Finding joy in life after a personal trauma or sexual assault can seem like an impossible task. Here, the trauma victim, author and human rights campaigner JH Morgan reveals the small steps that victims can take towards the road to recovery.
By JH Morgan
How do you find the carefree, happy, innocent person you used to be after a personal trauma? The quick answer is that you don’t. That person is gone. You may look the same, talk the same, even act the same, but deep down, something inside of you has died and will never come back. That innocent part of you that thought such acts inhumane depravity would never happen to you has to be mourned before you can start finding out who you are now and who you will become as you heal.
Going through the process of dealing with your trauma on both a psychological and emotional level is the first step in recovery – and it’s not fun. It’s definitely not for sissies. One of the things you’ll hear over and over again is that you need to forgive. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll fight against that with every fibre in your being. Why would you forgive the monster that took away a part of you? It’s not fair! And you’d be right. It’s not fair and they certainly don’t deserve your forgiveness. But what they deserve even less is one more moment of your thoughts or feelings. And that sounds impossible, because it often feels like it is. Allowing the bitterness and resentment that starts to boil under the surface to take control of your conscious thought allows them to continue to hold that power over you. It will affect every facet of your existence, leaving you feeling apart from the world around you and everyone in it.
Letting go of that bitterness and resentment does seem impossible and it took several years of counselling for me to realise that it’s not something that comes naturally. We are filled with righteous anger and we know we’re in the right, which just makes letting go of it so much harder. It doesn’t come naturally, because it’s not a feeling that we need to change, but rather an active, conscious decision we have to make. No spouse, therapist, counsellor or family member can make that decision for us. Only we have the power to do it. And one of the most important things I’ve learnt is that it’s not a decision you decide to make today and life is all roses and rainbows from here on in. It’s a decision we have to continue to make every single day. And some days, no matter how hard we try, that anger, resentment and bitterness will well up to a point where on that day, nothing we do is going to take it away. On those days, it’s so important that we are kind to ourselves. That we accept that we are human beings trying to do something superhuman. It’s okay to take a step back every now and then and wallow, so long as we don’t get stuck back in that place. Those responsible don’t deserve to take away your right to happiness, and more than that, you don’t deserve to be unhappy.
Finding happiness after trauma isn’t some switch that just clicks on one day, it’s a series of small, seemingly unimportant moments that happen every day. The first time you laugh at a pet doing something silly. The first time you look in the mirror and are happy with what you see. The first time you go out and enjoy yourself instead of feeling forced to participate. No one is expecting you to move mountains, (and if they do, then they don’t get a say in your journey back to happiness), you get to move at your pace, so long as you keep moving in the right direction. Take the time you need to process, to grieve, to get up, dust yourself off and move forward once more.
Learn to appreciate the little things that happen, because they more than anything else make up the good that comes into your life. You need to balance the scales that have been so cruelly upended in your life. Whilst taking away your joy was someone else’s decision, taking it back or at least finding a new version is up to you. You can’t take back what happened. You can, however hard or impossible it seems, learn to live with it. To allow it to be a part of you without defining you. No one wants to be that person who went through that awful experience, no one wants to have to live with it. But since we’re in that boat now, it’s time to plug up the holes, raise our sails and point ourselves in the direction we want to go, because no one can do that for us. No amount of support or therapy will take that step for you. It’s yours to take. Just like it’s your own happiness you deserve to keep.
Don’t let trauma steal your joy. Find something to be joyful about every day and eventually you’ll look back and realise you found yourself all over again.
JH Morgan, a mother-of-three, lives in Swaziland. Her latest novel, The Long Road Home, a work of contemporary women’s fiction, provides an honest and unflinching representation of what being a survivor of trauma really feels like. It draws on her own life experiences, which include a horrific attack when she was just 14. The Long Road Home by JH Morgan is out now on Amazon UK priced £14.16 as a paperback and £4.74 as an eBook. Further information about JH Morgan can be found on her website, here.