Black and White and Shades of Grey
I’m in a really, really good space right now. Last year, and even portions of earlier this year, was just such a doozie for me. I honestly wasn’t sure how, or if, I would recover. But sometimes those are the exact circumstances wherein you find out what you’re made of.
I felt broken for much of it, and I think that was appropriate. But it’s in the recovery that I’ve found out things are not always as bleak as they might look. I have bounced back astonishingly fast – a new record for me, really. And through it all, even when things were utter, complete chaos and awfulness, I wasn’t suicidal or even tempted to self-harm. That’s actually a bona fide miracle.
So if you stumbled across my blog looking for hope, please hear me say this: there is hope. No matter what you’re going through, you can get through it and you can come to a place of peace. You can get to the point where you enjoy your life and even when you experience hard things (as we all do), you can get through it without reverting back to old patterns.
Anyway. I touched on this on my Facebook wall the other day, but I’m going to go back to this again: I’ve been thinking recently about the black and white thinking that can sometimes go hand in hand with being a trauma survivor. Namely, my tendency to want to label and categorize people. Those who have been severely wounded tend to want to divide people into the category of safe and unsafe.
I know I do this because it helps me feel more in control of things that I don’t really have control of if I were being honest. It makes me feel smarter about who I should let in, and who I should shut out of my life. And I put people into these boxes in my mind based on evidence that – in all actuality – can be a bit arbitrary.
Speaking for myself as a trauma survivor, my idea of safe means “unlikely to hurt me.” And unsafe means “likely (or guaranteed, given enough time) to hurt me.” But that’s a problem. Because human beings are human beings. We all have the potential to hurt one another, and we all really do hurt each other sometimes.
Now, quite a lot of people – abusers and toxic people excluded – have really good intentions. When they do hurt someone else, they didn’t mean to, and when they find out about it, they’re sorry. If they’re mature enough, they will take responsibility for their mistake, apologize, and do their best to make amends. They will not ignore, dismiss, deny, or deflect the issue.
I haven’t traditionally thought of myself as someone who is prone to black and white thinking, but situations over the past year have led me to face the fact that I do think this way more often than I realized. There are people who I truly believed would never hurt me, could never do anything wrong, would never make a mistake…were perfect, essentially…who inevitably fell off the pedestal I’d put them on, and it hurt.
There are fewer things more painful than a shattered illusion. Gloria Steinem is rumored to have said “A pedestal is as much a prison as any small space.” I would tend to agree.
So I am learning to take people down off the lonely pedestal of unrealistic expectations, give them a hug, and set them free. Everyone needs the grace to be what they are: human.
People are people. We all have the capacity to hurt each other. It doesn’t necessarily mean someone is unsafe. It means they are human. I wonder how many genuinely good people I’ve passed up or rejected for friendship, because of a very human tendency to make forgivable mistakes.**
People’s characters are also fluid, not rigid. I personally am a generally safe person, after having learned over the years what that is and how to be one. But like anyone else, when I’m under extreme stress, or sick, or injured, or sleep-deprived, or emotionally drained, or in an unusual situation, or etc, I also have the ability to lash out. It’s not my intention to, and it’s not what’s in my heart. I’d be genuinely remorseful if I did do that. But the capability is still there.
So that’s what I’ve been pondering lately. It’s been good.
I’m taking a break from sessions, because I honestly don’t feel like I need any right now. I feel peaceful. I feel stable. I am definitely still a multiple – and I don’t dislike that about myself. I don’t feel ‘broken’ – at least not in the way that I did in prior years. There are people who ascribe to the idea that others have one solid personality, and multiples are people who have had that personality ‘broken’ into pieces.
But I am not one of those people. I have outgrown the need to look to other people to tell me whether I am healthy or well, because I’m learning what healthy and well means to me personally. I am not “recovered” from all the trauma; I have not “arrived.” But right now I am stable and I am content, and that’s more than enough for me. I enjoy my life.
I look forward to things in the future. I do still have ups and downs – like anyone – but I don’t feel shaken to my core by them and I don’t get suicidal or immediately try to self-destruct. To me, this is health. This is wellness. The fact that I can just live and not let every little thing knock me around, is evidence of immense growth.
I no longer feel the need to let others evaluate me (or evaluate myself) in terms of brokenness or fixed-ness, because I don’t even think viewing people through that lens is useful.
I am indescribably grateful to all of the people who have contributed to me arriving at this place in my life. If you’d told me 10 or 5 or even 3 years ago that I’d make it to this point, I’d have laughed in your face. But here I am. Some days I can’t believe it.
Anyhow, if you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, I invite you to do so. I’m going to be sending some updates to my subscribers about some projects I’m working on. And I’ll be wrapping up the series on trauma and attachment on the Beauty After Bruises blog shortly – most likely early next week.