An Open Letter to Those who Love Someone Struggling with PTSD or Trauma.


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Because I know trauma intimately, I forget that some people don’t.

And I would never wish that thundering darkness on anyone.

But I hate feeling misunderstood. I think many of us do.

To most people, I look fine—maybe I seem a bit awkward in moments—and now, after many years of hard inner work, I am fine. I feel like myself. I feel real and whole, intact—stitched together again.

But there are still stories that lie under the surface of my skin.

The ache goes away gradually, it lessens in intensity, but there are fractions and fissures, shadows and echoes that remain. It’s a constant work in progress, and I am okay with that.

There’s even beauty in it.

But unless it’s happened to you, I don’t think you can fathom what it is to be shattered. To be numb, floating outside your body, and unable to come home to yourself because you are so afraid—afraid of the feelings that are so big. Sorrow, shame, anger, rage, and panic swirl inside, and you seem to suffocate as you struggle not to drown in their depths. And these depths seem to go on and on, into the inky sapphire of midnight.

Everything becomes tinged with danger. Nothing feels trustworthy. Safety is nowhere to be found. Much is seen through the lens of the past, of what happened.

Life becomes hard. So very hard.

Things that used to feel easy can feel impossible. Leaving the house can feel impossible. Simple things like going to the store or looking someone in the eye feel scary beyond words. Threat, threat—everywhere. Our bodies might shake, even in stillness, for we are constantly on red alert. Our bodies may feel unable to fully relax, and vigilance becomes our best friend.

We may retreat from the world, isolate, wonder what the hell is wrong with us, or fear we’ve gone crazy (P.S. we’re not). We might react strongly to loud noises or sudden movements. We may react strongly to many things, because we so badly fear being hurt or violated again.

It’s intense.

I don’t dive into these depths to taste the pain—I’ve already tasted it. It is my past, no longer my present, and not my future. But these experiences will always be a part of me. They shaped me. And I know there is wisdom in that.

I know I cannot contribute to the silence on this topic. I want to honor the pain that so many of us go through.

Now, I wish for PTSD and trauma to be common knowledge. Normalized. No longer stigmatized. Understood by those who have been to the darkness and those who have not. Honored by those who love survivors, phoenixes, and fighters.

Remember these things if you love someone healing from trauma, PTSD, or abuse. Know that your support can mean the world.

Don’t say we should be healed already. It’s a process. Honor that it can hurt so much.

Don’t tell us what we need. We know.

Don’t say that we shouldn’t feel this way. Because it makes complete sense that we do.

In a matter of mere moments, our lives were turned upside down. We were left confused, our eyes wide with shock, trying to make sense of it all. And it may still not make sense.

Trauma rocks our world. It shakes us to the core.

We feel it in our bodies. Our hearts. Our skin. Our nervous systems, which may never be the same again.

And even when we start the healing, it takes time. There is no rush. And there is all the time we need to heal.

Because time is what we didn’t have when trauma happened and we couldn’t take it in. There was no time. The clock sped up and stood still, all at once. We could not integrate the experience.

Now, our bodies speak to us in sensations that we slowly learn how to read.

We are not pathology.

We are not bad or ugly or wrong or weak.

We are healing.

And sometimes our nervous systems get raw and flash with signals that tell us to run or freeze or fight.

But precisely because we have been to the depths, swum in rivers of ancient grief, and climbed out of hollow, terrible places with grit and courage and even just a tiny flame of hope…

We change. We crack open—never to be the same. In the crevices of the brokenness, we are born again. We can choose that.

It’s not easy. It’s messy. It’s hard to describe.

So don’t you dare think that we are fragile little things. Don’t look at us with pity in your eyes.

We are tender, but oh so strong.

And we know. We know things you can’t imagine.

We may even come out of this experience different in truly remarkable ways—because it’s not just post-traumatic stress, it’s also post-traumatic growth, post-traumatic breakthroughs, post-traumatic love, post-traumatic sweetness, post-traumatic badasssery, post-traumatic wisdom.

In the deathlike feel of it all, there can be a fragrant budding of fresh, tender life.

Maybe we will find a new purpose. Dedicate to an old dream.

Maybe we will soften. Meet God. Taste the vast reservoir of our resiliency and strength. Find beauty and meaning in the simple things—like a cup of tea with a loved one while watching a yellow-tinged leaf dance into a puddle.

Maybe we will find dancing or painting or writing or art or science—and never understand how we could have lived or breathed without such soulful medicine.

Maybe we will learn to reach out for help, and see that even though there is such darkness and cruelty in this world, there is also such softness and kindness.

Maybe we will know joy again, in ways that sizzle like magnolia buds in early spring and take us over the way pain used to.

Maybe we will learn how luscious it is to care for ourselves tenderly.

We will never be the same, see. When the cracks and crevices formed, they changed us. We fought and we surrendered.

