What is trauma?
One of the buzzwords in mental health care is truama-informed care. Many people don’t understand what trauma informed care is. To put in very easy terms, it’s the idea that maybe our mental health symptoms come instead from our trauma experiences. We can move beyond trauma. This is how.
In alternative circles, we often speak of how to move beyond trauma. Also to move beyond trauma we need to examine the basic concept. We published Edward Duff’s personal story and how he can move beyond trauma last week. One definition of trauma that resonates with me is:
“An event or series of events or set of enduring conditions in which the individual’s ability to cope and ability to integrate the experiences are overwhelmed. He or she experiences a subjective threat to life or sanity and/or psychological integrity”.
Phrased this way, trauma isn’t confined to a certain specific set of events like a car accident or a rape, or serving in war. It can mean any set of conditions that endures which a particular individual finds overwhelming and threatening. It is very tough to move beyond trauma if the people helping you don’t recognize the importance of your experiences.
I once attended a workshop presented by an MFT/PhD with lived experience where she highlighted this trauma definition for us. She went onto say that it’s true that most parents aren’t grossly abusive, and most trauma is subtle and happens in small, but cumulative ways.
One of the biggest causes of “little t” trauma as she called that, was low-grade neglect. Households where well-meaning parents were so overwhelmed with the day-to-day tasks of navigating life, and the resulting stress of it all, that they couldn’t be truly present and engaged with their children. This family situation is highly correlated with developing what gets labeled “mental health issues” later in life. Is it any wonder than, that “mental health issues” are so prevalent in American society these days? Yet we can still move beyond trauma, no matter it’s source.
Corinna West definitely experienced this demanding American lifestyle. She was raised by a single parent who was putting herself through med school, yet still being the best parent she could be, and doing a fine job of it. One of Corinna’s key recovery realizations was learning that her “hallucinations” were ONLY coming from the trauma experiences. These got reactivated when Corinna was afraid she could never work again. Corinna was able to completely come off medications and move beyond trauma when she realized that trauma causes psychosis. Sometimes it’s not genetic. One of her poems talks about growing up in this kind of busy busy household:
From “Stigma Should be Called Discrimination and Prejudice” in her first book:
Discrimination is my mother wanting to go to med school at the age of 36.
“Wouldn’t you rather be a nurse,” people asked her.
“Aren’t you too old for med school?” “What about your kids?”
A single parent in residency – yeah we never saw her.
Except she taught me to dream – you’re never too old to dream
And no one is what we seem, as long as your eyes still have a gleam.
I told her I wanted to go to the Olympics in Judo.
She chose the part of the country to do her residency based on the best Judo programs.
I never skipped a class, I ran in the mornings before school.
At Lincoln Prep I wanted to be the one who was cool, but maybe I was just the fool
The fool that did three hours of leg lifts while reading a book one night.
Before I learned to be smart about my workouts.
My mother came home from 36 hour shifts in the hospital and drove me an hour to practice.
I had to talk the whole way to keep her awake in the car.
How many people think they’re crazy to go so far
To build up a dream and save in a jar
For college and the US Olympic team.
I fought in the Olympics – I’m not what I seem
I want to make double my income – my eyes still have the gleam……
What does it take to move beyond trauma?
There are many routes to try when attempting to heal and move beyond trauma. Not all of them mean “therapy”. In fact, for the purposes of this blog, I will skip over traditional alternatives to psychiatry, such as talk therapy.
One such way is to form loving, healthy relationships. As humans, our relationships with others is what often get us through the best and worst life has to throw at us. Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study on Adult Development is a book that I read for a psychology class on human development. This book did not directly deal with what (unfairly) gets categorized as “abnormal psychology” at all. It did, however, profile many people who could move beyond trauma that was terrible: poverty, loss of a parent in the home, death of a caregiver. And then these people had ended up having families of their own, longlasting marriages, children, and financial wealth. What the Harvard Studies found? The key for overcoming a hard childhood to move beyond trauma, for many of these people was having a healthy, loving marriage partner. ( I would say, even if you aren’t married, one close relationship with a very trusted friend can accomplish the same thing.)
Community ties are also huge. For many people to move beyond trauma an essential thing is to get involved in something they care about or enjoy. Those of us in the “recovery” movement found peace with other activists, but it doesn’t even have to be that. Join a book club, get active in your church, go to Sierra Club Meetings, join a yoga studio, anything that you enjoy – form as many connections as you can muster.
Wellness Wordworks is looking for mental health graduates to become mentors for people to move beyond trauma. If you’ve 1) experienced mental health treatment but 2) now work, go to school, parent, keep house, etc. at least 40 hours a week, 3) but haven’t been involved with mental health advocacy, we REALLY want to hear from you. Send us a private and fully confidential message. We need you to help build our underground railroad to move people beyond trauma.
If you truly can’t bring yourself to get out of bed, much less into the world, honor that, and take it as a sign from your body and mind that you need to be looking inward right now. Sometimes we need rest and retreat. Meditation is one thing that has helped many people in such mindframes move beyond trauma.
Somatic/energy therapies can be beneficial to move beyond trauma.
The presenter of the workshop I attended, mentioned the Hakomi method. One of my favorites is Reiki, which is harnessing the “love energy of the universe” and using your touch to channel balancing energy into key areas of the body. It’s helpful to have a Reiki practitioner do a session for you, but even a day-long class with a Reiki master will attune and instruct you on how to do this on yourself. A PhD named Adina Goldman Shore did some double-blind trials on using for the treatment of anxiety and depression, and she found that it was extremely effective. I am not suprised at all. Making that human connection, and having people send healing love energy makes a huge difference when a person experiencing extreme emotional distress.
One “hold” that I like, is crossing your arms over your chest, so that your wrist covers your heart (heart chakra). Children in a local Reiki class nicknamed this position “I love me”. And isn’t that profound? I find that when life is really hard and I feel overwhelmed, giving myself a 5-minute “I love me” while I breathe deeply is enough to center me make me feel… loveable. A friend of mine used to do Reiki sessions on people in a community health center, and they would remark on the wonderful energy changes they felt, even while on powerful antipsychotic drugs.
Another method that has helped people heal from their trauma is “telling their story”. Come out. I’m not talking about revealing yourself as a psychiatric label or having multiple sessions with a trained psychologist, I mean talking about what’s happened in your life, with others in the community who are open and receptive. No therapists required. .One of our most successful programs at Wellness Wordworks is Poetry for Personal Power, where we facilitate a space for people to tell their story through poetry. Here’s sample.
What has helped you move beyond trauma? We want to hear from you! Follow us on twitter @PeerWordworks