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The gifts of trauma, stress, disorder, whatever you want to call it (Part I of probably many).
There are a few definitions of trauma I want to share here. Read through them all and see if any particular ones land for you more distinctly:
“Anything that happens too fast or too soon for the nervous system to handle.” ~ Peter Levine
“Trauma is any event that overwhelms the ordinary human adaptations to life.” ~ Dr. Arielle Schwartz
“Trauma causes a fixed reactive state in our soma that becomes non-responsive to current-time experiences.” ~ Staci Haines
“Trauma informs every aspect of self and life.” ~ Manuela Mischke-Reeds
“Trauma is a chronic disruption of connection” ~ Stephen Porges
Take a breath; let those sink in.
Now here are some questions to sink your teeth into, from a class in a somatic trauma therapy training I took.
The class was titled “Ecologies of Trauma” with Karine Bell, and it deeply resonated with my spirit and helped inspire this writing:
>> what yearnings are born from the experiences of suffering?
>> what do they reveal about this existence?
>> what do they reveal about the kind of world I/we want to live in?
>> what does the experience of “trauma” make way for?
My greatest struggles/traumas are what led me to my heart’s calling.
How many times have we heard clichés like that? The people who have been through the most often end up being the most driven, gifted, effective leaders in certain fields…flowers pushing up from cracks in the concrete and all that.
But the more I examine that idea, the more I believe it holds some even deeper and more nuanced truth. And many clients, friends, and people I speak to would say the same.
For the first time in our collective history, we have access to incredible new information and complex, nuanced understanding of the ways trauma functions in our individual nervous systems as well as community and collective systems.
So it’s understandable that we have a hyper focus on it right now…we have the opportunity to see it in a new light.
We get to demystify trauma.
The thing we call trauma is a natural part of life on this planet.
I think it would serve us to drop value judgments on it, to both stop demonizing or glorifying it.
I feel the same way about those considered “mentally ill.”
Definition of disorder: to disrupt the systematic functioning or neat arrangement of
If you ask me, there is a lot of systemic functioning in our world that needed their neat arrangement to be disrupted for a long time, which is what we’re witnessing now, in real time, on many levels.
Our personal systemic disorders reflect external dysfunction and vice versa. Often, those who are the most traumatized or “disordered” are closer to the truth than most of us.
There are gifts and revelation in the wake of things considered traumatic. It forces you to traverse deep within and come back to the core of your humanity.
It forces you to come face-to-face with yourself, in your most raw, vulnerable, and unmasked state to quickly realize what matters the most to you, and come in contact with your very human, very perfectly imperfect, very magnificent spirit.
We can choose to evolve through our personal and collective traumas or remain stuck in recycling loops with them.
Events considered traumatic can lead to the most profound breakthrough and shared purpose.
This requires tremendous courage and willingness to be present with the entirety of experience, of course.
And, we exist in overlapping ecologies—the personal and the transpersonal are interdependent. And so is the potential transformation of trauma into triumph.
We need to support each other interpersonally and systemically for that to happen.
But is trauma “good” or “bad”?
No…this is not to excuse the actions of those who harm or to bypass the atrocities and suffering that’s happening in the world.
None of that is okay.
And I believe we can reach a stage where we don’t need to learn, grow, or evolve through pain anymore, but through pleasure and joy.
And yet, as long as we are still experiencing the residue and impacts of trauma, there is the stage where we’re able to zoom out (once we’ve grown the somatic capacity). We “widen the river” of our capacity to be with our pain and suffering and become bigger in relation to the trauma.
So the traumatic thing happened to you. But it is not you. Eventually, it doesn’t need to be the thing that subconsciously runs the show.
All of us are better than the worst thing we’ve ever done, and the worst thing that we’ve ever been through.
In somatic embodiment and somatic trauma therapy, we work with the body to form a new relationship with the things we’ve experienced and to expand our capacity to be with ourselves in all of our experiences—to be with life.
Somatics: a different theory of change. One where we are whole and interdependent.
We begin to come home to the body and all its sensations where the trauma is held, learning to be present with the pain and extract the gold beyond the mental looping and psychoanalyzing.
This can be at whatever pace you need to go. It can be slow, gentle.
What happened was not okay, but what if it was the catalyst that leads to what makes our soul alive, creativity, and calling of service to your community?
What if it was the opening needed to reveal that which has been ignored and needs desperately to be shaken up and changed?
To shift your perspective, create a renewed pathway, flip you upside down, and make you question everything you knew for the better?
Our minds attach to the stories of our traumatic experiences as “bad,” “wrong,” this horrible thing that happened to me, and create beliefs around it—“I’m unworthy,” “I can’t trust anyone,” “I’ll always be this way,” and “I’ll never succeed.”
Or most commonly, the perpetual feeling that “I’m not safe in my body.”
Somatic trauma therapy is about getting to the root of that memory or belief, where it lives in the physiology beneath the value judgements and mental stories. It’s about bringing the trauma responses, which the mind keeps on repeat, to completion through the body. It’s also about shifting our perspective about our trauma and pain, ideally moving out of a disempowering, defeated lens, into an empowering one to reclaim agency, choice, and resilience in our nervous system and psyche.
Trauma provides a window, a crack in the cement that often reveals what we most deeply care about and long for—the truth of our humanity—and can fuel us into who we are and what we’re here to change.