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How to show up in the room (traumas, triggers, and all)

Updated: Jun 3, 2022

Last week I arrived in Dallas, Texas for a large conference where I was scheduled to be a speaker. As I boarded the speaker transport at the airport a moment of panic set in. At first, the panic was about the crowded conditions and my claustrophobic tendencies…but then, a new panic took over: I worried if I was qualified to be in that van.

In front of me sat a pair of FBI agents, to my left a woman who had just finished her PhD, and eventually crammed into the back right corner, a woman who advocated for trans victims of sex trafficking. With both my physical and mental spaces on overload, I felt like I was stammering through explaining that I was there as a survivor who had studied post-traumatic growth and was speaking on the practices providers can use to support survivors.

The group nodded along – it all felt polite enough – but inside, I felt the heat of something like shame, embarrassment: inadequacy. I resigned myself to the belief that I’d been wrong about coming here, that no one would be interested in what I had to say, and that I should seriously consider brushing up my resume (which includes soon-to-be 2 master’s degrees and a multitude of certifications) before trying to do this again.

I could not get out of that van and safely locked away in my room, in the highrise of the north tower of the gigantic hotel and conference center, fast enough.

I don’t intimidate easily. And I’m unaccustomed to feeling unsure about something as fundamental to my being as speaking and presenting. I’m not a novice – indeed I’ve spoken dozens, if not hundreds of times, to groups large and small – but this one was different. This was the Conference on Crimes Against Women. And this time, I wasn’t just a guide, I wasn’t just an ‘expert companion’, and I wasn’t just a storyteller. I was a survivor in front of people who really, honestly knew what that met because most of them were dealing with versions of ‘me’ in their day-to-day lives, and the rest – including some of those same providers – were survivors like me. I knew that what I was about to say would have a deep impact on them, and the clients they work with.

And I, quite unexpectedly, was terrified.

I was still terrified when I dragged myself to the pre-conference speaker mingle. There, I would meet an officer-turned-tenured-college-professor, a domestic violence prosecutor for a large state, a nonprofit director helping women navigate the probation process, a magistrate judge, 2 women from the state department working on international women’s issues, and many more. And, they all said versions of the same thing to me… ‘We really need to hear more from people just like you.’

I absolutely went back to my room still feeling inadequate, but also compelled to be the voice they needed.

The next day, my session had standing room only. I received emails and pull-asides for the rest of the conference recounting how impactful it had been to hear not just my story but practical steps you can follow to recover when your story involves trauma. Post-traumatic growth works, and we’re not doing enough of it because the bar has been set at surviving, when it needs to be raised to thriving. At this conference, despite my initial fears, I had delivered the message they needed to hear. The message I had needed to hear years ago when I was a victim, before I was a survivor, and long before I was a thrivor.

So why am I telling you about a time when I was scared to do what I love and believe in? Because that’s what recovery feels like sometimes. I’m happy and confident and living a life I’d never even tried to dream about when I was being abused. And still, some days, I feel small – my trauma feels bigger than me. Somehow: perhaps the setting, the people, or the event itself had triggered in me an old internal monologue that was chattering freely away about how unimportant, how meaningless, how stupid, how weak I was. Themes from my abuse that echoed loudly for a time from the moment I got in that van. And for a while, they took over. I had to register the trigger and work my way out of it so I could do what I came to do: deliver a critical message I believe is missing in the DV space.

At the end of my session a young woman asked me, ‘Will you always be a survivor?’ She was asking if I thought I would always see myself that way. But it’s not a choice status – the fact is, I AM a survivor.

What I choose though? I choose to be a THRIVOR.

I choose to use what I know to manage those hard moments. The tough spaces when I’m triggered or doubtful – the intrusive thoughts that try to get in the way of my thriving life. Because, fellow survivors, what no one is telling us about ‘healing’ is that it’s really mastery of our story. Will you have scars? Tender spots that can bruise again? Yes! You will. No matter how much of anything you do, that hurt can (and will) come back again. Your trauma path – the neuro-pathway in your brain that does not know whether this moment is a ‘real’ threat or whether you’re just crammed in the back of a van feeling claustrophobic and inadequate – is going to light up. It’s how you calm it back down that counts. That’s how you thrive, instead of just survive. That’s how you show up in the room, do your thing, and make an impact.

Whatever your room is, if you’re stuck outside of it - if you’re surviving but not thriving- I’m here to help you get in. I’m here as your ‘expert companion’ to teach you the tools and techniques that will allow you to dream bigger. I’ll show you how to name, claim, and reframe your trauma as the springboard for a life transformed. Join me and I’ll take you from survivorship to thrivorship.

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