From unresolved trauma to self-love: a journey

Ideas Nov 19, 2020

While writing this piece about how loved I felt, I had a massive aha-moment.

I was writing about Australia. See, for the past few years, I held the belief that one thing I would change about my experience there is how I held back from living life to its fullest.

You'd ask me about the year, and I'd say - yes, Australia was incredible, I loved that country and met wonderful people there.

Then I'd say - but, I wish I'd approached it differently, because I was always the girl who was going to leave, which stopped me from being present and investing more in relationships there.

And then, my fingers started writing - is that true, Laila? Did you really hold back? Without being able to control it, I disagreed out loud to what I had written on screen - That's not true.

I got flashbacks to my time in Melbourne, where I'd spend Wednesday evenings at the outdoors food market with the Australian gang I had met in Nice, where I discovered yoga for the first time, along with the exciting prospects of startup life, where dinners with my roommates got me to meet the wonderful friend whom I spent Christmas & New Years' in Bali with.

The flashback then took me to Sydney, where I traveled as a tourist to see the All Blacks and whales, where I explored that gorgeous bay up and down, and where I moved to a few months later. Where I met people who were key in helping me free my creativity, as well as give me the vocabulary I needed to become more aware, and where I just had a ton of fun.

So why was I anchored in that cloudy belief? What was I truly feeling back then?



Right there, it just clicked. You again, trauma.

I was carrying my trauma from the attack I had just witnessed in Nice that summer, the shock, the grief of the losses that came with it, and I hadn't known better than to push it down.

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

I had never lost anyone in such a violent way. My grandpa had passed away several years ago, and while my heart broke to see my dad's pain during that time, his dad had been sick for a long time and it was the natural course of life. Nothing was natural about this attack.

I had never been so close to a violent, unfair, unnatural death experience.

So when I moved to Australia, only 2 weeks after July 14, 2016, pretending like I was fine - No really, I AM FINE - I was convinced that moving across the globe would heal me without any further action required.

And while since then, I have worked on healing in a more intentional way, and surrounded myself with people who could teach me how to do so, yesterday was the first time I looked back at the mental fogginess I experienced in Australia and saw the direct link between that state of mind and my then-unresolved trauma.

I was carrying the ghost of trauma on my shoulders everywhere I went. I had no clue, in spite of the obvious signs: I would start crying at the mention of Nice, or attacks, or trucks, or murders, or terrorists; in fact, my whole body had a freezing, tensing reaction to any of these topics in any given setting.

Looking back at my year down under, I kept telling myself the story that I could have done more, socialized more, traveled more, explored more.

I now see that I couldn't have. I now see I didn't hold back out of not living in the present, or laziness.

I was just in pain and did my best to make the most out of that experience. All the while learning how to be an adult outside of a student setting, for the first time, in a fourteen-hour time lag with my family, tens of thousands of kilometers away.

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Why does this all matter anyway?

Well, I pride myself in not living in regret. When I make choices, I do my best to acknowledge and accept the known and unknown trade-offs they come with.

So the story I was telling myself about Australia didn't add up, because something was off, yet I knew I had done all my choices in alignment with myself.

I came across this TED talk yesterday night, several hours after this aha-moment of mine. Lori Gottlieb, an author and therapist whom I particularly admire, talks about the power of editing our own stories.

The belief that I had held back might have served me in making sure that I was intentional and present moving forward. But it never felt quite right, as it was casting an unfair shadow on a year that had been full of life, and that had been pivotal in the development of who I am today.

This belief never told the whole story. It no longer served me.

This post is my edited story.

Lori says in her talk:

The way we narrate our lives shape what they become.

I wholeheartedly believe in this.

This aha-moment, so strong it got a visceral reaction out of me, paired with years of work in acknowledging and healing the trauma I was carrying, completely shifted my outlook on my 2016-self to a more loving, compassionate perspective.

And that is the story I want to tell, first and foremost to myself.

One where I support myself in healing.

One where I hold space and compassion, rather than blame and shame, for the trauma I've experienced.  

One of unconditional self-love.

Cover photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.


Laila Zouaki

Adopted by New York, I made a few life stops in California, Australia, France and Morocco. I'm curious about product, scuba diving, yoga, psychology, art, writing, and food.