Amie Johnson Interview Image
The Empowered Women Series

Interview with Amie Johnson: Trauma survivor and a host of The HeART of Healing podcast

I “met” with Amie via Instagram and instantly felt we have much in common. She’s recently come out of years of dealing with trauma symptoms and mental health (mis)diagnoses and is moving on in her healing journey. I always appreciate her heartfelt and honest posts, and find much wisdom in her words and story.

Here are Amie’s own words:

Tell us a little bit about your life journey.

This question always gets me! I’ll give you the “nutshell version.”

I was born and raised in a small, beach town in West Michigan. My childhood was a strange dichotomy of idyllic and awful. I had an emotionally and physically abusive dad, and a mom who was very codependent. I first recall being frightened of my father and his rage around age 3 and the abuse lasted until I left home in my teens. I say parts of my childhood were idyllic, in that I played outside with friends, lived near the beach, and had close relationships with my cousins. Imagination, reading, and play were my saving grace as a kid. My safe places.

As I grew into my teens, I began to cope with my horrible home life by engaging in many high-risk behaviors, struggled with opiate addiction, and drinking as forms of self-medicating. My teen years would require a novel of their own but it ultimately ended in teen pregnancy and having a baby at age 18. I settled down and got a good job at an automotive factory, and eventually met my husband to be. We married and had 5 (yes five!) more children together, including my daughter Mya who died at 6 months old.

Up until Mya’s death, I was able to stuff my trauma and past deep downand play the part of the happy working mom, but slowly, it started spilling out in small ways. My marriage was already on the rocks but I worked hard to keep it together. Ultimately, we lost our home to bankruptcy and foreclosure, and needed to relocate across the country to Arizona. Six weeks after arriving in Phoenix, with marriage hanging by a thread, our new rental home burned nearly to the ground. I was able to get the children and pets out safely but our few belongings were lost. We “stuck out” our marriage for a few more years, while trying to recover from so many devastating events, but eventually, it fell to pieces.

When my marriage ended, I struggled with depression, self-worth, pain, what I thought was mental illness (I was diagnosed as rapid-cycling bipolar as a teen and had been medicated for years with varying degrees of success), and many other things. I had a house full of preteen kids and complex trauma was creating collateral damage at every turn. I was coping in any way I knew how. Drinking, sleeping around, cycling, running, and working out until I was exhausted. I would deprive myself of food to lose weight to boost my self-esteem, and then get a temporary high from the attention of men.

After about 2 years of this behavior, I started realizing something was very wrong and began to open myself up to the idea of healing from trauma, and started looking into the possibility that my mental illness diagnosis may have actually been wrong, and maybe I was living with the full-blown effects of complex trauma.

It’s about 2.5 years since that realization and my life has done a complete 180. I am now actively pursuing healing, experiencing healing, and have an amazing relationship with my boyfriend of 2 years, and work every day to be the best mom to my kiddos.

Three words that describe you most accurately.

Passionate, all-or-nothing (does that count as one word?), creative.

What set you off on your journey of transformation and healing/recovery?

The realization that if I did not find a way to help myself, the effects of trauma would continue to impact my children.

What made you start sharing about yourself and your experiences with others?

I think it started by opening up to my first great therapist, as well as one of my best friends, Savannah (founder of Conquer Trauma), and realizing that the validation I received from sharing my story and experiences and struggles was SO incredibly important. I wanted to share to encourage others to share, and perhaps feel validated in their own past and trauma.

Did you have a particular “aha” moment during your journey?

I did! I’m a commercial and editorial photographer and work in marketing, and one day I was photographing Savannah while she was speaking about trauma-informed care at a large seminar in Scottsdale. I usually “zoned out” while shooting and just paid attention to the images and my camera, but this particular day, she was talking about her YEARS of misdiagnosis in the realm of mental illness after years of sexual and physical abuse. She said she was told she had schizoaffective, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, severe anxiety, depression, and many more, yet there she stood. A few years later, free from any symptoms of those diagnoses. Her symptoms were the result of living in full-fledged PTSD for well over a decade. Everything she said resonated with me, right down to her struggle with finding a medication that actually worked. For the first time, I was really willing to consider maybe I was a product of years of trauma and abuse and was not the melange of disorders I had previously thought.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced and overcome?

For me personally, one of my biggest challenges was to STOP comparing my journey and my position to others. I would discredit my own trauma and I would view myself as perpetually damaged in contrast with others, which greatly diminished my self-worth and self-efficacy.

Showing myself grace and compassion has been so important. The only comparison I make is to myself. Am I in a better place than I was last week? Last month? Last year?

I like to compare healing to a recipe. Two people might follow the same recipe and use the same ingredients, but maybe they shopped at different stores, maybe the ingredients came from a different place. In the end, there is no identical comparison. The end result will always have differences. Don’t compare and show yourself grace.

