A couple years ago, I hit a serious wall. I was emotionally and physically exhausted, but didn't understand why. Sure, I was a mom, wife, graduate student, and ran a business, but this exhaustion went much deeper than my chronic state of busyness and hypervigilance. Sure, I knew I had a rough childhood and had gone no contact with my parents ten years prior. I got on with my life. I made many positive and deliberate changes so I didn't repeat their patterns, but I hadn't fully unpacked just how vast that black hole of childhood trauma was. For me, awakening to the impact of my childhood trauma has happened over many years, with thousands of tiny steps toward recovery. But one day, the truth of it hit me so hard, I had to drop everything to process it. I had no choice because my body and brain simply gave out. I had to grow or succumb. I chose to grow.
I threw myself headlong into the task of really looking at my issues. You could say I was hypervigilant about trauma recovery, and you wouldn't be wrong. I found a trauma-informed therapist and started EMDR therapy. I read all of the books. I joined online groups. I researched. I studied. Did I mention I was hypervigilant? As a result, the scales fell from my eyes and I really saw the impact of my own trauma. I gained much deeper insight into why I didn't feel successful in spite of success, why I felt responsible for things that weren't my fault, the source of what was making me physically ill, and how I coped to survive. As I made more connections and opened more doors into traumas locked away, I entered into a process of deep, soulful grieving. Much of it had been stored up in me for over forty years with nowhere to go. Grieving became my priority and I learned to ride its wave. I learned that grief doesn't really end. Like the ocean, it thrusts and recedes in a constant flux.
If you are looking to go down the path of trauma recovery, chances are you're feeling some form of anxiety about it. It's a hard road. Trauma recovery requires great courage, and it happens on its own timeline. But if you're like me, eventually it becomes a necessary road. For much of my life, I knew there was unprocessed "stuff" I had to deal with, eventually. When I got to the place where I had to choose between growing or succumbing, I decided whatever was behind those locked doors in my mind couldn't be as bad as the consequences of a life of denial and fear of the unknown. I am so glad I chose to confront the terror of my past, because I was able to learn who I really am. I finally got to free myself from the clutches of abuse and neglect.
So, what helped me? Here is a list, in no particular order. Hopefully there are a few new things to try out. Your list will probably look different from mine. Part of the process of recovery is to seek out your own likes and dislikes to figure out what works for you.
1. The Ace Study. Go to Aces Too High to get your Adverse Childhood Experiences score and read more on the study that links ACEs to chronic illness. Nadine Burke Harris' TED Talk is also a great intro to ACEs.
2. The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk. This is a great explanation of the neurobiology of trauma, and how it manifests itself in the physical body. Check out this overview of van der Kolk's work:
3. Pete Walker's books, The Tao of Fully Feeling and Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. These are perhaps the best books I've read on unlocking and grieving trauma. Walker described my experience so perfectly, I had to put his books down every paragraph or so just to process. I have never felt so seen and understood by an author.
4. Trauma-informed therapy. I was wary of seeking out a therapist due to several unhappy experiences trying to seek counseling with my abusers in the past. What helped me was searching specifically for the term, "trauma-informed." I actually didn't realize that trauma was at the center of my issues when I sought it out, but I had a hunch it "might" be. In a similar way, I used to think I "might" have been abused, but wasn't sure, since I was always told (by my abusers) that I was being too sensitive. The confusion from gaslighting and denial can have such a strong hold, it isn't until one is immersed in therapy that the problem becomes clear. If you suspect trauma, you owe it to yourself to see a trauma-informed therapist. Therapists can specialize in all sorts of things, which may or may not be helpful for your specific needs, which is why you want someone specially certified in this area.
5. EMDR. EMDR is a form of exposure therapy, developed by Francine Shapiro. There are other techniques for trauma, but EMDR seems to be getting the most traction. I personally like it much more than talk therapy, which seems to have its limitations, especially in reaching the automatic physiological responses which drive me as a person with CPTSD. Some people see relief right away, especially for singular traumas. For those of us who have years of formational trauma, expect years of EMDR to uncover the layers. It's important to find a therapist who is trained and certified via the International Association of EMDR, not just somebody who took a short class. Check out the association for referrals.
6. TRE. TRE stands for Trauma Release Exercises, developed by Dr. David Berceli. They are simple exercises which isolate the psoas muscle, and help to release emotional tension which is stored in the physical body. What's nice about TRE is that it is complementary to other therapies, such as EMDR, as a way to release what comes up. If an emotional flashback triggers a stress response in my body, TRE is my go-to for releasing it. I find it more effective than yoga and other forms of stretching, though yoga is effective for many and arguably a more popular option. You can find a trained provider through the association here.
7. Trauma Coaching. This is perhaps the resource I'm currently most excited about. Trauma coaches usually work in tandem with therapists and other mental health professionals to help you focus on your recovery goals. Therapists tend to work with your past, while coaches work with you to create the future you want. Trauma Recovery Coaches are specifically trained, and often specialize in a specific form of trauma. Need someone who understands birth trauma? There's a coach for that. Need someone who gets narcissistic abuse? Trauma coaches can help you. Additionally, coaches offer a variety of services which can be available anywhere with a wifi connection and fit into any budget. Check out the International Association of Trauma Recovery Coaching for a referral.
8. Online Resources. There are a lot of great online resources, which I've found to be extremely helpful in understanding my own trauma. Do a search on Twitter or Facebook for trauma recovery, narcissistic abuse, or any other hashtag that applies to you. Some folks that I love and follow in the trauma recovery community are Bobbi Parish, Athena Moberg, Shahida Arabi, Shannon Thomas, Lisa Romano, and Michele Nieves.
9. Other Books. Check out The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Walker (an oldie but a goodie), Healing From Hidden Abuse by Shannon Thomas, Stop Walking on Eggshells by Mason and Kreger, The Complex PTSD Workbook by Arielle Schwartz, and Psychopath Free by Jackson MacKenzie. There are a ton more, of course.
10. Community. The goal in trauma recovery is to learn how to draw ourselves closer to others who are safe and healthy for us. Relational trauma that stems from abuse must ultimately be healed through relationships with others. It's not a solo sport. Of course, for many of us, this is the scariest aspect of recovery. I can read about trauma and lurk online all day, but if I am not actually connecting with other humans, I am not growing and healing. Online communities that understand trauma recovery are a great place to start. Join a secret Facebook group or find more community through a trauma coach. If you're like me and feel you have been misunderstood for most of your life, it is essential to surround yourself with others who "get" the impact of abuse. For many of us, that's not always our friends and family; it's a larger community of survivors.
Last but not least, it is important to know that trauma recovery can only happen if you are 100% safe and free from abusive people in your life. It's impossible to do this sort of work and still be under the influence of an abuser. As you recognize more patterns, expect to evict more people from your life who do not prove themselves safe. It can be difficult, but your life and wellbeing depend on it. You are absolutely worthy of a life that is fully your own, free from abuse.