“I woke up in horrible pain, gagging. I didn’t know my jaws were wired shut. My mother was screaming and going crazy, and the nurses took her out. I was alone, and I am sure I was terrified.”
“I did not know at that moment that I had been run over by a car. I was only six years old. And I was desperately alone.”
“But everything turned out OK so I guess that wasn’t really trauma?”
We all tend to explain away trauma.
I received one of the greatest responses in a long time when I wrote about the misunderstandings regarding trauma last week.
Many of the questions were related to the one that I will answer this week: “What can I do right now to get started on a path to healing?”
Whether it’s you, or someone you know and love who has been through trauma, these are the five things any of us can do immediately to get started on the journey. However, I highly recommend that as we/they do these things, they find the help they need from a trauma informed therapist, coach or clergy member.
What are the five things that I told this broken man that he could do? And that you can do too to get yourself started on a healing journey?
1. ADMIT TO YOURSELF AND A TRUSTWORTHY OTHER THAT YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED TRAUMA
I leaned toward him with great compassion and said: “I want you to repeat after me. Will you do that?” He was white as a sheet, and nodded affirmatively, and looked relieved that he didn’t have to find any more words.
“I experienced severe trauma as a six-year-old.”
“No one helped me process through it.”
“The toxic effects of the dark cloud of trauma has followed me my entire life.”
“Every choice, decision and step I have taken have been clouded by the dark cloud of trauma.”
“If I do not heal it, it will continue to haunt me.”
“If I do not heal it, I will become my worst nightmare … An angry, unfulfilled man, with my gifts still in me.”
He looked at me as if he was speaking of someone else’s life.
They all do.
Men, women, teenagers, boys, girls. Every age. Every socioeconomic group. Every cultural background.
It’s the typical experience of someone with unresolved trauma.
Saying it out loud to someone who will listen, validate and empathize is a crucial step toward healing.
Who can you share yours with? And when you will do it?
Healing begins the moment you do so.
2. BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF WHAT SYMPTOMS YOU HAVE SUFFERED FROM OR WITH IN YOUR LIFE AS A RESULT OF TRAUMA.
For the delightful man I was working with, I went through an extended (but not complete) list of symptoms often associated with trauma. I placed an “x” by each one that he said applied to him
- X-Relationship problems
- X-Sleep problems
- X-But loves to sleep
- X-Makes things difficult
- X-Lack of focus or hyperfocus (can’t let things go)
- X-Mind spinning that won’t stop
- X-Talks too much
- X-Deeply rooted fear
- X-Shuts down and refuses to talk
- Memory problems
- X-Brain fog
- X-Counseling has been encouraged by others
- X-Thinks the worst outcomes when ideas are presented
- X-Bent toward negativity
- Deflated posture
- Walking with a strut at times
- Doesn’t complete tasks
- X-Overly emotional at times
- X-Shut down emotionally at times
- Digestive problems
- Eating problems (binging, purging, starving oneself, etc)
- X-Mood swings
- X-Habitual body movements (flipping hair, rubbing nose)
- X-Self destructive habits (picking at fingernails, picking at toes, incessant teeth picking)
- Hair pulling (trichotillomania)
- X-Gruff, harsh tones
- X-Withdrawn at times
- X-Sometimes a hot mess
- X-Sometimes has it all together
- X-Struggles with communication
- X-Often feels misunderstood
- X-Unpredictable moods and behaviors
- X-Addictions (alcohol, drugs, Rx drugs, food, etc)
- X-Struggles to connect
- X-Things said “come out wrong”
- X-Says the wrong things, or say things at the wrong time or both
- X-Often sighs and groans
- X-Admits to “frustration” (but others see it as anger)
- X-Often feels numb
- X-Ongoing muscle tension or pain
- X-Random body pain
- X-Often complains
- X-Or holds complaints in until explosion
- X-“wears out” partners or close acquaintences
- X-Get called “needy” – which is not true, but cannot receive when needs are being met
- X-Self sabotage
- X-Difficult to be around at times
- X-Delightful to be around at times
- Unself aware at times
- X-Hyper self-aware at times
- X-Racing thoughts
- X-Racing heartbeat
- X-Extreme alertness to potential danger
- Problems with authority
- X-Craves love but rejects it when given
- X-Hard on self
- Even harder on others
As you can see, most of the list was checked off.
The purpose of this is not to make them feel bad, but to become very aware of how the trauma has affected their moment-to-moment reactions, decisions. Actually, their whole lives.
Occasionally, there are those who are so disconnected, so numb, that they just can’t see themselves. Or … they are so ashamed they cannot check the list honestly.
If that is you, get your spouse, or close friend to make note of what they have seen.
This is to help you, to get some determination in your gut to get this trauma handled. Be honest! Because with help … all of these negative things will be history!
3. MAKE A DECISION TO DO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TO HEAL THE TRAUMA. AND TO NO LONGER ALLOW THE MISERY THAT COMES FROM THE DARK CLOUD OF TRAUMA TO BE THE THEME OF YOUR LIFE.
