3 Things to Know When Processing Trauma

 Guest Post by Allie Chapa

Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

The middle is a disheartening place; you don’t quite see the beginning and you definitely don’t see the end. This is how I would describe my process with mental illness and trauma right now. I’m in the foggy, muddy middle and quite honestly, most days I want to give up.

For the last year and a half I’ve been focusing on recovery from my latest episode of depression and anxiety. I have found that for me, medication and counseling are what I need during this time, even though it may not be what’s best for everyone. More specifically, I have been doing EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, a specialized therapy that focuses on trauma. (You can learn more about EMDR therapy, here.)

Within the last five years, with the help of a counselor, I have learned that my childhood was abnormal from others. I have a loving mother who did her best raising me but unfortunately was also emotionally abusive. The pain from this has manifested in a multitude of false beliefs about myself and others—beliefs so deeply embedded in my mind that I didn’t know they were false until this past year as I’ve processed them for the first time in EMDR therapy.

This journey has been long, hard, and freeing all at the same. I have found relief that the things I believe about myself and others are completely wrong. I have found more anxiety because there are so many false and negative beliefs. I have found hope that I can believe new things. I have found frustration because truly believing those new things is really hard. I have found despair because I feel like I’ll never get past all of my trauma. I have found that I not only grow as I go through the process but I also fail—a lot.

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

I can’t say these tips will apply to everyone because I don’t believe the journey looks the same for everyone. We’re all unique individuals, and our journeys will also be the unique. But here are some things that I’ve found help me as I get through the middle of my journey with trauma. (Note: these are all things I’m still learning to do and definitely have not mastered!)

1. Take time to take care of yourself.

The battle to replace your old belief system with a new one takes a lot of energy and can be exhausting. Make sure to be kind to yourself and do things that give you peace and bring you joy. I usually go and buy some dark chocolate after my EMDR sessions and find time to take a nap to rest.

2. Focus on one new belief at a time.

As my journey goes on, I tend to get overwhelmed and feel despair when I think of all of the new thoughts and beliefs I’m working on. Instead of trying to believe 15 new thoughts, I’m working on focusing on just one at a time. It helps me to write mine out on a large chalkboard I have and display it somewhere I can repeatedly read in my house.

3. Give yourself permission to feel pain.

This one is really hard for me. I’m learning that when it comes to trauma, there are layers and layers of pain to be dealt with. No one likes to feel pain, but I’m told that there’s no other way to get to the other side without feeling the pain.

If you are someone who has experienced trauma, I want you to know that your pain is real. I don’t want to pretend to know your kind of pain, but I do know it can hold you back for too long. Please, don’t wait to find help, because there is so much more to your life than the pain you have experienced.

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How to Help a Loved One with an Eating Disorder

Guest Post by Faith Badders

Photo by Chansereypich Seng on Unsplash

Photo by Chansereypich Seng on Unsplash

Over time I have learned that my mind can create something beautiful or something dark and destructive. When I was young, I was a pretty content girl and passionate about living my life to its fullest even when times were tough. As I entered my senior year, I started to evaluate my life and noticed how average I was as a student, dancer, tennis player, daughter, sister, and friend. I felt like everything I once was content with no longer measured up to what my mind was telling me I should have become. At the same time, I was dealing with food sensitivities, recovering from a breakup, and embracing the life changes that would come after graduating high school. 

Slowly but surely I started to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. I was hypersensitive to my emotions and how I felt about food; it was if my gut was an irritable monster that wanted to avoid discomfort at all costs. I never restricted and developed anorexia, but I did eliminate a lot of foods out of my diet and obsessively thought about when and what I would eat. I became anxious and even annoyed around food and how much it consumed my thought life. After six months of dealing with this unhealthy relationship with food, I dropped to an unhealthy weight and was not capable of gaining weight back on my own. 

After graduation, I planned on going on a mission trip to a third world country. However, my parents did not let me go because they did not want me losing any more weight. My parents saying no turned my life around, and I am greatly appreciative of their decision. Instead of going on the mission trip, I decided to admit that I was powerless and needed to surrender control. I spent my entire summer at a treatment center and embraced a journey to receive complete healing. Talk about a humbling yet powerful experience. 

Treatment was hard, pushed me to my edge, and grew me as a person. Every day I had to decide to work hard, rest in grace, and receive the help and support needed to get through the program. Even though my family and friends did not always know how to address the situation, they were very supportive and loved me throughout the process. I am very thankful for the people in my life who love me and support me, but I have learned to acknowledge that I, myself, am ultimately responsible for my recovery and maintaining a healthy mind, spirit, and body.

Photo by Marcelo Matarazzo on Unsplash

Photo by Marcelo Matarazzo on Unsplash

Every person’s journey with food is different, but here are a few suggestions on how to walk alongside them in the midst of an eating disorder.

Have conversations about it—and don’t forget to listen.

