By: Crystal Campoverde
I have begun to see this truth I recite daily play out in my life. A year since immersing into the sometimes-daunting process of trauma work, this quote helps me visualize the co-existence of joy and pain. From my perspective, recovering from trauma requires one to walk through the five stages of grief and loss while simultaneously staying grounded in the beauty of the present.
Renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross famously illustrates these five stages of grief and loss as
Of course these stages are not linear. Much like recovering from an eating disorder, trauma recovery is like a musical piece with all its crescendos, pauses, accidentals, ebbs, and flows. For me, denial looked like holding my arms out trying to keep two worlds separate – the remnants trauma left behind on one side from the beauty of my present life on the other side.
Bargaining looked like acknowledging selective parts of the trauma to justify its occurrence in my life. Specifically, my vocation became the bow I tied neatly on top of the trauma to make sense of its existence. Of course, that was until even my vocation was not enough to keep the eating disorder and pain at bay. When the bargaining wasn’t enough, I went back to anger. Because wait, why do children, the most vulnerable of any population, have to endure any pain and suffering when they are still establishing their internal resources? My eating disorder gave me the false belief that anger over anything was wrong. So experiencing anger was a sign of moving forward towards accepting the trauma instead of denying it and numbing it out by restricting.
Although I am only in the beginning stages of acceptance, I share with you my reflections to provide fellow trauma survivors hope. Acceptance does not mean excusing the trauma that occurred. As Oprah Winfrey says, “It means letting go of the hope that the past could have been different” and not giving power to the trauma to claim your true identity. So what does acceptance begin to look like? For me, moving into acceptance is unclenching my fists and releasing the burdens I was not meant to carry.
Moving into acceptance is lowering my arms and allowing the remnants of trauma I am still working through and the redemptive moments in life collide like an avalanche. As much as the pain can feel unbearable, the heartaches can keep us awake at night, the anger to want a reason for suffering can weigh heavy, I’m discovering that letting go of the hope that the past could have been different gives one momentum to get up each morning to reach out to community, help others, and to simply be even when things are messy. Because things will be messy when one is recovering from trauma and unburdening the pain since healing is giving witness to the grief.
When the grief presents itself, instead of it letting it overwhelm me and going into denial I now ground myself by saying to my grieving part, “I’m okay, you’re okay, I will let you have your say.”
Anorexia has a subtle way to fill one with the cynical, false belief that you need little to survive- little food, little community, little safety, little hope, little acknowledgement. But once you recover from an eating disorder and begin to unburden the trauma it was covering up, your authentic self begins to emerge. Calmness, clarity, curiosity, compassion, confidence, courage, creativity, and connectedness, these 8 C’s from internal family systems model (IFS), are in the stage of acceptance. Sometimes we won’t have answers for experiences we had to endure. Trusting our higher power, we keep our eyes fixed on what’s ahead, unburdening the past, dwelling in hope, and embracing the present. Acceptance to me is what we do with the pain. Yes, the people and things I advocate for are part of my story. I can’t deny that my past has allowed me a unique perspective and intensity to advocate for the very same things traumatic experiences take from others. Today, I am slowly unclenching my hands even with the messiness I am still working through.
In moving forward, you begin to notice the beauty around you to remain grounded. I believe these moments give you momentum to recover what was lost. Allow yourself to feel the stars shining on you even if those around you don’t experience them in the same depth. Bask in them. I am claiming my voice again through these experiences.
When I was in residential treatment, I couldn’t visualize where these life-giving memories would emerge. These moments include running the parking garages with my friend and feeling so alive and free to spend time with such a positive person and feeling my body supporting me.
When I sit with the uncomfortable feelings of a break up, I can now also see that my interaction with him allowed me to dream I could let someone in and feel belonged. When the toddler I nanny spontaneously embraces me, I allow the joyful tears run down my cheeks because I know how it feels to allow love in. Celebrating a friend’s birthday and seeing the wind blow out the candles prematurely and laughing uncontrollably–these are the moments that remind me that I am moving into acceptance and that the trauma cannot have power over my present life.
Yes, acknowledging and recovering from trauma can be painful and can make you feel exposed. This life can be incredibly messy especially when the unexplainable, tragic occurs. There is loss. There is grief. But there are also stars in that same darkness. And if you begin to embrace what you have right now, release the burdens of your past, dwell in hope, you will start to see the stars clearer. These stars include your loving community that sticks with you, Project Heal that is a family to so many in recovery, and your authentic self. YOU are a star shining in the darkness.
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.