This is the second post in the Dark Goddess Series- where we explore the facets of the Dark Goddess and Her themes such as pain, shadow work, death, trauma, aging, healing and rebirth. You may wish to explore the first and third posts in this series as well.
I often work with womxn who are amidst a time where they are either going through a period of transformation, or are just coming out of it and working to integrate or move into the new spaces created by the change. This has led me to learning about Post-Traumatic Growth, and have found the concept to resonate with myself and work with clients.
What is Post-Traumatic Growth?
There are experiences in life that serve to completely dissolve or destroy who we once were and rebirth us into a new self or way of being. Sometimes these experiences are traumatic. Often these changes leave us with a feeling of loss or grief for what was. A period of confusion, anger, fear and re-orientation, and finally acceptance and a new way of seeing things.
These challenging life events change us permanently- in which one simply cannot go backwards, one cannot return to the previous way of being. The present does not feel comfortable yet, either. The future is unclear.
Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) is different from resilience. Resilience is our ability to bounce back from a stressful or traumatic event, which can be one of the outcomes of post-traumatic growth. However, PTG refers to what can happen when someone has difficulty bouncing back and the traumatic event challenges their core beliefs, they endure psychological struggle and then ultimately find a sense of personal growth.
One may experience a milder version of this after enduring a struggle in life. Also, one may not be yet in the phase of healing from trauma during which PTG can be considered. There is a time where we need to simply be present with the pain, and the focus is on coping and surviving.
Some examples of life challenges/traumas may be: Becoming a mother, losing a child, losing a loved one, divorce, leaving a serious relationship, disability, sudden serious illness or prolonged chronic illness, mental illness, sexual assault/abuse, loss of a major source of identity such as one’s vocation or work, loss of one’s home or basic survival needs, moving far away from one’s family or culture, gender or sexual orientation coming out, etc. Not everyone experiences these events as traumatic. Some may find it very stressful, forcing them to learn new skills, or adapt and survive. Some may experience it as traumatic, but their resilience prevented a psychological breakdown and they were eventually able to adapt. Some may experience it as traumatic, psychologically breaking/re-orienting, and then managed to grow from that. So, if the event was not as ground shattering, the growth may not be as dramatic. I feel there are different levels of this, and there is an element of spiritual growth that our challenges gift us with. They may not all fall under the PTG category, however there are similarities.
For many, this pandemic has brought this deeply transformational experience into their lives. For some, it tested and challenged us to adapt and survive, but resilience kicked in. For some, it is leaving a harsh, permanent imprint.
These hard times can leave us overwhelmed in grief and loss. But what is it all for? How can we grow through this experience? What is the Dark Goddess asking of us in these times? How is She here for us now?
When we are going through this process, we eventually notice our outlook is clouded, we are tired and strained. We may compare ourselves now to who we were before. We may feel tired, weary, downtrodden, anxious or just a hot mess.
Whether you are healing from trauma, experiencing a significant transformation, or a ‘dark night of the soul’, what is happening is a deep stretching, deepening and strengthening in your psyche and soul. These painful experiences are what form and transform us into wiser beings.
This is not a pleasant or comfortable experience, and as pleasure-loving humans, we may wonder if we made a mistake, if we are heading down the wrong path, or are simply not cut out for the experience we are moving through. Doubt, insecurity and fear take over. It is like we are being stretched and/or contorted or pushed into a new form- like a lump of clay. There is no choice but to surrender and flow with the change. We may wonder what good can come of this at all and we slip into nostalgia for how things were during a more innocent time.
I feel the Dark Goddess holds us in these times and asks us:
“Do you really want to be who you were before? Before the pain, the shock, the loss, the challenge? You may think so, at first. But has this experience not strengthened, deepened and wisened you? You are growing and changing into a beautiful new form. Be patient with the process my dear. Trust that who you are becoming is exactly who you need to be. You will help others from your experience. You will have more capacity for joy, energy and love than you had before. Give it time.”
What if we are here simply to become deeper, broader, more compassionate human beings? Not younger-looking, more successful, or wealthier beings.
What if we are on the path to becoming a Wise Womxn and ancestor? Imagine this experience through the lens of your wise Crone or Elder self- your 80 year old self. What would they have to say about this?
In our bodies, when we workout to build muscle, we effectively have to rip our existing muscles. From that pain comes growth and healing, and new strength in the form of bigger muscles.
When we give birth, our body has to open and expand in ways unlike any other. From that intense surrender, our body and psyche are changed permanently. The sacrifice of motherhood brings us the joy of having new life in the form of a child, and it may well leave some scars and deeper wrinkles behind. We may struggle through depression and a deep re-orientation of being. Eventually, our capacity for love and commitment is much greater than before.
When we lose someone we love, we can be consumed with grief. The sorrow is deep and leaves us feeling alone in the world, like nothing will be the same ever again. We feel a part of us is gone forever. That same sorrow helps us to appreciate life that much more. Slowly, that emptiness eventually fills with appreciation for life and gratitude. All the moments we have left are more dear to us. We see our life as a gift.
Heartbreaks can increase the heart’s capacity to hold even more love. Each ended relationship has the potential to bring the clarity and courage to love ourselves more.
There are countless examples of growing through pain, and the Post-Traumatic Growth process in action. When we have been in survival mode for too long, it can be helpful to make space to imagine.
What if we imagined the new spaces we are creating to grow into? What new deeper, stronger version of us is emerging through the scars and exhaustion? What new compassion, empathy or capability is arising from the ashes?
How has our perspective shifted? What is growing less tolerable or more tolerable?
What space have we created for something new to enter our life?
Sometimes the Dark Goddess nudges us in subtle ways to take notice of these things. She reminds us of the new possibilities that come from our hardest experiences. She is there to show us that the difficult path has a purpose. She will light the way in the dark. We need only ask and keep our eyes and heart open. This is Her invitation to us now, as we near the Winter Solstice, a time to reflect, rest and open to the new possibilities that exist in the void.