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.
Recovering 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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org to be posted with other collective art work at the end of the month.
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.