Healing from trauma requires a certain degree of privilege

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In an ideal world, everyone would have access to the housing, food and essential health care that we deserve. But we also need resources to deal with trauma and loss or to get out of abusive situations so that we can begin the healing process. Mental health and the ability to find emotional and financial stability don’t just come from hard work. Much like telling someone to “cheer you up,” telling someone that it is their responsibility to mend themselves and find peace with their trauma is short-sighted and dismissive. Without support and systems that recognize inequalities in marginalized communities, people can no more heal their mental health problems than they can lift themselves out of poverty. Everyone should have the right to take care of themselves, but unfortunately it takes some privilege to heal from trauma.

I’m 42 years old and still dealing with the trauma of what I went through as a child. I was abused and exploited in many ways for most of my childhood. Although I am frustrated that I am not yet “on top” of it, I know that is not how change and progress work. My experiences have shaped my view of people and relationships; they also rewired my brain and created coping mechanisms to survive.

I will always be in some state of healing from my trauma and am so grateful for the lessons I have learned through many therapy sessions, breakdowns, and supportive conversations with people who love me unconditionally.

I have not come to this state of understanding and gratitude without a few opportunities that others may never see. I had the grades and the scholarships to leave my hometown; yes, i worked hard for everything i had, but my success was not in a vacuum. I have had coaches, teammates, teachers and family members who have kept me going. These people and the knack of understanding that I needed to move on and away from the people who hurt me pushed me to new people and to growth. I knew I had to leave, but I didn’t know I needed therapy until a group of new friends I met in college offered to meet someone.

I was unaware of the red flags that my emotions waved in response to finally being away from violent family members because red was just the color of my life. I had a lot of shit to deal with, connections to make, and work to do. Mental illness, depression and addiction seemed to be the price to pay for the physical safety of abusive family members. But therapy was a foreign word, dear and unrelated to me when I was 18.

The college I attended had free mental health services, so a friend made an appointment for me. Although this therapist did not work for me, they referred me to someone else; I saw her until I graduated from college and she knew what services I could ask for to make my sessions free. She helped me build a foundation of understanding to start the next phase of my healing.

After college I had a safe and supportive home to live with a partner who encouraged the therapy, medication, and time I needed to get better. I was not fighting external demons in addition to my internal demons. Year after year I have become somewhat healthier even with mental health issues and finding my way to sobriety and a life of recovery. None of this has been easy. But layers of privilege made it easier. My ability to heal and really deepen my trauma is not something that is accessible to everyone.

Let’s look at my last appointment with my therapist. We decided that today’s session would be a phone call while I went for a walk. Before I hung up I told her I would email her a photo of my insurance card to make sure she had the most recent information. I’ll send him a check to cover the quota.

I have a therapist I trust and want to talk to.

I had a safe choice between a video call or a phone call (which I didn’t have to hide from anyone) and chose the one that suited me best. (I also have a reliable car that I could have used to get to my appointment if we weren’t dealing with COVID-19 yet.)

My schedule is flexible enough to take an hour a day to talk to my therapist.

Even though I lost an hour of work, my financial security is intact.

I have financial security.

My body allowed me to move freely as I spoke, which relieved some anxiety that was present.

I have health insurance.

I have the money to cover the co-payment.

I have friends and a partner who support and encourage my relationship with my therapist.

These perks don’t take away from the severity of my issues, but they certainly make them more manageable. Healing can happen without having to choose or sacrifice other essentials in my life.

The trauma that happens to us is not our fault; Myself or other victims are never responsible for the loss or abuse we have suffered. It is not fair to also claim that it is the victim’s responsibility to become a survivor in full control of their mental well-being and stability. Healing from trauma can never be done without help, and not everyone has access to this help.

Healing is not linear – despite my desire on certain days to get my Trauma Completion Certificate – and it seems different to everyone. Memories, repressed emotions, and physical reactions that cannot be explained can ruin a day, a week, or an entire month. The relationships we have and the roles we experience can help us, but they also trigger old wounds.

We should never blame someone for not taking responsibility for their healing, especially if they are not in a position that allows and supports the unpredictable process of trauma to rise and fall. Too much has already been taken away from a traumatized person to expect them to take care of improving it on their own.


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