A few weeks after giving birth to my first baby, I was wracked with pain to the point that I could barely move.
Swinging my legs, one after another, out of bed took nearly all my willpower. This pain had nothing to do with the physical stress of childbirth or the stitches still holding my swollen private area together.
This pain came from a place so deep within me that I could not determine where the pain ended and I began. We were intertwined. It was all-consuming.
It felt as if half of my DNA had been ripped out of my body and I was left with a dangling half-strand.
Until that moment, I hadn’t realized that my husband had become a part of me. Now, in his absence, I felt an emptiness where he had been. I knew I would never be whole again.
In Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman and writer Carolyn Gregoire explore what happens in the aftermath of a traumatic event:
The more we are shaken, the more we must let go of our former selves and assumptions, and begin again from the ground up. … Rebuilding can be an incredibly challenging process. … It can be grueling, excruciating, and exhausting. But it can open the door to a new life.
I know that door.
I found out my husband was leading a double life almost immediately after I gave birth to my daughter.
There was another girlfriend, and a secret credit card. Then other women started to come forward.
I was suddenly on my own with a newborn baby. I grieved him, and the future I thought we would have together, like a death.
While these have been without a doubt the most difficult months of my life, there was also something incredibly freeing in being ripped to shreds and then rebuilding myself piece by piece.
I told my therapist that everything seemed somehow clearer. I feel like the human interactions I do have are very genuine now. I used to make kind of superficial small talk a lot, and I don’t do that anymore. I can’t really explain it. I just feel like I see people now.
She told me that these moments of clarity are made possible precisely because you no longer have room for a lot of the crap you used to spend so much time thinking about. You are stripped clean.
Youve always possessed this power. Maybe you just never knew how to access it.
Before experiencing trauma, I cared very much what people thought of me, from close family and friends to strangers. I had trouble making decisions because I wanted to please everyone. Even navigating a grocery store could be stressful all those strangers silently observing and judging me.
Then, for months, I was trapped in my own body, forced to sit in the pain. Let me be clear. When I say sit in the pain I mean not running into someone else’s arms, not getting sloshed every night, and not hiding behind work.
Being trapped in my body meant that I couldn’t run from the darkness or try to do whatever it took to feel good again.
We humans naturally try to avoid feelings of discomfort especially today, when instant gratification is just a click away on social media or a swipe away on an online dating app, when endorphins can be produced and manipulated simply by picking up an iPhone. People are even less likely to be still. To just feel.
But as I sat in my pain, I slowly started to trust my own intuition. I became grounded in a very clear sense of self.
When you begin to truly trust and like yourself, you tap into an immense amount of power.
You’ve always possessed this power. Maybe you just never knew how to access it. You find a power within yourself that’s like an anchor, freeing you from a lot of life’s insecurities that seemed so important before.
Dr. Sharon Dekel says, Post-traumatic growth can be defined as a workable coping mechanism, a way of making and finding meaning involved in the building of a more positive self-image and the perception of personal strength.”
The other side of pain is not comfort, or health, or well-being. It is truth.
When this truth comes pouring in, you begin to see all the grimy layers of protection lift away, and you discover that your journey has just begun. You begin to let the light in and, whats more, you begin to seek out the light.
One morning I woke up and had a sudden realization. The thought entered my mind like a lightning bolt:
You were always whole to begin with.
So as much as I sometimes want to scream and rage at my ex-husband, I also want to thank him. I want to thank him for forcing me to become the person I was always meant to be, for showing me that I am a fighter and that I will never give up.
But most importantly, I thank him for allowing me to become this person before my daughter ever knew anyone else.
You can read more about Jen’s journey in her memoir “A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal.”