It’s no secret that journaling is extremely helpful in recovery from trauma because it helps us express and process our emotions in a healthy way.  So on the topic, have you ever tried third person journaling?

Generally, we tend to write in first person view;  I, we, our, etc., expressing ourselves straight from our own mind and heart, putting down on paper or keyboard, exactly what we are feeling. In the case of third person, it’s a way to look at ourselves from the outside in, as we work through a particular event or situation, using words like He, She, They, or referring to ourselves by name.

This is a unique way to write because get you to look at yourself in a different way, allowing you to have a more open-minded, non-judgmental view of how you handle what is happening in your life.  The ability to separate yourself from the emotions of the moment can really open your eyes to what you have endured at any given time.

Anyway, I was challenged recently to write about an annual event that always causes me a great deal of stress.  One of those situations where I have to just “suck it up and deal with it” while still taking care of myself as best I can…Mothers Day.

A day to celebrate mom, Mother’s Day is all about flowers, greeting cards, cookouts, and family togetherness. A day to celebrate the special woman who helped raise you. However, for so many, this is also a day full of stress, anxiety, worry,  and a day where many old memories have a way of creeping back up and trying to take over. Memories of abuse, emotional neglect, or perhaps a childhood that didn’t include even having a mother.

You know the emotions and triggers are coming, as they do every year, and even when we do our best to prepare they still embrace self compassion and understanding - surviving my pastcan be incredibly difficult to deal with .  Sometimes you just have certain things that, no matter how hard you try, still hit hard and take time to work through on a continual basis.

So this exercise is one where I’m just going to write about what it feels like leading up Mother’s Day, and then how the day itself went.  It will be open, raw, and honest.  It’s unlike my usual posts here, so let’s see how this writing unfolds and right now I’m as curious as you are as to how it ends up.

As it turns out, this would be an emotional roller coaster of a week, in more ways than I had anticipated.

Wednesday Evening: Matt is sitting here at his desk, and after chatting on Skype with a friend about this very subject, He is already beginning to feel the anxiety flaring up. Matt needs to remember that he is safe now, he is capable of taking care of himself, and he no longer needs to subject himself to invalidating situations.  He’s got healthy boundaries, which include low contact and Going Gray Rock with his mother. Still, though, Matt is feeling the twinge of guilt that inevitably flares up during the week leading up to Mother’s Day.

The guilt comes from the knowledge that Matt knows things about her that most do not. Things that others would likely never believe could be possible; that some of his family don’t even know much about, if at all. Matt knows that this guilt is part of his “survivor junk” and comes from the cumulative trauma of childhood sexual abuse, bullying, and emotional neglect and invalidation at home.  Even with years of recovery under his belt so far, he still has to work through the guilty feelings of:

  • Did Matt make all of this up?
  • He feels like an ungrateful son.
  • He feels like he is betraying the family name.
  • He knows if he ever confronted it his mother about what happened, it would likely not end well for him.

Friday Evening: Matt had a good afternoon at his daughter’s Nursing Pinning Ceremony, but the emotions were overwhelming both in good ways and also in a sad ways. The unbelievably pride that he feels in celebrating his daughter’s amazing accomplishment is inspiring and joyful, but it also brings back memories of times that he lost in her earlier growing up years. He’s trying to not focus on the past, but inevitably it comes roaring back.  It’s a struggle that he cannot allow to take over, but combined with the emotions of the upcoming Mother’s Day, it’s not going to be an easy fight.

Saturday: Graduation is over, and Matt is back home now sitting alone at his keyboard. The elation and pride he felt as a dad was consuming in the most positive of ways. His daughter graduated Magna Cum Laude, and has her BSN! She, along his two sons, are the 3 most important people in his life and he would do anything for them.

The apartment is quiet, save for the sounds of Celtic music playing in the background, but the battle rages on his head and heart.  Pride and Joy for his daughter is still fresh in his head after going through the pictures on his phone and remembering the events from earlier in the day, but the inevitable sombering emotions are still fighting for their place in his mind. This struggle will continue through the end of the weekend for sure.

Sunday: After doing his weekly Periscope livestream on Beating Anxiety, Matt knew that self-care was definitely needed. Not because of the livestream, but because of what was ahead; the annual Mother’s Day cookout. He had spent more time around his mother in the last two days then he had in the 6 months combined, so his emotions were on edge and anxiety was in full gear trying to take over.  He decided a nice walk along his favorite trail, near some creeks, was just the ticket. Plus he knew he could get a good 6000 steps in towards his daily goal. Today was a beautiful spring day, 70 degrees and sunny; the birds were singing and the creeks were running high from all of the recent rainfall.

self-care by the creek - surviving my pastIt also turns out he decided to do a second Periscope and just share some of the natural beauty and ambient sounds that nature was providing. This helped to not only calm the anxious feelings, but also ended up helping many others who joined the livestream.  He counted this as a big win, but the big test was still looming.

Upon arriving, the cookout was already underway, and after greeting his dad, he did his usual blending in with everyone else and kept distance from his mother while not intentionally drawing too much attention to himself in the process. The first couple hours went okay, but then as everyone settled in after eating to hang out and talk, he eventually found himself needing to interact with her. The anxiety grew but he kept it in check and answered questions in short responses; not rude or mean, but simply short and to the point.

Taking some walks around the creek bank, just down from the porch at his sister’s place, he was able to find peace in nature once again. That is one his go to self-care routines, and today it worked as intended once again.  Thank goodness!

After some more time had passed and people began to leave, he talked with his dad for bit more and gave him a hug before they pulled out. Immediately the anxiety began to subside and he sat down on the porch, watching the Cardinals and Woodpeckers fly back and forth between the trees and bird feeders. Ahhhhh, peace at last.

Reading this over a few times after writing it, I can embrace the kindness and compassion that my heart, mind, and soul deserve after a tough, emotion filled last few days. Allowing myself to feel self-compassion through this writing experiment has opened my eyes even more to the importance of not minimizing my feelings. embracing self-love, giving myself a break, and understanding that above all else, this journey of healing may be hard but I am worth it.

Consider showing more understanding and kindness towards yourself today. Self-compassion goes a long way in a survivor journey, not just in the tough times, but also to help reinforce that you are worth healing, every day!


Feature & Post Pictures taken by Matt Pappas. Social media pictures courtesy of Pixabay, designed using Canva.