“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
― Mary Oliver
We often hear of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but we seldom hear of Post Traumatic Growth. What is post traumatic growth? Well, let me share the researchers’ definition:
Posttraumatic growth tends to occur in five general areas. Sometimes people who must face major life crises develop a sense that new opportunities have emerged from the struggle, opening up possibilities that were not present before. A second area is a change in relationships with others. Some people experience closer relationships with some specific people, and they can also experience an increased sense of connection to others who suffer. A third area of possible change is an increased sense of one’s own strength – “if I lived through that, I can face anything”. A fourth aspect of posttraumatic growth experienced by some people is a greater appreciation for life in general. The fifth area involves the spiritual or religious domain. Some individuals experience a deepening of their spiritual lives,however, this deepening can also involve a significant change in one’s belief system. – Post Traumatic Growth Research Center
What does this mean? It means that surviving trauma or great suffering may allow you to experience a deeper and richer appreciation for life. I suppose this makes sense, one cannot have the sweet without the sour. If you allow for it, for all the sour you’ve experienced in your life, you are allowed the potential for just as much (if not more) sweet.
For example, if you grew up poor, having resources and a safe home are not something you take for granted. If you grew up in an abusive home, living peacefully feels like heaven. If you survived an illness, you appreciate every breath you take and every morning you wake. You are able to truly enjoy the simple things that so many people take for granted.
If you allow yourself to moon over the little things (sunshine, puppies, laughter, friends, glass of wine, a peaceful day, a warm bath, time with loved ones) that make up the ever so important details of our lives, you will continuously feel overwhelmed with gratitude. If you pause to reflect on the amount of courage and resolve you demonstrated when you were faced with adversity, you will know that you are made stronger and adversity is genuinely a gift.
I don’t necessarily agree with people who claim to blessed or lucky for never having to struggle. The expression, “But for the grace of God” never made much sense to me. Often , these people are fearful because they haven’t been forced to survive the unsurvivable. They don’t know that they will be okay no matter what (and they will be). I would never wish a traumatic event on anyone but, if you survive, a certain kind of courage and resilience is born.
I believe resilience and courage can develop without trauma. I think that when a person steps out and is willing to live a life they love and risk upsetting some people in doing so, a certain kind of courage is cultivated. Don’t wait for trauma to have post-traumatic growth. Go out and be brave now.
Life is a curious journey because I would have never chosen a path with so many winding turns and potholes. If given a choice, I would not have chosen to experience the pain and loss that my life has provided. But, I was not given a choice. I was given a choice as to what to do once the pain was in my lap. I can say from experience, traumatic events have the capacity to enhance your life in ways I never dreamed.
The darkness was indeed a gift. The wrapping paper sucked and I don’t know why some things happened the way they did (and will never know) but I’m here now, sipping coffee, looking out the window, filled with gratitude.
“Despite the real struggle associated with trauma recovery, there is often a simultaneous increase in a person’s capacity to enjoy the mundane. A blue sky, a delicate fragrance, a small act of compassion, the subtleties of nature, and the innocence of children and animals are often noted as having significance. Perhaps the sweetness of normalcy is illuminated when confronted with certain kinds of darkness.” The Unexpected Gifts of Trauma