“Comedy can be a cathartic way to deal with personal trauma.- Robin Williams
I had no plan whatsoever to write about this today. Sometimes I just go onto my computer and let the words flow out through my keyboard and kind of see what comes out of me.
Maybe it was the Empower Hour session with Hiten Vyas that has opened me up today or maybe it is that I am now not going online on the weekends as much.
Either way this post just flowed out of me and I felt like sharing another personal story with you.
The effects of unresolved trauma can be devastating.
It can affect our habits and outlook on life leading to making poor decisions about our life and in the form of addictions.
Trauma can also have negative effects in our personal relationships and our family life too.
Unresolved trauma can trigger physical pain, ailments and bring about disease in the body and the mind. And it can lead to a range of self-destructive behaviors.
Everyone of us has experienced trauma at least once in our lives and for some life itself has seemed like a traumatic experience.
Don’t worry, you can learn to transmute the experience into something useful and perhaps even help others who have gone through trauma do the same.
When I use the word trauma, I am talking here about the often debilitating symptoms that many people suffer from in the after math of a perceived life threatening or overwhelming experience.
While it is true that all traumatic events are stressful, all stressful events are not traumatic.
So what is trauma? In its simplest definition trauma is physical or emotional injury. Who here hasn’t experienced physical or emotional injury? I sure have.
The good news is that I am still here and functioning quite well in spite of traumatic experiences.
For illustrative purposes I’ll give you two examples of traumatic events that I experienced.
When I was a kid about nine or ten I was riding my bicycle around my neighborhood like I always did.
I lived on the intersection of a busy road and a side street.
The side street went down the side of my house and ended which then you could go either left or right and basically end back at the same place where you started because it was a circle.
The circle was about two miles long, maybe less.
So here I am riding my bike around the neighborhood and I decide that I will ride down the road that has a large hill, and I would do it without using my hands.
You’ve seen this before haven’t you. Kids riding their bike without any hands?
Well I had done this dozens of times before so why should this day be any different. Here I am going down the hill with no hands probably doing about thirty miles an hour.
I hit a patch of loose gravel and wham-mo. Smack onto the ground head first. By the way, I wasn’t wearing a helmet back then too.
This was the early to mid eighties and bike safety wasn’t a concern back then neither were seat belts.
Here I am unconscious on the side of the road with my bike somewhere at the bottom of the hill.
Thank god a neighbor saw my spill and came out to my rescue me. He loaded my bike into his van and asked me where I lived.
Some how I was able to give directions back to my house which was only a half a mile away. “Turn left here,” I muttered out. The neighbor pulled into our driveway and removed me and my bike.
My Mom was home and freaked out when she saw me. I didn’t have any cuts but my head was throbbing. My Mom took me to the Hospital and had me checked out.
All was well and I was riding my bike again the next day, with no hands too.
Even though I did sustain physical trauma it had no effect on my psychologically. I went on with life the same as usual. And I continued to ride bikes well into my teenage years until I got my first car.
I was invited to Skateland by my girlfriend Tammy. (I changed her name for this story). Back in the eighties SkateLand was super popular and I would go every Friday and Saturday night.
It’s what all the cool kids were doing back then so I followed.
Now, I was no Josh Rhoads on roller skates but I could hold my own.
Anyway I went in the doors of SkateLand and paid my entrance fee; I had my own skates so I didn’t have to pay to rent those and then I proceeded to find Tammy.
There she was with two of her friends. So I went over to say “what’s up.”
Right away in front of her friends she told me she wanted to “break up” with me. No hello no nothing, just “I want to break up with you.” I was floored to say the least.
I believe I was eleven years old at the time and my emotional maturity wasn’t so good. It’s not much better now but I digress. 🙂
My Mom had just dropped me off at SkateLand and now I had to call her to pick me up again because there was no way that I was going to stick around there.
I didn’t even get a chance to do one rotation around the roller skate rink while Quiet Riot played in the background. Plus I already paid the entrance fee too.
Man, what a day I was having.
I didn’t have any change in my pocket to make a call and cell phones weren’t around back then.
So I had to wait in line at the pizza counter to get change for a dollar to make a call.
Yes, pay phones were 25 cents back then. I can’t even remember the last time I saw a pay phone, are they still around?
To top things off the line at the pizza counter was a mile long and I was doing my best to hold in the strong emotions like hurt and betrayal that I was feeling.
I look over to my left while waiting in line and there was Tammy and her friends standing there watching me as I waited to get some change for a dollar.
Oh , the humiliation.
Finally it was my turn to get waited on and I said, “four quarters please,” just hoping to god that the tears wouldn’t roll down my face while I opened my mouth to speak which they didn’t.
Next I got on the pay phone and called my Mom to pick me up. She asked me, “what happened,” wondering why she is picking me up considering she just dropped me off less than an hour ago.
I told her to just hurry and pick me up.
So I went outside and waited for my Mom to pick me up.
As I am sitting outside waiting for my Mom there was a Prince impersonator outside complete with a purple suit getting some pictures taken.
He looked exactly like the singer formerly known as Prince or whatever he calls himself these days. I guess SkateLand hired him as a publicity stunt or something.