And it isn’t shiny, this process. It’s messy as hell. It’s damn beautiful. It’s so real.

But, understand. Understand the immense feelings. The fear and chaos. The bone-deep exhaustion we may still feel.

Understand that there were terrifying things—and people—beyond our control.

Support us with love as we come home to our bodies again. Support us with gentleness as we find the rhythm of our voices again.

Do not silence our stories when we are ready to speak.

Offer us respect. Touch us with care. Understand the ways that we still may ache, even years or decades later.

Listen to our thoughts, our feelings, our views.

See us. See the strength we gathered in the depths. See the the treasures we found when we thought we were buried in darkness.

Know the courage that got us through.


Helpful resources for those suffering from PTSD:

>> Healing Trauma, by Peter Levine
>> Waking the Tiger, by Peter Levine
>> Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute
>> Psychology Today
>> Anxiety and Depression Association of America
>> American Psychological Association
>> Trauma Recovery

author: Sarah Harvey

Image: Pawel Szvmanski/Unsplash

Editor: Kelsey Michal


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Sarah Harvey

Sarah Harvey resides in the mysterious mountains of western North Carolina. Through the journey of healing her own trauma and pain, she has found power in poetic expression, art, and dance. She loves supporting people to step into their power, find their voices, and flourish. She believes in resilience. She believes that sometimes, our darkest days lead to the most unexpected, breathless joy. She currently offers life coaching sessions and is pursuing her Masters in Counseling. She feels most passionate about supporting those healing from trauma with a creative, heartfelt, and gentle approach.  Follow Sarah on Facebook and her website!

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sheila Feb 11, 2019 10:17am

This is well written, and speaks to how we survivors of abuse/trauma are in the world. Only my parents, my abusers, had boundaries, so it took me a long time to learn I could set my own. People pleasing was also a habit I developed because that was how I survived every day. Now, I’ve learned that I need to please myself, and BE who I AM. It’s truly a process. Sadly, so many think if we have achieved some degree of healing that we should be ‘normal’ again. We will never be normal. Normal was stripped away from my BEing. Trauma changes us, but we can choose to rise above and move forward, one tentative step at a time. That’s my current journey.

Mark LaPorta Feb 7, 2019 8:06pm

IN-TIMACY comes from the Latin
No (In) FEAR (timeo)
is that really what you mean?

And POST means after, which means related to, which means holding on.
Did you ever look up the meaning of the word, trauma? It may not be what you think — or expected.

Many people — including families and therapists — are invested.

But I have to agree with some of your other commentators that your writing is very poetic.

mdragonfly2015 Jan 29, 2019 12:38pm

Hi Sarah & Everyone Else, I was drawn to your writing because of the title where I soon learned it wasn’t touching on what I expected, yet I finished reading.
I have been on a conscious healing path off/mostly on for thirty years, unlike my American born father who at age 3 visited his grandmother and became a victim of the Nazi occupation. He has not ever dealt with the trauma which has inverted into physical pain for his entire life. He parenting was interrogation. “No” was not just for family but, I realized, message for himself. I love him, presently, w/o contact, since it’s not healthy for me. Therefore, this article missed the help & support I thought it could share. In addition, my sis, who has constitution like my father, was recommended to get counseling, yet believes it would impact her goverment job security so has never done. Our relationship is challanged too. Articles for Next time?
Still healing after all these years.

Kim Astall Jan 21, 2019 8:27pm

This is just beautiful! As a sufferer of cPTSD, it sums up how I feel, the challenges I’ve faced and how difficult it is to talk about experiences. My husband feels there should be more support to partners of trauma sufferers as they’re victims, too. He doesn’t quite get how hard it is to open up, be vulnerable, and continue to learn how to live with yourself. The person who emerges from the crucible of soul retrieval is often irrevocably changed and no longer fits within the jigsaw of ‘family life’. Do you have any advice on how to ease transition to a new paradigm? I’m so grateful to you and glad that I’ve subscribed, so I can read many more of your articles!

Nicole Bodnaresk Jan 8, 2019 12:30am

YES!!! From the bottom of my heart YES!

joseph.ruocco Dec 30, 2018 5:36pm

Saying I am weird and something is wrong with me. Been with her 6 months. I am lost when she says ,who ruined you Joe? I talk to other women sometimes because I reassure myself,is she breaking up with me again. I love her only,I don’t cheat. I am very honest,and she thinks I me lying. I’m a loving person. I have no reason to lie. Everything is my fault. I am trying Lord. Healing PTSD is forever,but can be pushed aside,it does get in my way I guess and I don’t even know I am at fault when doing so. She tells me no one will put up with me besides be her. That hurts,and she wonders why I get opinions from girls that are just old friends,I try to vent but am judged when I do,I am told by my girlfriend that something is wrong with you Joe. I have no one to talk too about that. My sorry and love is irrelevant she tells me now that she’s upset and telling me to really think about your actions. I say I am sorry and mean it. Love smuv and sorry is just a copout she tells me. Anyways I lose no matter what. #love, happiness, truth

jc_cowgirl Dec 26, 2018 4:40pm

This is beautiful and articulately put. I love someone with PTSD with my whole being. I have always tried my very best to be understanding and there for him. He has pushed me away nonetheless. I miss him every day. I love you Jeffery!

wendy_d_raymond Dec 24, 2018 6:56pm

I am balling. I understand completely. Oh how I long for compassion.