“Are you aware that this could be the most important decision of your current life (other than your relationship with God?)” I asked him.
He very solemnly nodded yes. I continued: “How important is it?”
“Well like you said … it’s the most important thing.”
Because I had done a full debrief of his life, I began the questioning:
“More important than alcohol?”
More important than sports?”
More important than the time you waste?”
I told him I sincerely hoped he would not live out what Henry David Thoreau wrote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
Because I believe what Thoreau wrote about is exactly what happens when people do not heal their trauma. Indeed! They die with their song still in them.
I asked this wonderful man to convince me he believed this was important.
As most do, he began with what I call the “fire on his backside” (the things he is afraid will happen if he fails to deal with his trauma).
“My life will be more of the same. I am sick of it. My mind is a jumbled ball of twine all the time. I don’t make the best decisions, I can’t say the right things at the right time.”
“I have missed so many opportunities. Like when I won a significant award, and could not make myself go to a televised event and receive the award. What’s wrong with me that I would do that?”
“I’m sick of myself thinking that if I don’t have the best idea in the world … I don’t even want to be there. What’s wrong with me that I even think like that?”
“I have so much jammed in my brain, and I just can’t express it. Then I explode and hurt others. That’s NOT who I want to be.”
“I’m sick of dancing with this dark cloud of trauma. I want to dance in the sun. It’s not too late, is it?”
I assured him it wasn’t!
We had identified a lot of “fire on his backside,” and I hope you will do the same.
But that’s not enough.
There must be a compelling future identified.
I call that the “fire in the belly.”
It took a bit to get him started, but quickly, his face came to life, and his eyes filled with hope.
“I want to land on my purpose. I want to accomplish things that are stuck in my brain.”
“What I really long for is real peace. Real peace and contentment in doing, in becoming.”
“I want to complete things. No more overwhelm with ideas, but never getting a start.”
“I want the real thing. Real life. Real peace. Real connection.”
“I want real intimacy, real connection.”
“I want to have fun and not think it’s ‘weird’ or ‘odd.’”
“I want to be known as the guy who is sweet to people.”
“I want to use my ‘presence’ as a way to connect instead of seeing myself ‘better than’.”
“I look forward to waking up every day and accomplishing something, making progress. And to feel the peace and fulfillment from that.”
Powerful “fire in the belly.”
What about you? Identify the “fire in your belly” and the “fire on your backside.”
It’s what will propel you to get the help you need and deserve. But not only that, it will keep you on track as you roll up your sleeves and do the hard work!
You can do this!
4. OWN YOUR COPING MECHANISMS AND MAKE A PLAN TO DISCONTINUE THE UNHEALTHY ONES.
He had already shared with me that his prime coping mechanism had been alcohol.
It started with a couple of drinks to knock his edge off so he could be more “present” and fun with his children.
I asked him if he thought it was normal for someone to have to drink in order to be “present” and less edgy with his children?
As he glanced down, he mumbled: “Probably not.”
Despite family interventions, various family members speaking to him about his drinking, and even affecting some of his intimate relationships … The dots had not connected.
Not until he understood it was the way he copes with the dark cloud of unresolved trauma.
He made his commitment to lay it down, and is now 8 months sober. Probably for the first time since his youth.
What about you? What do you use?
Females often use food, and their bodies speak of such.
Some people use drugs, others prescription drugs.
Some isolate themselves away and call themselves “introverts,” because they must soothe in private with their pornography.
Whatever you use to cope, I hope you will own it, admit it, and do what it takes to discontinue it so that you can heal from the trauma!
I promise you that you can and will heal!
5. BE GRATEFUL THAT BETTER DAYS ARE AHEAD.
Living under the dark cloud of trauma steals life from us.
It’s not that there are no good moments, because there are likely plenty.
But they quickly fade away as the dark cloud of trauma continually moves between the sun (life, great moments, etc) and you.
It’s hard to hope when that has happened for years and years.
As a matter of fact, most people fail to connect it to the trauma.
Therefore, it continues to follow them.
That is why so many diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia etc. often occur. Certainly, those are the symptoms, but the root of the dark cloud is the trauma.
As I helped this gifted man begin to look ahead to brighter days, we worked on his proclamation. Hopefully you will write one too and read it aloud daily!
His included words such as: “Every moment matters, every word matters, every person matters. I am in the finest moments of my life, a life that matters! I am rich in love, family, focus and finances. These are the best days of my life!”
You too must believe that better days are ahead.
When we remove the dark cloud of trauma between you and the sun, the natural outcome is brighter days.
Yes, it requires a certain amount of faith when the dark cloud is all we’ve known for weeks, months, years, decades.
But removing the dark cloud insures the sun will shine on you again.
Do these five things.
Find the help you need and deserve.
And let the sun warm your heart, your life, your destiny.
Better things, better moments and a better life are ahead for you, my friend!