Trauma and its Ugly Reactions

Trauma means different things to different people, so to start I’d like to define the word “trauma.” According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary it is:

a : “ an injury (as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent”

b :  “a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury”

There are other definitions, but these two are what I would like to focus on for today.

According to definition “a” trauma is caused by something external, something not of one’s self. And definition “b” says that things in or psyche can be messed up due to external stress or even a physical injury.

Why is it when we see someone suffering the long lasting effects of trauma do we say, “Why don’t you just get over it?” Or, “It is what it is.”

It isn’t that easy, our hearts, our minds, and our spirits are not washed by the wind; our soul does not want to, or have to accept that we can do nothing about past traumas. Sure, we aren’t time travelers, we can’t go back to reverse these traumatic curses, but we do have the ability to remember these things that have happened. The things that have taught us the true meaning of suffering. We have the ability to replay these things in our mind’s eye, to see them through, to wish for a better ending … a happily ever after.

Our brains are kind of weird though, sometimes they replay traumatic memories with no identifiable reason for the replay. Worse, our brains can react to minor stress in a big way, causing us to hyperventilate, lose sleep, sleep all of the time, and our brains even have a way of tricking us into thinking the trauma will happen again, thus being hyper vigilant and causing us unnecessary stress.

How do we “fix” this?

I have some sad news for you: we don’t fix this, we feel it. We feel every painful thought, we process it, we “feel it fully” as Dr. Donna LaMar would say. It is in that process of feeling that we enlighten ourselves with the wisdom we have learned through such trauma.

I have often been told that we can’t control others, only our reaction to them, but wait, there’s more to that. My brain reacts subconsciously to perceived threats … I have little control over that because I have yet to feel my traumas fully.

In the summer of 2006, I was diagnosed with bipolar by a physician’s assistant armed with a paper questionnaire about my moods. We did not discuss traumas, the past, we didn’t discuss anything more than my symptoms. I was medicated for and labeled with bipolar. For nine years this diagnosis has followed me and the mental health community has always approached me with skills that I need to change to effectively live life to its fullest without dragging others down with me. Until five weeks ago, no one has ever done trauma work with me.

Often times, after I get to know someone I will share my diagnosis with them the response is often the same, “Really? You? Bipolar? I never would have guessed.”

And my response is, “I’m well medicated.”

Maybe I need to reconsider my response? Maybe I’m not bipolar, maybe I’m a healing survivor whose brain fears the very breath that I breathe? Maybe trauma has destroyed me, over and over again, but my brain is working to keep me safe with little or no logical input?

I think it is time for me to put on some Kevlar, fight for myself, and pray that I can beat trauma.

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Turning Ugly Around

This week we discussed goals. This isn’t really a novel concept, but it helped to open my mind to something more than past pains.

The conversation, led by Michelle, took a turn though, “What do you need to let go of to reach your goals?”

“Let go of?” I wondered, what I need to let go of to get away from past pain. Realizing the most important is to rid myself of people that are disrespectful toward me.

Slowly, I etched the pains that I needed to let go of onto small pieces of construction paper. The memories ran down my cheeks in the form of tears, I could feel the pain, and I felt it fully. The past is my foe, and it has been hurting me for years, but not nearly as much as it hurt writing them out and seeing them in living color.

“Now,” Michelle said, “I want you to tear them up. Tear them up into tiny pieces.”

I did so, with a cathartic vigor. The muscles in my body were extremely tense as I tore them up, obliterating the past pains.

Michelle led me to the blender partially filled with water, “Put the pieces in, and pick some other items to place in there with them.”

I was careful in my selection of pretties to add, first and foremost being small pieces of “angel wings.” A perfect addition to helping me through this trying moment. I also added some sparkle, I wasn’t sure where this was going, but I knew that I needed pretty in my life.

Michelle touched a button to start the motor of the blender, and my tears turned to a smile as I watched the whirring blades eat at my aching heart. And then, she asked me to pour the thick, pulpy mixture into a screen. With relaxed muscles I spread the mixture with a sponge, squeezing the water out, and watching the pretty, homemade, recycled paper emerge.

