the Guilt of Post-Traumatic Growth

I had not heard of the term “Post-Traumatic Growth” until I attended a Suicide Loss Survivor Support Group (a little more on the subject can be found here:https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-doesnt-kill-us/201402/posttraumatic-growth). But, once I heard it, I immediately wanted to achieve it. At that point, though, I was already on my way. Before losing my brother to suicide, I was pretty content with my life, but for the most part I had plateaued. By 28, I had just about everything I could want. I had a great little family, with a wonderful husband and amazing daughter. My dream of having horses in my back yard had come true a few months before I lost my brother. I was on a path to living a content, mediocre life.post-traumatic-growth

After the traumatic loss of my brother, though, would that life be enough? Within weeks, maybe even days, I knew it would not be enough. How could I sit back and let life happen instead of taking charge and really living my best life? In a way, I felt like I had to live for two people now. Myself, and my brother. And, I knew that this life would not have been enough for him. I quickly decided to go back to school, which is something Erik and I had always talked about. At the age of 29, I started work to get my Associate’s degree, and eventually I hope to become a social worker. By the time I am 30, I will have my Associate’s and will go on to a University. I have started practicing mindfulness and working on my character flaws. I am exercising, seeing a nutritionist, and losing weight. I am a work in progress, but I am working diligently to get better every single day.

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Unfortunately, with this growth comes other struggles. There are feelings of guilt, sadness, stress, and so much more. Where would I be today without suffering the traumatic loss of my brother? Could I say, then, that I am thankful for the trauma because of how much personal growth I have experienced? Could I be thankful for what I have personally gained from his loss at the expense of his life? I do not think that that could be my resounding emotion, but sometimes I feel it slipping through and it turns my whole life and purpose into a conundrum. Could anything good come from suicide? If it could, how could I, as someone who has become a huge advocate for suicide prevention, admit it? I would like to think that eventually I would have grown on my own with a different catalyst or no catalyst at all, but I will never know what could have happened.

What about everyone else? I see the people around me who were also affected by this trauma struggling to move forward or even stay afloat. Was it fair for me to excel? Should I step back and drown with them? Should I grab their hands and keep as many afloat as I could? How could I leave them behind? Then I realized that they all know how to swim. Everyone struggling was capable of swimming and growing their life as well.

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Eventually, I learned to support people who asked for it, and offer support when I could. As far as the guilt goes, I am still working on it. I know that if given the opportunity, I will help anyone that I can in any struggles that they want to share with me. I know that if I drown, I cannot help anyone. I hope that if anyone is feeling conflicted about growing in the wake of a trauma or tragedy that they take a moment to realize just how important self-care if. It may feel selfish at times. But, you cannot give if you are empty. You can be successful and grow and realize that everyone on this earth is walking their own path. Those paths may cross and you may help one another, but ultimately you only have control over your path.

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