Trauma to Self-Discovery

Empower yourself to rebuild connections, trust, and communication.

I’ve got a pretty good memory, so I remember - sometimes with a level of detail that even surprises me – many of the clients I have worked with in my career. I know I have helped many, but I also know that most clients, in the end, help themselves. THEY are ones that do the hard work and make changes in their lives that are truly inspiring.

One client in particular comes to mind quite often. She is, for me, a perfect example of perseverance and dedication to self-discovery.

Her backstory was heartbreaking. She had joined the military as an overseas reporter right out of high school, but was discharged after a short tour. What she saw on her tour was horrific. Afterwards she returned to the U.S., got married young, and then divorced after only a few years. Her ex had been abusive, but somehow she found the strength to get out of the relationship.

But things didn’t improve. She had a difficult time finding a job, wasn’t making much money, and had to move back in with her mother. She was depressed, dark, confused, and despondent. She was anxious to the point that, other than just-barely showing up for her job as a short-order cook at a local diner, she was hardly functioning.

That’s when she called Foundations, and she and I set up a meeting.

In the first session she was able to articulate that, to use her language, her life had “fallen apart.” What she didn’t know was why, and she didn’t know how to get it back on track.

This is where our work began. We initially met twice a week. Almost immediately it became very clear to me that this client was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Not from her military experience, as you might think, but rather from the abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband that she hadn’t processed.

Initially our work together focused on helping her understand that you CAN recover from abuse and a bad marriage. You can move forward, making better, more informed, and healthier choices.

One model I immediately put to use in session was one outlined in Dr. Bruce Fisher’s book, Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends. Fisher’s approach follows closely the five stages of grief outlined by Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. Over many sessions my client came to understand that she was carrying around a lot of grief fro the abuse and trauma she suffered in her marriage. Why had she made this choice? Was she somehow to blame? If she had made this particularly bad, and potentially life threatening choice, could she be trusted to make any others decisions?

Fearing betrayal of her own decision making, the client had closed herself off from just about everyone. She had no friends, no real connections, and no support system. Her healing needed to begin by establishing a healing (non-romantic) relationship, one that was safe both physically and emotionally.

Next we worked on what I call “remembrance,” which is walking through the grief process to mourn the loss of her marriage, a process she had never done.

From there we worked on reconnection: with herself, with old friends and family, and ultimately with her larger community and beyond.

This wasn’t easy work. It took about three years and was painful and emotionally raw at times. Recovering from trauma, in whatever form it takes, can be grueling. But slowly and gradually, things started to shift. Our work centered around connection and communication, decision-making skills, trust, and, perhaps most importantly, empowerment. This client needed to learn to trust herself before she could connect and move beyond her past. She needed to mourn, grieve, and forgive herself.

As she regained her strength, she started connecting with her own life and making healthy and positive choices. She moved into her own place, got a new job, and went back to school.

I haven’t worked with this client in many years, but every now and again I will hear from her. She likes to “check in” and sometimes uses me as a sounding board for big decisions in her life. When I heard from her last, she had finished law school and had gotten engaged. She described her soon-to-be husband to me and I asked a few questions. But, to be honest, I wasn’t too worried. I knew she now had the skills, self-awareness, and self-worth needed to discern whether this man was who she wanted to share her life with. She wasn’t repeating old patterns; she was making decisions based on HER needs, consciously and with eyes wide open.

Abuse, of course, is a most heinous type of trauma. And trust me, going through a divorce can quite often be a type of trauma. But it’s important to remember that recovering from trauma is possible. It is a process, but you can heal and rebuild your life.

Call Foundations Counseling today to get started down the path to YOUR recovery.