Recovery. Healing? Restoration? These words contain both information, movement, and emotion. What words do you like to use when describing the process of getting better after a traumatic experience? How do you communicate that you are better but not so much better that you have no more bad memories; that you have no more nightmares; that you are not triggered into panic when you see someone who abused you?
What words do you shy away from?
Let’s consider healing first.
I was and am being healed?
Some hear healing language as a completed task. “I have been healed.” Past tense. If I was in a wheelchair but now I walk…would I say I have been healed if I walk with a limp or need a walker to get around? Do you ever hear someone say, “I was healed, in part.” Would it be better to say I am being healed or I am recovering. Compared to Greek verb tenses, our English language doesn’t communicate well the ongoing state of something. In Greek, we can communicate a present perfect tense such as, “I was and am currently being healed” all in one verb form. But in English, we cannot communicate such an ongoing process without more words. Thus, when we use the shortcut, “I am healed,” it sounds like a finished job.
What about recovery? Restoration? Renewal? Recovery words are popular amongst former addicts. For them it connotes that they are no longer using but making the daily choice for sobriety. However, they recognize the danger exists of falling back into drunkenness and so they communicate that they are in a lifelong process. For some, however, recovery sounds like a failure–failure to find victory and failure to accept a new identity. The truth is, few people outside of AA use the word recovery in every day speech. The other “r” words are more likely used in Christian circles but not so much in discussion of life after trauma.
Can you integrate trauma?
I have just finished reading Wounded I am More Awake: Finding Meaning after Terror by Julia Lieblich and Esad Boskailo (2012, Vanderbilt University Press). Julia helps tell Esad’s (a Bosnian doctor) experience of being held in 6 different concentration camps. He is now a psychiatrist in the US and works with trauma victims. However, he faced much brutality in being treated worse than one would treat an animal and so was not in good physical or psychological shape when he came to the U.S. I commend the book to those who want a basic understanding of trauma and of this thing we are trying to call healing and recovery. Listen to these quotes from Boskailo the psychiatrist,
I can’t take away what happened” [said to another survivor]. But [I] can help [you] imagine a better future.
“You are fifty, not twenty-five. You will never be the person you were twenty-five years ago. Even if you didn’t have trauma, you would not be the same.”
What Boskailo is arguing for is integrating trauma into one’s present life. One cannot go back and recover what was lost. A trauma survivor is never going to be free from losses suffered. To do so would be to deny truth. Integration means allowing the reality of trauma and its losses while finding meaning and value to live in the present with hope and even joy. Integration requires acceptance and willingness to look for meaning and purpose.
I like the connotations of integration. But, I am not sure I like the word integration since it also doesn’t connote some level of arrival at a good enough place. What word would you use?