‘Trauma’ is a word that comes with baggage. The more I learn about the autonomic nervous system and walk my own path, the more I understand all humans collect traumas throughout their lifetime. Trauma is part of the human experience. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. Of course, the degree to which we experience trauma varies from person to person.
The definition of trauma that resonates with me is Dr Gabor Maté’s definition:
“It’s a psychic wound that leaves a scar. It leaves an imprint in your nervous system, in your body, in your psyche, and then shows up in multiple ways that are not helpful to you later on.
“Trauma is not what happens to you; it is what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you.”
When we think of trauma like this, it’s easy to see that we all have our own customised collection of scars that impact us as we go about our days. Often, we’re unaware of our trauma’s impact on us or its role in our lives. I started asking questions when I hit 30 (I’m 36 now). I began by looking at the period of my life I wish I could change. The more I started digging, the more I found and eventually, I decided to study the nervous system and became a certified Embodied Processing Practitioner.
What is embodied processing?
Embodied processing is a body-based approach to working with trauma. What precipitated my enrolment in the course was gut issues that had no apparent cause (I sought medical advice, and no one could tell me what was happening). Working with trauma is no easy road. I’m glad I had the guts (no pun intended) to pursue this work, but I’ve had many moments when I’ve wondered if I have unintentionally opened up a can of worms that ‘should’ have remained closed. (I am not a fan of the word ‘should’.)
I feel nervous system and trauma work is becoming more commonplace. This observation may stem from the circles I engage in online and the people I talk to. Here are five things I wish I knew before embarking on a journey to heal my trauma.
This journey is endless
Given my entry point to this work was less than ideal gut health, I thought I’d swoop in, heal my gut and close a chapter of my life that had been challenging. My gut is 90% healed (it tends to mostly play up when I am feeling intense emotions).
In the process of getting to where I am now from a physical health perspective, I’ve opened new doors to explore. You choose how far you go down the rabbit hole with this work, but if you have the appetite for it, this becomes the journey of a lifetime.
Prepare to feel… everything
Everyone’s experience with this work is different. I’d encountered a lot of experiences when I was younger that rendered me numb. I’ll be honest: feeling numb had its benefits. It made anything painful far easier to get through. However, we cannot selectively numb emotions. I was numb, period. A healthy person is capable of experiencing the full range of human emotions. That’s what life is all about.
In hindsight, I believe the numbness contributed to my gut symptoms. I had a lot of anger to work through. I’m still very much a work in progress in terms of expressing emotions, but I am no longer perturbed if people see my feelings. I’ve made a real effort to express myself in the moment rather than bottling things up. If I am frustrated at work, I’ll show it. If I’m angry at someone, I’ll tell them. This is a far more authentic (and healthy) way to live.
Your perception is forever changed
You view the world differently when you learn about the autonomic nervous system and how people become stuck in loops and patterns. Engaging in this work is a choice, so I never offer my thoughts without an invitation. However, I have found a new level of compassion when interacting with certain people I may have brushed aside or made an effort to avoid in the past. These days, once I’ve cooled down, I often wonder what happened to people. And when someone’s behaviour triggers me, I question why.
The more trauma work I’ve engaged in over time, the more I see trauma everywhere.
You ponder the meaning of everything more
Not everyone who engages in this work is spiritual or has any interest in spirituality. I define spirituality as the belief there is something greater out there. I’ve always been spiritual and interested in what some may call ‘woo-woo’. I’ve found that trauma work goes hand-in-hand with spirituality. The more I have learned from teachers such as Michael Singer, the more I realise I can’t control anything. The world unfolds, and moments happen, regardless of where I am in relation to the world. As Michael Singer says, we aren’t our thoughts. We are the soul, the thing inside our bodies witnessing our thoughts.
Again, you can really go down the rabbit hole with spirituality and consume content such as Alan Watts, Adyashanti and so on. For now, I’ve settled with this line of thought:
There are many things in this world humans aren’t supposed to have answers for—for example, life after death. Regardless of how far science comes, I don’t think we’re ever meant to have evidence for life after death. We’ll find out what exists when it’s our time. Until then, it’s all a giant, beautiful mystery.
Everyone is drumming to their own beat (and rightfully so)
If we have one ‘job’ in this world, it’s to become who we are. Not who our parents want us to be. Not who our friends ask us to be. Not who our boss wishes we are. Who we truly are.
Our past explains a lot about where we end up in life. However, our past doesn’t have to dictate our future. With awareness and effort, we can change our inner world, and that healing will be reflected in our outer world. When we come from chaos, we often find ourselves in our own self-created mess and chaos down the track.
I’ve referred to the word ‘work’ throughout this piece. This journey isn’t really work. It’s an unfolding. Healing trauma cannot be rushed. As humans, we always want to eliminate what we label undesirable or painful. When you engage in this unfolding, you’ll find that something else always surfaces. For example, I healed (mostly) my gut, and now I’ve identified other ‘challenges’ to work through.
I’ll leave you with a simple message I hope you can hear.
You are not broken. There’s nothing to ‘fix’. Instead, there is plenty to explore with compassion and curiosity. Trust me, you never know where this journey may take you.