“Trauma doesn’t result in growth!” you might protest. “Trauma results in stress and distress and ruined lives. For goodness sake we even have a disorder named after it: PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. Come on, Celenia! Get real. ‘Growth?’ Yeah, right.”
And that’s a perfectly understandable response. Trauma is naturally associated with something catastrophic, something people are not expected to ever recover from – at least not without being changed in some fundamentally negative way. And yes, this can and often is true in the aftermath of trauma.
But it doesn’t have to stay true.
How many stories have we heard of people overcoming “incredible odds,” and coming back from dire circumstances, achieving things they never imagined themselves achieving before their trauma? Seemingly out of nowhere, survivors of trauma discover they have some “fight” in them, that the will to persevere is actually quite strong. Who knew? They’re usually the ones who are most surprised by their newfound “oomph.”
This discovery is part of the post-traumatic growth process. It’s not clear whether these individuals had a personality predisposition, a positivity, or an inner resilience to begin with. Something that had always been there, even prior to the trauma. OR, whether it’s something that surfaces because of the traumatic experience, like a switch suddenly being turned on.
I don’t know that it matters.
Here’s what’s important to take in: post-traumatic growth is always a possibility. Always. Shit happens, and sometimes it’s truly catastrophic. The kind of shit we wouldn’t reasonably expect anyone to recover from. The kind of shit that could kills us, either literally, or at least kill our spirit and will to live.
Sadly, many of us buy into the belief and live up to the expectation that we’re going to be broken from this day forward. I did for quite a while. People kept telling me there wasn’t a worse loss than the loss of one’s child, and I believed them! I bought into the expectation that I would forever be the tragic, pitiful echo of the person I was before Julian died.
Well, screw that.
To be honest, I don’t know where the “screw that” attitude came from. I had not been a “screw that” kind of person before. I may have attended some marches in my youth, protesting this and that, but I was pretty much a person who let life happen to her. I wasn’t a fighter. In fact, I abandoned an entire career (law) because I didn’t believe I had that fight in me.
When my son chose to leave this life by suicide, something inside of me snapped. Yes, in that tragic, wretched way, AND in an eye-opening, heart-expanding, get-off-your-ass imperative way as well. That’s one way that post-traumatic growth can show up. It’s cloaked in defiance, but if you dig deeper you see that there is learning happening, an acquisition and application of wisdom from the experience/trauma lived and survived.
I can’t explain all the ins and outs of it; I’m just here to say that post-traumatic growth is a real thing and a real possibility. So aim towards that. What have you got to lose other than your legitimately sad, mournful and victim self?