Updated: Dec 4, 2019
Trauma. Unless we’ve completely buried our heads in the sand or have chosen to live with our heads in the clouds, we cannot go a day without seeing the effects of trauma all around us. Traumatized humans experience chaos within, creating chaos in relationships, families, communities, nations and the planet itself. If hurt people hurt people, then healing the hurt in people is absolutely essential to our society and our species.
We’ve engaged in this sacred work now for years, both in the US and Costa Rica, and we’ve come to see that there are definite patterns that exist in how we humans travel the path to healing the hurt within. These patterns are natural, and they are tightly tied into the messages we get from society. Recognizing the places where we can be stalled is essential for a more intentional approach to healing our own hurt.
Releasing Trauma: 5 Levels of Readiness
I have no trauma. I’m over it.
This is the default for a society that enshrines the ‘rugged individualist.’ Nobody wants to admit that they may need help with something, and it’s so easy to imagine that something that happened in the past, cannot affect us in the present. We are told this repeatedly, even in the spiritual communities.
“What happened in the past stays in the past.”
“Leave your baggage at the door.”
“I’ve moved on.”
“People who continue to carry trauma are weak victims.”
“All I have to do is change the way I think about something and it will go away.”
“It’s all in my head.”
“Time heals all wounds.” (Try that philosophy in an ER and see what it gets you!)
The truth is, if you’re still bleeding (ie: you’re still being triggered by it), it’s not healed. Unfortunately, at this stage, triggers are often blamed on outside people or situations. Blame is shifted to our mirrors, and there is a lot of irrational anger, over-reacting to situations, and confusion – confusion about why horrible situations keep repeating themselves, why we are behaving irrationally and why we are having these thoughts and feelings!
Gradually, the realization dawns that yes, there is trauma after all, which often leads to…
Oh, shit. I do have trauma. But I can handle it. (I got this!)
Here, the attitude that reigns is “if doing what I’m doing isn’t working, I just need to do it harder!” This is the time where we literally build our lives around our relationship with trauma. It’s not going anywhere, so we have to just live with it. We are reinforced in this idea by society’s messages of “Life is hard, deal with it, we all have our problems.” We’re encouraged to take drugs that numb us enough to cope, but also numb out life itself. Our relationship with our trauma makes it difficult, or impossible, to have meaningful relationships with others. Realizing that space trauma is taking from our lives, we begin to search for easy answers, gentle promises of gentle healing, and any assurances that we are going to be ok.
Feeling depleted we seek energetic healing, and for a time we feel good. Wanting to be heard, we speak to a friend or therapist, and for a time we feel good. We may seek out experiences of plant medicine and have our very perceptions of reality shifted, and for a time we feel good. But these wonderful practices are not the tools for healing deep trauma. Trauma experienced ‘hard’ is not released ‘easy’, and we keep finding ourselves face-to-face with that old companion.
Then there are the spiritual bypasses which circulate, that make everything, for a moment, alright. As if an idea can come along and magically make something that has been destroying our life suddenly go away.
We are told “I’m already perfect, I don’t need to be fixed.” Such a seductive idea, based on a true premise wrapped in a false one: Yes, we are all perfect, but that perfection lies on the other side of the trauma we have wrapped around us, like a cloak. Truly, the ability to stand in this dysfunctional world and state that we are all perfect and no one needs healing is stunningly irrational. The proof that healing is essential is literally all around us!
Another, worse, falsehood is “Since I am the creator of my own reality, it wasn’t really abuse.” Again, a truth paired with a falsehood. What we create in our sovereign power must necessarily include the actions of others in their sovereign power. Perhaps there is some sort of soul contract for others to show up for us in our lives, but that does not deny the reality of the trauma, or the need to properly deal with the consequences. Shifting the blame to the victim is a poor method of showing up for others in compassion.
Sometimes we find ourselves overwhelmed when someone shows up to listen to us, someone we resonate with, and who shows us how trauma has created such dysfunction, such pain in our lives, and shows us how this is not our fault through a shared experience. Finally understanding this, the relief is profound, and excitement is real, since this is one of the most important steps in beginning the healing process. And then that person taps us on the head in our euphoria and says “See? You’re healed!” Or maybe we decide this on our own. And once again, we have managed to hold onto our dysfunctional relationship with trauma that has dogged us for so long.
For a dysfunctional relationship it is. Over time, trauma has warped us from our path and displaced our own dreams and goals with projections until we completely lose touch with who we are and what we want. Our identities become firmly enmeshed with the trauma, revolving around past experiences, false beliefs and the associated programming.
In the secret, eternal battle between willpower and trauma, trauma will always win. Our behaviors start out as attempts to cope, but over the years end up making the problem worse and evolve into ways of holding onto the trauma.
In the clearest, most accurate account I have encountered of the battle between our traumas and our deepest desires, C.S. Lewis narrates an exchange in his book ‘The Great Divorce,’ between angels and souls in purgatory. These souls (or ‘Ghosts’) are presented by powerful angels with the opportunity to enter into heaven, but they must first release things they hold onto from their past in order to proceed. In one instance, the author describes a lizard-like creature perched on the shoulder of a soul. This particular soul is deeply annoyed with this nasty thing that whispers horrid things in his ear, and complains bitterly about it. The angel explains he can’t go to heaven with that on his shoulder, and offers to remove it for him. Suddenly the soul becomes defensive, the creature whispering furiously in his ear, and starts making excuses:
‘Would you like me to make him quiet?’ said the flaming Spirit – an angel, as I now understood.
