You can study something. You can teach something. You can lead others. But, until it happens to you, you will never truly know the profound impact trauma can have on your life.
Have you ever heard someone who is really tired say, “I feel like I got hit by a MACK truck.” Well, I do know what that feels like. In 2015, the last thing I saw before everything went white was a white moving truck barreling toward me while I was driving.
I broke my neck, had a mild Traumatic Brian Injury, and developed PTSD. I spent almost two years recovering physically, cognitively, and emotionally. I was an Executive Director of a small non-profit that helps survivors of domestic violence and a professor at USC. I moved from Sacramento to LA to follow my calling to do the healing work with the women and children at the shelter.
Literally, in a matter of seconds my life changed. I could have been paralyzed or dead, but I survived. I thought I was pretty good at getting through tough things in life up until then. But, this literally stopped my life in a way where I did not think I would ever recover from.
What I learned, going through treatment and therapy after my accident is that I have complex trauma. Complex trauma is when multiple traumas occur and compile on one another.
Several years prior to the car accident, I dealt with a deep betrayal from the person I loved since I was 17 years old. My now ex-husband was unfaithful for a long period of time and I did not know it. I was devastated and literally thought I was going to die from a broken heart. Not only did I feel emotionally damaged, but my body suffered as well. His unsafe behavior caused damage to my female organs- as Alice Walker states- “I too have an injury of patriarchy.”
I thought I survived that trauma really well. I went to therapy, yoga, massage, mani/pedi, shopping, hanging out with friends, walking my dogs, redecorating my house, and I worked two jobs. I was a pro at self-care or so I thought. What I realize now is that I was distracting myself from dealing with the pain. From the outside, I looked like everything was fine and I was going to be ok. But really, there was no amount of self-care that would heal my pain.
The accident forced me to slow down and deal with the complex trauma and develop an even larger empathy for the people I help professionally. Don’t get me wrong I still have a profound dedication to self-care, but now I get to actually enjoy all of these things instead of being on the run from the pain.
I am in a loving, committed relationship now. It is built on a realistic sense of trust and love without ownership. I am thankful to be fully human and alive.