"I now aim to lead an empowered, creative, and deeply joyful life not because I’ve “overcame” my trauma, but because I am able to take care of and believe in myself despite my trauma."
Emmy Marie is a trauma survivor turned educator, writer, speaker, and coach. She uses her experience of survival and recovery to help other survivors own their truth, reject shame, and connect to their power. She is based in the Pacific Northwest and loves spending time reading books, hiking, and watching The Office when she's not nerding out about the latest trauma research.
SWY: I know you go more in detail on your blog Blooming Forward, but if you don’t mind sharing - What is your story with childhood/youth abuse and trauma?
EM: Absolutely. My story is one of teen dating violence. When I was 15, I entered into a relationship with another 15-year-old that very quickly became co-dependent and increasingly toxic. Throughout the 3 years we were together, the abuse grew from subtle negative comments about my hobbies, skills, and friends to full out verbal abuse, name-calling, humiliation, and degradation. It grew from coerced sexual activity into daily sexual abuse that taught me how to dissociate from my body and associate sex with pain. The abuse went from inklings of suspicion when I wasn’t 100% available to communicate with him (like when I was with my friends) to full out accusations of infidelity that excused the abuse and made me walk on eggshells and being constantly on the defense, trying to prove I was “good enough”. The relationship took me from a vibrant, naïve girl to a depressed, chronically anxious woman. I had to grow up fast as I attempted to conceal everything that was happening from my family and friends. I had to grow up fast to pretend that everything was okay to myself, that this is what love was. I didn’t think it was possible to leave the relationship due to threats of violence whenever I tried, so I resigned into an acceptance that this was my life, and it would never get better.
I finally left the relationship after being miraculously prescribed an antidepressant that enabled me to see the relationship as toxic and empowered me to leave it. While this was a miracle for me, I never mean to imply that medication is the answer for all people. It’s just what happened to me. I didn’t recognize myself as being traumatized until 4 years later when I had repeated the cycle once again and found myself leaving another toxic relationship. As mentioned, to read the full story please head to my blog, bloomingforward.blog, as it’s very long and difficult to tell concisely.
SWY: How have your experiences with trauma and abuse changed your life?
EM: For a long time, my experiences of trauma and abuse made me live in a world of shame. I was deeply ashamed of what had happened to me and perceived that it was my fault because I “let it happen” by not leaving sooner. I had no knowledge of how trauma worked or what it was, and no one encouraged me to sit with my pain and process it; which is no one’s fault, especially since no one including my parents knew how bad the relationship really was. For years I tried to escape my past, and coped with the pain inside by ignoring it through any means possible such as drugs, alcohol, people, work, fitness, dieting, partying, etc.
Eventually, all of my methods of escaping myself started to backfire and no longer served me. I had horrific eczema wreaking havoc on my body and daily anxiety. My symptoms of trauma became so loud and impossible to escape. I knew I had to get help. I started seeing a therapist and learning through books and podcasts about what trauma was and finding ways to heal. In the past 3 years, I have devoted my life to healing myself. I once thought healing was finding a destination of perfect happiness and having no symptoms ever again. Now I believe that healing is a path I will always be walking on. There will always be new obstacles and loops back to the past, but I gain resilience and skills to cope with my trauma with each obstacle I face. I now aim to lead an empowered, creative, and deeply joyful life not because I’ve “overcame” my trauma, but because I am able to take care of and believe in myself despite my trauma.
SWY: Can you tell us more about Blooming Forward and what inspired you to create it?
EM: Absolutely! I started my Instagram account @Blooming_Forward over 2 years ago as a place for me to put my creative work around my own trauma recovery into the world, and connect with others. When I was really struggling with the abuse and trauma, I couldn’t find anywhere to go where people were talking about these things. There is soooo much stigma surrounding trauma and abusive relationships, so part of my intention behind Blooming Forward was to normalize these topics - not normalize in a way that says any of these experiences are okay or somehow good, but normalize survivors talking about their experiences as much or as little as they want to. I know how incredible it was for me every single time I saw someone I followed online talk about their trauma because it made me feel like I wasn’t alone, which is so profoundly healing when you’ve been abused and forced into silence. I wanted to be that person for someone else.
As my account has evolved and grown, I still want my platform to be a place where people can come to feel seen, understood, and validated in their experience of surviving abuse. I want people to see me openly talking about my experience and feel like it’s possible to have a joyful and beautiful life even while tending to a traumatized brain and body. I want to share my experience with the hope of inspiring others that healing is possible, and if I can thrive despite my trauma, then they can too. I also want to get rid of the idea that all trauma survivors are sad, ashamed victims, or are defined by my trauma. To do this I make sure to share the positive, joyful, and “regular” things about my life too, not just the painful or trauma-related work I do.
"I want people to see me openly talking about my experience and feel like it’s possible to have a joyful and beautiful life even while tending to a traumatized brain and body."
SWY: What have you learned about yourself in the process of telling your story? What benefits have you experienced from sharing your story with others?
EM: One of the biggest things I’ve learned about myself through sharing my story is the difference between vulnerability and transparency, and why asking for help and leaning on others is essential to healing from trauma. I strive to be radically vulnerable on my platform, to be honest, and raw about my journey and reject the shame that tells us we can’t be honest about our struggles. I found that over time, this became really easy to do on a platform that while public, was also me speaking from behind a screen. I realized one day that I was able to put all these things online but could barely reach out to my closest friends about what I was going through. This made me realize I was being transparent, without being vulnerable. It was a huge challenge and growth point for me to finally be able to reach out to my loved ones and stop pretending to be okay and let myself receive their love instead of feeling like I had to do everything on my own.
