We hear about the “healing journey” in Instagram captions, Facebook statuses, YouTube videos, and blog posts, but what does it mean to heal?
I’ve always thought that my healing journey began in 2012, marked by the end of an emotionally abusive relationship and a new awareness of myself. I focused on self-love, equaling this to painted toenails, looking at myself in the mirror, and having cake for breakfast and omelette for dinner. It felt rebellious, a silent declaration of war on all the external barriers and self-imposed limitations. It felt liberating and freeing, and it became my new way of life.
At every point of this journey, I felt like I was at the finish line. I believed I didn’t need to learn anything else because all the inner work was done. I was convinced my mission was complete and I had arrived at a state of true self-love. You couldn’t have told me any different, I wasn’t ready to hear the truth. In a way, it was already there.
I wasn’t ready for the truth back then.
For years I felt conflicted with the sad soul I felt inside and the sunny exterior I maintained. Both felt like the real me. My initial idea of being authentic online didn’t consider how multifaceted we are in real life, how at any one time we can feel a number of things and they all could be in conflict and true at the same time. I thought my deep sadness couldn’t be mine anymore, that it must belong to the woman I used to be. But it grew and grew and swallowed me up. In 2018 I entered the darkness I’d been hiding from and stayed there for a while.
Part of me wants to tell you that in that year, I was suddenly depressed and I immediately got help, but that isn’t the truth. In 2018, I had no major distraction, I’d finished university and was looking for work. I had time to sit with my intrusive negative thoughts and overwhelming emotions. The depression didn’t just appear, it was already there and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t have anything else to hide behind.
Not doing the healing affected everything.
I don’t want to repeat what I’ve already written here, here and in here. I want to honour this fact: I was unwell long before I noticed. My old journals hold all the evidence, although the self-reflection is enough. I remember crying in a counselling session because I wanted to “get better”, but was beginning to understand that it doesn’t work that way. The impact of trauma wouldn’t magically disappear with a few counselling sessions, focusing on self-love only wouldn’t wipe away the historical emotional wounds, and feeling empowered as an adult wouldn’t undo the abuse I suffered as a child. The idea that “better” wouldn’t come felt overwhelming, and I began to see that self-compassion and patience would see me through and help me begin a much-needed healing journey.
So I say, perhaps in 2012 I began to see who I’d become, and I spent many years peeling that back and trying to fit into the shoes of who I knew I could be. But in 2018, I was brought to my knees by the very dark cloud that lived in my mind, and it’s been through sifting through that, finally, that I can see that I needed to heal. I needed to go deeper than I had ever done, address the corners that scared me, say words out loud, and own the truth I’d denied myself of hearing all this time.
I’m still healing.
Sometimes I wonder; how do I know that the healing is working? How do I know that this investment of my energy and challenge to old habits is really working?
I measure my healing by what I can do and feel now, compared to where I was before. It will be different for everybody, but this is what it looks like for me:
- I’m coping with life. I feel proud of myself for navigating life the last year without antidepressants, feeling all the overwhelming emotions but not spiraling back to the dark place again. There are moments where I feel like I can’t cope, but I understand how it’s more to do with the intensity of my emotions at that moment, and I put things in place to help channel that.
- I feel all the feelings. I was so numb for years and then with that last round of counselling, I became so open to feeling everything. It took me some time to identify my feelings and not feel like I needed to block them out. I still feel overwhelmed at times but I feel like I manage it better.
- I have difficult conversations. At this point, I feel like I understand my mind and how it likes to analyse and obsess. So, rather than sit and overthink, I’ve become proactive in having difficult conversations instead of being tormented by assumptions. Taking responsibility for giving myself clarity has been so frightening but freeing at the same time. The alternative is to wait for others to read my mind and induce the anxiety I went to counselling for. So this means being a big girl and dealing with things head-on. Throat chakra time does make things awkward sometimes. But short-term discomfort in exchange for long-term peace of mind is a compromise I’m willing to make.