Is there something you struggle with on a day-to-day basis?

I think, due to a large portion of my abuse stemming from physical mistreatment, my fight or flight senses are constantly on high alert. Sometimes a tiny trigger will send me into full-on anxiety. My body struggles to interpret certain sensations correctly. I will mistakenly label feelings of excitement or anticipation as feelings of fear and danger and, of course, my brain responds to that accordingly, which creates unnecessary anxiety. I have been working hard on being mindful of this tendency and renaming and reframing the way I respond to certain physical sensations or certain situations.

What practices & tools you lean on to get yourself up and running again?

Journaling is HUGE for me, reading, podcasts, and talking with others who have lived through trauma and are doing healing work. I love the Insight Timer meditation app, and I am part of the Conquer Trauma program. The most invaluable resource for me has been a $10 book I purchased by Dr Bessel van der Kolk, called The Body Keeps the Score. I recommend this book for ANYONE with a history of trauma or abuse.

How do you define “healed”?

To me, healing is the act of examining our past trauma enough to understand the impact it has on our current life, using tools, community, and therapy (whatever those look like to you) to create new habits, and ultimately, to release the hold trauma has on our lives.

I do NOT think we need to live in a permanent state of active repair or get “stuck” in our pasts. This could take 6 months for some people, or 6 years. We are not condemned to live out a life of repair. It is our inherent right to be free of its hold.

How does the process of healing look for you?

It looks like mindfulness and moving out of my comfort zone in some ways while allowing myself to screw up sometimes. It looks like forgiving myself for things I did in the midst of trauma and being honest with myself about the work I’m doing. It means actually reading the book my therapist recommends and not just paging through it and saying “it didn’t work for me, nothing ever does.”

Is there someone you look up to or who lifts you up when you feel down?

I think my relationship with my boyfriend has been one of the most healing things in my life. He is the first truly, healthy, loving, stable, and emotionally healthy partner I have ever had. I tell people, he doesn’t fix me, he gives me a safe place to fix myself.

Who do you dedicate your work to?

My amazing kids, who gave me the grit to stop the effects of trauma and make the changes I needed to make, and the courage to create healthy boundaries.

Is there something you wish you can change about your life circumstances?

Right now, I am 100% content with the direction things are going! Even on bad days or weeks, I have a sense of hope that I’ve never had before.

If you can ask a genie three wishes, what would they be?

Ha! A laundry fairy! A house big enough for all my kids, pets, and the little herd of goats I want someday! An end to child abuse.

Where do you see yourself in one year?

I’m not sure! If there’s one thing my life is consistent with, it’s throwing curveballs! My boyfriend and I own a marketing firm and we are growing rapidly. I have recently started my podcast, The HeART of Healing, and my kids are slowly growing up so crazy quickly! I see my podcast becoming more of a focus in my life, I see my boyfriend and I purchasing a home together and growing our business, and I see lots of collaborating with other survivors, and more healing!

What is the one thing that never fails to put a smile on your face?

A hug. From my kiddos or boyfriend. I was rarely hugged as a child and it’s something I was so uncomfortable with until I had my own kids. I love that I have grown to accept and give love in this way that used to be so foreign and awkward to me.

What is the one thing you never make a compromise with?

My self-worth. I used to put EVERYONE’s needs before my own, to my detriment, no matter who they were. These days if someone is using me, or attempting to take advantage, the tie gets severed.

What is your message to others struggling with trauma and/or mental health issues?

Do not discount the effects of trauma on your mental health. If you are struggling with a diagnosis and feel like you are “the one person” who doesn’t respond to treatment like you should, if you are banging your head against a wall looking for help or answers, or feeling damaged beyond repair, please see a therapist that specializes in trauma-informed care. I think all too often we discredit our own trauma. We hear others’ stories and think “well my trauma wasn’t THAT bad, so what’s my problem?” and we continue living in a state “trauma brain.” Your story deserves to be heard and you deserve to be the person you were meant to be before trauma touched your life.

If you get to write a book what would you title it?

A Mitten and a Cactus.

Were can others find you/contact you?

Instagram: @amieinthedesert.

My podcast, The HeART of Healing: available on iTunes, Google Play, Podbean, and Soundcloud.

References:

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

Insight Timer Meditation App

Savannah Sanders, Conquer Trauma

The HeART of Healing Podcast

I hope you enjoyed today’s interview and that it inspires you to continue healing, growing and sharing your story with the world.

Do you resonate to Amie’s story? Do you think you might’ve suffered trauma? Which part stuck out the most for you?

Make sure to reach out to Amie in the comment section below and check out her podcast. Help spread the healing – share this post!

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Vilina Christoph is a spiritual writer and uses the power of words to help others on their journey of healing and recovery. She distills challenging life experiences into meaningful lessons and practical wisdom. She believes that finding our voices and speaking our truth empowers us to transform our lives and reach long-lasting fulfillment.

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