January 7, 2021

True Awakenings are Post-Traumatic Growth—& Why we Need to Start Talking About It.

Post-traumatic growth (PTG) is the psychological term for the spiritual phenomenon known as an awakening.

It is a theory introduced in the mid-1990s by Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. Few studies exist to document the “proof” of post-traumatic growth, but you can find a lot about awakenings floating around in the ether.

I was never a person that bought into any of that guru stuff—until it happened to me, that is.

There were no beautiful morning meditations with organic tea that happened at sunrise. No scrap of “light and love and healing” vibes to be found. It was messy and tumultuous. Ugly in the truest sense of the word.

“Awakenings” are not pretty. There were no crystals, sage bundles, detoxes, chakra alignments, or Ayahuasca tea. Mostly, it felt a bit like someone or something else had overtaken my body and my life. No beautiful yogi held my hand as we said morning prayers at sunrise. I drank. I threw up. I slept. I poured my heart out on the internet. I raged. I sobbed. I did a lot of embarrassing and uncharacteristic things that shocked even me.

And to be honest, it freaking sucked.

I believed I had suffered a psychotic break. I had no idea what was happening and no matter how hard or what I tried, I could not make it stop.

For a brief context, my first child died from a pregnancy complication (that was completely preventable, by the way). I labored for hours and then hemorrhaged to the point of nearly passing out before we could get any medical professional back into the room.

The trauma alone crippled me.

The grief ravished me.

And the combination of that with some unfair consequences socially in baby loss nearly destroyed me. Many women, including me, can experience a triggering of repressed memories following childbirth. Things I knew happened in my childhood, but never fully remembered, suddenly started to flash through my mind. I had nightmares almost constantly, even if I was only taking a half-hour nap. Functioning was difficult, to say the least.

And then, one strange thing at a time, I started to shift at breakneck speed. Regardless of which term you prefer, the concept as a whole and the occurrence itself is very much real.

I drank—a lot and often. I never did this before. Ever. Not even in college. Sometimes I consumed so much that I would throw up—a cute thing to do in your 30s. Oof. Many factors are behind this one, starting with alcohol is escapism at the core. People drink, including me, to alter their reality: to escape, to numb, to just for a moment find any kind of relief from whatever is currently happening.

I launched a blog. Which, I guess, on the surface doesn’t sound like a big deal, since blogging has been around forever, but it was a big deal for me. I have always loved writing as a hobby, so that part was not shocking. What was and still is shocking, though, is that I am an extremely private person. To suddenly start sharing my quirky point of view on the internet laced with grief and intense emotions is not me, or at least, it was not who I used to be.

I craved connection—deeply craved connection—but could not seem to find it. I am an extremely introverted INFJ—but, I found myself cold calling people I had not talked to in years (if ever at all). It was really, really weird.

Then, I craved complete solitude. Almost all at once, whatever had happened before that was driving my need for connection seemed to completely shut down. I spent days, and admittedly, sometimes whole weeks at a time, in complete silence. No TV, podcasts, music. I rarely answered the phone, too.

I struggled to focus on anything; so much was constantly going through my mind that even if I had not been craving silence, I could not focus anyway. It was not like feeling anxious or hyperactive, though. I can only best describe it as being stuck in a catatonic state. My body felt heavy and weighed down, sometimes requiring more energy than I had to complete the simplest of tasks. My mind was continually racing, and all I could focus on were those thoughts and memories.

My sleep patterns were wonky; I slept a lot. I went to bed shamefully early, sometimes needing to close all the curtains because it was still light outside, early. I would sleep all night and then, still struggle to stay awake throughout the day. Sometimes, though, I would sleep little. At previous times in my life when sleep was hard to come by, I relied heavily on caffeine but through this, I rarely if ever needed caffeine. It was odd.

I had a sudden desire to learn new stuff. I am not entirely sure why or where this came from. I am an admittedly lifetime lover of learning. I spent several previous years feeling stuck and had learned little. Somehow that seemed to catch up with me. I learned how to make pasta and perfected my process. I learned punch needle crafts and embroidery. I devoured books on topics like grief, psychology, and intergenerational trauma.

I sold almost all my furniture, on a whim. I was laying in the corner of this comically gigantic sectional couch my husband and I purchased a few years ago, and I immediately felt so disgusted with the couch I could hardly sit on it. All the reasons I hated it would loudly repeat every time I looked at the said couch. We paid too much for it, attempting, at the time, to make a bad situation better. I was pregnant on this couch, requiring help to get up. Before that, I laid my head off the side of this couch when morning sickness was all day sickness. And then, I spent several weeks barely moving from this couch; both in a stupor of physically recovering and truly paralyzing grief. I had too much wine too many times on this couch. It had to go.

So, I sold it. Then, I looked around and repeated this with other housewares: clothes, shoes, and general “junk” that I had been holding onto for honestly no reasons other than guilt.

I let go of it all.

I felt like I was living in a stranger’s body in a stranger’s home—seemingly overnight, everything changed.

My entire worldview shifted.

At first, it was extreme grief, and I know that. Baby and child loss grief is unlike any other kind of grief, because in no other death are you attempting to grieve the future of a person you created. It is a special kind of grief hell.

But it became something else quickly. Friendships I had for decades dissipated. I found I could no longer bridge the small gaps in those relationships. We were either on the same level, or we were not. And if it was the latter, I pulled away and cut those ties. I think the new age term for this is a vibration raise. Whatever that means.

If you have read through this, skimmed it even, because you think “awakening” is hogwash, I feel you, my friend—because, same.

I am still unsure, and I feel silly calling this whole personhood shift either PTG or awakening.

Regardless, it happened, and I am only now, one year and four months after the death of my son, feeling like I can stand on solid ground with both feet.

I skeptically type that it was also the most healing and freeing thing that has ever happened to me. I made a commitment to myself in those early days of dark grief that whatever came my way, I would do my best to work through it, to heal, to learn, and to grow.

Too many wine bottles to count, a 10-pound weight gain, and myriad of eclectic home furnishings found primarily on the Marketplace later, and here I am.

If you have ever experienced something similar, I would love to hear your story and your thoughts. Share below!


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