Galina Singer Dec 24, 2018 8:28am

Masterful! Incredible vivid writing that really transmits the complexity of residual feelings. I’m in awe. Thank you

Rebecca McCown Dec 23, 2018 2:47pm

I guess what I really want to say, is thank you for giving me Christmas today !
I see the all of the pain you describe. Instead of being hurt, or sad. Because I was!
I’ve sent them a message of how much we will miss them and how much they are loved !!! I will continue to do this everyday for the rest of my life .. also sharing your letter with family helping them understand, in hopes the to will reach out sending their love .

Rebecca McCown Dec 23, 2018 1:41pm

Thank you for sharing !
It’s two days before Christmas and my son and the grandkids are not going to make it once again !
My son served two tours overseas in the army.
At first he seemed strong ! Graduating with honors from Texas Tech and a full ride to U.C Davis law school.

He dropped out after the first semester (fine with me)
He stayed he was ok but never left the house.
Was this breaking point was it first cry for help ? How do I help?
They moved 4 hrs away 8 months ago !
I visit often, an recently got to bring the grandkids home for the weekend ! But now even that door seems closed for now .
My son is not one to go to counseling.. or even admit there’s anything wrong.
He hasn’t left his house In so long !
I don’t know how to help him. Afraid the door will be shut forever.
I’m asking for help ! From anyone who has advice ❤️

iunesalex Dec 23, 2018 1:36pm

May we speak openly, with vulnerability and self-empathy about our trauma. May we normalize this conversation with great courage. For the liberation of us all. And so it is.

Jordan McAdams Dec 22, 2018 8:30pm

Thank you for having the courage to bear your soul for all to see. It is a beautiful one. I needed to read these words that are already within me. You so eloquently and delicately laid out what it is like to exist after the spider has left its web. Leaving behind a beautifully frustrating labyrinth of untold truths (lies) that have been carefully weaved throughout a lifetime.

Chantal Barrette Dec 22, 2018 11:52am

Thank you.

Elizabeth Tallman Dec 22, 2018 8:59am

Thank you Sarah! SO well put. Your writing on this subject is a gift to grow understanding in this field. I hope you keep
Writing and Sharing!

intiayla Dec 22, 2018 7:53am

That is a beautiful, rich wise write on PTSD. I too and a survivor of Ritual Abuse, Torture and have come through with gifts and skills awakened through the gift of my healing. It takes deep courage and radical forgiveness…. thank you for your beautiful expression of a powerful reality in our social fabric… Dehumanizing abuse happens everywhere all the time.

geraldinegrifoni03 Dec 22, 2018 7:20am

This resonnate so much with me, amazing that you exist.

    Sarah Harvey Dec 30, 2018 4:27pm

    I’m so glad it resonated with you! It was one of those posts I almost considered not sharing with the world, so your comment means a lot. Thank you for reading!

Polly Liontis Dec 22, 2018 7:07am

Sarah, thank you for this beautiful rendering. Your words are healing and inspiring. This is so beautifully written. Love to you.

    Sarah Harvey Dec 30, 2018 4:25pm

    Love back to you. I thank you so much for reading! <3


Kath Kidder Dec 21, 2018 4:00am

I am so grateful for you and this eloquent article. It was exactly what I needed to read today. We are not alone. Healing is possible. Love is possible. We are worthy. Peace be with you.

    Sarah Harvey Dec 21, 2018 7:29am

    Kath, Thank you! I’m so happy the words resonated with you. And I love what you say—it really is true. We are incredibly worthy. And so much beauty can come through the process of our healing. I wish you much sweetness. <3


pitanga3000 pitanga3000 Dec 20, 2018 10:04am

I have felt very much alone and rarely talk about what happened to me. Over the years i’ve realized that, as you said, “unless it happens to them…”. The dissapointment of finally trusting someone enough to confide in them only to see in their eyes and their words that they don’t understand, and are judging you hurts more than any beating on your body. It’s our soul we’re talking about. Thank you for letting me feel less alone

    Sarah Harvey Dec 20, 2018 10:48am

    I am so grateful that you felt less alone in reading this! And ugh, I hear you on that feeling of not being understood in sharing your experience with someone. It can be so tough. I definitely wish and hope that one day, trauma and its impact on us can become more commonly known and understood.

    I wish you sweetness. Thank you so much for your comment <3


Connie Sutherland Dec 27, 2018 2:23pm

moderators – please delete this comment.