Overall, the biggest benefit I’ve found from sharing my story with others is the deep healing found in solidarity, in “me, too”. Creating this community has shown me that while my experience is unique, I’m not the only one struggling with my symptoms. This has helped me break the stigma in my non-online life, where I’m more able to advocate for myself and my needs and be honest around where I need help. In addition, I’m an Enneagram type 2, also called “The Helper”, and derive the most satisfaction and fulfillment from helping others. So, every time I get a message from someone saying I’ve helped them by sharing my story, it lights my fire and fills my cup, making me more motivated to keep sharing my truth.
SWY: On your blog, you talk about “rejecting shame” - What do you mean by this and what are some ways that one can do this?
EM: What I mean by rejecting shame, is listening mindfully to the messages of shame we internalize from our abusers, our culture, or other sources. These messages sound like “I should just be quiet", “I need to get over this”, “I’ll never be good enough", “Something’s wrong with me”, “The abuse was my fault”, “No one cares”... Etc. These messages keep us stuck in our trauma, believing it was somehow our fault, and like we won’t be loved or accepted if we are honest with our experience. We reject shame when we hear these messages and say, “I know you’re trying to keep me safe or make sense of what I’ve gone through, but no thank you." We reject shame when we hear these messages and decide not to listen. We hear shame saying to be small and silent, and we reach out for help and believe in our ability to grow instead. I don’t believe healing means the voice of shame will ever go completely away, especially in a world that currently still blames and shames survivors when they speak out. I believe healing means rejecting shame, and not letting it have control over us. You don’t have to do this on your own, and working with a professional or even just talking to a friend can be extremely helpful for quieting or rejecting shame.
SWY: What is one piece of advice you would give to a child or youth who is suffering from trauma and abuse and wants to heal but doesn’t know how?
EM: First I would say, there is nothing wrong with you, and what you’re going through is absolutely not your fault. You have never been deserving of this abuse. I want you to know the truth, that you are special and loveable exactly as you are. You don’t need to change or pretend that you’re okay when you’re not. Your feelings are valid, even when they’re loud or you’re told they’re inappropriate. Things will get better. Reach out for help at your school, or with someone you feel really safe with.
"Things will get better, and you don’t have to endure this on your own. You are so loved and inherently worthy of respect, joy, and peace. I believe in you!"
SWY: What is the most important thing you want others to understand about being an abuse survivor?
EM: Every abuse survivor has a unique experience and copes with things in different ways. Some people find it easier to be angry with their abuser, while some feel more afraid, and some feel more grief. There is no one-size-fits-all way to have trauma. If you see messages out there about trauma or healing or mental health that don’t resonate with you or make you feel ashamed, that isn’t because there’s something wrong with you or necessarily with the message either. Not everything will click and relate to your experience. Keep looking for things that do help you and leave the rest for someone else. Your healing journey is your own, and no one will have the magic answer to make everything better. You will find many different things that help you along the way, and your unique needs are worthy of respect and validation. While we can all come together to support one another, our experience will look different than other people in our community, and that’s okay.
SWY: What would you say has helped you the most throughout your healing journey?
EM: Oof, this is a hard one. Different things have helped me the most during different parts of my journey. When I was being abused and could barely find the will to live, my friends and family who stuck around helped me realize it was still possible for me to be loved. When I could barely function due to the surge of my complex PTSD symptoms, seeing a therapist and reading books about trauma helped me realize I wasn’t crazy, and my symptoms didn’t mean there was something wrong with me. When I’ve struggled to cope with overthinking, fear, and intense emotions, cultivating a practice of mindfulness and self-compassion, also called Radical Acceptance by psychologist and meditation teacher, Tara Brach, has helped me learn to sit with my emotions and not try to desperately escape them. There was a time in my life where what helped me most was solitude and an almost hermit-like state of self-reflection. There was a time in my life where what helped me most was reaching out and being vulnerable with other people, even though I couldn’t guarantee they’d take what I had to say well. So, it’s hard to point to one thing, but those are some examples of things that have helped the most.
SWY: Your story shows an incredible amount of resilience and strength. Where do you think your strength comes from?
EM: Thank you so much! I believe my strength comes from the role I was placed on Earth to live out, or my purpose in this lifetime, in addition to the survival instincts we all have as human animals. I believe that deep down we are all here to live wildly joyful, creative lives in tune with our emotions, other people, and the environment around us. When we are conditioned to believe we are not worthy of this joy, or when systems of oppression keep us from accessing it, we are cut off not just from our purpose but from our instinctive and intuitive knowings. I think my strength comes from the fire deep inside me that never forgot these truths. That even when I was suffering and mentally believed I was worthless, there was something deeper in me that whispered, “keep going”. Every step I take away from my inner truths isolates me from this sense of purpose, but every time I turn towards my inner world and really sit with what I’m going through, I become more resilient and strengthened by the power it took to simply survive. I think about that all the time, how people look at abuse survivors as weak victims, but in reality, the amount of power it takes to simply survive under abuse or oppression is incredible. I think all of us have that power, and we can use it to help heal ourselves, our communities, and our local and global ecosystems once we realize that it exists. That’s where rejecting shame comes from because shame keeps us hidden from the truth of our power. Once we discover our power, we can call on it again and again, and to me, that’s what strength is.