For years, I kept a ‘Serious Injuries List’ in my head, sort of like Raymond Babbitt in the movie Rain Man. In fact, once I started to realize that all the strange things I’d experienced in my childhood weren’t exactly normal, or even legal, I began to mentally document and categorize it all, as though by organizing the mess in my brain, I could straighten out my soul once and for good. Over time, the list grew long, longer, longest, and my pain expanded until it consumed pretty much everything.
Eventually, I found my way to therapy. I began to seek assistance from various sources, to reach out and share my story and, in the sharing, discovered I’d found a way to release some of the pent up shame, grief, and anger that had consumed me for so long. But I also slowly realized that, in order to heal and move forward, I would need to change the way my brain operated. I needed to stop going around in circles, reliving the trauma on a daily—sometimes hourly—basis.
So, how do you change your brain? That was the enigmatic question. Where do you begin? How do you go back and rewire the way your mind works, alter the familiar neural pathways it travels and the manner in which you process your past experiences, daily triggers, and everyday stresses? Is it even possible? With every fibre of my being, I believed it was, that I could heal myself. Everything I’d ever witnessed, read, or heard involving the mind, brain, body, and spirituality, quantum mechanics, psychology, trauma, fear, and healing pointed in that direction. It was like a giant spotlight shone down from the sky on this one simple idea: Learn. (Actually, my sign came in the form of one single white feather which fell from a clear summer sky and landed directly at my feet, but that happened a bit later. Like an exclamation mark.)
Learn. It seemed so obvious, almost easy, although I knew it wouldn’t be. By challenging my brain to learn new ideas, develop new processes, form new pathways and neural connections, and to push beyond its terribly traumatic comfort zone, I assumed I’d have no choice but to grow, change, evolve and, ultimately, heal. I knew it was time to take out my mental machete and blaze new trails in the forests of my mind. I understood that the old, familiar, thorn-laden paths were causing as much damage as any past experience I’d had. Because when we relive old trauma, our minds don’t understand that what we’re experiencing isn’t actually happening again, in present time. It thinks it is.
I took a chance and applied to university. Six months later, in psychology class, I learned the name of the theory I’d been clinging to like a life preserver. Neuroplasticity refers to the physiological ability of the brain to rewire itself through the pruning of neural pathways after physical trauma, a process which allows stronger, well-worn routes to persist while weaker, less travelled paths die off. I believe this must also be possible after psychological trauma.
In a writing workshop, I wrote my story for the first time and shared it with my instructor who encouraged me to share it with the world, so I did. Then I wrote it again and again, each time, adding more details, more layers, more truth until my story could stand on its own two feet. I wrote about each abuse, each perpetrator, each incident in my childhood that had made me doubt my beautiful heart and question my own worth until I’d built a life based on shame, guilt, fear, and ugly lies about myself. I wrote it all. First to remember, and then, to let go.
It has taken years to make even the slightest dent, but I continue to break down that cursed faulty foundation, piece by bloody piece. There is no alternative. It must be destroyed. Despite the dirt under my fingernails—the scratches on my cheeks and scars on my arms, bruised thighs, broken bones and muscles torn from trying to destroy these illusions in order to see the light of truth beyond—I can’t stop until it crumbles before my eyes. No, I won’t cease until it all comes tumbling down and lands in a pile of rubble at my feet.
As for the rest, for the moment at least, I’m done. I have finished telling that particular chapter in my story. That damn chapter, after all these years, hasn’t changed. But I have. There are so many other, better stories to tell, and I finally feel ready and able to tell them. A way has been cleared. New connections have been made. Healing is taking place at a slow and steady pace, and I can spend hours—days, even—without revisiting trauma. I feel like it’s time to leave that aspect of the past where it belongs. Time to burn the books, the ‘Serious Injuries List,’ the grievances. Time to stop being a victim, a survivor, and just be Arwen again. Because it’s over now. I broke the silence, and in the process, I set myself free.
Silence is an iron cage. I don’t live there anymore.
*This post first appeared on Living the Dream blog*