Trauma is a tough topic.
A heavy topic.
It’s a topic our world likes to avoid, brush aside, and gloss over, because, well, it can be uncomfortable to talk about.
Let’s dive in instead.
What is trauma?
Trauma is what happens when our dear nervous system gets so overwhelmed by an event that we don’t know how to respond in the moment. It can be a truly shocking and thoroughly terrifying experience.
For some of us, it can lead to the development of PTSD, which includes symptoms like nightmares, intense fear, mood swings, flashbacks, hypervigilance, being easily startled, insomnia, feelings of worthlessness, feeling disconnected from our bodies, and so much more.
I share this information not to pathologize or shame those of us who struggle, but to bring awareness so we can heal. Over 24 million people in the United States have PTSD—and 70 percent of us have experienced some type of trauma.
That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of pain. We need to talk about this, for we can’t afford to look away. Let’s peel off the layers of stigma and lean in to healing, together.
Before we go any further, I just want to say:
I’m so sorry that you were ever hurt like that.
I’m so sorry if it felt like your world crashed down all around you in one moment flat.
I know it can feel wildly unfair and fiercely unjust.
Maybe it feels like the past follows you around—a cruel ghost, a muddied lens through which you now view your life. And the anger—oh, the anger—it can make us feel like we’re living in the flames of our own personal hell.
I’ve been there.
Trauma can be shattering, in these deep, visceral ways that feel impossible to formulate in words.
It can be hard to trust people again.
It can be hard to open up.
It can be hard to feel okay at all.
Maybe we feel a constant tension weighing us down—and yet, we can’t sit still. Energy buzzes, our nervous system fires constantly, on red alert, struggling to find a sense of settledness, rest, or safety. And peace—well, that can feel like something we’ll never have again.
Maybe life feels exhausting, like joy is sucked out of our world with the straw of this ache.
Every day can feel like we are fighting for our lives.
Maybe for days, months, or years afterward, nightmares haunt us, or life itself feels like a walking, breathing nightmare.
Often, we don’t know where to turn.
We might learn to mask our pain, bear tough symptoms, and be quiet, which hurts all the more.
We might start to avoid places, people, or reminders of what happened.
We might feel intense rage without knowing why.
We might begin to fear our bodies, our minds—both being alone and being with other people.
We might fear we’re going crazy. (We’re not.)
Often, we carry the heaviness of the shame and pain with us, every day.
Let’s open the curtains around all this silence and misunderstanding around trauma and PTSD.
I know the crashing difficulty—and I know the delicious challenge of it all.
The invitation that whispers, telling us to rise.
The truth that we can heal from anything.
The resilience that’s kept us going for this long.
And often, we need help and support.
It’s not easy, and it can seem like most people don’t understand. When trauma is involved, we can’t talk ourselves out of it, we can’t wish it away, we can’t make it—snap!—all better.
No, we can’t just “be more positive.” A list of affirmations will not save us. It’s not something we can magically recover from overnight.
And that’s okay.
It truly is a healing process.
A painful but beautiful art project.
A deep dive.
It can be really scary.
I want you to know that even if it feels like you are broken beyond repair, you still have resiliency, resources, strengths, things to rely on and support you.
There’s so much I want to say.
I wish I could just sit with you right now.
And put my hand very gently on your shoulder, only if that was okay with you.
And just hear you as the tears rain down.
In truth, I wouldn’t want to say a lot. I would just say: I’m here.
And then, I’d let you feel what you need to feel. Even if you felt like the world was crashing down around you. I would want you to feel that for a moment, because I’d know that you could handle it.
When I did speak, maybe I’d say something like this (with a slight fear it would sound annoying):
I know it’s really hard right now. I’ve been there. The best thing to do when it’s really hard is to get into your body. Into your senses. Into your breath.
Trauma can make us feel ungrounded; it can detach us from our bodies. But the good news is that we can learn to be in our sweet bodies again. We can get lusciously grounded again. This is an important step in our healing.
Get comfy, put on your favorite fuzzy slippers, hold a soft blanket, drink a hot cup of tea, feel a thick scarf draped over your shoulders. Find anything that feels really good to you and create a cozy little “nest” space.
Feel the supple support of the chair beneath you. Feel…comfort. Even if it’s small at first—let it in, drop by precious drop.
Next, notice your feet on the floor, your arches, your heels. As you do this, begin to paint your body in very gentle awareness, from head to toe. Notice what your body feels like, what sensations are there. (If this feels at all overwhelming, know that you can always take a break, or try again later.)
Then, if it feels okay, look around the room slowly. Take your time. Let your eyes take in the colors and textures. Maybe you see the sage green wall, a bright blue mug of tea, your brown cat conked out on the couch, your beloved smiling, the juicy green leaves on the trees outside.
This is about orienting and helping your body know that you are here now.
You are safe now.
The past is over.
Breathe in the cool, fresh air and taste the budding beginning of your freedom. Feel something just a little delicious flood your lungs. As you exhale, notice the warm air rushing out of your mouth; savor how it feels.
These skills—grounding and orienting—can be so helpful.
They’re not a quick fix. No, I won’t promise that. Too many people promise that, but the truth is that healing from trauma takes as long as it takes. And that’s okay. No rush.
Experiment and see if you can find just a little freedom today. Find a tiny bit of space and the inspiration to keep practicing, keep healing, and keep coming back to yourself. Over and over again, like waves licking the shoreline.
‘Cause maybe we become mermaids and find treasures in the darkness.
A devotion to ourselves, to life, that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. A burst of creativity. The fire to create healthy boundaries and dance our way through the ache.
Maybe we come to better appreciate the softness of our own hearts, the caring words of loved ones, our belief in God, our trust in the universe.
That’s post-traumatic growth.
And that tells us there’s something just as real as the hurt: the magic.
The magic that happens after the pain, during the pain, right next to the pain.
No one really talks about that either. And it can be hard to see. Honestly, it can feel irritating or impossible to think about when we’re in the messy throes of it. But the magic is there, in the scraps of pure beauty that can be found even in the worst of it—even in our howling sobs at 2 a.m. on the bathroom floor.
And this doesn’t make what happened to us okay, but we can do our best with what we’re given.
We can be creative with it.
Befriend your body, sweet one. Let this lush container of your flesh and bone hold you.
Let the universe hold you, too.
Your friends and family. Your pets. Your passions. The grassy earth underneath your feet.
Your strength, softness, and your beauty. Your drive, wisdom, truth, and your powerful voice. Your immense courage, too.
You’re healing. Really, you are.
And I know—this healing is freakin’ hard work. It can be exhausting, terrifying, and messy. It can feel like we’re getting absolutely nowhere. It can feel so harsh and lonely. But it can be surprisingly sweet and joyful, too.
There are moments of stunning breakthrough.
Of shedding skin.
Of savoring sunsets in vivid, buttery colors.
Moments of being more real than ever.
And all the sweeping realizations we never would have had otherwise.
Maybe we see how resilient we really are.
And what a jaw-dropping gift it is to be alive.
I know it’s so hard. And I know how beautiful it can be, too.
Let your bravery guide you through.
Be gentle with yourself every step of the way.
“Human beings are born with an innate capacity to triumph over trauma. I believe that not only is trauma curable, but that the healing process can be a catalyst for profound awakening—a portal opening to emotional and genuine spiritual transformation.” ~ Dr. Peter Levine
Books: Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine, Healing Trauma by Peter Levine, In an Unspoken Voice by Peter Levine, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.