Complete Wellness

A Place for Healing MindBodySpirit

 

Trauma

It is part of the human experience to suffer trauma. It can be assault, loss, deprivation, or neglect. It can be physical, sexual, or emotional. Some trauma is a moment in time and some is a recurrent thing. What happens happens. Trauma is about perception. Understand that different people experience things very differently. What is horrifying to one person may be incidental or forgettable to another. Please give room for the fact that one person might be totally done in by an event that barely affected another.

Whatever kind of trauma you have suffered, the physical response is similar. In the immediate aftermath, you might be utterly debilitated. You can’t think, focus, or concentrate. Eating becomes different.; a chore or an escape. Sleep becomes impossible or a sanctuary. And there may be moments of clarity, even normalcy. And then, at times, the memory and all the feelings come crashing back into your mind and body. 

Judicious use of medicines to help diminish the tremendous physical responses can be phenomenally helpful. Recently, emergency rooms have started using a class of medicines called Beta-blockers to help minimize the physical affects of trauma. These medicines slow heart rate and involuntary trembling. What happens then is that the memory is associated with not quite so much of a physical “fight or flight” response. The use of simple tranquilizers can help in that effort as well. 

Your body has neurologic receptors EVERYWHERE; all the way down to your toes. It’s kind of like having a brain that goes all over your body. When you remember a traumatic event, it releases panic chemicals throughout your whole body. Your breath and heartbeat get faster. Your gut tightens up. Your knees go weak. And your mind can focus on nothing else. Your body does not realize that it is a memory. To your body, it is happening again. 

(Please see the chapter on Relaxation Response.)

These neurologic responses are not under your control. Once the chemical cascade is started, it’s like a blush. You can’t stop it. The more you try to stop it, the worse it feels. But you can do something.

There is a mental exercise that has been used for years that can be very effective. It is an exercise and like any other, you have to practice it and do it over and over again to get good at it. 

So here is the idea. You can edit the movie that keeps playing in your mind. You can’t change what happened. It is done, but you don’t have to live through it every time the memory resurfaces.
When the memory of your trauma starts up, change the end of the “movie”. Change it into a “memory” that give you your power back, that ends happily or at least peacefully. This doesn’t change what happened, but it keeps your brain from releasing all those chemicals to your poor bedraggled body. If you can add a little humor or silliness, it’s even better. Laughter is a sure antidote to anxiety.

If you were in a car accident, at the point where the image gets terrifying, replace the impact with the image with a Speed Racer car that has one of those buttons on the steering wheel that lets you jump your car out of harms way and lands you safely in some nice soft bushes. (Put any comforting ending that you can imagine.) 

If you were assaulted, give yourself the mental and physical ability to respond like a movie hero. At the moment your memory becomes frightening, you might turn and face your attacker and take charge. You can grow to twice your size and stomp on the attacker. You can perform Matrix-like fight moves and leave them lying there as you triumphantly walk away. 

If you saw a horrendous accident or explosion or other jarring event, when your body begins to remember it, change it to something different. The scene can be transformed into a big movie set and have the victims get up and be fine. Or create a scene where you (or another hero) come to the rescue.

Your adult self can fly in and save your child-self from an assault. (and give that rotten person what they deserved at the time, but you were too small or scared to at that time.)

Again, it doesn’t change reality. It doesn’t demand that you give up your grip on reality. It just gives your body a break from having to go through the painful, harmful chemical bombardment of your brain reliving a terrible moment.

When you have lost a loved one, you can always be with that person by holding the image and memory in your heart..

In Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he is interred in a concentration camp struggling to survive. At one point he gets reminded that he hadn’t thought of his wife since he got there. He had no idea if his beloved wife and daughter were even alive. Then he realized that it didn’t matter. He had his wife in his heart. From that moment on, he had imaginary conversations with his wife to comfort him and keep him company. He was not mentally ill. He had a firm grip on reality and knew where he was and what was going on, but he also knew that the love of his life was always with him.

This is an exercise. It takes practice. It can be begun at any point in your recovery. In the immediate aftermath of a trauma, it can feel like you have a hatchet buried in your skull, sticking out, hurting, getting in your way, and everyone can see it. As this process goes on, that hatchet can get smaller and less apparent. 

I conceptualize traumatic events as being like stuff we own. Everybody has stuff. It makes us who we are, so on some level, we have to appreciate it for making us who we are. It is definitely part of us. But if your stuff is all over the place, tripping us up or weighing us down every day, it is burdensome. The idea of healing, with the use of therapy, reading, praying, journaling, and sometimes medications, is that you can pack that stuff up into nice strong Rubbermaid storage boxes. Pop that airtight lid on. And put it in the closet and close the door.

It’s yours. You own it. You can go look at it anytime you need or want to. But it isn’t in your way. You aren’t slogging through it or seeing the world through it all day long. Once in a while there may be an earthquake; something that shakes your psychological house up enough to knock your boxes off the shelf and throw all this messy stuff allover the place. This might be a news story, photo or family get together. It might be that your child is at the age when you suffered your trauma.

The good news is that if you have done the work to put that stuff away, you can do it much more easily again. You don’t have to look through all the things in the box. You can gather it all together psychologically and reassess it as a whole. It may look different now that you have had more experiences. (That is, now that you are older.) It may need a different sized or shaped box. You may need to back to therapy for a bit to help with this reassessment. But again, you don’t have to go through it all again to get over it. 

We don’t have control over too much in this world, but we do have control over what we think about. I left my pick pockets writhing in pain (in my new memory), one bleeding from his broken nose, the other groaning and curled in a fetal position. Don watched the boy in the burning car miraculously climb out of the flames and walk away. Rose hit a button that raised her car up over the vehicle that was about to t-bone her. Super Joan jumped up, cape flying in the wind, and swatted her screaming husband with her magic tennis racket. (I will leave you to imagine the scenes these replace.) These kind of scenes empower you and more importantly, prevent the cascade of neurotransmitters that make your body go through that trauma again. 

It takes practice. It has to be done very deliberately and repeatedly. You can tell it’s working because it feels good. We have no choice in remembering the things that happen, but we do have a choice in how we remember it.

 

 

 

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