It’s true, from pain and ugly, beauty can shine past and create something new and amazing.

Family History Revelation

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I always knew that my grandfather and his siblings owned a trucking company, and I thought that was cool enough. However, I never knew that they made their own moonshine, and my guess is that they ran said moonshine through the trucking company. Though I have no definitive evidence of this, I am doing some research.

What does this have to do with “Touching Heaven” or “Farting Rainbows?”

I come from a family of people that do what they need to do to survive, no matter what others might say. My guess is that they were told they couldn’t run ‘shine, so they did it to prove that they could. A family built on motivation and defying the odds, taking risks, and winning.

If I had to guess, where my motivation to defy the statistics of crazy, mixed up, and violent relationships comes from, my guess would be that my Leary genes made me strong willed, and willing to survive.

As I make my spiritual journey I am forced to look at my history; where did I come from, where am I going? In doing so, I must accept that there is a God, and a Heaven, and for that to be the case, my ancestors must be helping God in all of His glory to lead me through the crazy choices that I make.

In a way, my family beat the odds to survive, and I’m doing the same thing. Very few individuals understood those that ran ‘shine back in the day. Now, almost a hundred years later, I am trying to help you understand domestic violence. Along the way, both my ancestors and I are forging new ground, and growing to be the best that we can be.

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On the Journey to Spirituality

“Where are you in terms of spirituality?” Dr. Donna asked the group.

I thought for a moment, “I believe that there is something bigger than all of us out there, but I don’t think He is there for me. If He were there for me, He wouldn’t allow such horrible things to have happened in my past. I was taught that you can listen and hear His voice, but I never have heard Him; if I can’t hear Him, then He must not exist.”

Dr. Donna understood my questioning the Holy Spirit, and never tried to change my mind. Her silence and acceptance of my stand allowed me to share an experience that I once had:

It was the early morning hours of February 3, 2001. I had just put my eight and a half month old daughter into her crib and quietly climbed into bed next to my slumbering husband. My eyes were barely shut when my infant daughter began to cry, just like she did whenever she wasn’t in my arms. With a big sigh I returned to her crib, pulled her into my arms, and snuggled her close. And then, I returned to my bed and placed her between my husband and me so that she could nurse as we slept.

The bed began to shake as my husband rolled over in a huff, “I can’t sleep when you put her in bed with us,” he yelled.

I tumbled from under the sheets, pulled on a robe, and gathering my daughter I stood to exit the room. The bed clothes rustled behind me and suddenly I was being yanked backwards from the collar of my robe, “Don’t you walk away from me when I’m talking,” he shouted.

Desperately I tried to explain that I was merely trying to go to the living room so that he could return to sleeping. My words fell on deaf ears as I sat our daughter down and took yet another beating. In the melee my night clothes were ripped from my body, and my daughter stolen from my arms. Every fiber of my being ached as I felt him physically slam my body into the bedroom door. I was hanging on the end of his hands, as they grasped my throat. I felt the air being removed from my body and I struggled to let more air in, and as my body went limp I noticed a separation of my physical body and my soul.

Maybe I am dead, I thought, maybe the journey of devastating pain has finally ended. My soul seemed to leave my body, to sit upon the dresser and watch as he continued to beat on my lifeless physical body.

A shimmering being of white robes joined me at the dresser, “You have to fight back,” this strange, yet beautiful being told me.

Instead of fighting, I glided through our tiny trailer and told each of our children; his, mine and ours, “Goodbye,” for what I assumed would be the last time. As I kissed each of them in their sleep I noted that I didn’t feel an ounce of pain from the beating I just took.

I returned to my lifeless body, just in time to see him draw back his foot and kick me again. Suddenly I felt every ounce of physical pain of the beating I was suffering.

Dr. Donna’s eyes softened, “You had a near death experience.”

“I don’t know,” I said, “when I do talk about that experience I am always told it is disassociation.”

“But, you heard His voice, he was telling you to fight back. He told you it wasn’t your time just yet.”

Her words validated my thoughts, and for the first time in my life I felt close to God. He really does exist, and He is the reason I am still here, He knows I am destined for some sort of greatness, which He is orchestrating from somewhere within my very soul.