Maybe it’s because of the pandemic. Or maybe it’s because I turned 40 this year and my I-No-Longer-Give-A-F*ck-What-You-Think-Of-Me attitude has amped up a notch or two.
Either way, an undercurrent of change is churning inside me, pulling me to a place where I no longer feel the need to explain, justify, or apologise for the woman I am. For the ways I have been broken by trauma. Changed by it. Shaped by it.
I’m done trying to be who I think I should be. Trying to please. Trying to conform. Trying to be normal, like those around me. Those who have not walked in my shoes. Those who have not lived the life I have lived—suffered the way I have suffered.
I’m done saying sorry for all the ways I fall short, for all the ways I disappoint others and let them down. I’m done believing I am broken—that there is something inherently wrong with the woman I am. I’m done believing I am something to be fixed. I’m done feeling that who I am isn’t enough.
And it isn’t that I refuse to do the work of healing. Oh, how I’ve done the work—more work than anyone will ever comprehend or understand. Every day requires the work. This isn’t about that. It’s about radical acceptance, a term coined by psychologist Marsha Linehan, based on the premise of literally accepting our mind, body, and soul exactly as they are.
Radical acceptance is letting go of how we believe something should be and accepting how it is, no longer rebelling against our reality but allowing ourselves to simply be—who we are and as we are—without criticism, judgement, or condemnation of ourselves. It isn’t about not wanting to change or heal aspects of our lives we feel aren’t in line with who we envision ourselves to be. It’s simply accepting what is, right now, in this moment.
For me, as someone with Complex-PTSD, radical acceptance means no longer apologising for the following:
1. Becoming easily overwhelmed.
Grocery shopping. Buying shoes. Large crowds. New places. Bright lights. Loud noises. Choosing an outfit. Planning a trip. It can all just feel way. too. much. for those of us with PTSD who experience sensory processing issues in our day-to-day lives that can leave us feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with the simplest of things.
2. Needing space. Lots and lots of space.
Further to feeling overwhelmed is the need for space and solitude—time to regulate, breathe, calm the nervous system, and counteract the hyper-arousal that comes with existing in a permanent state of fight-or-flight. It isn’t selfish. It’s necessary.
3. Being fiercely independent.
As a child, I was more often than not left to raise myself. Consequently, I have become an adult who is self-sufficient and independent in a way that leaves me fearful and resentful of anything or anyone who threatens to take that independence from me. I do not need a hero. I do not need a saviour. I just need you to get the f*ck out of my way and let me do it myself.
4. Needing to be in control.
Those of us who suffered abuse in our childhood years grew up feeling completely out of control. Surrounded by dysfunction, uncertainty, and chaos, we learned to control whatever we could in order to feel safe. And while I have done much work in this area, there are facets of my life I still need to be in control of: having a consistent routine, being organised, knowing my schedule each week, not coping with sudden changes of plans, needing to have all the information about, well, everything.
5. Being indecisive.
Do not ask me to decide where to eat for dinner, what movie to see, where to spend the weekend, what colour cushions to buy, and so on. It’s not that I don’t have thoughts and opinions on these things, which I’m happy to discuss and negotiate, it’s just, oh my God, the pressure of having to decide. Most people don’t realise after years of ongoing trauma involving manipulation, gaslighting, and emotional abuse (beyond the physical/sexual abuse), it can take a long time to learn how to trust our own instincts, judgements, and choices. Having to make decisions can be overwhelming. F*ck, I can barely even decide what to wear most mornings.
6. Needing more sleep and rest than most.
“After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system. The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos… these attempts to maintain control over unbearable physiological reactions can result in a whole range of physical symptoms, including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and other autoimmune diseases.” ~ Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score.
I’m not lazy. I’m not rude. I’m not unsociable. I’m not boring. I’m not old. My mind and body have simply been through a lot more than most, and sleep and rest are imperative to managing both my physical and mental health.
7. Having boundaries.
As an abused child, I didn’t know boundaries. I learned my body was there for anyone to do as they pleased with. I learned I had no voice, no power, no autonomy, no right to say no. As an adult, I have had to teach myself boundaries. That no is a complete sentence. That I am not responsible for how others feel. That I do not need to put the needs of others before my own. That I do not need to have anyone in my life who does not deserve to be here. That I do not need to apologise for any of these things.
8. Choosing me.
“I will not stay, not ever again—in a room or conversation or relationship or institution that requires me to abandon myself.” ~ Glennon Doyle.
Finding myself after trauma has been my hardest-won battle. Losing myself to another has become my biggest fear. I am afraid of relationships. I am afraid of needing another, or having them need me. I am afraid of codependency. Of feeling smothered, suffocated, trapped. I am afraid of drowning in a sea of someone else’s needs, all the while dismissing my own. I am afraid of commitment. I am afraid of being backed into corners. I am afraid of losing everything I have worked so hard for. I am afraid of having to choose between myself and another because I know now there is no choice. I will choose me—every time.
Radical acceptance is recognising I can only be what I am capable of being in this moment. I can only give what I am capable of giving. It doesn’t mean there is no room for change or healing or growth—in time. It means accepting there is nothing wrong with me. With who trauma has made me to be.
It means no longer offering myself to the world as an apology—but the gift I am.