rice, self-care, and create the lavender dance instead of engaging in self-destructive behaviors when life hits hard.

By the next day, life worked in my favor and I received more than I expected from my act of conjuring courage. I’m always fascinated by the moon cycle. 29.5 days, renewing, always changing. The next day, it was a new moon, ironically, almost to say to me, “You made it through another life cycle with greater courage.” Part of me is learning that to be a human you will experience a range of emotions and some situations are out of your control. Because with circumstances, people still have to pause from their dream careers, financial difficulties occur, cars still break down, some family members never recover from alcoholism, and there will be some life lessons we will have to pay tuition for. But you have the choice to choose courage over fear no matter how long that may take you. It won’t always have a short-term good outcome. But if you continue following your values, your heart will stay open to remain resilient in learning the lesson life has invited you to experience in that moment. If my greatest losses have been made more in touch with my community and the children I work, I am grateful for that. I can surrender not knowing the reason for the trauma for the assurance I can pursue my dream again and cultivate a new life than my past.

What are your values? What are your eating disorder values? Do they match? Mine did not. Starving could not help me soften my heart nor help me process trauma. As Oprah Winfrey expresses, “Your greatest struggle can produce your greatest strength.” Will you allow your current greatest struggle to produce your greatest strength? Reach out for support. List your values, Breath. Journal. Feel. Yoga. Connect. This is where courage conjures. What courage will you exercise today? Will you eat the rice? Will you confront your false beliefs and those fears debilitating you? Reach out to your assurances when your anxious parts are overwhelming you.

As much as I wish I could literally gift one with courage, I’ve learned it is a choice one has to make for her/himself. However, I’m learning I can at least model courage, self-care, for others in recovery and so can you. From a personal experience, I am exercising courage by stepping back into my dream career field this upcoming Fall. I embrace the concept that life is not so much linear as it is in cycles; revisiting certain scenarios, not as the same person but with a different perspective. For example, in college when I was studying for the GRE, I was deep into my anorexia and fell deeper into restricting to suppress the anxiety. As I am now studying for yet another exam to teach in Florida, the anxiety is pronounced. However, instead of restricting, I am embracing my anxiety part. I prefer to check in with a math tutor each week to reassure me I am understanding the concepts until one day I can believe those truths for myself in this area of my life. I always stress the importance of community in this beautiful metaphor that was gifted to me. If a flower were in a dark room with no sunlight nor water, we would not simply fault the flower for not blooming. Survivors of trauma have to relearn values, cultivate a supportive community, and to reflect on their present day assurances.

To those of you who have struggled with suicide ideation, I want to let you know that you are valuable. Please reach out for support. I get it. Those thoughts come in waves I’ve battled since I was a child. I am learning to have a will to live for myself outside of people pleasing and circumstances. Life will always be messy. There will always be something. But I believe if we continue to go back to our values, write out our assurances, cultivate a safe community, we can go from simply surviving to dreaming and living. There are so many resources out there. Eat the rice. Create a lavender dance. Breathe. Come up for air. Advocate your parts. Be assured that even if you lose a job, finances go low, you fail a test; your values will guide you through those cycles in your life. These life cycles invite you to align with your values, gain clarity, allow your community to show you love, and to practice courage.

A BIG hug your way,

CC xoxo


About the Author:

Crystal Campoverde is a GRATEFUL Project HEAL treatment grant recipient. Having walked through her journey of recovery from anorexia and bulimia, she is incredibly thankful for her loving community and for vicariously experiencing a life-giving childhood at 24 years old. She loves to write, eat cupcakes, practice yoga, and advocate for children’s needs. She is a strong advocate for both eating disorder awareness and post-traumatic stress disorder awareness. She shares her vulnerability through blogging to encourage others in their healing and to lead a fulfilling, redemptive life.

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A Chance to Emerge from the Scene: Recovering from Trauma

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By Crystal Campoverde

In one of her lectures, Mariann Williamson professes, “The past is over. It can touch me not.” Physically speaking, this statement can hold some validity. But what happens when trauma lingers and you keep reenacting the pain from the past manifested in every aspect of your life? How do you recover from trauma once your full-blown eating disorder symptoms are not masking the internal war zone your system has been suppressing for years? Marking exactly a year since leaving residential treatment, on Christmas afternoon there I was again pacing back and forth -wanting that certain person to turn his car around after a heated discourse. The rejection and desperation started setting in. I try to portray a calm unruffled exterior to suppress the trauma that gets triggered when I lower barriers, express feelings and make myself vulnerable in romantic relationships. A false belief starts to set in that if only he could accept me, my trauma would dissipate. I can feel enough only by his validation. Each time though it ends in an argument, begging that he not leave. If he leaves me, that somehow validates that I am flawed and memories of abandonment begin to manifest. They say a person reenacts the same scenario until the lesson is learned. The abandonment scene has haunted me for years. My therapist calls it an invitation. More specifically, I am the gift that keeps on giving. That is, I repeat the scene until I can unburden the perceived abandonment.

Since I have received psychological space from the eating disorder, unresolved trauma has emerged. Where were these traumatic parts during my years battling anorexia and bulimia? They were there. They were there but I ignored them. I ignored them by obsessing on food, restricting, over exercising, people pleasing, and engaging in self-destructive behaviors. That was the role my eating disorder played– to numb unresolved trauma. My eating disorder viciously manifested itself to suppress other trauma. Ironically, the eating disorder pushed me to the ground. My people- pleasing part kept making appearances in relationships. I believed that I could only experience a vicarious joy through others. So that’s what I’ve been doing for years: pleasing people until it hurts and then repeating the vicious cycle.  In trauma counseling, I am identifying these false beliefs so I can see them as that- and work through them. I am now consciously aware that the alternative to confronting trauma is to suppress it. This awareness keeps me moving forward. 

