The final therapy session was completed on a random Tuesday afternoon in August, two years after the journey started. Armed with all the tools and techniques one could ever need, I went willingly into the unknown.
And it was unknown territory, this concept of ‘after’; after healing, after therapy, after trauma. When you’re in the middle, it seems like no one talks about the healed, only the healing. The past tense should matter, too. What am I supposed to do with the chasm in my life where trauma once resided, once defined and guided me? I’ve healed, I’ve ripped out the part of me that hurt, but what goes in that empty space? No one comes by with a box of Lost-and-Found personality traits to rummage through.
At first, I was busy using the tools I’d been given to simply cope and survive. I stretched out into that empty space and relaxed for the first time in twenty-three years, content in my body’s ability to work with my mind to keep me alive.
Against all reason, though...you miss the familiarity. You stretch and relax, but then you feel the parts that you don’t quite fill in, the parts that are still waiting to be occupied now that you’ve fixed them. There is something to be said for the comfort of being whole even if you are stronger in parts.
Do. Not. Go. Back.
Do not let the limitless possibilities now residing within you be intimidating. Enjoy the extra space, then recognize that you have given yourself an opportunity to redefine yourself apart from trauma. It doesn’t matter who you were ‘before’ or ‘during’. You are now in your ‘after’ and that is a rebirth that is entirely up to you.
I still wonder sometimes if I’ve filled all the empty space, but then I find myself curled up like a cat in a ray of sunshine, enjoying the peace and quiet in my mind, and realize that ‘after’ is a constant work in progress. I have provided myself with the privilege of filling in that space for the rest of my life.
Now that I’ve done the work, ‘after’ is my forever.
After, at first, is the echo of a single drop of water dripping off a stalactite in the empty chasm that carries the healed scars of erosion. You listen to the reverberations and wonder, “what now?"
After trickles in on laughter where there was none. Bravery in your boundaries. A hug when the contact no longer burns but cools. You won’t realize what’s happening, that all the smiles have turned into a puddle of water. Eventually, you step in the puddle on your kitchen floor, and your socks get wet, and you wonder, “when did that get there?”
After is the steady sound of rain on the windows; the background to your life. A new hobby, or reclaiming an old one. Warm days curled up like a cat in the sunshine, smiling because everything is so quiet, and that’s when you’ll hear the rain and wonder, “when did that start?”
After comes in waves, and the waves keep getting bigger; waves of pride for small steps and simple victories. After soaks the beach on a rising tide, gently, gradually, then recedes and leaves little treasures in its wake; seashells to house new memories and sea glass polished so fine you’ll look at your reflection and suddenly think, “oh, there I am.”
After started in the beginning long before you knew how to recognize what needed healing.
After was consecutive with the work.
After waited for the tide to rise and pull you out to sea.