I Don’t Believe In Trauma

How did I even get into healing work? I am typically skeptical about everything. I am like Inspector Gadget about examining everything! I look at all the possible avenues. I don’t trust anything; I am a naysayer.

Working in the healing space came out of the blue for me. This is what happened: I went to study the Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) in Philadelphia. The training was located near the Amish and Mennonite community at a satellite campus for the Eastern Mennonite University.

I had yet to learn where I was going. I didn’t know anything about the Mennonites or the Amish. I went to the class the first day as a skeptic. I was very interested in the resilience part of their program.

On the first day, the facilitators talked about the body and trauma. According to them, your body responds if there is a threat or a perceived threat.

Your body is trying to protect you. I thought this was going to be a bunch of bologna!

I’ve been to plenty of professional learnings like this. I decided to listen the best I could, take what I thought was helpful for my job, and leave the rest.

I was not into it. I don’t believe it. The next thing that occurred was we needed to introduce ourselves and state why we wanted to take this course. People were there from all over the world: Africa, Scandinavia, the Middle East, the United States, and South America.

As each person shared their reasons for wanting to take the course, they also shared the traumas they had experienced. One by one, I heard the stories of mass murders, wartime struggles, and infant deaths. Wherever people came from, they were struggling, and these peacebuilders were there to get help.

As the stories continued, one ambulance driver talked about the horrible deaths of an infant and mother. Another spoke about witnessing helpless mass murders. A nurse talked about being escorted out of a country she was in to help save lives. The tales continue, and guess what happened to me as I listened to these experiences. I stopped breathing; my breathing became shallow, making me a believer. I was having a trauma response to what they said: my body was reserving energy.

I had to tell myself to breathe, and that’s when I found out that my body responds to things that are hard to hear or a threat.

Before that course, I did not believe it; as I sat in that 7-day course, I learned more about myself than I’ve learned in a long time. I learned about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) in the course.

I had yet to learn what it meant when I took the ACES screener. The screener included answering concise questions about your childhood. For every question you answered, yes, you received points. The total amount of points added up to 10.

I had never heard of ACES before, so I quickly took the test because I thought oh, this is interesting. I received 8 out of 10, which is not great. A higher score indicates increased possibilities of psychological and medical problems based on the study from 1988. Did this mean I was supposed to have more problems than I had? How in the world did I make it this far? How did I make it if the odds were against me?

This was another big lesson, and I began listening more closely.

I learned that my body would respond to things whether I wanted it to or not. I learned that my breathing becomes shallow when there’s a threat or a feeling of danger, my emotional brain takes over, and my rational brain sits down.

I could freeze, fight, or take off when threatened. I was not aware of any of the things I learned; I was living my life with those gut punches feelings all the time.

I just thought that’s just how you went through life; you feel a little something, don’t respond. Keep pushing through life was my tool. This training changed my life because it made me stop, look, and listen to myself.

I wondered whether I was spinning on what STAR calls the Cycles of Violence. The Cycle of Violence represents how one responds to a trauma, acting in or acting out. If something happens to me, my body processes it inside or projects it outside to others. Either way, I am in trauma response and not calm.

If I do not know my body well enough, I can move from one trauma response to another without interrupting it.

I didn’t want that. I didn’t even know that existed, and this was the beginning of my wanting to heal and care for myself to be a better person in the world.

If any of this information has touched you, reach out. I would love to hear from you.

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