It was very important to me to have a life I chose and didn’t settle for. People tend to think that my life changed dramatically due to cancer, but that wasn’t the case. All my life I have strived to be better and to do that I had to be strategic. People couldn’t see my success in the process because it was really small and took a long time. My quest to better myself has been a very long, and exhausting battle with constant hurdles. It’s hard to get back up after one or three major life events, but how do you get up without help, without love, without money, when you have had ten major traumas? How do you do it and not be bitter and angry? How do you learn to stop feeling entitled? How do you maintain motivation when you seem to keep losing? How do you stay focused when your emotions are a total mess? This is the other side of what trauma does. This is the black void people don’t speak of because we’re told to just ‘figure it out,’ and are taught to be ashamed if we don’t. It’s a different type of cancer. The malignancy of trauma aftermath spreads over your entire brain consuming your memories, increasing your fears, testing your anxiety and crushing your self-worth. Most people’s goal isn’t to overcome the power of trauma, it’s just to not be ruined by it.
I think it takes a village to get to adequacy, especially without a support system. That said, I thought it was important to create one. Real strength isn’t getting through trauma, it’s overcoming it. To do that I think you have to build resiliency. What I’ve been doing so far is compiling my own book of solutions. The first thing I’ve had to do that’s been effective is thinking of what kind of person I want to be and what kind I would be proud of being. This was initially hard for me to do since the idea is good, but, it’s easy to lose focus. New neuroscience research has discovered Adverse Childhood Experiences impact brain development. This is why those who’ve experienced it are violent, bullies, have ADHD or other ‘behavioral’ issues. This is why focusing on what your best self would look like and actually achieve that seems worlds apart. So, I would create lists of qualities I wanted to possess and leave them around my home, use them as book marks, put them in my car visor, or anywhere I’d see it. I wouldn’t share them with people, it was mainly for me to stay focused. Each night I would ask myself how I worked toward those goals that day and I’d list the ways I did that until it became a habit that was in the front of my mind. One thing I wanted was to be a good friend to people. To do that I wanted to celebrate their successes, help them work through problems, not judge them, and not have my cell phone out when I was with them. I also wanted to be loyal and make time for them. Sometimes I am not so great at this and other times I’m better, but I am always trying. At the end of each year I do a comparison of how I was the previous year then rate how happy or fulfilled I am and ask them as well. I do this with different areas of my life until it’s second nature to me.
I’ve also changed my mentality when I approach a set-back. Instead of getting lost and overwhelmed, I look at each set-back as a small roadblock and I create a plan A and B to overcome it. I also realized I am not entitled to anything. If you don’t believe that look at people in developing countries who don’t have running water or food. My poverty is mainly relative. If you spend the time focused on what you believe you are ‘owed’ then you won’t make any progress nor will you ever be able to let go of the trauma. You’ll always be too scared to take risks or make mistakes. I am ok with being the worst at things for a while, as long as I can do better. Eventually, you’ll find that people start coming to you for advice and help. To me that means I’m improving and motivates me to keep learning. I hate the idea of being so hurt I’d rather be invisible. Sometimes I need rest or I’ll isolate myself to figure things out, but, I have to force myself back out there sometimes.
I believe people are far less tolerant and accepting of others than they admit. I find people say ‘I’m harder on myself than I am other people.’ I don’t think that’s true. I think they tend to rationalize things from the other person’s perspective, but in the end, if that trust has been damaged it’ll likely remain that way. I find we tend to think the actions of others are malicious. If you’ve had trauma you learn to distrust easily and remain skeptical. It took me a while to realize that we all have our own problems and most of the time the situations aren’t that serious. People are instinctively selfish. I had to learn how to live on my own terms and find fulfillment in my life so I didn’t rely on someone else to fulfill me. I tend to look at people as more of an accessory instead of a staple. They are great to have around and can make my life more rich and beautiful, but I can’t force them to constantly light up my room. They need their own light too. People that force others under their thumbs are generally insecure and that’s where things get toxic because those people will eventually make you insecure too. Seeing them for who they are is just as important as us seeing ourselves for who we are.
Still, we tend to adopt the habit of people we surround ourselves with. We believe if they don’t love us there must be something wrong with us. Sometimes I think that is the fact. We just are too selfish or caught up in our own world that we can’t make room for anyone else. One thing I didn’t do for a long time was consider the source of who wasn’t loving me or who was toxic. Instead, I’d take it as face value and put it as another check on my list to confirm I was the defective one. Bad things kept happening to me so frequently I had lost faith in everything, even God. I truly felt hopeless. I knew I wasn’t a winner in life and that kind of weakness and vulnerability made me feel like I had no choice but to settle for anything that was given to me no matter the source, which in turn, repeated the toxic cycle. But I was determined not to remain that way or end up like that so I’d read and try anything I could find to better understanding of my situation and how I could cope or overcome it.
One of the best things I’ve ever heard was from some random book I read, that I can’t even remember the name of. It was about the debate if prayer really cured people who were dying in hospitals. So some hospital decided to do an experiment to see if prayer worked at all. They divided people into two groups; one was prayed for, one wasn’t. The results showed that it didn’t seem to make a difference. Their ploy was to say prayer is pointless. They took this study to a member of a church to get their feedback or reaction and the priest or Rabi said,”God’s job is not to make sick people healthy. That’s the doctors’ job. God’s job is to make sick people brave.” That was a very profound moment for me. It made me look at my expectations and re-evaluate them. God may not give me everything I need because God isn’t a genie, so I can’t expect other people to give me everything I need either. Evaluating my exceptions of friendships, relationships, work and myself is ultimately what changed me. It also made me realize how bad my life and situations were and that most people didn’t go through what I was going through so I had to learn compassion for myself and for them. Regardless, learning about expectations made my challenges feel easier to deal with since I had to examine what was reasonable for me to handle and what wasn’t. It was my first true epiphany in turning my pain around to push me farther in both my healing and my goals. Rebuilding neurons and your life is incredibly hard and takes a very long time. Unless you truly look at all the areas you have to work on to be successful, you’ll always think you’re failing at it because your expectation is it shouldn’t take a long time, or you should be able to overcome tragedy alone, or it only takes xxx time to grieve. Everyday will be exhausting if you let it and every person will be working against you if you allow yourself to remain powerless against agony.
Being brave to me is admitting I can’t do something alone, apologizing, practicing patience, setting realistic expectations, and trying a different method to be successful so I can be my own surgeon and cut out my own tumor of tragedy before it takes over my entire life. That’s why I think it’s so important to create your own type of support system filled with self- acceptance, self-compassion, coping skills, patience, discipline, and the ability to rationalize. It’s so we can hold that scalpel steady when we cut that cancer out and ensure we don’t bleed out in the process. Once I had seen things for what they were, I realized it’s never about the problem, it’s the approach and how you’re caring for the process while you fix it, that makes the difference.