By Stephanie Spillmann 1/31/18
Surviving Trauma is What I Do: A Woman of Steel is What I’ve Become
God made me a woman of steel and I really don’t appreciate it — like, at all. I’m writing from a quiet sunroom, 7th floor up, at University of Colorado Hospital. I was here only five weeks ago, doing the exact same thing. Surviving trauma is just what I do.
It’s like that movie Groundhog Day, only my 26-year-old daughter is in having brain surgery…for the third time in her life. And for the second time in less than six weeks. Traumatic events are second-nature for me at this point.
The first tumor was when she was four and a half years old — I had a two-year-old and was seven and a half months pregnant. Thank God it was not cancerous, and she was considered a surgical cure.
You can read the full story here: Little Miracles Everywhere
Rare Brain Tumor and Death of a Friend
22 years later, that sucker grew back, and this time with some cancerous cells to boot. Neurologists everywhere are scratching their heads. This just never happens. They don’t live in my world. There’s a reason I can claim woman of steel — that title I despise.
When people talk small odds and percentages of things that almost never happen, I just roll my eyes. My life and my kids’ lives have been one rare percentage after another. Coping with emotional trauma is an Olympic sport at our house.
When she was 13, this child of mine lost her best friend in a horseback-riding accident. My best friend — she’s also a woman of steel. She lost her oldest daughter that day, and my two oldest girls lost their childhood…that very day.
Critical Illness and Child Loss
At 16, my second daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It’s a cruel diagnosis, and mothers who have babies and toddlers and young kids with T1D are also women of steel. It’s gut-wrenching when your teenage daughter attends classes to learn how to be her own pancreas.
It’s a life of pin pricks, incessant monitoring, and blood-sugar roller coasters. It can also complicate depression, and is extremely hard on people who already struggle with huge amounts of social anxiety. It’s a dangerous disease. My friend Jillian in Montana is also a woman of freakin steel. She lost her son with T1D.
That precious child of mine took her life when she was 21 — not even three years ago. I had been through a divorce a few years earlier, and she died five weeks before I got remarried.
I walked down that aisle and felt the most grief and the most joy I’ve ever felt inside the same heart. I didn’t even know such a thing was possible. We released balloons to heaven so she wouldn’t be left out.
Becoming a Survivor
My steel-branding process began early with the constant moving we did. Three high schools will make you strong and adaptable in a quick hurry. It’ll also break your heart into a million pieces to think about surviving the trauma of being new…again.
Twenty years of marriage to a substance abuser will also put you through the fire. I raised my four kids practically as a single parent. I thank God for Al-Anon (12 steps for families of alcoholics) — it literally saved me.
This isn’t a poor-me tale. It’s an illustration of how many things can pile up in one life and yet a person can build resilience and keep going. Women of freakin steel are everywhere — you’re probably one of them.
Women of Steel
That single mom who works two jobs and still finds time to read to her babies — woman of steel. Mothers who spend countless hours at bedsides in children’s hospitals watching the flesh of their hearts fade away with cancer — women of fucking steel.
They’re all around. They’re tired faces, forced smiles, heavy, heavy burdens and hearts. They’re mothers and women who manage mental illness while caring for others — or who love children and spouses with such debilitating conditions.
Susan and Caris are women of steel. They’ve loved and lost life partners to depression. Heather and Michele have agonized over children and husband who’ve tried medication after medication to stabilize the ones they love — to offer a chance at a quality life.
Jill and Sahni…they’re definitely women of freakin steel. All mothers who’ve cared for special needs children for decades, and suffer the trauma of losing them in the end — pure steel. I can’t imagine the time, weariness, and pure strength it costs to be a full-time caregiver for years on end.
My daughter — she could hold up a skyscraper. The three brain operations is only part of her story. Her biggest struggles began when her best friend died at 13. Grief, trauma, and loss have been a constant these past dozen years.
She and her sister grew up like twins…and she’s gone too. But still my daughter laughs, and she stays positive, and she looks forward to the next chapter in her life. So strong.
If you’re a multiple trauma survivor — and there are so many — be proud of what you’re made of. Being a woman of steel is for overcomers, and it gives you a depth that others often don’t have. It also helps you recognize others in this tribe. And knowing you’re not alone is priceless.
Read my story of hope: The Power of Coffee and Routine Saved My Life
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