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As I closed my eyes, I felt your cold, stiff hand over my mouth.
Your skin was tight and smooth. You were stronger than I could imagine. Your right forearm pushed against my chest, pinning me to the bed. My heart was racing, my breath was short.
Trauma affects us all, and it comes in many different shapes and sizes.
We all have distinctive reactions and emotions to the turmoil that forms inside us. Who to talk to, who to reach out to, who to tell?
Sometimes this confusion is so strong that we don’t say or do anything. We learn to live with the pain and suffering. We get accustomed to the new obstructed existence we maintain.
We forget that with time and a safe place to share, we can experience healing.
I opened my eyes and brought myself back to the present, to the room around. I noticed five things I saw, four things I felt, and three things I heard. I continued to take the time to notice two things I smelled and one thing I tasted.
I saw the wooden platform my guru taught from, I saw the sun rising over the mountains ahead, I saw the wooden cross bars in the window, I saw my feet planted on the yellow yoga mat below me, and the white pants I was wearing. I felt the drawstring of my pants around my waist, and the lift and fall of my ribs with every inhale and exhale. I felt the fear freeze and tighten in my chest and the wet tears fall down my face.
I heard the snot move up my nostrils as I sniffed air into my nose. I heard the monkeys run across the tin roof above my head. I smelled the coconut oil on my skin as I wiped my nose with my forearm. This brought back the strong scent of eucalyptus oil burning in the corner. And that only left me to notice the dry mint taste in my mouth.
I was in India at a teacher training course and I was being invited to heal myself.
I knew my demons were going to be aggressive on this trip.
I thought I would be healing my past drug use or pattern of abusive partners, but it turns out I was being shown the root of the wound, that these patterns and behaviors were merely a reaction to the traumatic event that had happened 10 years prior.
I had stuffed this incident so deep down into my body, I didn’t recognize that it drove the actions in my life.
Trauma develops when we are psychologically or physically threatened with an experience. This leaves us with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, and an inability to cope.
Two different types of trauma can occur in our lives: shock trauma, and complex or developmental trauma.
Shock trauma forms from incidences such as the death of a loved one, car accidents, divorce, and ranging levels of abuse (just to list a few examples). When this type of trauma occurs, the limbic brain—which regulates emotions—is flooded with cortisol and disturbs the hippocampus gland, leaving us in a consistent state of dismay.
Complex or developmental trauma occurs in someone’s childhood, or in people who repeatedly face suffering in their lives. When trauma sets in, it can cause many emotional issues, leaving people to their own coping strategies with anxiety, shame, guilt, fear, and anger. Sometimes, it pushes an individual into post-traumatic stress disorder depending on the support they receive and other life stresses such as finances, broken relationships, or the loss of a job.
In my yoga life coaching course, we learned that trauma is held in the body.
With repetitive, slow motions and conscious breath techniques, we can remove this chronic tension stored in our bodies. A traumatic event will never be completely forgotten, but with proper intervention, we can greatly reduce the power it holds over our everyday lives and find recovery.
The visions of my trauma continued to come to mind as my practice continued over the weeks.
The room was an ocean blue. My bed was pushed up into the back corner walls. I could still hear my own muffled cry for help under your left hand. Your clothes were still on, you had only unzipped your pants. Your heavy body forced me into the mattress below. With every vigorous thrust into me, I was losing my will to fight. I finally gave up, laying limp under your powerful body, longing for it to be over.
Looking back, I can recall many events that triggered me.
Recently, right before leaving for India, I was triggered by a sexual experience. I felt trapped and uncomfortable, and my mind instantaneously went elsewhere. My partner and I quickly switched positions, and he swiftly closed my legs and rested his hands on my shoulder blades. I was scared to think anything of it, and hashed up the unease I felt to the scary movie we’d watched earlier that night.
In another instance, I was drying the dishes with my stepdad while watching a story on the news. The television told an account of a young, teenage girl falling asleep at an LRT station, and then waking up to two boys raping her. The story provoked a pain so strong, I haven’t watched the news since.
I also recall an up-and-coming vocal artist debuting last year. I loved her music, but I was triggered from the raw truth she sang about in her lyrics. In the end, I refused to listen to her songs.
Occasionally, the pain and fear is so overwhelming, we choose to live from our suffering self. We choose the despair over the temporary discomfort of sitting in the ache of our current hurt.
We deny the chance to ask ourselves, “What about this situation is triggering me? Why is my body pressured by this outside event?”
Instead of feeling into the distress, we grant shame and guilt to guide and control our actions, tying us tighter to the possession of the trauma, and slowing down our ability to heal.
I believed the threat of my trauma and tolerated the restraint it put on my life. I gave my approval for this fear of an event to quiet my will. I allowed myself to become too scared to speak up. I accepted the thought that no one would care. I assumed nobody could do anything because it had already happened.
What I didn’t realize was the effect it continued to have on my life with that perspective.
But we can heal.
We can learn to trust the process, and we can give room and allowance to ourselves for health and growth. Wellness can come from our traumatic situations. We can learn to hear and use our voice with love and compassion for ourselves and those around us. We have the ability for our voice to bring strength and comfort back into our lives. We can give hope to those around us who are struggling.
When I found a safe place, I found dependable and trustworthy people to rely on, a community to express myself in, and I experienced the power of a listening ear. And allowing these things in has transformed my life with compassion and awareness.