I’m going to start by telling you a story. This story is about me. About 5 years ago, when I began experiencing anxiety in a big way, I literally had no idea what was going on with me. My body felt so strange and the sensations I was feeling felt so scary that I literally thought I was dying. I took myself to the emergency room twice because I didn’t realize that what was happening was a panic attack. If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack full-on, then you know how scary they can feel. I won’t go into too much detail of describing what that felt like, because I wouldn’t want to trigger someone else who is reading this, and I also don’t want to re-trigger myself. Those times were very, very scary and are difficult to talk or write about.
Back to my story…when I went to the emergency room the doctors checked me out and said that I was very healthy. They checked my heart, they did an x-ray and checked my vitals. They asked me if anything major was stressing me out in my life and I said no, not that I could think of. Of course, there was plenty stressing me out in my life I just didn’t want to admit it. The doctor recommended I talk to my family doctor and also consider getting some counselling. I went to see my family doctor at the time who was pretty useless and just wanted to prescribe me some addictive anti-anxiety pills. Tricking my body into thinking it wasn’t really anxious didn’t feel like the right thing to do, so I didn’t even get that prescription filled. **(Sidenote: there is nothing wrong with being on medication, but what he was prescribing was more of a “quick-fix suppressant”. Talk to a doctor who is experienced in working with mental health issues if you are looking to go on or off any medication.)
I had recently started to see a therapist around this time. Honestly, the level of discomfort I felt in my body and the anxiety I felt were so intense that I had trouble believing it had anything to do with any past experiences. I was convinced at the time that there had to be something physically wrong with me and I was terrified of dying (this fear still comes up for me). After a few weeks of me describing my symptoms to my Mom, She suggested that what I might be experiencing was something called post-traumatic stress response (I was later evaluated by a mental health specialist). My Mom knew the symptoms well because she had experienced it herself only a few years prior. At first, this idea seemed crazy to me. Post-traumatic-what?!! That didn’t make any sense to me at the time because I didn’t believe that I had experienced any trauma!! Sure, I knew that I had been through some hard stuff…but who hadn’t? These very real physical bodily sensations (body pain, tingling sensations, numbness and what felt like energy moving around my body, hyper-alertness) were in no way, in my mind, due to something that happened in my past. After all, the past is the past – I had moved on and had always been super tough and got through things pretty well…right?! My point is this: I LITERALLY WAS IN COMPLETE DENIAL OF MY OWN TRAUMA. I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THAT IT EXISTED.
Just because I couldn’t remember all of my trauma or wasn’t conscious of the fact that it actually happened, doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. Trauma isn’t just “a bad thing that happened to you”. It’s not just a memory. Oftentimes, as a way of protecting ourselves, we actually don’t remember much. This is our way of defending ourselves from our trauma when we are not equipped to deal with it in a real way. Not knowing how to deal with trauma is totally NORMAL, especially when we are young. That’s why our memories fragment it and push it away so that we don’t have to deal with it until we are ready. When we are ready to heal (and even that is not usually a conscious decision) memories sometimes return to us but they are fragmented, so we only remember bits and pieces. What we remember and what we don’t doesn’t actually matter…because WE WILL NEVER THINK OUR WAY OUT OF TRAUMA. The experiences live in our bodies. They will stay there and take up valuable space in our bodies until we actually re-connect with our true Selves and feel into what is there in our bodies. This isn’t something you can usually start doing on your own. It requires a well-trained somatic therapist to help you though this and guide you. It isn’t something you just start “doing”. It is a learned practice, and the more you practice the easier it will be, to be with your body in this new way. You actually won’t want to go back to any other way because this is true Self-connection. It will feel so empowering that you will only want to grow into further understanding yourself.
I have seen 3 somatic therapists over the past 5 years and each time I continue to grow. Each time, with each new therapist, I am ready for a new level of healing. A new level of understanding myself. The work is never “done”, I just get hungry to know more. It is my ultimate life journey. There is no greater understanding of anything or anyone other than yourself. I am the person I will have the most important relationship with. So if I’m not good just being with me…I’m not gonna be okay being with anyone. Until I’m really, really okay being completely in Love with Myself, I will just be looking for someone to fill that space. I will be looking for someone to fill me up, instead of learning to fill Myself up.
The good news about our bodies is that all of our positive experiences are also stored within us. So when we are working with our trauma it can be very helpful to “titrate” between these two places…the place of pain and the place of comfort and joy. A good therapist will know how to guide you through this. Other good news is that the work does get “easier”. Well, I don’t know if easy is the right word but it feels easier because you understand what the work is and you know more of what to expect. So when you feel super shitty or scared or vulnerable…you accept these uncomfortable feelings easier. Learning radical acceptance with the trust that the discomfort will pass is huge. You also develop tools to help you though those tough and sticky places. I have learned so much about my Body and getting to know what my Body likes and doesn’t like and what is comforting and soothing to me. So when I get into those anxious spaces, I usually know how to give Myself the environment I need to re-balance/re-centre/re-harmonize. Sometimes I can’t give Myself this environment right away…so until then I BREATHE. Seriously just breathe…stay with your breath. Sit and just pay attention to your breath for at least 2 minutes a day and do this several times a day or as often as you remember. Sometimes I am adrenalized and don’t even realize it until I start sitting with my breath. Then I come back to peace, I come back to ME.
The work of healing and recovering from my trauma has been the most important work of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It has given me my sobriety, the ability to Love more fully, to feel deeper, to experience greater intimacy, greater bliss and more joy. Ultimately, I feel more fully ALIVE. I feel more Myself… my True Self. It’s kind of like when you workout your muscles – they will tear and you will be sore and feel pain. BUT – your muscles repair themselves and when they recover they are even stronger than they were before. They can bear more weight, recover quicker and also help your body overall to metabolize fats, carbs and proteins. Just like working out our muscles, our emotional healing is painful at first. Usually we don’t even want to do it. But after we find our groove, the rewards are huge and the possibilities for our lives are more magical. Working through my trauma has made me so much more RESILIENT. This is something I didn’t understand for awhile but now I really do get it.
There is sooo much more I could say on Trauma – it deserves an entire encyclopedia. These are my thoughts for now and I could say more on the affects of NOT doing your trauma healing but I will leave it here for today. Turn towards your feelings, not away from them. They are your teachers, your friends. Choose openness. Many situations in life are actually an opportunity for growth and healing, should we choose it. Choose, as always, Love.