I want to talk about a sensitive and stigmatized topic. One with limited understanding of it’s meaning and the impact it has on the individuals affected. Trauma. It’s a loaded word that sometimes gets thrown around without consideration; reserved for a specific event or population. In truth, trauma has evolved and what was once a relatively selective occurrence is becoming more common in today’s culture. Having worked in the behavioral health industry for over ten years, I never fathomed I would personally experience the aftermath associated with a traumatic event, fully believing what I had gone through would never qualify. And yet, here I am, telling my story.
Last year was quite possibly the most challenging time in my adult life. I went from being this well-adjusted, happy, healthy person to dodging emotional bomb after emotional bomb and holding on for dear life. It was unnerving to say the least. I was running a company, working the equivalent of a 3-person job, not sleeping, operating from a place of fear, hiding in my relationship and losing myself entirely. And then when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I experienced three deaths in a short amount of time. The shock of witnessing one of those deaths firsthand was too much to bear, but I wasn’t allowed, or rather I didn’t allow myself to stop, get quiet and process what had happened. Instead, I went on autopilot, a term you hear often in these types of situations; choosing to avoid feeling, making sure the people around me were okay, and desperately trying to block out what had happened.
Eventually everything came to a head, and it wasn’t until I decided to slow down and make some changes in my professional life, that the experiences from the past year came flooding back, making it near impossible to cope. As a result, my nervous system took a serious hit and I went through my day highly activated and on edge. My body and mind no longer felt a part of me; but rather separate entities outside of my control.
The thing about trauma, whether you know it or not, is that the impact of what you went through stays in the body; waiting and growing in power, ready to take over when triggered. It’s a frightening condition of the past. Human beings are incredibly resilient, making it easy to push everything down to the level of our subconscious, out of necessity for survival. However, if we don’t acknowledge or address the issue, the severity of what happened can have detrimental effects on our personal wellbeing. And even the strongest of people, like myself who has dedicated her life to helping others, isn’t immune.
I have thought long and hard about whether or not to share what came next. As transparent as I have always been, and hope to remain, I am choosing to keep the details of what I went through between me and my support system. What I will say is that I fought like hell to come to terms with what was happening to me physically and emotionally and I relied heavily on the people around me. Especially the ones who were able to recognize that something wasn’t right and intervened almost immediately to ensure I was taken care of.
During this period, I struggled with being open about what I had witnessed and the impact each traumatic shock had on me. I feared judgement and that kept me quiet. But in time, I began to share, fully aware of the power my voice would have on my own recovery. And then came the healing part. When I began to own myself and my experiences in an authentic way, I no longer cared about how I looked to the outside world. My emotional wellbeing depended on brutal honesty.
For me, treatment came in many forms, all of which I remained open to. To start, I needed to relive what I had experienced; all of it; allowing a great deal of pain to resurface. Then it came time to repair my emotional brain - the side of the brain that holds physical reactions in response to traumatic events; i.e. panic, butterflies in the stomach, tightening in the chest, fast or shallow breathing - anything that is in contrast with the rational part of the brain that tells you everything is okay. Once I confronted each traumatic event, I began to challenge my emotional response when triggered, relearning how to feel safe in my own body. In time, I started to feel like I could breathe again.
Through self-awareness, mindfulness and outside support, I was ready to transition into the healing phase; choosing yoga nidra, meditation, talk therapy, body work and medication assisted treatment to help process what I had been exposed to. This is what worked for me and there is no shame in the methods I took to heal and become whole again.
Today, I feel like a better version of myself, yet fully aware of what I went through. Humbled by it even. It’s no accident I am currently working with two clients struggling with their own traumatic experiences. I feel blessed in many ways to be able to hold space for them in a truly empathetic way. I often wonder if what I went through was meant for just that; to offer a safe haven to others who may be struggling. Regardless, I believe trauma manifests itself differently, but the feelings and responses remain the same. I hope to embrace our humanness and help others rise above their experiences. There’s an undeniable strength that comes from asking for help and trusting in the depth of the healing process.