If you’ve followed my blogs, you are likely familiar with my backstory. Unhappily successful executive desperately wants to jump off the rapidly racing treadmill, is too afraid, and literally and figuratively gets run off the road in a life-threatening, life-altering blink-of-an-eye moment. Wakes up, literally and figuratively, to a new reality of re-learning how to move more step-wise through life in search of restoration and revitalization.
That’s pretty much the skinny. So, why am I rehashing this again?
Because it has been 10 years since the traumatic event that launched me onto this part of my life’s journey. I mark this milestone as the rebirth of my authentic self. And, truly, it has taken the entirety of that decade to really gain a more profound perspective about this phase of my path.
The key to gaining my well-being was getting myself unstuck in order to find my way forward. So, in honor of that process and progress, I want to share what I have learned about getting out of my own way. My hope is that my story helps others who also want to be on their own way after a traumatic event.
And, here is the short story.
After any type of trauma we can become mired in a mental morass that may keep us from moving forward. When we can free ourselves from the muck by re-focusing from the life-altering to the life-affirming, we can shift from surviving to thriving and find our own sense of optimal well-being.
So, let’s talk about that.
Trauma affects us on all three levels of our existence: mind, body and spirit. It rocks our whole being and upends how we know to be in the world. With physical trauma, modern medicine has rendered many miracles, of which I am one. Yet, when we experience a traumatic illness or injury, it challenges the very definition of clinical recovery — returning to our former state of health and functionality.
We contend with acute and chronic changes to our physical state; such as functional limitations; our emotional state, including a sense of loss, fear, anger, stress and anxiety; and our spiritual state, including questions about the very purpose of our existence. And, we may feel challenged about how to integrate these changes into our very core essence.
These are the things I have experienced in my own personal journey. I have also learned they are a commonly shared experience calling for recognition and research in the clinical community in order to better support those who have survived traumatic illness and injury.
When we experience a trauma, we often see our lives as before and after. The thing that happened could be my story if I stopped there. An ending to what I saw as my life before. We see this with folks who define their sense of self by their condition long after the thing that happened.
Moving a step beyond, we can also become mired down in the longer-term aftermath, stopping at the sense of surviving. What I wanted was to move beyond these first two stages to a sense of thriving. And, it was the thing that happened that pushed me off that perpetual treadmill propelling onto a new trajectory to get unstuck from the muck.
Please understand, while I perceived this perspective early on in my mind, it hasn’t been simply a flip-of-a-switch, but rather a lot of work rewiring into the deep recesses of my being that formerly framed how I lived my life. For me, that part of my journey has taken me nearly a decade of delving deeper into self-care, self-love, and self-acceptance, to truly let it seep down to the level of my soul.
Getting Stuck in the Surviving Stage.
Because, initially, I didn’t know how to be in my new world, I kept trying to retreat into the old by holding onto my former ways to be who I thought I should be. So, I tried to wrap myself in a super hero cape and carry on. In reality, I was trying to fly with a false security blanket that was not keeping me safe. On the surface I projected a sense of being fine. Sitting just slightly below the surface was a swirling storm of disordered emotions holding back my healing. Here’s just a sample:
Not fully accepting what had happened and what I needed to happen to support my healing: I would push too hard and too fast to be “before Ellen” and the Universe pushed back delaying my healing through several setbacks. “I don’t have time for this. I need to get back to work.”
A sense of cheating death and potential doom. When every doctor ever looks at my medical history it goes like this: Looks at chart. Looks at me. Looks at chart again. Looks at me in stunned disbelief. Then, says, “Wow! No one usually survives and/or walks away from that.” Me to self: “Whoa! What the heck? That’s a heavy load and that’s scary.”
Which leads to guilt. I did not feel I deserved to fully experience my feelings about loss and fear. “Why me and not others? Others have it worse. I should be grateful and not complain.”
Then, existential pressure. I felt like I had been given the gift of a do-over and wanted to get it right. As an over achiever, I handled this like a burden not wanting to mess it up, rather than seeing that experience as a blessing. “Why did I survive? What am I meant to do?” I must make this meaningful.”
So… I just totally disconnected. My emotions were too messy and scary and I didn’t have the skills to know how to process them. I also did not understand they were part of the package.
I thought I was giving off the vibe of “I’m fine. Really. I am sincerely grateful for what I have and just want to move forward.” However, I learned that I was actually giving off the vibe of numbing out. Rather than dealing with the mental and spiritual aspects of what happened, I was creating further distress by divorcing myself from what I felt. Because what I felt about what happened was scary and I was the girl who stood on her own two feet.
By focusing solely on my physical needs while neglecting my emotional and spiritual needs, I was creating a fragmentation in caring for my whole person. I was fighting the forces of nature and the factors of my own functional facility. And, I was trying to get back on the treadmill I knew, rather than facing the future.
My fear of moving forward caused me to get worse, not better. This literally caused a repetitive replay of taking one step forward and two steps back in my functional ability. Treading water. Trying to survive. Wanting more, but not seeing how that was possible. What I wasn’t seeing was how I was standing in my own way, based on what I believed.
And then, the traumatic event finally went from breakdown to breakthrough. But, rather than happening after the immediate injury, it happened in an instant two years later.
In my struggle to push back and perform at previous levels from before, I hurt myself significantly for the second time in two years after the initial accident. It was enough to scare my rehabilitation specialists. The miracle workers had successfully put my body back together three times, and each incident had its own challenges. This time, while I had been slow to grasp the gravity of my situation, I was finally scared straight.
That was my “aha” moment: It was time to seek support for my mind and spirit, as well as my body, so that my whole being could heal.
