I’ve learned over the past few years that self-care is a critical part of recovery after trauma. I used to relate the term ‘self-care’ to taking a bath, drinking tea in my PJs, a nap, etc. But the reality is that PTSD sufferers view self-care as so much more than feeling warm and fuzzy. Sometimes it’s staying in bed all day in fetal position. Sometimes it’s dragging yourself to therapy because you’re afraid if you don’t you’ll plunge further into darkness. Or it’s allowing yourself a day to do nothing except cry and feel like shit. Whatever works to keep you alive another day is self-care for those of us with this misunderstood and debilitating brain injury.

What I never thought but certainly learned the hard way is that for many of us, self-care means disconnecting from family members who refuse to embrace our imperfections, who refuse to believe us or respect our feelings. Toxic family members are the trauma survivor’s biggest challenge. And I’ve finally learned after three years of therapy that its better to let go and move on without them. That’s the choice I’ve had to make and at this point there’s no turning back. I’ve cut the cord.

I wish I could say it feels good, but the truth is it’s excruciating. I love these people. My life has been all about these people. Do I hope someday we can reconcile? Absolutely. Do I think that day will come? I seriously doubt it. Although I’ll always carry a degree of hope, I know people are stubborn by nature and the odds of a reunion are slim to none.

I have an open heart. It was that heart that put me in a violent marriage. It was that heart that trusted my family would hold me close, learn the truth about my hidden years as a battered wife and carry me until I could walk on my own again. My heart was open like a gaping wound when my family threw salt in it by appearing in court to defend the man who tried to kill me. I fight on a daily basis to keep an open heart, but I’m not naive anymore. I’ll always be hypervigilant and overly cautious about the people I allow into my life but I refuse to close my heart entirely. I have so much love inside me and I’ll work hard to establish trusting relationships with those I allow inside.

But my life is mine alone. Going forward, I will have relationships with family and friends only on my terms.

  • No judgment – You were not the crime victim, you couldn’t possibly know how it feels to be face-to-face with death at the hands of your partner
  • Validation – Listen and believe. You may never understand but if you doubt the validity of my pain then there’s no room for you in my space.
  • Unconditional love – Love me enough to believe in my goodness. Don’t allow outsiders to manipulate facts or your opinion of me.

These are my terms and also the terms by which I will treat others who have the balls to put aside their defensiveness and reach out in reconciliation.

I’m not holding my breath though. Instead, I’m living, loving and creating. My trauma and family dysfunction no longer define me. My self-care regimen will be to grow and learn and love myself in spite of the negativity I lived in the past. I’m at peace.

Lily Bell

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