There are moments in life when we get tragic news. They are layered in depths of more tremendous disappointment until the weight of it all becomes unbearable. We hold our breath for anything positive in hopes of breaking the cycle of the downward fear of the situation getting worse. You think, “This can’t get any worse. This is unbearable.” Your fears of losing it, breaking, and not being able to hold on, grow inside your chest. The anxiety intensifies even further and traumatic memories begin to form.
Like a storm, one more element has been added. It becomes the element that physically stops someone. For a brief moment, the world stops rotating on its axes, we become frozen, and we go into shock.
Trauma is a raw and terrible human experience. Some experience more trauma than others and also more intensely than others. It’s what it is.
Trauma can have many faces. It can be an unexpected death, a serious diagnosis, a heart-breaking divorce, the loss of custody of a child, childhood abuse, or a toxic relationship. The causes of trauma are endless.
Unfortunately, I am one of those souls in life that have experienced plenty of traumatic experiences which have led to many traumatic memories. It’s been my journey in life to find healing, hope, and inspiration from my experiences.
For 45 years I’ve tried many different forms of therapeutic modalities to heal and learn. In the last few years, my focus has primarily been on trauma therapy, EMDR, and reiki. I decided to attend school to become a Reiki Master to gain a greater understanding of alternative modalities of healing. These have been new forms of healing and I’m astonished at the quick results.
“Our deepest wounds surround our greatest gifts.”
– Ken Page
What is EMDR?
EMDR is a psychotherapy treatment created to address traumatic memories through eye movement (or other bilateral movements). The therapy uses your body’s natural functions to recover from trauma. It is based on the idea that traumatic events aren’t processed in the brain when they happen, so the therapy helps you reprocess a disturbing memory to move past it. It is an 8-phase treatment where a target memory is identified and new thoughts are created around that memory. In conjunction with bilateral eye movement (similar to REM), the memory and feelings around it are reprocessed.
The success of EMDR
EMDR sessions for myself have progressed to virtual therapy which has been a convenient fallout from the pandemic. I’ve been scheduling my EMDR sessions bi-monthly. It was an odd concept, to begin with, and it felt foreign to tap bilaterally from shoulder to shoulder with my feet in rhythm to my eyes following the swaying pulses of the light. My therapist gives me cues while doing the work, and stops to establish moments of breathing exercises in conjunction with three bilateral movements.
During the last few sessions, I worked on my betrayal issues. I was emotional at points and even nauseous. It’s fascinating to think that stored emotions can manifest themselves physically in the body. EMDR can unlock physical emotions on a cellular level. It is very different from traditional therapy where you only express your thoughts by talking through an issue versus unfolding where the trauma is held in your body. It’s allowed a way to resolve deep-rooted issues that I keep on repeating. I’m very enlightened after the work because it brings to the surface stored trauma that I was completely unaware of.
In my next session of EMDR, I am going to tackle a sensory issue. At times when I taste cinnamon, I freeze for a moment and I can’t eat afterward. It’s believed to be a deep-rooted trauma reaction. I’m nervous to uncover why and excited to learn how the therapist will use EMDR to address this sensory issue. I will fill you in on the next blog.
There are three main types of trauma. I’ll address it quickly to give a framework to a word that often seems too big to explain.
Acute – Acute trauma results mainly from one event. Although it may stem from a one-time event, it may cause long-lasting physical and emotional effects.
Chronic – Chronic trauma results from multiple, long-term, or prolonged traumatic events. It may result from multiple acute traumas that have not been dealt with. Symptoms of chronic trauma can be delayed, even up to years after events of trauma.
Complex – Complex trauma is the result of varied types of trauma and generally involves multiple experiences of trauma. This kind of trauma generally results from negative intrapersonal relationships.
I’ve had my share of traumatic experiences. I can still picture where I was standing in the hospital room when the surgeon told me that my son had a 20 percent chance of making it out of his surgery. My body wanted to scream to the point of bursting with rage. The biting cold air circled around me while I hugged my children tightly to me to keep them warm as we waited patiently in line at a food bank. Looking down to the top of my daughter’s head, I noticed she had head lice. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. When I got home I fell to the ground and cried until exhaustion. I still recall the moment when I learned that my friend was sleeping with my husband. I thought murderous thoughts and in shame, cried, and screamed until I threw up. The heart pain and fear about the future were too much to handle.
