When it comes to healing from trauma, people often say “time heals everything” but this is simply not true. Time itself doesn’t heal anything, it’s what you DO with that time that will determine your mental and emotional outcomes post trauma.
This theory has probably held many people back from truly healing from their experience…as if it were an excuse to do nothing to help oneself feel and process valid feelings. It places the expectation and responsibility for healing on time, an external dimension over which we have absolutely no control. People often hear this message in society and get to a point where they think that enough time has passed so they ‘should’ be better or over it by now...no matter what the depth of emotional or physical distress.
The reality is, no matter what the trauma, true healing takes work. Effort. Resilience. Insight. And most certainly, reflection and meaning making. The passing of time alone simply will not heal emotional wounds. Everyone heals differently and in their own time, it’s a personal journey which cannot be dictated or mapped by anyone but the person facing and feeling the pain.
What’s interesting to look at is the way in which many people who have experienced unthinkable trauma, live with passion and committed drive... despite their painful circumstances. For them healing comes in the form of helping others.
Think Rosie Batty, Walter Mikac, Turia Pitt and Bruce and Denise Morcombe as a few examples... all are using their traumatic life changing stories to fuel both their passion and their healing. Their pain has in fact become their purpose in life.
Rosie’s son Luke was very publicly murdered by his Father in an ongoing family violence situation. She now advocates at state and federal level for changes to family violence laws. As a result of her work, Rosie was announced as Australian of the Year in 2015.
Walter’s wife and children were murdered in the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996. He went on to set up the Alannah and Madeline Foundation which aims to keep children safe from violence.
Turia was severely burnt by an out of control grassfire whilst competing in a 100km ultra marathon in 2011. She is now a motivational speaker and inspiring author.
Bruce and Denise Morcombe
The Morcombe’s son Daniel was abducted and murdered at just 13 years of age. They later set up The Daniel Morcombe Foundation which provides personal safety education to children to prevent abuse and promote lifelong health and wellbeing.
Speaking from a personal perspective, (though my trauma was not at all close to the suffering of those above) using my pain to fuel my passion has propelled me forward on my own healing journey like nothing else ever has. She Counselling was born of my own life traumas and of my desire to move forward and help others who face similar stories. For in giving to others we also receive and that is where foundational healing can truly take off.
But why does passion matter? How does it help when it comes to healing? Or does it help at all? Is pursuing a passion post trauma just a distraction from feeling the full force of the pain?
The answer will likely vary from person to person and in no way can it be simplified to just a short few paragraphs in this article. What I do want to highlight is what I know to be true based on my own experience and that of many clients I’ve worked with in my practice.
Using pain to fuel a passion helps you get unstuck and move through the pain, shock and transition period following a traumatic life event. Allow me to point out a few ways in which this is so…
It gives you a sense of purpose
When trauma strikes, lives are changed forever. Time momentarily stands still and life as it was, ceases to exist. We may lose a loved one, a limb, a house, a career or a ‘why’. We often experience an altered sense of “what now?”. At different times for different people the sense of purpose (what to do in a post trauma life) raises its ugly head. People often report not having any reason to get out of bed. Let alone carry on living. When pain finds its way to purpose and PASSION, however, life can resume and a new reality is slowly created.
It strengthens and motivates you
There’s no doubt about it, a new purpose in life gives us strength when we are at our most vulnerable, that is when we are suffering greatly. When we hit rock bottom as a result of experiencing trauma, focus can be what brings us back. In fact it often becomes our ‘why’ when looking for reasons to go on. Pursuing a passion strengthens our resolve and builds determination and hope. It motivates us and reminds us that we are stronger than what was determined to see us fall.
It helps feed the inquiring mind
For many people who experience trauma at the hands of others there is a sense of "why?'. "What actually happened?". "What would make someone do that?". In many cases, healing from trauma and pursuing a passion means associating with others with similar stories. This often allows a deep sense of knowing and understanding. Gaining insight can be re-traumatising at first but healing later on when some of the questions start to be answered. In addition to this, connecting with others often provides validation which on its own is a huge step along the healing journey.
It distracts and grounds you on the tough days
There’s no denying that finding and pursuing a passion provides a distraction from the pain. It allows you to channel your energy into something positive and short circuits feelings of overwhelm and hopelessness like nothing else. It helps you put on your ‘poker face’ and push through another day when all you want to do is stay in bed and cry. Some call it an escape from reality and I think I’d definitely have to agree with that. The important thing people have to remember here though is that the underlying feelings won’t change or improve without doing the healing work alongside work associated with the new passion. Denial may help ease the emotional burden temporarily but ultimately it will only create a stronger set of feelings to work through.
It provides a sense of the trauma ‘not being in vain’
Have you ever heard someone say “I didn’t want his (or her) death to be in vain”? It’s quite a common reaction to a sudden and unnecessary loss, particularly at the hands of another. When a trauma survivor uses the pain to drive a newfound passion, it allows them to start the meaning making part of their healing journey. By attempting to create ‘a good from a bad’, people draw comfort in knowing the experience wasn’t ‘useless’ because it actually achieved something. The idea that their personal story could help prevent someone else from experiencing the same thing brings great peace as they begin healing from trauma.
It can warm a broken heart
Above all else helping others helps us. It can never rewrite the story or change the outcome but it most certainly can inspire us to learn, grow, give and do. At a time when life can seem so pointless and empty, a new passion can be exactly what we need to feel warmth and love again. It reminds us that all is not lost and that life still has much to offer.
If you’re someone who has experienced trauma, directly or vicariously, I hope this article gives you a dose of optimism as you face life to come. Whilst reading this will obviously not change your experience or take away your pain, I hope that you feel comforted by the thought that there can be great strength and determination that comes with healing from trauma...not just pain, frustration and overwhelm.
If this article has raised concerns for you, please reach out to me via my contact page. I am ready and waiting to help you move through your trauma, whatever it may be. You are not alone. x
Alternatively, if you are needing immediate crisis support please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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Erica has a passion for Women’s Health. She works with women who want to be heard, supported and empowered! Erica is a survivor of many life experiences. A Mum. A travel lover. A green thumb in training and an eternal optimist!