Oh no!
It looks like you aren't logged in to the Ethel community. Log in to get the best user experience, save your favorite articles and quotes, and follow our authors.
Don't have an Online Account? Subscribe here

How to Find Hope After Suffering a Trauma

The crucial advice you need to hear.

Comment Icon
illustration of woman sitting on rocks looking at sunset, trauma, hope
Jon Krause
Comment Icon

Trauma packs a powerful punch that radiates to our heart, mind and body. I know. I’ve experienced more than my fair share. I also know that if I could overcome it, so can you.

There are physiological reactions, psychological ramifications and emotional tangles. It is my life’s work to offer hope after trauma. I speak on it, write about it and consult regarding it.

I come from an incestuous family. There were five sisters. When there is one form of abuse, there is always more. Ours was physical, sexual and psychological abuse. I was 4 when my sexual abuse began. Dominated by a brilliant, gifted, twisted patriarch, neither I nor my sisters were allowed to have a voice, let alone a choice.

Unsurprisingly, I married a guy who quashed me as thoroughly as my parents had. I wasn’t strong enough in the beginning to leave an abusive husband or to expose my predator father or his accomplice, my mother. But when my children were threatened by both my parents and their birth father, I chose my children and their safety, and acted swiftly.

I filed for divorce and began the legal process to terminate grandparents’ rights. All hell broke loose. The three of them — my mother, father and soon to be ex-husband — conspired to silence and then stop me.

I did not stop.

I knew I had to get healthy. If I didn’t, I might fail my children. But how? How do you leave an old life to build a new one? I hadn’t a clue. But I knew others did, so I built a team to guide me. I found an expert in child abuse systems. Then a psychologist for therapy, for me and for my children. And I found the best attorney available.

Crucial advice: Build your team.

Each of us has experienced trauma somehow. If not ourselves, then by proxy with someone we know or love. Your trauma may have been catastrophic trauma, collective trauma (as with Covid, or war) or sustained trauma, as in child abuse, death of a loved one, prolonged illness, divorce, assault, rape or surviving an accident.

Hope, change and resilience begin with a decision. Choose you. Healing happens when you’re willing to do the hard work. How do you reimagine your life? I toddled my way forward, not at all the competent, confident woman I intended to become. But my resolve was firm. My confidence in that resolve was steadfast. My movement forward was like learning to walk again. And walk onward I did.

You will too.

Neither of my parents ever faced legal consequences for what they did. The law in the United States simply didn’t support it at that time. They died without even apologizing to anyone.

I was in my mid-30s when I got healthy. Now 71, here’s what I’ve learned about mental health, physical health and emotional stability. It does not require consequence, though I would have adored seeing my parents pay some debt to society. It does not require apology, though I would have loved to hear “I’m sorry.” And it certainly doesn’t require reconciliation.

Trauma does not define you; it informs you in difficult ways. The cost to my family, as we picked our way through the minefield of a six-year legal battle — and spending a quarter of a million dollars on attorneys, psychologists, private detectives — battered and bruised us.

There were many times I wondered if I had the fortitude to finish what I’d started. Yet I would do it all again for our ultimate peace and safety, and for the ability to create an environment that guided my traumatized children into becoming competent partners, parents and contributing members of society.

Here’s the good news: We can heal our minds and hearts. I suffered and I got strong. You can too. Begin by acknowledging your truth, your experience, your trauma and subsequent grief. It happened. “Why?” is the wrong question. “What next?” will serve you far better.

Allow yourself to experience your real and appropriate responses to the event(s) that altered you. You need to get angry — a natural reaction — before you can get well. Perhaps you can look on your anger as a first step to health. Again, lean on your team.

You are the architect of your life going forward. What do you want now? Imagine, and then design, your best you. Then act. Unlike driving a car, fixating on the rearview mirror of your life will not serve you. You can’t propel yourself forward when you’re stuck in the past.

One of the most profound pieces of my therapeutic process was to look at a damaging experience and find something about it that strengthened me. Being abused as a child, and then as a battered wife, I became an outspoken advocate who absolutely understands the journey from victim to victor. I am able to say I have my father’s intellect, his musculature, and be okay saying it without it meaning I must therefore be twisted, like he was.

I will never forget my history. I changed its power over me into profound impetus. I can talk about my past without it raising my blood pressure. I built my current life — married for 18 years to a kind and honest man — on the foundation of that history.

An important step toward healing is to offer hope to another traumatized person. Be part of the village that stretches out a hand, or warms a heart with an encouraging word, or stands shoulder to shoulder with a loved one as they face forward. When you give back, you cross another threshold into health and well-being.

Editor's Picks
This always brings her back to me.
, May 16, 2024
How I have tapped into its power and you can, too.
, May 16, 2024
What one mother says about what your kids need to know.
, May 16, 2024