This is what I learned.
While I wanted to keep a positive outlook, I was not dealing with the challenging emotions associated with the trauma because I believed they served no purpose. I thought they would drag me back, but in actuality, they were causing me to be stuck.
With the help of a gifted healer to support my mental, emotional and spiritual needs, I learned what you believe and what you feel are different tracks of your being. One is an aspect of your mental state and the other arises from your emotional state. When they are not in alignment, it can create a sense of dissonance or disharmony.
Because of my inability to cope, my mind managed to disconnect from the trauma that had occurred, creating a state of dissociation. I wasn’t experiencing my feelings, but they were there below the surface creating significant disturbances.
I learned how to begin to untangle the two. I learned that life-long beliefs could be changed, especially if they are keeping us unhealthy. And, I learned to experience my negative emotions while feeling safe so they could be exorcised.
Perhaps, most significantly, I learned when we try to recover our old life, to the day before the thing happened, we are trying to go backward. This keeps us stuck in the surviving stage, or even relapsing further as I did in the thing-that-happened stage. But, when we choose to reclaim our lives, we can begin to move forward from surviving to thriving.
Moving from Surviving to Thriving
The clinical miracle workers had worked their magic. But I wanted to more fully experience reclaiming my life, even if I moved forward by fractions.
The mind matters. Much of what was holding me back was myself in my own mind. Letting go of negative thought patterns and self-limiting belief systems helps liberate our spirits and better supports the ability of our bodies.
Engaging in conscious wellness has been vital to restoring whole-being balance. When our mind, body, and spirit are in balance we can better reclaim our lives. Holistic healing arts such as yoga, massage, energy work, acupuncture, meditation and aromatherapy have played a vital role in bridging the span between the limits of functional recovery and the unlimited potential of reaching my own level of optimal well-being.
Like many aspects of tending to our well-being, this has been a practice grounded in awareness and an ongoing series of conscious choices about my mindset one step after the next. And I have learned to call in the professional and personal support as needed all along the way.
The closer I came to mastering my mind, the easier it became to release the shackles that bound me from flying free. My outlook became sunnier, my emotions more centered. Work flowed more freely, and I was able to do more physically.
Where there was once resistance to the changes from fear, there is now more resilience to changes on the go, allowing me to bend and bounce while I re-balance and grow.
But, let me be real here. It has taken me almost 10 years to own my pathway. And that includes the before the thing that happened, the thing that happened, and the after the thing that happened as my journey in its entirety so far.
I don’t want to give the impression “I’ve arrived,” or I have reached “enlightenment.” I am just hoping to leave some lights on for others along the way from what I’ve learned so far. What I can say for sure: Learning these lessons has helped me realize my potential and my purpose and created a greater sense of wholeness and health.
Aromatherapy as an Essential Companion
Today, I am grateful I am able to blend my professional and personal passions with aromatherapy to create a synergy of support for myself, as well as others.
Aromatherapy came into my life many years ago in the “before” part of my journey creating the gateway to accessing natural healing arts. Since then, aromatherapy has been a constant companion in my self-care. When the “after” came, especially after my “aha” moment, I incorporated aromatherapy in my healing journey, every step of the way, to help bridge that the gap in moving forward from surviving to thriving.
Aromatic essences excel in supporting challenging mental states while soothing the emotions. They can help to ease discomfort experienced in the physical body. And, they can help restore the spirit. Most significantly, aromatherapy blends wonderfully into all of my self-care and self-balancing practices expanding the essential experience.
Here are just a few links you might find helpful about how to incorporate aromatherapy in your healing journey:
- Food for Thought
- Take a Breath and Cool Your Jets
- M is for Meditation
- An Achilles Heel to Healing
- What Does Holistic Have to Do With Our Health
- What Exactly is Subtle Aromatherapy
- Chakra Synergies for Self Care
- Essential Oil Well-being: Be Gentle, Be Generous, Be Grateful
- New You from the Inside Out
And, here is a synergy to especially support moving forward from Surviving to Thriving
For me, this synergy embodies all the attributes I seek in moving from surviving to thriving. It can be used to support us in letting go of what was, assist us in moving forward to reclaim our lives, and sustain us in our capacity to thrive.
This can be inhaled by placing in a diffuser, or a personal inhaler. Because the scent resonates so deeply with me, I also like to dilute it to 2% in a 10 ml roller ball bottle and wear it on my pulse points to gently waft over me as my own personal restorative perfume.
- 2 drops Black Pepper Piper nigrum
- 1 drop Sandalwood Indian Santalum album
- 1 drop Orange Blood Citrus sinensis
- 1 drop Peru Balsam Myroxylon balsamum
The intention of this synergy is to help us restore our overall sense of balance and well-being. It helps us to ground, strengthen and replenish our spirits while encouraging a sense of peace, calm and serenity for the mind. It uplifts the heart and promotes a sense acceptance, compassion and optimism.
It supports the clearing of blocked energy and encourages healing on all levels of our being. And it helps us let go of challenging emotions such as fear, anger and frustration while promoting a sense of courage, self-confidence and self-empowerment.
From my heart to yours, I wish you peace and empowerment on your journey from surviving to thriving. May your whole being thrive in the light of your own personal optimal well-being.
Keim, Joni, and Ruah Bull. Aromatherapy & Subtle Energy Techniques: Compassionate Healing with Essential Oils. N.p.: CreateSpace, 2015. Print.
Shutes, Jade. The Dynamics of Blending: A Guide to Blending . Willow Springs, NC: NW College for Herbal and Aromatic Studies, 2011. Print.