Listening to My Body on My Trauma Recovery Journey
I always knew addressing my trauma was inevitable; at some point, I needed to address the thoughts and sensations that occurred deeply within my own psyche and body. I did not know that it would happen aged 24, shortly after a nine month stay in a treatment center that changed my life. Recovering from trauma is rarely linear, similar to an addiction. The process can be grueling, exhausting and mentally testing. Addressing extensive trauma is not for the weary and requires an immense amount of strength to speak up and let one’s own story be known. J.K. Rowling, known for her vibrant Harry Potter series, has a truthful take on what it means to be courageous:
“There are all kinds of courage,” said Dumbledore, smiling. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” (Rowling, 306)
In my opinion, it takes a significant amount of courage to stand up to and own one’s own past. As humans, we can not decipher what will trigger us or trigger a moment when we immediately flashback to previous traumatic experiences. And what we keep stuffed down, below the ricochet of layers, often makes us who we become, and what molds us into the unique beings we all are. Each one of us has gone through some trauma. Whether we view those moments as traumatic or not is purely a personal decision. It is a decision that can only be made with deep thought and adherence to our own bodies.
This is the experience of what it felt like to relive a war in my head as well as a war between a desire to stop my body from doing what it needed to do and what I wanted to do.
Shortly after an uncomfortable therapy session, I experienced the shaking. It was during the cold grey season, well in conjunction with Seattle weather.
Well known to survivors of war, though it still seems an uncanny experience to my own self. It will remain an experience that will hardly be easily forgotten. It was an experience that compelled me to look deep within my own body at how we all experience trauma differently.
The flashback, reminiscent of war, precipitated the need to reach out to my therapist through a text message. It was quickly after that I received a call from him and experienced a tremendous amount of vulnerability over the phone, unlike any therapy session had before.
When I slid the answer button on my phone, I could hear his voice, though unaware of my surroundings. I knew with a part of me that I was safe, free from any danger in my apartment. I had trained myself to know that the images I saw were not real and a figment of my own imagination. Though each image was frightening in its own way, I had to tell myself that the worst part was over, and this was the aftermath of it all. It seemed necessary to remind myself; I was safe and unable to be harmed.
He asked me to describe the room’s colors and my phone case’s texture throughout the phone call. He had me breathe into the fear I was experiencing. It was shortly after breathing for several minutes, my legs began to shake uncontrollably. Being someone who prides themselves on self-control, I found this terrifying.
I remember my phone dropping out of my hands and just staring at my legs, fear overwhelming my body, unable to speak and breathing seemed out of the question.
I am unsure of how much time passed before he obtained my attention by saying my name. When I was able to speak, all I could mutter was, “I’m shaking.” The experience of shaking was so unknown to me. Having a diagnosis of OCPD (obsessive-compulsive personality disorder), much of my own bodily reactions still frighten me at age 24. His response met me with kindness and understanding of the experience. In the moments I found myself unable to speak or breathe, he encouraged me to let my body shake and to sit with the discomfort of what was occurring in my body.
He encouraged me to resist fighting the sensations I was experiencing. To let them come and go as they please. While present in fear of experiencing my body shake, I found myself drifting off into another world. The shaking remained for what felt like hours. Being asked to describe the fear, what I was experiencing felt arduous and impossible. It was almost as if a switch turned on in my most inner core, and I started to vibrate with intensity. Every movement I made aligned with consequential vibrations and deeply intertwined intensity. My breath, my chest, my legs all shook for a time span unknown and did not stop until I took control back and walked.
“Your body is releasing the energy stored in your body; take a deep breath” were the words said to me throughout that experience. Tears and sweat were permeated throughout the experience. Though it remained the first time, I sat in conjunction with experiencing a great level of fear without engaging in disordered eating behaviors.
The exhaustion I felt was all-encompassing, and after having been grounded, my legs and body felt as if they were hit by a train. I was encouraged to rest by friends and family and was also told that this experience was only the beginning of my own personal journey towards my recovery.
Though frightened and uncomfortable, it will remain the first time I chose recovery over comfort.
Rowling, J. K., and Jim Dale. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. [New York]: Random House Audiobooks, 1999.
Getty image by Victor_Tongdee