By Cyndi Myers
Everyone is talking about trauma these days. There’s childhood trauma, life events trauma, “trauma with a big T”, “trauma with a little t”...and it’s all very real. I believe we’ve all experienced trauma in our lives, some traumas more devastating than others, but it’s all trauma nonetheless. That’s life, afterall, right? We live, therefore we have wounds, collateral damage from a variety of people and events, some of which have come and gone, never to be seen or heard from again. But what about the high impact trauma we’ve buried, neatly folding and tucking it away in that chest in the basement, locked tight so it won’t rear its ugly head when we least expect it? Yeah, THAT trauma, the undesirable scourge we wish would just disappear - POOF!
We do this “packing up” sometimes unknowingly, subconsciously tucking The Big Ugly away and pretending it never existed. The trouble with that is that it actually DOES exist. It exists in your kidneys, your liver, your gut, your chest, your brain…wherever your body decides to store it. Because, like everything else in the universe, trauma is energy, and (as we all learned in high school) energy can neither be created nor destroyed - only converted from one form of energy to another.
Now, I know you’re not reading this for a lesson in Physics. But the backstory matters. So much of our life’s history is still present in our bodies, and more often than not, we’re not even aware of this on a conscious level. And, when we continue to store these traumas in our bodies, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) sets in and takes the lead.
So, how do you know if you have stored trauma or PTSD? And, what’s the difference? Let’s take a closer look.
What IS Trauma?
According to Merriam-Webster, trauma is the Greek word for “wound” and is defined as “an injury (such as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent.” The Greeks used the term only for physical injuries, whereas now the term is more often linked to emotional injuries. Clearly the definition encompasses both physical and emotional or psychological injuries, and that’s a very important point to remember because understanding that ANY significant event in your life can be stored away and forgotten by your conscious mind is a critical component to addressing the root cause of your symptom(s). But what constitutes a significant event? That depends.
If trauma is defined as an injury to any living tissue, I would posit that anything from a sprained ankle to loss of a job to the death of a loved one to experiencing an illness, natural disaster or combat - and everything in between - constitutes trauma. According to the American Psychological Association, “trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event.” How your body responds to trauma and how trauma manifests itself in your life is PTSD. PTSD is a longer-term condition where one continually re-experiences the traumatic event, whether consciously or subconsciously.
Because our bodies and emotions can only safely handle a limited amount of stress, trauma results whenever an experience exceeds our abilities to handle and cope with its consequences, resulting in redirecting the energy of the experience to another part of your body where it will live until you are able to face it head on and release it. This stored trauma typically leads to pain and dis-ease, and progressively erodes your body's health.
Have a knot in your muscle that just won’t budge? Fatigue and brain fog that plagues you daily? Persistent headache or upset stomach? Read on…
Recognizing Your Own Trauma and Finding the Courage to Face It
After my last chemotherapy treatment back in 2016, I was cheering myself on along with a cadre of nurses, doctors and other cancer comrades who understood the long, arduous journey of cancer treatment. Little did I know this experience had manifested in every nook and cranny of my being. It truly took me by surprise when, probably 4 years later, someone offhandedly said that I likely had PTSD from my experience. Who me? Noooo… Wasn’t PTSD reserved for survivors of military combat or natural disasters?? As it turns out, no. No it isn’t. Could all of my so-called “side effects” be rooted in the experiences I had with leukemia? I never even thought of it as a trauma until that moment. I had been dealing with each individual side effect - persistent nausea, brain fog, memory loss, chronic pain and fatigue, just to name a few - as just that…individual. In reality, I was only putting band-aids on each individual problem, when what I needed to do was face The Big Ugly and find the root cause of my dis-ease as more of a whole. The band-aids were no longer sticky.
Root cause. Something, in my opinion, our current healthcare system is not designed to look for. When the CEOs of the healthcare industry are big pharma and health insurance companies, there’s really no impetitus for excavating the roots of disease. Because once the root cause of your distress is discovered and healed, there’s no money to be made off of you. But I digress.
(BACK TO YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAM)
In the end, the REAL work is left to the consumer, the patient, to YOU. Some may find this distressful, while others, like myself, find it empowering and comforting. No matter where you fall on that spectrum, digging into the depths of your being IS the real work and can really only be done by you, the one with the experience(s). Half the battle is simply recognizing that you actually have stored trauma. Digging deep to not only find the courage to face it, but to find the patience to stay the course in resolving your trauma is the other half, the more difficult half. But there are a vast array of practitioners to help you along the way.
Help Is Right At Your Fingertips!
Finding balance in your body is the ultimate goal when healing stored trauma. In addition to talk therapists, there are so many options to help you sort through your own emotional baggage. Energy healing, like Reiki and Healing Touch, help open up your energy centers to free traumas and energy blockages. Bodywork practitioners - think massage therapists, myofascial release therapists, and manual physical therapists, among many others - employ a whole body approach to healing as well, and can help free the restrictions in your muscles and surrounding fascial tissue that house those traumatic memories. And, of course, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including proper nutrition and exercise, can help maintain good mental and physical health to support you along your journey.
Other tried and true self-healing options are:
Acupuncture. By inserting very thin, sterile needles into key points around the body, acupuncture is well-known to help stimulate the body’s self-healing mechanisms to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. Additionally, for many people with PTSD, physical touch can often be triggering. Bodywork modalities like acupuncture, massage therapy, and manual physical therapy can, over time, help people accept physical contact without stimulating the “fight or flight” response.
Meditate. It’s no secret that connecting your mind and body is essential to healing. Begin each day with thoughts of gratitude - even for what may seem like the smallest of things - and take a few moments to breathe deeply and let your body marinate in all the goodness. If you’re finding it difficult to quiet your mind, try a guided meditation. You can find endless online sources for guided meditations, but I have always found the FREE meditations on Insight Timer to be outstanding.
Keep a journal. Writing down your thoughts can be a great way to work through your trauma. Research has found that writing about painful events can reduce stress and improve your health.
Stay connected. Spending time with family and friends is like food for your soul. Isolating yourself will likely only make things worse for you; too much time on your own can make you feel lonely and out of touch. So it’s important to make an effort to spend time with others.
Relax. Listen to soothing music, read a book, take a walk or a yoga class. Find something that allows you to breathe slowly and deeply to reset your body. Avoid using drugs, alcohol or smoking to relax as these activities can make your symptoms worse, delay your treatment and recovery, and can cause abuse or addiction problems.
Dealing with past traumas can be hard work. Above all, try to pace yourself and maintain reasonable expectations for your recovery. Your mind and body will thank you!