When we don’t meet adult trauma with loving presence and the right support, we tend to suppress emotions and tell stories about the experiences. We get out of our bodies and into our heads, strategies that negatively impact us for years, or decades, to come.
It’s a common mistake to think that regaining an ability to function, flirting with a sense of well-being and enjoying life again are signs that healing has taken place. They can be, but moving on does not necessarily mean we’ve healed from trauma. It only means we’ve survived it.
The more resilient our bodies and psyches are, and the higher tolerance for pain we have, the harder it can be to realize that we’re not really okay, let alone thriving. How can we properly contend with trauma when we don’t even realize we’re still experiencing it within our systems, and in some cases, didn’t even realize we went through something traumatic while it was occurring?
In early 2018, I visited a friend I’d met on 2017’s adventure with Agape through South Africa. We’d formed a bond on the trip, but this was the first time we’d shared an in-depth conversation about our pre-trip journeys of life. She asked if I’d ever tried EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).
I’ll never forget my answer: “Isn’t that for people who have trauma?”
My friend just stared at me for a moment, perhaps trying to ascertain if I was joking.
I’d just filled her in on a span that included a natural disaster devastating my community, my mom’s diagnosis with MS and quick health decline, the loss of my oceanfront home of 14 years (several years after the hurricane) and last but very much not least, a book-inspiring experience of narcissistic abuse.
These are only the lowlights; there was an abundance of small-t traumas mixed in there, also. I had all the symptoms of Complex PTSD; I just didn’t know what that was yet.
As if that wasn’t all more than enough, my career as an addiction recovery specialist often focused around crisis work, took me into toxic and sometimes dangerous situations and often involved life and death decisions. I’d always prided myself on my ability to stay calm professionally, no matter how chaotic the situation. My friend was the first to point out that this wasn’t necessarily a talent to brag about, but rather, the result of a system that was just used to chaos.
This friend, who is an incredibly gifted massage therapist, knew I lived almost entirely inside my mind. Even without the details I’d just shared, I’m sure she could sense that my body had been so frequently dialed in to a state of high-alert, it had become my baseline. It’s what was familiar, to the extent that when I went through periods of calm, connection and flow, I unconsciously sought out my next dance with chaos.
I thought surely, she had to be wrong. I meditated regularly. I also surfed and did yoga. I saw myself as a grounded human being, one who knew how to relax better than most I knew.
“Maybe I made that all sound worse than it was,” I added. “Sure, life has been a bit crazy the past few years, but it hasn’t been traumatic.”
“You didn’t share much about those years that wasn’t a traumatic event,” my friend responded. “I don’t know anything about your childhood, but I’m guessing that was lined with trauma also.”
I insisted she was wrong. And even if some of the events had been traumatic, so what? It was all in the past and I’d healed! There were countless clues that this wasn’t the case, but denial is a strong beast. My friend knew I was heading for disaster, but I didn’t.
A few weeks later, my body got hit with one more trauma than it could handle, and I had a nervous breakdown. The very friend who couldn’t chip through my denial drove 2.5 hours to Coachella Valley to pick me up at my airbnb. She had to leave for a trip the next morning, so she brought me to her Santa Monica home, where I proceeded to sob on her couch for four days. The only time I moved was to eat some of the soul-nourishing food she’d prepared for me.
If I hadn’t been in so much denial, I could have made a much better choice than continuing to drive with an empty oil tank, hence ceasing my inner engine. I’d love to say this is the point of the story where I finally stopped doing that, but my time at this friend’s home was like a stint in detox. As soon as I was feeling better enough to leave, I hurled myself into yet another screenplay. My second breakdown was a lot worse; in fact, I almost didn’t live through it.
So if you’ve been through some stuff that you’ve never really dealt with – and when I say dealt with, I don’t mean having pushed it down and moved on. If you didn’t get in there with the rawness of your feelings, and love the hell out of yourself in the process, it might be time.
I don’t mean emotional feelings. A rageful tantrum or hormonally-based cry does not count. You have to get in your body to do the type of work I’m talking about. Trauma gets lodged in our bodies and energy systems, and that’s where they need to be attended to. I’ll share more about this soon.
I’ll also share more of my story, which unfolded in the exact ways it was meant to, both for my development and to help light the path for others. More accurately, to guide them on different paths altogether. The route I took to healing was treacherous, terrifying and extremely painful, but there are shortcuts – much smoother, easier, gentler and supportive ones.
I’m here if you want some help finding them.
To learn more about how I can support you with 1×1 coaching, group coaching or an upcoming Energy Codes workshop on Zoom, click the title below.