Living With Trauma
We have all experienced trauma in our lives, whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual. How can we reach our fullest potential when we have traumatic memories trapped inside of us? Suppressed experiences can cause ongoing trauma long after the traumatic incident has occurred so it is best, although difficult, to address it and begin the healing process right away.
I am currently reading the book "Waking the Tiger" by Peter Levine in which he defines trauma and explains how not only can we release past traumas but we can actually evolve by letting go. He references animals in the wild and explains how an impala facing imminent death will instinctually freeze to protect itself and literally go numb as it is getting eaten alive by a predator. If somehow the impala survives a chase, it can actually shake off that freeze reaction and go on living as if the near death encounter never occurred. We all know our nervous systems' capacity to "fight or flight", but we rarely hear of the freeze response. Humans have the same ability as animals to shake off trauma however most of us subconsciously get stuck in the frozen stage and live with the symptoms of that, such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc.
When life hits us with real challenges, we can either face the tough times ahead or we can choose to ignore it and go on living as if nothing as changed. But if our bodies react by suppressing the negative experience without allowing us to process it, how can we unfreeze ourselves and let the trauma move through us?
A traumatic experience can be one of so many things. Losing a loved one, moving to a new place, fighting overseas, enduring an illness or injury, a break-up, sexual encounter, etc. Think of the tragic events that have taken place in your life. Do you face and embrace those experiences and truly feel them? Or do you shove them away and pretend like nothing has changed? Maybe you are unsure, here are some signs:
I face and feel my trauma:
- I continue to talk about my trauma with friends, family, and/or professionals
- I feel the urge to cry and most of the time I am able to let tears flow freely
- I find support from people who have experienced a similar situation
- I write down my thoughts and dreams regularly in a journal
- I practice self care such as yoga, massage, or meditation
I am fine and do not need help coping:
- I do not need to talk to friends or family because they do not understand or care
- I am embarrassed or ashamed about what has happened and want to keep it to myself
- If I don't think about the trauma it will go away and I will forget about it
- I don't need to see a specialist because it is over-with and there is nothing I can change about it
- The trauma ruined my life and I will never be the same
Even if we avoid thinking about something painful, the trauma still lives inside of us.
I am currently recovering from a tragic car accident that almost killed me five months ago. Doctors are hopeful that I will make a full recovery but I am still dealing with pain and suffering on a daily basis. I have thoughts that fall into both of the above categories, however I know deep down that facing my trauma is the only way to fully heal. So on those days when I am in agony and do not want to talk about it or feel that no one understands, I constantly remind myself that I need to bring light to my pain or else it will dwell inside of me.
I broke my pelvis and spine amongst many other life threatening injuries. Although the bones are healing, unfortunately nerve and muscle damage persist and I am experiencing discomfort in my most feminine, sensitive areas. This is not something that is easy to discuss or better yet treat. I have no problem talking about my lacerated hand or shattered bones, but my (whispered voice) vagina? No one talks about that.
It is difficult to acknowledge to myself that although I may look healthy on the outside, my insides still have a ways to go. I could easily say I am doing fine and over time will be back to normal. However that is not entirely the truth. Some days I am fine, but other times I am not, and I don't ever think I will be back to "normal". I have been addressing my injuries one at a time yet have been avoiding my deepest most sensitive one because I am scared; scared because I know that the worst of the trauma is still locked away inside and if I go there, it is going to hurt, both physically and even worse emotionally.
After a few months of rehab I decided I was finally ready to face my fear and see a Pelvic Floor Therapist (yes that is a thing). In the first few sessions my body was tense and fighting me, my inner most voice screaming at me not to go there, yet that is how I knew it was the right thing to do. Although I still have a long road ahead, I was told again by a professional that I should make a full recovery within a year. I have now been seeing my Vagina Whisperer (as my boyfriend refers to her) for two months and my pain is lessening. Emotionally I am more comfortable with the work, the voice in my head is calmer and quieter. I am healing.
Healing is difficult. Oh so freaking difficult. Many, many people have related to my experience but as they begin to open up about their pain they retreat and apologize, saying that their pain is nothing close to what I have experienced.
Throughout all of this I am learning that the pain we experience individually is relative. Maybe you have never come close to death, but your trauma is no less important to feel and acknowledge and by no means is it less painful than anyone else's.
I still have my good days and my bad days. On my bad days the thought of walking one block is daunting. I sulk, I retreat, lay on my couch and order delivery. The difference between now and me two months ago is that I don't feel guilty for those bad days anymore. I don't give myself a hard time for needing to rest or for being "unproductive". People keep asking me what I am doing with my life. I am so sick of this question! I am healing, I am living. I am not worrying about what comes next because I need to deal with this trauma NOW or it will live within me forever.
On my good days, I feel inspired to make a difference in the world. I want to help people who feel alone; people who are living with trauma and feel like no one understands. I want to bring people together and heal together; heal ourselves and heal our planet. The truth is that trauma is inevitable. People are going to keep dying and populations are going to keep suffering but we cannot let the tough times defeat us. We need to appreciate each moment, even the bad ones, and know that as long as we are breathing, there will be equally amazing moments to follow.
Thank you for following my journey. Trust in your individual process and stay strong!