At least that was kind of cool to see.
Finally my Mom pulls up in her red 76 Corvette Stingray.
Sweet car and thank god she is here. I got myself inside of her car as soon as I could and let go of a ton of tears and emotions that I was holding in for the past thirty or so minutes.
I felt completely violated from the experience and all I wanted to do was go home and eat something sweet and watch Scooby-Doo.
Two very different traumatic experiences here.
One was physical and the other was psychological/emotional. Both hurt but one stung a lot more than the other.
One I was able to get up and move on rather easily and the other one left me feeling weak and vulnerable in relationships for many many years.
Soon after the SkateLand debacle my self-esteem took a plummet and it took many years, actually not until High School until I was able to get my mojo back with the fairer sex.
I actually ran into Tammy again when I was in my early twenties. I talked with her for a while and I finally brought up the incident at SkateLand.
So I bluntly asked her as soon as I got the chance, “what was up with that SkateLand humiliation of me?” Her response, “ I just felt like showing off for my friends.”
That was it. It had nothing to do with me at all. It was all about her and had nothing to do with me other than the fact that I was there.
The experience taught me a valuable lesson.
It taught me to value myself and not to let outside experiences define who I am.
Experiences like this and many others like it grew my curiosity about people and why they act the way that they do. Hence, many years of studying psychology and human behavior.
After reading many books on psychology it opened my eyes to the realization that many people are holding onto traumatic experiences and acting them out again and again.
Sometimes they are the “perpetrator” and other times they play the “victim” role.
People carry emotional baggage with them, me included. I am speaking of baggage in the terms of really crappy experiences with other people that we haven’t fully healed from and released.
We all have been hurt by others. Most of the times it is not intentional but other times, like my SkateLand experience, it is just plain malicious.
I had to learn to let it go though in order to heal and move on with my life experience.
I didn’t have self-help skills back when I was a kid. All I had to go on was the feedback from others. And the feedback from the SkateLand experience left me feeling bad about myself.
During my personal growth journey I have been able to let go of most of the baggage and now I invite you to do the same.
Releasing trauma is not fun for the mind by any stretch but where the real healing comes is through the body.
The human body stores events as memory in the cells.
When a traumatic event occurs and you do not fully feel and experience all the emotions and accompanying physical responses then they basically get stored in your body as a memory with emotions still attached.
That is what therapy is supposed to help you with. It’s not so much about going back into your past and digging up painful events.
It’s about finding what events you are still holding onto, to feel them once again, to process them and to finally release them.
When you fully do this with any experience then all you will have left is the memory of the event without any lingering unprocessed emotions.
I’ll give you an example from Peter A Levine’s book: Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body
Trauma is trauma, no matter what caused it.
To really understand this, we need to really home in on the fact that people can be traumatized by any event that they perceive (consciously or unconsciously) to be life-threatening.
This perception is based on a person’s age, life experience, and even their constitutional temperament.
For example, sudden loud noises, such as thunder or the angry shouts of adults, can traumatize infants and young children.
Of course, thunder and shouting are rarely life-threatening, but, when it comes to trauma, the critical factor is the perception of threat and the incapacity to deal with it.
Dr Peter A Levine:
Early on in my study of trauma, I was involved in brain research.
I knew that the instinctive parts of both human and animal brains are virtually identical. Only the rational part of our brain is uniquely human.
I also knew that prey animals in the wild, though routinely threatened, are rarely traumatized.
Rather, they seem to have a built-in ability to literally shake off the effects of life- threatening encounters, and go on with their lives almost as if nothing unusual had happened.
While studying footage of wild prey animals, I noticed that most animals have a similar psychological process for returning to normal after a narrow escape from death.
You can watch an example of this process from beginning to end on the National Geographic video “Polar Bear Alert,” available at many video stores.
In this video a frightened bear is chased down by an airplane, shot with a tranquilizer dart, surrounded by wildlife biologists, and then tagged.
As the massive animal comes out of its state of shock, it begins to tremble lightly.
The trembling intensifies steadily, then peaks into a near-convulsive shaking- its limbs flail seemingly at random.
After the shaking stops, the animal takes deep, organic breaths that spread throughout its body.
The biologist narrator of the film comments that the behavior of the bear is necessary because it “blows off stress” accumulated during the chase and capture.
Now here’s the interesting part: When the bear’s response is viewed in slow motion, it becomes obvious that the seemingly random leg gyrations are actually coordinated running movements.
It is as though the animal completes its escape by actively finishing the running movements that were interrupted at the moment when it was tranquilized.
Then, the bear shakes off the “frozen energy” as it surrenders in spontaneous, full-bodied breaths.
As the evidence mounts I grew increasingly convinced that the healing of trauma – whether it is called “re-association” or, as shamans refer to it, “soul retrieval” – is primarily a biological process or bodily process often accompanied by psychological effects.
This is especially true when the trauma involved betrayal by those who were supposed to protect us. Additionally, I surmise that successful healing methods inevitably involve establishing a connection to the body.
Those methods that do not enable people to reconnect with their bodies invariably have limited success.