Finding Yourself in the Fragments

Trust in your identity is one of the most vulnerable parts of yourself. It can be easily overwritten by your desire to fit in. Your peers’ interests can replace yours. Your moral values can be skewed by those around you. When you are impressionable, the core of who you are is vulnerable. When you endure trauma, your core can go missing.


I was twenty-one when I realized everyone has walked this Earth with a missing core at some point, whether it was persuaded out of you by friends or robbed from you by abusers. Maybe even for less harmful reasons. Everyone has walked around with crucial pieces of them missing.


This realization came to me when I was working at my first job. My coworkers were talking about sexual trauma and one of them remarked that she had been thirteen and deserved it. There was a stubborn look on her face that said she didn't entirely believe her words. Our eyes locked and I looked away. It was then that I knew everyone carried around some sort of lie like this, halfheartedly believing they deserved their trauma and its insidious symptoms. I think we all carry this lie as a way to still feel in control.

Art by Adriene Vento

The lie says, "You deserved it because you did XYZ, which led to ABC happening to you." This lie somehow reassures us that if we do not repeat XYZ, ABC will be a thing of the past. This is how people develop eating disorders, hypervigilance, personality changes, substance abuse issues, etc., because the lie takes over their lives. They believe the lie to find some form of safety, given the circumstances.


It can be immensely difficult to rediscover yourself after physically surviving a traumatic situation. Your foundation is rocked, your nervous system is hyperactive, and your faith in your support systems is shaken. Trauma has the potential to destroy you like a rock to a mirror, shattering entire pieces of you. You will worry if you can ever pull yourself back together, match jagged edge to jagged edge. Even if the edges are touching, you might worry if they will ever be smooth again.


I noticed once your nervous system begins to calm down, it can be hard to find support. It is easy to feel alone, especially if you have isolated yourself from your support system during this time. So, to find structure in your life, you begin to reinvent yourself with the trauma highlighted. The shame or remaining fear can label your core many different things. Nouns first, like: loner, whore, bad seed. Then adjectives: worthless, miserable, aching.


These new lies swirl deep within you and appear more true each day. You believe the lie and create new systems to prevent the trauma from happening again. It is almost impossible to recognize when your trauma has fully taken over your life because your trauma sounds like you. It is your core, or so you think. You may feel that you are nothing without it. You may consider life without it. Without that piece of yourself.


Trauma can have your panicked soul crying out in the night, “What am I doing here? Why am I still here? I wasn’t supposed to be here this long.”


The only way to survive these horrible, lingering moments of terror is to look within. Look beyond these gnawing feelings. Look for yourself in the fragments. You’ll find glimpses of them in old books with your favorite quotes underlined, in old soft clothes that may no longer fit, or even in old pictures.


Some of this may bother you. Your new core might reject reconciling with this old version of yourself. You might feel a second cry bubble up in your chest, demanding for the “former you” to come back.


It is at this moment I ask you to keep looking. The old you may not fully return, but they are still here to guide you through the rest of your life. You have not been abandoned. They are waiting for you to find them. They are looking among the fragments, too, looking for pieces they can work with. You are looking for recognition. They are looking for life. You will find each other and reconnect. Your edges will become smooth. You will be whole again, only evolved.


You won’t be a mirror anymore. Maybe a flowing river that adapts, overcomes, and brings life wherever it goes.


My soul cries out in the night sometimes. I’ll wake up from a deep sleep, my heart hot with fear. I’ll question my existence, my desire, and my reason for living. I’ll wonder about the point of it all. If I have the courage to keep going. Only faint daydreams of beautiful sunsets lull me back to sleep. Through these daydreams, I find a small piece of myself and I find peace. I sleep.


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