Morning download, 3.1.19

Sometimes I have second thoughts. My wild mind gets half-baked ideas that are so exciting, and the next day they don’t look that good. I took down my most recent post that was like that. It’s just not ready for public consumption.

So. New day, new topic. Please note I am not saying this to brag. I hope saying it gives those who need it encouragement.

For someone who was traumatized by a sudden, tragic, violent loss in childhood, who had undiagnosed PTSD for decades — life can be good again.

I wake up happy to greet a new day, on most days. I feel balanced, grounded, centered, open, resilient, buoyant, strong, like a fountain constantly replenishing and renewing. I have more than enough.

Perhaps these good days are even sweeter because of the past. Savor and enjoy them when they come.

It’s not as if the trauma in this bodymindfield is gone, over, done. Even when you’ve done a lot of work to remember, sort, get perspective, feel, self-soothe, reconcile, and heal that wounded self, a scar still resides in your nervous system. But it can disappear for long stretches of time.

You can work with your autonomic nervous system to rebalance it so you read and respond to actual threats and to safety appropriately, but in reading what psychotherapists with 40 years of experience have to say, trauma is scar tissue in the psyche. Scar tissue will never be as healthy and resilient as unscarred skin. It’s more fragile. It’s not organized the same way at the cellular level. You can work with it to make it more pliable and reduce the scarring, but it will never be as if the trauma never happened. ,

Also, obviously, trauma resides in your memories, which are connected to your ANS. How often do you need to revisit those memories? Not that often for me, any more.

I want to include that some of the memories from the time of the trauma remained veiled from my conscious mind for a long time.

Trauma is definitely something you want behind you on your timeline, not in the way of denial but in the healthy manner of moving on with your life. Because healthy life beckons after trauma, if you let it.

Facing forward, however, sometimes trauma from the past sneaks ahead and gets right in your face. Boo! Your ANS, which is instinctual and not really all that smart, interprets something as a threat that simply isn’t. Something happens in the now that unconsciously reminds you of your trauma in the past, and you react sharply, get flooded with stress hormones, have the fight-or-flight dance going on.

Hopefully, the thinking part of your brain will kick in to help you evaluate the situation! Are you safe? Are you in imminent danger? If the answer is no, then you get to wait it out while your system rebalances itself. Acupuncture and supplements for adrenal depletion can be very helpful.

Beautiful self-care helps when a memory hijacks the ANS and there is no actual threat. Be ever so kind to yourself. Rest as much as you can. Make beautiful cups of tea. Slow down. Light a candle and watch it burn. Take a long fragrant soak in the tub, preferably with Epsom salt. Just breathe. Listen to poetry or music. Do restorative yoga. Walk in nature. Spend time with a loving friend.

So afterwards, trauma resides in memories and the ANS. Build yourself a vast library of self-care resources for the activated times.

Trauma can also play a huge role in your beliefs. We are run by our beliefs, and some of them are outside our awareness. Feeling cursed? Been there. Having bad luck with relationships? Been there. So many questions. Why me? Am I being punished? What did I do to deserve this? How can anyone love me? How could God let this happen? Does God love me?

What are some things you have believed about yourself, your life, your character, your worthiness, after a trauma?

At this point, all I can say about belief is to frame it in the healthiest way you can. If that means you acknowledge that you encountered misfortune — something that has happened to a lot of people throughout human history — and understand it’s just the way life as a human can sometimes be, and don’t take it personally, that seems like a great start. You didn’t cause this, you didn’t deserve it, you are not being punished, you are not cursed. You ran into some bad luck, that’s all.

This is how you build resilience and move on. If you need a little healthy delusion, I say go for it. If rocks or essential oils or photos of Ramana Maharshi soften the harshness, use them. I do.

Beliefs are about what’s important. Identity is who you are. By working with your beliefs, you start to change your identity.

We live our lives inside a huge mystery. Theoretical physicists say that two thirds of all existence consists of dark energy, and no one knows what it is. I just love this, my favorite new factoid!

So feel free to make something up that works for you, that gives you strength and courage and takes the weight of oppression or unworthiness off you, so you can rise up to meet the rest of your life. Why not?

By all means, take credit for and celebrate the good stuff — for taking right action, or coming to understand what that means or if that was even possible then. For persisting in the face of hardship. For recovering at least some of your mental health. For those who understand and accept you, or are willing to make that attempt. For self-care and self-compassion. For bonding with all of humanity through your compassion for all suffering. For finding your path.

After trauma, you get to work with your autonomic nervous system, your memories, and your beliefs. Exploring and reframing your beliefs are where you can make the most difference. Have courage. You’re worth it.

Reframing trauma recovery as detoxing the whole system

These days I’m thinking of trauma recovery more and more like detoxing.

We all know people — or even do this ourselves — who do fasts or cleanses to rid their bodies of toxins from too much sugar or alcohol, meat, or junk food, after taking drugs, after food poisoning, and so on. I’ve written about the colon/parasite cleanse and the liver/gallbladder flush on this blog. I’ve also done the Master Cleanse, once.

There’s a lot to be said for cleansing for getting rid of recent toxins as well as those that have accumulated in our systems over the years. The proof is feeling better afterwards. If you don’t feel better after doing a cleanse, don’t do it again. Try something else. Be good to your body. It works hard so that you may live and is taken for granted a lot.

Well, trauma recovery is like detoxing your entire system. It’s not so much getting rid of the toxins in your digestive system as letting the harsh, non-nourishing behavior and events that your whole system took in make their way back out of your system.

It may not be pretty, but it’s actually a good sign — it’s so much healthier than keeping it locked up inside, repressed, frozen.

I’m thinking now that there is a natural period after you are safe when you detox, unless you get stuck in a situation with no support for your detoxing, and that’s another story. You have a basis of comparison — safe versus non-safe — now. Because you are safe, you can start to relax. You might want to think, “Whew, that’s it. I’m safe now and can get on with my life.”

Well, that is true, and you will start to bloom. But you might not be prepared for stuff from the past unpredictably sneaking into the present and biting you on the butt. You might not be prepared for intense emotions that may arise. You might not be prepared for the cognitive reframing that occurs as your identity changes from victim to hero of your own journey.

You may sometimes feel pulled in various directions. It is unsettling.  It’s good to find a physical outlet that grounds you. Yoga, bicycling, and walking were all helpful to me. Those things are healthy to do anyway, but it really helps to feel like you have control of some part of your life (your body) at a time when your mind/heart/spirit are in such flux. Exercise/movement is grounding, and the sweat help you detox. Your system wants to release that stuff.

You may reach equilibrium that feels like a few days of inner peace, and then something else — a memory, a dream, a trigger — may come up for you to experience and integrate, bringing you to a new equilibrium, and that cycle repeats, with the periods of equilibrium getting longer and longer. Actually, it’s life.

You  eventually reach a state where the past pretty much stays in the past unless you decide to delve in.

My advice: Let it arise as it arises, because it will do that anyway. It’s a process; it takes time. Notice and honor it. Document it, even — at least write down your dreams.

And it might be good to let a few people know. Ask for help if you need it, and definitely ask for support. You have mine.