Cancer

On This Day I Celebrate My Survivorship | by Eve | Oct, 2021

The challenge of balancing healing with the demands of everyday living.

For almost exactly a year I have been working hard on healing. It has been incredibly challenging in so many ways. I have delved into the memories and emotions of my past and as I slowly dismantle the façade I built and uncover the truth, I’m gradually inching closer to my true self.

I am uncovering the person that I would have been if I hadn’t been traumatized at a young age.

On some days I’ve discovered peace and glimpses of freedom and other days I’ve found nightmares and more pain than I thought possible. I’ve experienced flashbacks that roll over my body and through my mind like being caught in the hydraulic of an ocean wave. I’ve been dragged to the shore only to be pulled back and caught in the turmoil and unable to break free. I’ve been thrown back and back again until I find myself lying on the shore, the roar finally receding. At these times I feel exhausted, yet liberated. I have allowed another vestige of my past to show itself and now I can leave it behind. Without warning, triggers have ignited PTSD symptoms driving me into a hot shower to assuage the chills and shakes. I have spent hours crying to empty out all the shame, rage and disappointment.

Through all of the healing work, the hardest part has been participating actively and fully in my life. I am trying to be a decent mother to my young daughter. I don’t want her to see how much this is impacting me. I don’t want my husband to see the ugly side of the healing process. I go to work every day and lead a group of people and pretend that I care. These past twelve months have been the most difficult period of my life and my life has had incredible challenges.

To cope, I have given myself permission to not be perfect, to stop people-pleasing and to take time for myself when I need to, even when it disappoints someone else. I’ve worked to maintain boundaries in my professional and personal life and learned to say “no.” Even though my ingrained patterns and neurological wiring is begging my not to, I stick with all of this because I know that on the other side lies a fuller, richer, and more peaceful life. In no way have I been successful with this 100% of the time, but I hope that I can cultivate a life that will allow my mind more freedom to be who I truly am and that will allow me to be a better wife and mother. I want my daughter to have a mother who is present, empathetic, loving, wise, and safe. I know that I will never be a perfect mother or exactly the mother that my daughter needs, but I can do the best I can.

I know that I can’t do my best as a mother when I’m carrying around all of the baggage of my traumatic childhood and the painful moments and failures of my past.

Today is a special day. It’s the day I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma thirteen years ago and thus marked my journey as a cancer survivor. Unbeknownst to me at the time, that day in 2008 was the day my recovery and healing from cancer would open up the door to allow me to glimpse my trauma for the first time. It was also the time that I began to understand how my perceived life failures were inextricably linked to significant childhood trauma. I had a long journey to embark on, one that’s still in motion, but it all started on that day. Writing this now helps me understand how important this day really is. Even though I was diagnosed with cancer, it’s the day that I truly started living and it’s the day that I feel ultimately saved my life. I say it saved my life because, at the time, I had serious maladaptive coping strategies. I also feel that it saved my relationship and led to the birth of my daughter.

My daughter is so many things that I was not at her age. In her five years she has grown into a brave, funny, spirited, kind and talkative human. I say talkative because that was not something that I was. I barely spoke. I was practically mute around other adults. I was fiercely independent, but I was terrified of the world of people. My daughter has immersed herself in a chaotic world of school, sports, friends and adventures and is thriving. As a child I immersed myself in solitude because that was the safest place for me. Despite how my daughter is thriving, I notice behaviors that reflect on how I show up. I am sometimes dissociated and not present and sometimes impatient and overly harsh. I see that she sometimes has a hard time expressing her emotions and gets frustrated easily. I know that she picks up on my behavior and sometimes it’s painful to watch. I do my best to not get down on myself since I’ve learned that shaming or excessively blaming myself never helps. It doesn’t help me change and it doesn’t help my family when I’m feeling that way.

Through intensive healing work, I have peeled back the layers of my psyche that I built up to protect myself and exposed parts of me that needed more healing. It has been sad, maddening, and painful to experience and witness this unfold.

Sometimes the healing work made it feel like I was digressing and sinking back into the psychosomatic chains of my past.

Despite these regressions, I know progress is being made even if some days I still feel at the mercy of my past and the impact it’s had on my nervous system and my emotional well-being. I am less anxious and I am beginning to be able to temper my reactions before they are projected outwards. I am now aware of when I’m dissociated and I do my best to make adjustments to become present. It’s my deep hope that these changes will have a positive impact on my daughter and my family. It’s still a journey and some days are much harder than others. I know now that these tough days will pass and I can speak to myself with the understanding and compassion that I try to speak to my daughter with.

On this day that marks my cancer survivorship, I am grateful for where I am at this moment. I am grateful for the acceptance I am beginning to cultivate. I am incredibly grateful for my family. I am grateful that healing is an option no matter how difficult it is. And, above all, I am grateful to be alive.


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