Art has provided a healthy outlet in trauma recovery- to unburden and give witness to unresolved trauma. Instead of turning back to the eating disorder, I channel the pain on canvas. To help visualize pain I painted a sun made up of band-aids used to cover up the trauma. This image mirrors the appearance I try to portray to others. In the middle of my drawing, I am changing the R once represented as rejection to Redemption. Specifically, redemption from trauma and not letting it claim me. After drawing that image, I came to the realization that my Higher being and I can handle all the mess trauma leaves behind. I don’t need any single person to rescue me from the trauma. Instead, I am cultivating a healthy community, treatment team, and a safe outlet to facilitate healing in recovery. I am sorry if in the past when you tried to share your trauma people called you “too sensitive” or invalidated your experiences. No one knows the whole story but you and you don’t owe anyone else an explanation. I am taking proactive steps to rescue those parts that have remained stuck in the past. For those of you who are recovering from trauma, I’m sorry for your pain. I’m sorry the world failed you, that those around you once failed you when you needed rescue in the midst of the trauma. You didn’t deserve what happened to you and you coped with it the best you knew how in order to survive.

2Recovering from trauma can feel like pushing a boulder up a mountain. I find tremendous strength from those who have walked the journey before me. Co-founder of Project HEAL Liana said, “You will gain so much more than you ever lost after recovering from your trauma. These words continue to be my anchor each day. With each small step of healing, I dwell in the hope that I can stop living life mostly out of fear but instead more out of love and a restored self. I am already seeing glimpses of redemption in my present life. These redemptive moments include embracing the invitations life present each day and cultivating a safe space for children to experience all their emotions. Life is messy, chaotic, and unpredictable; but in all of that I have also discovered that it is hopeful, redemptive, and meaningful. I share my vulnerability to give you hope in recovering from your trauma. I know first hand that sometimes your center cannot hold when you are holding fragments of your true self that wants to emerge from the scene but is stuck underneath the trauma. I’ve been there. I’ve been in profound despair stuck in time. I have been in treatment. I am hopeful that going through trauma recovery I will begin to emerge from the scene and one day be able to say, “The past is over. It can touch me not-emotionally and mentally.’ It will only fuel my passion to advocate for children’s needs and help others who are placed in my path.

In one of her unapologetically, biographical songs rapper Iggy Azaela vocalizes, ‘This dream is all I need because it’s all I ever had’. For me, the ‘dream’ is my life after recovering from PTSD. The lessened flashbacks, more self-energy, the lessened people pleasing part, healthy relationships, and my newfound voice. As a fellow human being that wears a similar shirt to you, I believe this can be true for you too. Life is not perfect. Trauma survivors are not asking for perfection. We are asking for the hard fought right to laugh in the moment without simultaneously thinking about the next incident that will snatch the ground from under us, to fall in love without completely losing our sense of self, and to lose the compulsive need to apologize for every breath we take or for our presence here on Earth. You were meant to take up space and have a voice. I am fighting to recover from post-traumatic stress disorder as hard as I fought to recover from my eating disorder. They say you have to experience the fall, bruising, and bleeding before you experience the healing. Be patient with your recovery. It takes time to undo symptoms from trauma to gradually replace them with health. Cultivate a community that empowers you; find a treatment team that respects the dignity of your unique needs, and a creative outlet. YOU ARE THE CO-CREATOR OF YOUR LIFE and you do not have to reenact your past. You can create safety for yourself. I hope this year on your birthday you truly celebrate that you and all your parts have made it through another year. You WILL emerge from the scene. I am rooting for you. Your Higher being is rooting for you.  Project HEAL is rooting for you. Your true self is rooting for you.

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Rejection to Redemption
I don’t need to cover up my wounds with bandaids shaped into a sun anymore to portray a false, perfect exterior. Instead, with the help of a healthy community, treatment team, and a life-giving outlet, I can work through the mess trauma leaves behind so that the true sun in me can emerge! 
Recovery Painting (1)“This painting daily encourages me in my recovery, not only because of what it symbolizes, but because of the person who painted it.  Michelle and I met in treatment almost 10 years ago, and we’ve been on this journey together ever since.  She painted me this painting as a reminder of the light that exists within me–all of me.  But more than that, every day when I look at this painting hanging on my bedroom wall, I am reminded that she is holding my hope, and I am holding hers.  Whenever I’m doubting myself, or feeling like this is too much, I know she’s keeping my hope safe for me, until I can reclaim it for myself.  I do the same for her, and always will.  There is no one I would rather share this journey with–every tear, every laugh, every moment of knowing that I am more than my eating disorder, and she is more than hers.” ~Sarah Borgatti
 

CALL-TO-ACTION: If you have any artwork that has encouraged you in your recovery please feel free to submit it to contact@theprojectheal.org to be posted with other collective art work at the end of the month.


About the Author: 

15676370_10202766162271418_1024429809987914000_oCrystal Campoverde is a GRATEFUL Project HEAL treatment grant recipient. Having walked through her journey of recovery from anorexia and bulimia, she is incredibly thankful for her loving community and for vicariously experiencing a life-giving childhood at 24 years old. She loves to write, eat cupcakes, practice yoga, and advocate for children’s needs. She is a strong advocate for both eating disorder awareness and post-traumatic stress disorder awareness. She shares her vulnerability through blogging to encourage others in their healing and to lead a fulfilling, redemptive life.