I have been taking this amazing class for the last three weeks. It ended last week. That left me feeling a little empty. I felt connected with the class and was so grateful for all I learned. It was a class to become certified as a Peer Recovery Specialist. According to Tennessee’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services website, https://www.tn.gov/behavioral-health/mental-health-services/cprs/peer-recovery-services/certified-peer-recovery-specialist-program.html, the definition is as follows: a person who has lived experience of a mental illness, substance use disorder or co-occurring disorder, who has made the journey from illness to wellness, and who now wishes to help others. Being a trauma survivor and surviving years of anxiety gives me lived experiences to work with others who feel as though I can relate to their struggles.
Throughout the class, we would occassionally share bits and pieces of our stories. Each person in the class brought such unique gifts. I believe we were a pretty special class. On the second to last day, we all took turns sharing our story from beginning to end. We did not sit around and mope about the struggles in our lives. We each told a story of suffering that led to amazing hope and transformation. We briefly spoke of our bad experiences, but turned it around to show how we all became survivors of what life handed to us. While it was an emotionally draining day, I was so encourged by how resilient people are. And one thing that seemed to be universal, was that when the skeletons are let out of the closet, healing can begin. I have released my skeletons, but not for the whole world. So, here goes.
As a survivor of childhood sexual trauma, my control was taken from me at an early age. As I got older, anxiety set in. I was afraid of things beyond my control. I was up all night with an upset stomach and was distracted in class. There were so many times I felt like I was floating towards the ceiling and watching everything around me. At the time, my toolbox of coping skills was empty. I didn’t know grounding tools to help with the dissociation. I was stuck. Not sleeping led to depression. I either could barely eat or I couldn’t stop eating. I hated my body, I hated that I couldn’t concentrate in class, I hated that I felt isolated from friends because of my anxiety, and mostly, I hated myself.
My anxiety lasted from my third year in college (1993) until May, 2015. What changed? While I had talked a little about my childhood trauma, it still felt like a skeleton. The day I became single, was the day I found the strength to let my voice ROAR. Silence, no more. For me, staying silent meant staying a victim. That day, I did the Linda Carter spin and Wonder Woman was born. I took care of myself. I built a support network that was amazing and didn’t judge me. When I felt myself getting down, I used the tools my therapist gave me to get through. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t an easy road. I fell down a lot. It took another year and a half to start recovering from the depression and really thinking I am worthy of amazing things. I love what I see in the mirror each day. Some days I would like a little fewer rolls, or maybe a little extra time to get myself organized, but all in all, I look in the mirror and I am that little girl that used to run around in those awesome Wonder Woman underoos with so much confidence. I was always her. I just forgot.
Recently, I had someone ask why the hell I would have gotten such a big tattoo for my first one. It’s a reminder to never forget that confident little Wonder Girl who would grow up to be a powerful Wonder Woman and would change the world of some people for the better.
My road to recovery is unique. Just as anyone else’s journey is unique. My experiences will be different than yours. But we can all find ways to relate to one another. I would love to encourage anyone who would like to share their stories to please do so. I would love to hear the amazing things you have to offer. To hear about your amazing strength. And if you aren’t ready to share your story, know that there is nothing wrong with that. Again, this is your own journey. When you’re ready, your path will be paved for you.
“The strength of my soul was born on the backs of moments that brought me to my knees.” S. L. Heaton