Traumatic experiences don’t necessarily have to be severe. Often they are a chain of unrelated events where your anxiety levels have been on overdrive until your body just stops. Your mind and body decide to take a vacation to rest up without notification and you force yourself to keep moving through it. Our mind and body cannot go forward until our emotions are sorted out. This is PTSD from trauma, at its best.
Part of healing is understanding what causes anxiety and stress. That can include particular situations and people who may contribute to those feelings. You may need to remove yourself from those people or trigger situations for a season while actively seeking healing.
One healing modality that I learned in Reiki (a Japanese form of energy healing that promotes relaxation and stress relief), that we all can apply through times of anxiety, is to place our hands on the base of our spine. Hold your hands there if you are feeling anxious. With soft pressure rub that area and give calming words of self-assurance. It’s a grounding technique that aids in anxiety.
It sounds so simple yet we neglect ourselves often. Finding how to love who you are after trauma is key to how you see yourself in the world. Often we feel guilt and shame after trauma. Try to find ways to give back to yourself that others cannot give you. It’s often the simplistic things. Listening to beautiful music, a massage, a warm cup of tea, walking in nature, or maybe a bath.
Start with giving to yourself, instead of taking away from yourself. We often emphasize what to avoid but focus on what to include and the rest will fall into place easier. Proper nutrition that includes whole, unprocessed foods is important for mind and body health. If the body is not fueled with nutrient-dense foods, it affects every aspect of your being, including thoughts and emotions. Remember that balance is essential.
Be mindful to not find alternative things (food, caffeine, substances) to numb you out. There is a reason why substance abuse is highly connected to trauma. It takes fighting against that urge to numb instead of process, but the only way to heal is by walking through it.
Everything stems from yourself. If your body is not receiving the sleep and rest it needs each night, healing in any form is difficult. Similar to a physical injury, too much strain or not enough rest of the injury will result in delayed healing. The same goes for sleep. Our mental and physical healing requires proper sleep. Attempt to create a similar sleep schedule each night and prioritize sleeping early and rising early as opposed to sleeping late and waking late. Try to follow the natural rhythms of daylight in order to assist in optimizing your circadian rhythm.
Journaling is an avenue for the independent work needed for healing. It is part of the healing where you’re sorting your emotions yourself. It’s a form of empowerment. A side benefit of making a habit of journaling is it helps to save time in your therapist’s office. Bringing your formulated thoughts to a therapy session can make time for discussing your thoughts on a deeper level. Articulating your own opinions is empowering.
It may feel counterintuitive on really difficult days, but moving your body reduces stress and anxiety. Any form of moving your body releases endorphins to combat stress, helps emotions move through the body, and strengthens the connections we have to our bodies. Physical activity includes all forms of exercise, but it can also include gardening, sweeping, walking, dancing, and housework. All forms of moving your body are beneficial to healing.
Connecting with people
We aren’t meant to be alone. While time alone is necessary and healthy, living our lives disconnected from others can be detrimental to our health and healing. Connecting with people who love and support you can be the best form of medicine. A genuine loving community can provide love and compassion which are two of the most powerful gifts needed for healing. When someone has a physical injury, they require others to lean in to support them through the healing process. In the same way, when someone is healing from emotional trauma, the love and support of others are essential.
Finding the right help
Seek out a trauma therapist who can help guide you. Keep doing all of the above healing modalities, but in addition, get the help of a trained trauma therapist to help you work through the complexities of trauma. Trauma therapists focus on helping people work past traumatic moments and memories, including those diagnosed with PTSD.
If you are having repeated flashbacks, insomnia, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, or other symptoms that are impacting your daily life, please seek help from a trauma therapist.
Healing is possible
Healing looks different for everyone, but no matter the severity of the trauma that you have experienced, healing is possible. Finding the healing modalities that work for you coupled with the right therapy can help you move through life’s greatest challenges. Remember there are trustworthy people. Lean on those people for the care and love that you deserve.
“Our deepest wounds surround our greatest gifts” – Ken Page
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