“If you have been brutally broken, but still have the courage to be gentle to others, then you deserve a love deeper than the ocean itself.” -Nikita Gill
I found myself sitting in my office and daydreaming the other day. I sometimes get some time to myself to sit and think, and I usually think about, you guessed it, psychology stuff! But, more importantly, I think about stories, people’s stories, and how they became the individuals they were. Trauma recovery, in particular, is incredibly fascinating to me because it’s so unlikely and I’m often in awe of some people’s will to live and to rise above the actions of their tormentors. I didn’t want this post to be about statistics or about the “mitigating factors” of surviving trauma; I wanted it to be about them, the people themselves, which isn’t to say that help is insignificant, but that I’m more so impressed with them, the survivors, than the circumstances of their journeys.
The people who’ve impressed me the most, out of those whom I’ve had the privilege of encountering, are the ones who survived horrendous physical abuse, sexual molestation, rape, and emotional abuse, the individuals who developed a core sense of self and became good people despite the overwhelming barriers to compassion; if there were ever any indicators of miracles in life, trauma survivors are overwhelming proof. Some of them will tell you that they are who they are in spite of their suffering, while others will argue the opposite; and those who believe that their traumas have shaped them are the ones who leave me the most perplexed and the most awe-struck.
It appears as a paradox that someone can become kind in the face of violence, and become good in the face of evil; and yet, it happens, more often than we believe. In my work, I live for their stories, as they provide me with a sense of hope and mastery seldom achieved in other areas. Their stories shake me and, sometimes, break me, but they always inspire and empower me; like my awareness of my imminent death, they catalyze my life.
Their success is, undoubtedly, made possible with the help of those who care, but their success is also their own. Tupac Shakur once wrote a poem about a rose which grew from a concrete crack on a sidewalk in a ghetto. That rose, a seeming miracle, had virtually no chance of developing, no hope of coming to life; but, it did. For this rose was no ordinary rose, as it had an extraordinarily tenacious spirit! And, even with its damaged petals, and its tilt, it radiated beauty, which could only be perceived through the lens of struggle and trauma, through the window of heartbreak… and triumph.
Becoming Who You Are
Some may argue that such a rose would be too damaged to be beautiful, and too broken to survive, but I can’t envision a more majestic sight. Philosopher William Irwin writes:
To become who you are is to rise from the ashes, not as a phoenix yet again but as something new and different—transforming like David Bowie or Madonna or Lady Gaga. We become better and stronger by suffering and overcoming. We may appear to die or fade away, but we are really just gathering strength and reconstituting ourselves into a grander form.
It can be said that one can only become who one is through a trial by fire, which affords the ultimate opportunity to manifest, or create, oneself. Although too much suffering is debilitating, just enough is empowering; without it, man does nothing more than tend to his base desires. But with it, he transforms himself into the hero that he was always meant to be. The ancient sages reported of the holy quest for the philosopher’s stone, and each of us misperceived the rock as a tangible possession; thus, it was never located.
History’s great intellects and adventurers travelled far and wide, only to return with empty hands. So, the stone was labelled as a myth and placed within the cannon of the world’s greatest fiction. Yet, the stone was always there, unbeknownst to those who sought it. It hid in the same location in which it’s always been: the philosopher’s stone can only be found within. All of us are the stones, or as Pac would have said, we are the roses. And it’s on us to engender growth, for we are the ones whom we’ve been searching for.
I’m truly grateful for having been granted the opportunity to hear the stories of other roses, of people who weren’t meant to live long lives but who’ve thrived despite, or maybe because of, their toxic environments. They are the roses, and their histories are their concrete. As Tupac once remarked, I “love their will to reach the sun.”