I believe that each of us is born with unlimited power and potential. But sometimes, we face circumstances that can negatively alter our views about ourselves. For many burn survivors, the experience of trauma has caused profound feelings of longing and a great sense of loss, oftentimes forcing hurtful thoughts and questions about self-worth, existence, and the future.
You are not alone; I’ve walked down these roads before. Many others have, too.
Below are some tools and strategies I’ve learned to use to regain my strength and reclaim my power.
I highly encourage people to tap into their communities for support, whether it’s a burn organization like Phoenix Society or other community-based organizations. It’s within these communities that I met other survivors who had been through similar life experiences.
To echo some of Phoenix Society’s core beliefs, I believe that “people can heal people.” When we come together to share our stories, our struggles and triumphs, we create a space to learn to navigate life together. Healing and regaining our strength are not easy feats. It takes a lot of hard “heart” work; you don’t have to do it alone.
Whether through formal education (e.g. university, community college) or certification programs, trade schools, etc., knowledge can open doors to endless opportunities that in turn challenge your mind, build capacities, and focus your potential. It can help you develop and gain confidence—something that nobody can ever take away from you.
For me, education is one of the most powerful tools I have ever acquired. Through education, especially with my study in social work and mental health, I have been able to gain a deeper understanding and self-awareness regarding my own trauma and healing process. I am able to develop coping strategies and tools that work for me. Even on the days I don’t feel my best, I can ground myself and remain emotionally resilient. I know that emotions and uneasy situations don’t last forever.
Another strategy to help you find your strength is focusing on your hobbies and passions. When you focus on what you can do best, you are nurturing your gifts while building confidence. The more consistent your efforts, the better the results and, ultimately, the greater the chance you’ll feel better about who you are as a person.
Whenever I felt down in the past, I’d turn to cooking, working out, or dancing to release my stress. Over the years, focusing on these hobbies has made me realize how much I DO have the power to choose JOY and happiness. I learned that I could take control by choosing my focus, and I can be in control even in hard times.
Staying active is super important for feeling good about yourself. There is scientific evidence indicating that when you are active (walking counts!), your brain develops this chemical called serotonin, otherwise known as the happy chemical.
When you stay active, you’re more likely to feel confident about who you are, and your body will thank you for it. Additionally, our bodies keep account of what has happened to us, including and especially past trauma. The accumulation of all the stress over the years shows up physically, in the form of headaches, stomachaches, body aches, and more.
Trauma and its effects can have a lifelong impact on our overall health, so let’s be kind and make sure our body receives the support it needs to sustain, survive, and ultimately thrive in life.
Much research indicates the powerful impact journaling can have on us. It can decrease our stress and anxieties while promoting mindfulness and allowing introspection. Start each morning with five to ten uninterrupted minutes of journaling to set your intentions for the day. If you are not a morning person, you can also do it at the end of the day before bed.
It’s helpful to use a timer and set devices like phones and computers aside. I know journaling isn’t easy for everyone, but our brains absorb so much throughout the day that holding everything in with no release can be very overwhelming and stressful. When we take time to write out our thoughts, we are able to challenge whether or not our thoughts are true, or if they’re simply clouded by our emotions. Finding strength is a process that requires introspective work; it may cause us to sit and rumble with discomfort. Journaling is a great way to release pressure and gain strength.
Last but not least, I highly encourage professional mental health or coaching support. It’s not easy to identify strengths when you feel hopeless or overwhelmed with pressure. Being strong is knowing when it’s time to be vulnerable and allow professionals to support us.
If you feel sick, you go see a doctor, correct? Well, therapists and coaches are doctors for our minds. Life is already tough for us burn survivors to navigate. Let’s make sure we give ourselves a chance at not just surviving but thriving.
At the end of the day, there’s no blueprint for what exactly will help you find your strength. But one thing is for certain: it’s harder to do the work of overcoming trauma, healing, and regaining strength alone. Communities exist so we can be each other's source of guidance and support. I invite you to connect with me and/or other Phoenix Society resources.
And remember, we are on this road together.
Huyen “Kiki” Vo is a burn survivor, social worker, and a motivational speaker. She has a master’s degree in Social Work with an emphasis on Community Mental Health. She currently serves families with histories of homelessness, mental health, and substance use challenges. She is also a psychotherapist-in-training with a focus on trauma-informed care and strengths-based healing. During free time, she is a wellness coach who helps survivors of trauma and hardships learn how to regain strength and thrive in life. Check out www.thrivewithkiki.com to learn more about her story and work.