Reclaiming Your Power After Trauma
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer” -Zora Neale Hurston. I am beginning to witness the fruit that bears from committing to eating disorder and PTSD recovery. I am a firm believer that life presents us with invitations. Sometimes we have to experience the same scenarios over and over again until we learn the lesson. However, each time we encounter the scenario, we gain a little more perspective, awareness, and readiness to acknowledge our actions and have courage to change if we allow ourselves. In the first few months of recovering from anorexia, my therapist asked me my greatest fear. My people pleaser part was filled with great embarrassment as my greatest fear went against every value. I nervously confessed, “I won’t have a flat stomach anymore.” This life-thwarting body part fixation manifested in childhood but I could never find its origin other than a superficial want or a symptom of poor body image. There was such an intense need for me to ‘sanitize’ certain aspects of my life due to my trauma. As a child, I sanitized through storytelling about my life to my friends. As an adult, I sanitized by thinking my worldly accomplishments would erase the trauma and for most of my life, I sanitized by attempting to reach an unhealthy body to compensate for my trauma.
In these two years of recovery, I have learned that a relapse is an opportunity to be still and notice internal and external cues without mitigating previous triumphant moments of recovery. A few months ago, I realized that my fantasy to obtain a flat stomach continued to stay with me. I justified it as looking for a way to have this goal without going back to anorexia. I was still holding on to this false belief that obtaining a flat stomach would sanitize me not look so broken despite my trauma. Again, sitting across the therapist, I confessed, “I’m still fantasizing about having a flat stomach that looked like the sick body when I suffered from anorexia.” I realized I had to lose the very thing I still wanted to experience true freedom and acceptance I needed to one day recover 100% from an eating disorder. She then asked, ‘What does your stomach represent?’ I addressed this body part represented imperfection, shame, discomfort, struggle, disgust, exposure, rejection…all these layers that encompassed my trauma and origin. In this “aha” moment I simultaneously experienced profound joy and stillness. The body part fixation lost power because it was just a somatic representation of my trauma and origin. There was stillness because I could no longer distract myself by holding on to this fantasy. I had to confront the bigger issue it was masking of healing the trauma. I forgave myself for all the times I told a story in my childhood to cover up the trauma. I realize my condition was so difficult for me to comprehend at a young age it was the only solution I could see to not be pitied. I forgave myself for the years of excruciating self-hatred and starvation because I wanted to change my look to suppress the trauma that I believed tainted me for life. I now look at my stomach and I have a neutral stance that is moving towards embracing it. Coming from a place of wrestling to embracing is a profound gift that I could only gift myself. I then wondered the reason it took me years to have this “aha moment” that was clarified 10 minutes before a therapy session ended. I then realized I wouldn’t have experienced such freedom of witnessing the truth if I hadn’t committed to the prior steps of recovery even when it was hard. When recovery wasn’t ‘sexy’, when recovery wasn’t affordable, when recovery required weight restoration, when recovery meant pausing from my career to restore my life. That ‘aha’ moment couldn’t have come before the other stages of my recovery because I wasn’t physically, mentally, or emotionally ready for it. No one could make the decision for me to go to residential treatment, to commit to recovery, to make trauma recovery a priority.
I exercised my power - my power of choice - even when I thought I lost my power a long time ago. I learned even when I was in survival mode all those years my power would show up. I am now beginning to see the freedom, abundance, and power that come from working through the trauma after eating disorder symptoms have ameliorated. Anyone struggling with an addiction can tell you what you do in the ‘already here’ moments when life presents challenges are what you will do in the ‘not yet’ future moments. I’m in the season now of learning to sit with my discomfort or sadness without restricting, over exercising, running to guys for validation, nor fantasying that trauma didn’t occur. I needed help ‘getting out of the basement’. I needed help ‘getting up from the bathroom floor’. I couldn’t get out of ‘the basement’ or up from ‘the bathroom floor’ that I experienced as a child because the body kept those memories to suppress. I kept re-enacting these scenarios many times even though from the outside I was in the present, which gave me the power of choice. Years of having an eating disorder makes one ignore his/her body signals of hunger. Relearning how to trust one’s gut feelings after numbing and ignoring them for years can be incredibly difficult. Along with intense therapy, hitting rock bottom, yoga has been a safe rock for me to hold space for all my parts-those anxious, sad, hopeful, curious. At the age of 24, by continuing my yoga practice, I finally feel connected and can recognize my own heart beat. Trauma survivors know it’s a gift to truly connect with your body for the first time. I truly believe your greatest struggle can produce your greatest strength if you allow it. I have committed to the long term goal of getting certified as a children’s yoga instructor to teach children healthy movement through yoga to self regulate instead of turning to life thwarting behaviors.
Where is your platform? With a society that is constantly bombarding us with an unrealistic body and life style, where can you exercise your power against this or for another cause? You can speak either life or life-thwarting energy. Sometimes we think we can only make a change in a large capacity instead of looking to make a change around us. In a recent children’s yoga training, I heard this beautiful phrase, “No better no worse, just different.” The next day in my work with children I noticed how I could incorporate this phrase into teaching about animals and how they do things differently. Specifically, that sea creatures may not brush their teeth like humans; but instead through a symbiotic relationship; shrimp clean fish’ teeth! By planting the seed of ‘no better, no worse, just different’ at a rudimentary level between fish and humans, I can transition this for teaching body differences with this phrase in mind.
My power lies in connecting with young children and in writing. Where does your power lie? Have you done your work in healing to begin to discover it? Dr. Judith Herman details in her book, “Trauma and Recovery”, the stages of recovery: 1. Safety 2. Remembrance and Mourning 3. Reconnection. I came to peace with trauma by realizing that trauma survivors have to pay too far great of a price to know what love DOESN’T look like, what safety DOESN’T look like, what fill in your own blank DOESN’T look like but that I can choose to move forward. I am now finally able to reconnect with my power. My vision is this from Oprah Winfrey describing power this way, “I want to be so full of myself that I am overflowing and I can share with others.” Spiritual leader Iyalana Vanzant’s words are the epitome of Project Heal, “I am not my sister’s keeper. I am my sister. When my sister hurts, I hurt. When my sister heals, I heal.” Project Heals helps so many people to reclaim their power. Who you are is strong enough to bear your pain and heal it. Your life is your medicine. There are resources out there to support you through your recovery. You can’t fast-forward your moments of redemption in life without bearing witness to the pain and healing trauma. You don’t need anyone’s validation of your experience. Whether you are in the years of asking questions or beginning to see answers, remember so much of life happens in those in between moments and what you learn in your present life invitations get you to those moments of clarity. Reach out for support, find a safe community, and practice reclaiming your power daily. You are worth living a redemptive, fulfilling life. Through your courage of action, you model others to do the same. Recovery is possible.
Rooting for you and the power within you, CC xo
I dedicate this blog to my sister, Josephine. When I count my blessings, I count you twice.
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.