- I’m better at letting go… But I’m also still working on this. I used to feel angry about things that happened in the past, but now I don’t sit and stew for years. I avoid pondering heavily on anything I have no control over or can’t change; but sometimes I still fall down that rabbit hole.
- I’m kinder to myself. I’ve given myself full license to be human and navigate this healing journey with authenticity. Sometimes I don’t get it right, even though the perfectionist inside is always so desperate to get it right. The realist in me knows that isn’t always possible. This is also a learning journey, and I have years of survival coping mechanisms to unpack and unlearn. As a student of life, I might stumble a bit, but I get back up quickly every time.
- I take care of myself all the time, instead of just at crisis time. I have always loved to write in a journal, it became my go-to when I felt upset, angry, and distressed. But I like the idea of being proactive about self-care, instead of reactive. This means having a routine or ritual in place that is part of my everyday life, so I can truly feel the effects of it.
- I honour my self-worth by speaking up and walking away. Learning to let go lead me to this. I used to hold onto things, projects, and people, which caused me stress, confusion, and general distress. I was a people-pleaser and it was hard to walk away. The worse the situation became, the harder I seemed to hold on. I was always on this subconscious mission to prove myself worthy of receiving kindness, love, honesty, and attention. A big part of me thought that if I tried hard enough, the situation would change too. But it doesn’t work like that. Over the years, I’ve walked away from relationships – platonic and romantic- that had expired and left me feeling like shit. In those moments, I asked myself if I was willing to grovel and beg for it all back. This prompted me to think about what it actually was. In most cases, nothing worth fighting for.
- I put my emotional and mental well-being first. In short, I don’t want to feel so unwell that I can’t cope with life again. I feel in tune with myself; I notice when I feel upset or triggered and can kickstart my self-care routine to help bring me comfort. I’ve identified people that trigger me too, actually, and mute their messages and keep them at a distance. Before I would have engaged immediately, feeling the dread in my stomach, and then be unkind to myself for reacting in that way. I do what I can to reduce my triggers, so I can train myself to respond and feel the impact differently.
- I do housework now. It probably sounds trivial, but when I was ill I could barely wash up. I struggled with the basics, even personal hygiene felt like too much. If it wasn’t for my children needing to go to school, I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed. I felt so tired all the time and had little motivation or desire to address the mounting clutter around me. Now, I’m often in awe when I do my housework and it doesn’t take me days to do it. I don’t feel overwhelmed by it anymore, I feel like it can be done and so it is. And when my environment is tidier, so is my mind.
We do things differently now.
And this is what is important about the healing journey. You don’t receive a certificate in the post, congratulating you on your efforts. It’s in the small things, doing your food shopping without anxiety, calling a friend when you feel triggered, practicing self-care when you’d usually spiral. This is how we know the work we’re doing is working. We’re breaking down old coping mechanisms and cycles, and creating something that feels better in its place.
What it means to heal.
I feel like I’ve got my mind back. Finally, the shoes of the woman I’m meant to be fit me, and I’m no longer hiding behind a positivity mask. I can’t hide how I feel anymore. The poker face part of me has gone for good, and all you’ll see is real raw me at all times. I don’t fear the consequences of that anymore, and that feels quite powerful.
I’ve trained myself to speak up for myself, to ask questions, and have those awkward conversations to avoid all this sitting on my mind. I’m not at all interested in overthinking and I steer clear of anything that will set that off.
My healing has deepened and strengthened the relationship I have with myself, and it continues to do exactly that. When I focused on self-love in the beginning, it helped me to know I was worthy of great things. The healing work I’m doing now is helping me feel like I deserve them. The self-care I’ve incorporated into my life has helped me let go of everything that was hurting me. It remains only a passing thought and not a heavily present burden.
My healing feels like I am finally on my own side, and that my future truly is bright if I want it. I accept that this is lifetime work, there is no “getting better”, only maintaining and applying the lessons, but I know I’m worth the effort. I trust myself to lead me through this, and that feels so good.
What does healing mean to you?
Let’s chat about it in the comments.