It’s easy to avoid difficult conversations, especially when it comes to a sensitive topic like an eating disorder. But broaching the topic opens the door for dialogue and the road to recovery. Ask questions and listen, and most of all, be patient and supportive. Validating feelings, asking questions, and withholding judgment are vital for recovery.

Don’t give quick fixes.

Even though comments like “Just eat more” or “Just look in the mirror—you look great” can seem like a natural response, they can do more harm than good. These statements imply eating disorders are casual problems rather than the complex situations they are. If a statement starts with “just,” think twice before saying it out loud. Instead, encourage your loved one and speak truth about their value as a person.

Offer to help look for professional help.

Finding a doctor or making an appointment with a counselor can be intimidating for many people. Offer to look up providers in the area or to take them to an appointment. Receiving compassionate care can help a person understand any diagnoses they may have as well as screen for any related medical problems. Optimally, eating disorders are addressed holistically, with a team of people helping to talk through nutrition, their relationship with food, and healthy coping mechanisms (counseling was my favorite).

Stay away from shaming.

Stay away from focusing on your emotions and blaming an individual for them (i.e., “I’m scared when you don’t eat” or “I feel guilty that you’re not doing well”). Addiitonally, rather than making comments about actions you disagree with (not eating enough, hurting yourself by doing this, etc.), ask about the emotions or motivations behind these actions. Instead, ask questions about topics like what they find stressful in life or what drives their fear of gaining weight.

Learn about eating disorders.

The more you know about eating disorders, the more likely you’ll be able to offer empathy and positive support. Researching will help you understand what kind of treatment your loved one might need, and it will also make you aware of personal challenges or biases you may not be aware of.

Tips for Parents

While these next few are especially useful for parents, we can all implement them in our lives.

Set a positive example.

This goes far beyond what (or how much) you eat. It includes being mindful of your own self-esteem and self-image and speaking positively about yourself and your body. It also includes avoiding criticism about appearance (your own or anyone else’s). In conversation, try focusing on character qualities instead of physical appearance.

Hold your child accountable, but don’t hover.

Instead of acting like the “food police” or trying to force them to eat, set limits. Using natural consequences to their actions instead of “punishments” you prescribe can be much more powerful motivators. For example, when I was in a weakened state, it wasn’t safe for me to go on a trip to Belize, so my parents didn’t allow me to go.

Don’t blame—your child or yourself.

Instead of focusing on the “could have” and “should have” moments in life, look forward and identify action points you can take today. Evaluate what you have learned and how you can incorporate that into you relationship with your child. Instead, continue to provide hope to yourself and your child by focusing on every victory, no matter how small.

Make meals enjoyable.

Eating meals as a family or inviting friends over for dinner can make mealtimes something to look forward to. Having fun with each other instead of talking about the day’s complications or problems can help create a positive atmosphere, which can become associated with food.

Last of all, take care of yourself.

Make sure you have a support system where you can talk about your struggles and the complex emotions around a loved one with an eating disorder. Consider setting aside a regular time when you can process verbally with a friend, family member, or therapist. By practicing self-care, you’re not only ensuring you can parent your child well, but you’re also modeling self-love in a practical way.

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On Rest(oration)—Part II

In Part I of this series, I wrote about the different aspects of rest and why it’s important. This post is focused on the practicals—simple tips and tools to rest and find restoration.

Take a Sabbath.

In my last post I mentioned The Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner as the inspiration for my experiment in taking a full 24-hour Sabbath from studying and working during nursing school. During this experiment, I discovered the Sabbath does not have to be the traditional midnight-to-midnight day; it could mean sundown-to-sundown in the traditional Jewish sense, or it could mean noon-to-noon or whatever other 24-hour period fit the natural flow of my days. Regardless of when I took a Sabbath, setting aside 24 consecutive hours allowed my mind to unwind. Generally, it took about 3-4 hours for my mind to wind down from breakneck college-schedule speed and begin enjoying the freedom of time specifically dedicated to rest.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Give yourself permission.

This is a tool I initially learned from Rocky Reentry in a post giving readers permission not to have everything figured out when moving back “home” from overseas. This spoke deeply to me, and I began consciously giving myself permission for other things, as well: permission to make mistakes, permission not to be productive, and permission for many other things. In fact, I created a general list of my “Permissions for Life” and later wrote another list of “Permissions for Reentry” after I moved back from Cambodia. Consciously granting myself permission for things has possibly been one of the most powerful tools I have found to unlock a mindset of productivity and embrace rest and restoration.

Start limiting social events.

Throughout life, our capacities for obligations, working, and social events will vary. In college, I could handle one (or more!) social event every day. In times of depression, I could handle one social event a week. However, when facilitating rest, the question is not “What is the maximum number of events/hours of work I can handle?” Rather, the focus is on health—for example, “Will going to this event leave me drained and exhausted, or will it restore me?” Redefining goals and success to target health and not productivity promotes balance and inherently encourages rest.

Plan to Rest.

