The Journey to Love: Healing Birthday Trauma

Posted on October 25, 2020

Photo by Tore F on Unsplash

As I write this, it’s my birthday.

Like many trauma survivors, my birthday has never really been a day of celebration and joy. Rather, it’s been a collection of traumas big and small, a message layered year after year that I’m not worth celebrating.

Until this year. Because this year, with a lot of help, I processed the trauma around my birthday.

I see now how I was taking other people’s words and actions (or lack thereof) and making it about me. That’s easy to do, and a normal part of child development. And as happens with trauma, we can get stuck with unprocessed trauma, in the same stage of development we were in when it happened. So the child who blames themself for being unlovable, as children do when they are rejected, overlooked, ignored, punished unfairly, and so on, becomes the adult who blames themself for being unlovable. And every time those old wounds get triggered by current words or actions (or lack thereof), it’s taken as proof that the old wound’s message was right: I am unlovable.

When we process the trauma, we can separate ourselves from it, create a more empowering belief from it, and place it appropriately into the narrative of our lives that makes us who we are today.

But it must be processed. And to process it, we have to be honest about how we feel, be willing to feel the emotions, accept that the emotions are a natural and necessary part of who we are as human beings, express those emotions in a way that does not cause harm to ourselves or others, and love ourselves on the other side.

The day before my birthday, I sobbed. I grieved for the child who so often was rejected or ignored. I grieved for the child who believed that a pleasant birthday experience had to be earned. I grieved for the child who never wanted to have another birthday because it was only a reminder of being unloved.

I had a call with my coach that day. Knowing she’s a safe person, and our calls are sacred space where I can freely be my full self, I sobbed in front of her. She saw my tears, witnessed my grief, and heard my pain. And when I had shared enough for her to understand why birthdays were so painful, she gently reminded me that what others say or do (or don’t say or do) does not diminish my worth one iota.

An image from my three years of EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy came up. In the image, I was standing on a crowded beach, in pain. Everyone around me was wearing sunglasses, but as I looked more closely, I realized that some of these glasses didn’t just block the sun. They also blocked the ability to see others, or others’ pain, or only certain people.

It wasn’t that they didn’t care. It was that they couldn’t see me. It’s no one’s fault, including mine, and it also doesn’t change who I am. How others see me (if they do), has everything to do with their perspective (glasses) and nothing to do with who I am.

I am neither diminished nor elevated based on how others perceive me, including if they don’t perceive me at all.

On the morning of my birthday, I woke with a physical feeling in my body that what others say or do is not about me. And making it about me is what I as a child did because that was developmentally appropriate for a child. I don’t need to do that anymore.

I felt a complete separation between what others say or do and who I am. I felt in touch with the truth of who I am as a spirit being of love. I felt joyous. I felt loved by the universe. I loved myself.

At 11:56 p.m. the night of my birthday, I saw the clock and that internal, critical voice noted, “Only four more minutes of my birthday, and then it’s over.”

“No,” I said aloud, shaking my head. Because every day is a day to celebrate the truth of who I am, to love myself, and feel loved by the universe. Every day can feel like my birthday, and I can celebrate everyone who comes into my life and invite them to celebrate love with me.

Every day is another opportunity to experience life from a place of love. Every day is an opportunity to truly know that we matter.


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