The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Coping
Trauma symptoms are all relative to our experiences in life. What may seem disastrous and harmful to me may just seem like an every day occurrence to another. There is no comparing horrors; “the worst of the worst” is subjective in our own happenings. No matter your past, no matter what others deem as “worthy trauma” we all face the arduous path of coping.
Coping is what we do when faced with responsibilities, problems, or difficulties. We know which “good” coping mechanisms are encouraged, as they stimulate our minds and bodies. Going for a run, painting, drawing, reading, writing, hiking, talking, sharing, singing, dancing, a good night’s rest, cooking, listening to music, cleaning, and a million other things that can bring us a sense of peace. Coping and “self-care” may seem so easy: “Just go for a run, clear your head!” Or maybe, “If you just find the right hobby you wouldn’t be so sad!”
Oh, if it were only that easy. Coping skills are not learned overnight, nor do all of us have the innate ability to “flip the switch”. A great deal of us who have experienced sexual trauma weren’t modeled with grounding and coping skills by the adults in our lives. The abusers, who often doubled as caregivers, didn’t exactly hand us those magical skills…or even want us to know what they were. We grew up in families and environments where abuse was commonplace, feelings were shamed and suppressed, and children were seen as dispensable extensions of caregivers rather than people.
It’s honestly not surprising that many children reach adulthood with no idea on how to cope with healing. Uncomfortable feelings and intrusive memories from childhood can be overwhelming. If you’ve never been shown or taught how to manage these uncomfortable feelings, you’ll turn to other things to numb or drown out that pain.
This is the “ugly” of coping. I don’t mean to say it’s bad, because good/bad implies judgement. It isn’t my place to shame or judge another people’s journies. However, we can agree that the unhealthy coping mechanisms can be damaging, both physical and mentally. Negative self-talk can change our body image and sink our self-esteem. Drug and alcohol abuse takes years off of lives and lives away from others. Self harm, suicide and suicidal ideation, Isolation, over and under-eating, and staying in toxic relationships are just some examples of damaging copying mechanisms. Pushing away the bad often leaves us numb to happiness and joy.
It takes time to form new patterns and ways of coping. It’s a process to see that these new patterns are safe and there is nothing wrong with leaving old patterns behind. It also takes time to learn that new coping skills do not erase the trauma or end our healing journey. Instead, they allow us to manage the uncomfortable and stay grounded in the here and now. Yes, it’s possible to go back and fourth with old and new coping skills, but this is a journey and on a journey like this we need to have patience with ourselves.
Please, don’t look back at your historical coping mechanisms and think, “I was bad.” No, you weren’t bad. You were surviving. You were doing the best with what you were given and YOU MADE IT TO THIS POINT. A point where maybe those coping mechanisms, which helped you to survive for so long, no longer have a place in your life. You’ve escaped the trauma and you are choosing another path.
Thank yourself for getting through the trauma, something you never asked for and didn’t deserve. Thank yourself for choosing a new path…even if it is different and uncomfortable. Thank yourself for the strength and bravery you have…to not only confront your trauma but take on the unknown that is the journey of healing.
FULL TRANSCRIPT (The following is the full transcript of this episode of The Be Seen and Heard Journey. Please note that this episode, like all BSH Journey episodes, features Victor speaking extemporaneously–he is unscripted and unedited.)
Hey, it’s Victor. I want to welcome you to another Be Seen and Heard© Journey. Thanks for being with me today. Today’s topic is called healthy healing. I want to connect it to the term, coping. See, when I think of coping, a lot of times I think of how people do it in a negative way. In fact, in my experience of being sexually abused, I coped in a very negative way for many, many years. One way I coped was staying silent. Another way I coped with my abuse was to not hang out with a lot of friends. Another way that I coped when I was in high school, and this is very personal, I used to cut my wrists with an X-Acto knife. And, and again, it’s very uncomfortable to talk about it, but I’m putting it out there. That’s what I did.
And I realized through counseling that I was cutting myself not to bleed, but to mask the pain that I was experiencing from my abuse. So I was creating a new pain by masking the past pain that was still bothering me. And I think that’s what we do. That’s what people do. I’m not saying they get to that extreme, but then people cope by drinking and taking drugs.
But today I want to flip the switch and I want to talk about how do people cope in a positive way. See, I really believe the moment, the very moment I made the decision that I did not want to live in the pain anymore of my abuse was the day that my coping turned into a way of healthy healing of self care. Let me explain….
So when I started going to counseling, she started having me do exercises. One of them was to write a letter to my abuser and she said, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to send it to him. I want you to write everything that’s on your mind. Get it out there. And so I did. And that started not only my journey into healthy healing, but it also started my journey into writing. The writing turned into poems and the poems turned into songs. Now you don’t have to be an artist or a musician to cope in a positive way. Some people love to work out so they go for a run to cope with what’s going on in their lives. See, we can make choices…I started doing projects in college that connected me with my past pain.
I used my past pain to create something powerful out of it. So all my projects were based on sexual abuse, public service announcements. And then I did a portrait of my father reading his alcoholics anonymous book because my dad became a recovering alcoholic I was actually so excited to create out of my pain. And I was so passionate about it that I actually ended up doing really well in college because I really connected with that.
So this week is all about coping. And I’m going to ask you, where are you in your life? And is there a way that you can take something negative and flip it? We call it flipping the switch. And I then ultimately say, create out of that pain. You know, decide…own it. Don’t blame yourself. Own it. Find the opportunity. What’s the lesson in what’s hurting you? Now, this is a process, and then create and cope in a positive way out of that pain and move yourself into healthy healing, into self care…and it’s a journey. And that’s what life’s all about. I want to thank you so much for being with me today and remember, everyone has the right to be seen and heard. See you next time. Thanks.