‘Of course I would,’ said the Ghost.
‘Then I will kill him,’ said the Angel, taking a step forward.
‘Oh – ah – look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,’ said the Ghost, retreating.
‘Don’t you want him killed?’
‘You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.’
‘It’s the only way,’ said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the Lizard. ‘Shall I kill it?’
‘Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here – well, it’s so damned embarrassing.’
‘May I kill it?’ ‘Well, there’s time to discuss that later.’
‘There is no time. May I kill it?’
‘Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please – really – don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.’
‘May I kill it?’ ‘Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.’
‘The gradual process is of no use at all.’
‘Don’t you think so? Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well today. It would be most silly to do it now. I’d need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps.’
‘There is no other day. All days are present now.’
‘Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.’
‘It is not so.’
‘Why, you’re hurting me now.’
‘I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.’
‘Oh, I know. You think I’m a coward. But it isn’t that. Really it isn’t. I say! Let me run back by tonight’s bus and get an opinion from my own doctor. I’ll come again the first moment I can.’
‘This moment contains all moments.’
‘Why are you torturing me? You are jeering at me. How can I let you tear me in pieces? If you wanted to help me, why didn’t you kill the damned thing without asking me – before I knew it? It would be all over by now if you had.’
‘I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?’
The Angel’s hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite. Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.
‘Be careful,’ it said. ‘He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams – all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent…’
‘Have I your permission?’ said the Angel to the Ghost.
‘I know it will kill me.’
‘It won’t. But supposing it did?’
‘You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.’
‘Then I may?’
‘Damn and blast you! Go on, can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,’ bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, ‘God help me. God help me.’
The angel then proceeds to kill it, a painful experience that leaves the soul collapsed. But then a beautiful, shining, powerful being rises from the where he collapsed, and from the remnants of the broken lizard a beautiful stallion rises, and together they ride off in their glory…
The language he uses as he opposes the death of the lizard is exactly like the language we hear as people resist creating their own transformation.
The rebirth of the glorious being and the transformation from trauma to empowerment is exactly what we see when people finally decide to divorce THEIR trauma and take back their lives.
Damn. I canNOT handle it! This is kicking my ass!
This is the most critical stage. This is where ‘rock bottom’ can be found. This is where the decision is birthed on what comes next.
It can take the form of the triggered victim. Here, is where we retreat into our hole and treat the symptom as the problem. Triggers are greatly feared, avoided at all cost, and are attacked enthusiastically. The only break is that afforded by a numbing antidepressant. It is difficult to have a meaningful relationship here.
Perhaps even more tragic are when we descend into the abuser. Not only are we locked into our own misery, but crouching in terror in our hole, we hurt others, continuing the cycle of abuse.
We may withdraw into substance abuse. Our addiction to our trauma leads us to into addictive behavior that ultimately isolates us further into our solitary pain.
Some people experience their trauma through dis-ease of the body or mind. Stored trauma will find ways of breaking out, and sometimes, with some people that is through disease.
At the bottom are the walking dead. We’ve given up, waiting to die.
This is our world as it exists. But it’s not what we were created to be. And, it’s not the final word, because the next (although completely optional) stage is the life-affirming…
Fuck this! I’m done living this way!
Here is where we fully realize that it’s not our fault; our trauma has kept us in this place and trained your egos. Egos who are afraid of dying – Egos that do not understand the concept of rebirth. Egos that convinced us that they were us.
You are not your ego. You are not your trauma. When you are ready to let go of your addiction to your trauma, you are ready to heal.
Addiction has been defined as “when you can’t get enough of the thing that you don’t want.” We get addicted to our traumas, because one, we don’t know how to release them, and two, we gradually get addicted to the payoff – the drama that creates attention and an adrenaline rush. And we get to avoid facing the fear of change and the fear of the unknown.
This is where we decide to break up with and divorce our traumas. This is where we grieve our old identity and go full ‘No Contact’ with our narcissistically trained egos. Where we recalibrate these egos, or if necessary, rebirth them, so that they are working FOR us, not against us. This is where we boldly proclaim “I deserve more! I want more! This is not who I am. This is not how I was meant to live my life. I’m going to take back my life no matter what!!”
And this is where we decide to stop trying to do it alone.
Here, we can reclaim our lives by finding a mentor who resonates with us, by and investing in the rest of our lives. It is through this doorway that we create…
Yes, THIS is who I am!
Here we are living joyfully, empowered, as we are integrating into a life lived in freedom from our old traumas. We are creating new patterns and ways of being that are empowered and that do not revolve around coping with trauma.
Here we are connecting with others for the first time without trying to navigate around, under, over or through our own defensive shields. We see into others deeply and open ourselves to a vulnerability and strength not possible before. We are living intentionally without the internal warfare. We are using the energy, and the power, we once used to keep everything ‘under control’ as a resource to create our new, perfect life.
And most importantly, we are finally able to connect authentically, with clarity, to who we are, and what our purpose is, free of the static created by trauma.
Where are you in this process? What level do you find yourself at, and what are you ready to create in your own life?
I love you.
Michael (with Freyja) Inanna