One sunny day…
Dina was leaving work. The weather was perfect and she couldn’t wait to get home and walk her dog. Out of the corner of her eye, Dina witnessed a man beating up another man. She saw blood, a knife and heard screams of pain. Frozen, she helplessly observed the brutal scene. She started breathing heavily and frantically ran to her car. Dina quickly locked the doors and slumped into her seat. Her eyes shut automatically, hoping to extinguish images popping in her head. Dina told herself to calm down and breathe slowly. After all, she got to safety and felt certain the fighting men hadn’t seen her. With a racing mind afraid of being hurt, Dina didn’t think of calling the police; instead she drove straight home, sat in a chair and cried.
Since the violent incident, Dina is experiencing unexplainable physical, mental and emotional symptoms. During the day – there are frequent headaches, stomach problems and anxiety. At night Dina has a hard time sleeping. She is restless, feels alone and thoughts won’t quiet. Driving to work has become a big chore as she avoids parking anywhere near the original scene. Fearing a growing problem, Dina realizes it is time to reach out for help. She decides to work with a wellness coach who specializes in treating the whole person.
Where to begin?
After a thorough rundown of this terrifying event, Dina discovers these signs of distress can be defined as trauma responses. Dina’s wellness plan includes a trauma discussion – what it is, causes, symptoms and how to heal.
Approximately 50–60% of the general population has experienced a high-magnitude, potentially traumatic event (e.g., serious accident, natural disaster, or witnessing a trauma) (Kessler, Sonnega, Bromet, Hughes, & Nelson, 1995.)What is trauma? Webster defines trauma as “a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental/ emotional or physical stress or injury- and/or emotional upset.”
In the energy world, trauma energy leaks, oozes and settles into multiple areas within a person. Recovery and release occur in stages. Getting to the other side of trauma – a balanced state – starts with understanding trauma’s lessons and trajectory.
Lesson 1: Trauma stresses out the body.
Dina’s headaches, stomach problems and lack of good sleep are clear body messages she is under distress. Her body (especially the brain) is confused about how to survive the trauma. Physical symptoms happen because the body thinks it’s in physical danger. Until Dina steps out of the trauma story, her body will continue to respond as if the encounter is happening in real time again and again. Body trauma even changes strategies. Sometimes it switches where it fires off it’s next pain signal to remind Dina she is still under attack.
Homework: Be friends with the body.
Mindfulness is one technique to teach body awareness. In Mindfulness for Dummies, Shamash Alidina describes the body scan as a way to get in touch with the body and release pent-up emotions. Alidina states: “The body scan alternates between a wide and narrow focus of attention; from focusing on your little toe all the way through the entire body. The body scan trains your mind to be able to move from detailed attention to a wider and more spacious awareness from one moment to the next.”
Before sleeping Dina lies on her bed, closes her eyes and focuses her attention on her breath. Gently she moves her attention to whatever part of the body she wants to explore. She can choose to do a systematic body scan beginning at the head or feet or to check out random sensations. The point is to relax the body and notice its sensations without acting on them. After the body scan Dina thanks her body for protecting her.
Lesson 2: Trauma plays head games.
Trauma tells the brain: Danger is here. When the brain doesn’t believe it has room to do anything else besides stay in danger mode, it goes into overdrive adapting to the new world order. More on brain trauma here. Dina’s constant return to the scene and fearful thoughts drain her brain. She tells the coach that she plays the following games:
Game 1: Victim Mentality
Dina’s head doesn’t understand why or how this happened to her. Her mind swims in a sea of endless scenarios without clear cut solutions.
Game 2: Alcatraz Mentality
Dina doesn’t know how to make obsessive thoughts go away. She can’t figure a way to resolve the situation so she can be normal again. She feels like a prisoner serving a life sentence. Each day consists of the same intruding thoughts.
Homework: Re-train the brain to stay away from pain.
It’s time for Dina to align the brain’s energy in a direction towards safety, peace and well-being. Dina and her coach worked through the trauma by using a somatic approach. In his book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, Dr. Peter Levine proposes the unblocking of emotions and healing of trauma healed through mental awareness and physically shedding the energy of the traumatic event. The somatic approach involves several steps including (1)establishing a sense of security, (2)replacing panic and helplessness with positive and empowering responses and (3)restoring the nervous system.
Lesson 3: Trauma disconnects the spirit.
When the spirit is compromised a situation seems one-sided, incomprehensible and empty. Dina’s coach explained how moments of guilt, hopelessness, weakness and a lack of faith reflect a disconnect with the Divine. Moving out of trauma and into healing involves courage and the willingness to commit to practice peace, love and joy.
Homework: Look up and around.
A coach asked Dina to engage in nature activities such as walking in a park with her dog and sitting by water. In the presence of nature Dina works on accepting herself and letting the situation pass, reminding herself she is strong and finding sparks of hope. By connecting with nature Dina is inspired to see the bigger picture and create connection with the Divine.
Lesson 4: Trauma wreaks havoc on emotions.
Dina had a tough time finding the words to describe her emotions. “They’re (my emotions) are all over the place,” she says. “From one minute to the next I can be sad, detached, numb, out of sorts, restless and tearful. Before the incident I would describe myself as a free spirit. Now I feel closed, alone and constantly on-alert something will happen.”
Homework: Express yourself and integrate the energy of coping into daily activities.
Dina stopped using her voice. She decided if she keeps quiet and stays invisible nothing bad will happen. Coaching sessions served as a safe and loving space for Dina to open up, develop kind feelings about herself and laugh at life. Dina also used journaling and yoga as anchors to calm nerves, soften her heart and ease the mind. Coach also recommended aromatherapy oils such as lavender and clove to get past victim mentality and restore sense of self.