Trauma & Strength

People rarely tell you how long it’ll last or the deep impacts it has on the mind, body and soul.

I had to ask my neighbours to buy me new disposable face masks because the ones I had in the flat smelled of smoke. I’d washed the reusable ones, but the result of the fire in the building had ingrained everything with the stench of smoke that only became apparent when I was outside. I’d had another panic attack in the queue at the shop buying groceries, the smell bringing me back to the night of the fire, the fear I’d felt. It’s only been a couple of weeks so it’s understandable to still be processing these emotions. It’ll take time to heal.

When it comes to dealing with life’s problems, I try to deal with it head on. I’m good at problem solving, looking at the bigger picture and finding the best solutions. Up until a few years ago, I was the person people turned to when they had dilemmas, that got exhausting, and I decided to concentrate on my own healing. Why? I’d spend hours asking them what they wanted, their aims, why they started a particular course of action and all of the other questions so that together we’d come up with a working solution. I realised that my problems though were harder, since the wonderful people in my life had no comprehension of what I was needing or going through. Just as the fire on Christmas, there is an allowed time in which we as people who have gone through an unusual and horrible event, are given to deal with the situation. After that, we are to go on as normal, be positive even.

Like all emotions, we have multiple ones in a given day, heck, a given hour or even less. One minute you can be laughing jubilantly until your sides hurt and the next, filled with melancholy so deep you fear for your soul. All are valid feelings that don’t counteract each other, and we should recognise this. The issue with trauma is that you never know when something will trigger the memory and you are back in that moment, reliving the event. It can be a smell, situation, colour, action of someone or something completely unrelated but the cascade of the emotions and fear can become unbearable. Left unchecked these intrusive thoughts and feelings take over your life and you have to yet again, learn to heal from them. The worst part though is that the window you were given to deal with it has now passed and people think you should be over it and move on.

Other people’s reactions can thus add to the initial trauma, because what you went through is invalidated. They weren’t there when it happened, but they will happily tell you that your memory is wrong, that you are wrong and provide excuses or their reasons for why it can’t have happened the way it did. As such, you might try to rationalise it, even take on the others’ narrative which is at odds with your own lived in experience of the traumatic event. This however will break you.

It broke me. I’d spent years compartmentalising everything so that I could function and thrive. Everything was great, as long as I kept the lid tightly shut on all of the bad stuff that had happened. But a few years ago, it all started to unravel. My neatly placed coping mechanisms started to come undone until I had no choice but to take time out to heal. People rarely tell you that trauma actually affects your DNA. Undecided about children, I wanted to ensure that should I ever have them, I’d not be passing this onto them.

When I was a child I’d begged my bio-mum to take me to meet my bio-dad. I would take any opportunity I had to moan to her, and each time she’d say no because my dad was a horrible person. This meant nothing to me as a child because how could a parent be horrible, they looked after you. I was so excited when she gave in and we set off on the bus to meet him and his family. It was such a great day for me. He was everything that I could imagine and more. I was so happy that my family had grown. As we set off to leave, my bio-dad kicked my bio-mum out of the house and said he was keeping me. I was being kidnapped, and my mother couldn’t do anything about it. Women and girls were owned at that time in Rwanda by the men in their lives. My bio-dad didn’t actually want me, he just didn’t want my mum to have me. He spent over three years having me moved to make sure that she couldn’t find me. Horrible was an understatement.

The events after I met my bio-dad have added to my trauma, but this one is easier to speak of as I ease into sharing. With the news that Trump was breaking kids away from their families in the USA among other atrocities, I was forced to relive my own forced separation from my bio-mum. I recently wrote an email to my adoptive real parents explaining that the kidnappings were affecting me, and they dismissed it. They said it may have felt like that, but I was fostered rather than kidnapped. A matter of semantics one could say. I disagree.

I can see from their perspective, because when they found me, I was indeed being fostered by a family who were friends with or at least knew my bio-dad. For them, fostering makes for a cleaner narrative. One of the reasons I kept being moved was because my bio-mum would find me. The problem with trauma, is that it sneaks back into your life, demands to be addressed and dealt with. Having to relive my past experiences, I now wont have someone else, who wasn’t there, invalidate what I went through. I also fear for the poor children who’ve been separated and caged, because that trauma will stay with them their entire lives.

Thanks to the awful Trump administration, I was triggered and forced to take time out to heal. Just as I was told that it wasn’t kidnapping, we are told that the Trump supporters who attacked USA on the 6th January 2021 were protesting, rather than calling them out on being domestic terrorists. Words have power, it’s not just semantics.

We can’t deny the facts of real events. We can’t ignore them, or hide from them because it will always seep out. The repercussions of not addressing or even downplaying them have far reaching consequences. Trauma for me, is something I’m overcoming everyday, but with time, it has less of an impact. I’m learning to trust and not be ashamed of my past. I’m learning how not to just please others, but put my own needs first. I’m taking the time to accept what can’t be changed, but rather than feel powerless, I want to understand how to be powerful in myself. I’m learning to protect myself and that I have a voice.

I’m one of the lucky ones, I have the resources to heal, Kintsugi if you will. By embracing my imperfections, flaws and letting go of the notion that I am damaged because of hardship, I accept that I am stronger. I have hope.

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