Go slow and prosper.
Trauma, in its simplest form, can be defined as overwhelming emotional stimulus. It's not so much what happens as how the mind, nervous system and body react. It can be acute and/or chronic, obvious and/or invisible. It can occur at any time in one's life, even before birth. And there are many people (like myself up until 2010) pushing through life, struggling, not knowing it can be better.
Numerous treatment modalities are available, most focused on the basic principle that the body holds the trauma in the form of trapped energy, and needs help to release it safely. So much is being discovered about how the brain and nervous system manage trauma and neural pathways, as well as how it is possible to literally form new healthy pathways with appropriate care/therapy.
A critical factor in healing is how soon after the trauma therapy can be initiated... the shorter the interval, the quicker the healing. As time passes without intervention, the trauma becomes more complex and insidious, requiring extended therapy. The good news is that real healing is possible and regularly achieved.
My healing journey started in 2008, in London, where I had been living and working for three years. After a brief relationship that ended suddenly, I wanted to better understand why in my life I had made poor "romantic" choices. I started with Imago Therapy, which is focused on relationships. This was the initial conversation with my therapist:
Her: What is your objective with this therapy?
Me: To get over this guy, and to understand if there are any childhood wounds I need to heal from.
Her: First of all, this has nothing to do with the guy. It's all about your childhood. Secondly, it's not IF you have any wounds, it's WHAT they are.
And so I began. It was through Imago that I was introduced to "the little girl that is me" - someone I didn't know existed. She's so innocent! During that time I was also seeing a holistic osteopath for severe back pain that radiated down both legs. He helped me understand that I was carrying an immense amount of unresolved grief (his words). In addition to that, I was diagnosed with severe metatarsal capsulitis, caused by functional leg shortening which was secondary to the severe back imbalance. As the months of treatment unfolded, I would ask my holistic podiatrist "how long will this take to heal?" and she would tell me that it depended on my progress with my back. (In fact, she and my osteopath would collaborate weekly, her advising him on what my body needed for foot healing.) And while my osteopath told me he could help my back heal itself, it would be dependent on me "doing the work" of therapy and coming to terms with my past.
"Life is not a matter of creating a special name for ourselves,
but of uncovering the name we have always had."
— Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond:
The Search for Our True Self
At that point, I saw the path of returning to well-being as threefold: Discovery, Uncovery, Recovery. Discovery would be about learning what was broken, Uncovery would be about facing and processing the brokenness, and Recovery would be about reintegration.
The journey has been very difficult.
My return to the US in 2009 triggered a major anxiety disorder as I re-entered the land of my childhood and marriage (which ended in divorce after 23 years). Old patterns came tumbling back; I felt like I was outside my body. It was all I could do to get myself together for work, and it was devastating to be struggling with tasks and projects that would typically have been second nature for me.
I undertook EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) for about four months, during which time I experienced overwhelming pain and abandonment from the perspective of the little girl that is me. When I was spent and there were no more words to speak, I experienced what I can only describe as a huge gourd-shaped space within my throat and abdomen, filled with putrid toxicity. And I was always so afraid, unable to affirm my way out of my fear that something REALLY BAD was going to happen.
One day I had coffee with a friend who is also a therapist. She encouraged me to stop trying to not be afraid and instead journal why the world was not a safe place for me. She also told me about a treatment called Somatic Experiencing (SE) which was really effective in treating anxiety. And that a certified practitioner had just moved to town.
And so I began this new therapy in early 2010 and continued weekly (sometimes twice a week) to this day. Even when I lived in the Middle East - we used Skype and then FaceTime. The only times my therapist and I did not connect was when either of us was on holiday.
Because my own wounding involved both very early life acute trauma and pervasive developmental trauma, my therapy/treatment would be prolonged. Plus - this was and still is critical - it would need to be a very slow process, with tiny baby steps, so as not to re-traumatize my nervous system. I used to rebel against that; I wanted a quick fix. Eventually I learned (the hard way) to accept it, and go slow became my motto. It still is.
So, speaking of baby steps and go slow... Discovery and Uncovery, overlapping with each other and Recovery, has lasted well over five years. It is during this time, because I slowed down and stayed slowed down, that creativity showed up and blossomed.
Whether painting, drawing mandalas (more on this later in a blog), or writing/illustrating in my journal, I poured my heart and soul, my grief and my loss, my inner parent and my inner child (aka the little girl that is me) into my art.
Looking back, one day in the summer of 2011 as I put the finishing touches on a painting, I noticed it made me feel happy. In a world of mostly darkness and pain, this was amazing. I named the painting "Abundance" and every time I walked by I felt a spark of joy. Short lived, but a spark nonetheless. So I brought that painting into a framing store, actually asked "is this good enough to frame?" to which the answer was yes, and had it framed. With double matting, a beautiful wood frame with little circles all around, and museum quality glass. When it was finished, I held it in my hands and proclaimed "I am an artist"...
As I created more and more, people began to respond. "You really need to exhibit" came at me with love again and again. My reaction? "No way, I'm not good enough. I don't have any training. Everything beautiful has already been painted." Little by little I began to believe that maybe I am good enough, that I don't have to be trained to paint from my heart. That the world might actually want and be hungry for my art. That there really is an abundance of opportunity out there.
And so I continue to paint and write and draw and take photographs. And write - blogs, poetry, memoir, a book on trauma. There is an absolute abundance of creativity in this heart of mine.
Meanwhile, though I am very much in the Recovery phase of my trauma healing, I've still got a ways to go. Like really learning how to live this new life with new rules that totally support me. That I'm worth it, it's my turn now. Like letting go of the past, of that which holds me back, that which no longer serves me. Only now I'm not afraid. I know that I am safe, I am on the healing path, I am supported and loved.
When I distill my overall experience of trauma healing down to its purest form, I name it as a path from fear to love. I choose life. I choose love. You can too.
On a final note, throughout my healing journey I have read numerous books, each of which were perfectly timed for where I was at that point. I've also used YouTube videos to lighten my spirits, and mobile phone apps with daily affirmations. They continue to be invaluable as I navigate my new life. You can view them by clicking here.