I have a friend who schedules blocks of time to be at home, resting, throughout the week. If someone asks to meet during one of these blocks of time, she tells them she already has something scheduled—because she does. She just doesn’t tell them the meeting is with her pillow to sleep in for that one morning out of the week! Telling people “no” is difficult—even harder for me is telling work “no” when they ask me to come in, but when I dedicate days or blocks of time in advance to allow myself to rest and recuperate, it’s easier to politely decline requests for my time. Occasionally, I even tell people “I have plans already” because I do—plans to rest!

Ultimately, rest is something to be learned.

When I first started taking a Sabbath in college, my brain simply did not know how to stop racing, analyzing, and studying. In fact, initially it increased my stress level because I worried I was wasting time. It took time and witnessing firsthand how rest increased my productivity throughout the week and paid off in the emotional and spiritual realms before I learned to relax and allow myself to take a break from working and studying. Likewise, when I first moved back from Cambodia and was working part-time and had very few friends (and therefore social events), it was uncomfortable and felt lonely. Yet with time, I began to adjust, learning to be grateful for the extra time to process experiences and emotions and utilize it accordingly.

I am still learning about rest—how to rest, when to rest, what “rest” is. In the midst of all this learning, one thing remains the same: the more I experience rest, the more confident I am that rest is nothing less than essential and healing to my soul.


What are practical way you incorporate rest into your routine? Have you noticed a difference in your week when you set aside time to rest? 

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On Rest(oration)—Part I

A few weeks ago, one of my all-time heroes, Shawn Shannon, sat at my kitchen table and talked about rest. She explained that her season of life was in flux, and she asked if I had any nuggets of wisdom on resting. I found it curious that she thought I had anything to offer when it came to this topic, as my nature is to stay on my hamster wheel of perfectionism and focus on productivity over everything else.

Shawn was patient as I thought. In my head I reviewed the past couple years, and I realized I had learned quite a bit on resting, though much of it was not of my own volition. In the time since our conversation, I have been mulling over how to rest, and here is what I have gathered.

Rest is unnatural—or is it?

Setting aside time to rest is unnatural. The business principles we cling to tell us the more we work or the more productive we are, the greater the profit. In college I began to learn about the benefits of rest when I read about the Jewish Sabbath in The Mudhouse Sabbath; I started taking a Sabbath from studying and working during nursing school and was astonished to find my grades actually improved! What started as a difficult discipline soon became one of my favorite, most refreshing parts of the week. Our first thought may not be to prioritize rest, but our bodies were created to need it. 

The amount of rest we need ebbs and flows along with seasons of life.

While I was in school, an entire 24 hours without studying was enough to fuel the rest of the week. However, last year after living in Cambodia for a few months and moving back to the United States, both my soul and my body were in desperate need of greater rest than a single day could offer. I dove into the first season of rest I had ever encountered.

When I returned to Waco, I found many of my friends had moved, so most of my free days were spent alone—and I had plenty of free days! I began working part-time hours as a nurse, but my applications for other jobs fell through. Though I never would have chosen an empty schedule and a season of rest immediately following my return to the States, it is exactly what I needed.

Living in Cambodia was taxing. I had struggled with depression, and I had poured massive amounts of energy into learning the language and culture of a new country. I had been in a state of “hyper-awareness” for months to avoid cultural faux-pas. I had been intentional about investing in my English students, and I had worked hard to learn how to teach effectively. I loved living in Cambodia—but it took more out of me than I realized! It was a season of high intensity learning and effort, and I needed a season of intense rest afterward.

Rest provides time for healing.

When we sleep, our brains categorize memories and thoughts, and our bodies start to repair the wear-and-tear damage from the day. Likewise, our souls and hearts need time to process events and integrate them into the delicate, unique network of experiences that makes us, us.

To make the most of this time, I have found tools such as reflection and journaling invaluable. Additionally, therapy, counseling, life coaching, and good ol’ coffee dates with friends can help us be intentional about making the most of a season of rest.

Rest is holistic.

Of course, sleeping in and taking naps are one form of rest (and one of my favorites)! Though this covers the physical aspect of rest, we also benefit from mental, emotional, and spiritual rest. I find mental rest when I read a good fiction book, watch television, or spend time drawing or painting. These activities require very little mental stimulation. Emotionally, I find rest during visits with my therapist as well as when I run or exercise. When I jog, I find I am more focused on the physical realm than the emotional—and since I have a tendency to get “stuck in my head,” exercise can be very helpful for me. Finally, spiritual rest can be found in a variety of ways. It can be found listening to music while I run, praying every morning, or meditating. Rest for everyone looks different, but it always involves more than physically sleeping.

These are just a few of my observations on rest! How do you experience holistic rest? What are the benefits of rest, and do you find it natural to incorporate rest into your lifestyle? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment or send me an email—and stay tuned for Part II, where I’ll talk about the practical tips I’ve found that lead to restoration!

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