June 9, 2022

You Deserve Space to Heal

by Carey Duval

You Deserve Space to Heal

Never, ever say “I don’t need help. Other people have had it worse.”

That is the single most dangerous phrase you can say to yourself when you are struggling. In reciting, you have denied yourself the right to healing in any way. You resign yourself to suffer needlessly. Variations on this phrase are how people spiral into pain and addiction and anger. It is why the nicest person you know stays in that abusive relationship. It’s how people justify staying in Cults. This is how you stay in horrible situations when the door is right in front of you.

After getting blown up in Afghanistan, breaking a whole slew of bones and losing my dominant hand, I looked around the Physical Therapy wing at Walter Reed and saw fellow Veterans and a couple from the Boston Marathon Bombing with injuries that – in my mind – far surpassed my own.

Saying “I have no room to complain. My injuries are a papercut compared to these people.” was my way of not wallowing and staying motivated to get back to serving on Active Duty. It became a phrase I would say to allay my fear of getting help from Behavioral Health.

I was afraid of being diagnosed with PTSD. All I wanted was to do my job as an Infantryman, so every time I’d suddenly get claustrophobic in a crowd, or feel myself unable to calm down, I would tell myself that I didn’t have the time to get treatment. I would say it was ridiculous that I was panicking. What had happened to me wasn’t that bad.

But I had been blown up in combat. By a Vehicle-borne IED driven by a suicide bomber that left my several ton armored vehicle utterly totaled. I was lucky to survive at all.

And for years I was still telling myself that I didn’t deserve to heal.

I got Cognitive Processing Therapy eventually, a regimented program of reassessment and reprocessing that left me with a tool I can use any time to bring myself back to the present moment, along with a comprehensive summary of my own narratives of my own traumatic experiences. My life is better because I sought out help and accepted that help once it was offered.

The single most important factor of interpreting your reality is the story you tell yourself. In Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Volume 4: Season of Mists, the story reveals that no one is dragged to Hell. Every soul in Hell sends itself there, believing it needs to be punished for what it believes it has done wrong in life. No one can own or control another soul, they belong only to themselves, they just hate owning up to that fact. Acknowledging that we belong only to ourselves is our responsibility. It means that it is our responsibility to heal for ourselves and for the people arounds us.

You do not deserve torment. Do not give your situation power over you. Do not let anyone take your agency away from you, and do not give it away. You and you alone are the one that can allow you to heal. Don’t put it off for later, because trauma doesn’t stay in a box until you have time to deal with it. Take the time with a professional to manage it. Do this for you. You deserve the space to heal.

Carey DuVal