Guest Column: Journey to healing will be different for each person

Published 10:30 pm Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Guest Column by Kelly Wassenberg


The journey from being a victim to a survivor is different for everyone, but to me there seems to be threads of familiarity that are weaved into the thoughts and feelings of those who have endured a traumatic experience.

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Denial — this can’t be happening to me. Guilt or shame — Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Isolation — I feel so alone. No one will understand. Fear — Who can I tell? What will happen if I say something?

These, as well as a plethora of other emotions, are all stages one can go through after a traumatic event and, like grief, these emotions can evolve over time.

Unfortunately, there is no road map to healing, and some don’t even give themselves the opportunity. Some may feel they are to blame, so they are a victim of their own actions. Others may feel like they don’t have a right to feel the way they do because it’s “not that bad.” There are surely other people who have it worse. 

The thing is, it doesn’t matter if the water is shallow or deep — drowning feels like drowning.

Whether a traumatic experience was a one-time incident perpetrated by a stranger or it’s years worth of emotional, physical or sexual abuse from someone we know and are supposed to be able to trust — it’s important for everyone to be able to make the transition from feeling like a victim to feeling like a survivor.

My own personal journey took me over half of my life to cross. There were many moments I would have said I have survived the traumas of my past sooner, but I was lying to everyone, including the one person who mattered the most — myself.

It took several years beyond that for me to realize that even though my past doesn’t define me, there was a residual mark that seeped into various aspects of my life and had stained the fabric of who I was.

I second-guessed myself more than I should have, my confidence took a beating and while I said I didn’t care what others thought, I was looking for validation everywhere I went. It’s not that we don’t all do these things or feel this way at times; I just did them in extremes that were unhealthy, and it needed to stop.

I went to a limited amount of therapy at one point, but once I realized no one had an answer that would simply erase my pain I stopped going, which probably stunted how quickly I progressed. Thankfully, I was able to eventually solder together the broken pieces of myself and became stronger. By no means was I the person I was before or would have been if I had never experienced those traumas, but I became comfortable in my own skin and secure enough with myself that I could enjoy my own company.

I also came to realize that where I am today is a direct result from the past. While the route I took to get to where I am wouldn’t have been something I chose for myself, I’m happy with my final destination. I’m content in knowing that I’m continually evolving into a better version of me. I’m OK with my weirdness, and I accept that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. It doesn’t mean I’m bad, or wrong or spoiled; it just means I’m not everyone’s flavor.

At one point in my life, I would have thought it would be impossible to speak of the past without tears or shame, and I’m sure there are many out there who stand in that same position today.

I encourage anyone who may feel this way to seek a position of empowerment. There are many organizations, such as the Crime Victims Crisis Center, where you can speak with confidentially with trained professionals who can guide you to the proper resources you need to start your journey to healing. We can’t always choose the circumstances of our lives, but we can choose how we deal with them — even if it’s our attitude toward them.

Those who try to shatter us are most frequently the most broken of all. Their pain is not ours to carry. We have the right to push back; we have the right to speak up. We can make the choice to deal with what we are given and learn to let it go. What that entails can be as unique as each individual situation, but we owe that to ourselves.

Kelly Wassenberg of Wells is an Albert Lea Tribune newsroom staff member.