This is my most personal blog post ever. Please be forewarned that it is long. This is my first attempt to express and explore the complex world of my experience of trauma and recovery ~ and a psycho-spiritual break.
“The diseases do not come to us form Heaven, but develop from the small, daily offenses against Nature. When these have accumulated, then at one time they burst forth and appear.” ~ Hippocrates (460 to 377 BC)
I was born to do this
I was born to do this. Thankfully, a part of me knew this. But the other part of me was completely terrified. I don’t look back with disdain. Instead, I now see that I was being primed to become…a mature adult…a loving, caring human being.
It seems that I had to be broken. Not just a crack, I mean a shattering into thousands of pieces kind of break. From the outside, my family and friends could not tell that I was suffering. I looked like my normal self. However, some have told me that they “knew something was going on” but that they didn’t know how to help. What they didn’t know is that on the inside I had descended into a soul-crushing chaos.
After being triggered into this state and then moving through this experience about 15 years ago, I’ve noticed that I’m not alone. Not at all. Many, many more individuals are going through processes like this. And, I feel it will intensify until we get the language and skills necessary to steward what is happening.
I honestly think that it’s a sign of the times ahead of modern peoples: collapse, transformation, loss, and eventually gain. That is, if we make the right choices. My sense is that people are being prepared for a great shift.
Certain people are going through a rite of passage to prepare themselves for this…all to, essentially, prepare us for a cultural transformation. And of course, we will need guides. Those who have survived the transition in their own psyches can support others.
What to call this kind of personal transition? Some call it a psycho-spiritual breakthrough. Some call it a psychotic break. Some call it a spiritual emergence. More classical, spiritual traditions would call it the dark night of the soul. The lesser skilled with these kinds of internal shifts will call it mental illness and sometimes even schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or, simply, depression. To me, these are all the same things pointing to the psyche wishing to make itself whole and to integrate itself.
I’m thankful for films like Crazywise, processes like Open Dialogue, and articles like “The Shamanic View of Mental Illness”. They are beginning to change the landscape and understanding of psychosis by grappling with the very important topic of HOW to integrate psychotic breaks (or psycho-spiritual breakthroughs) into the very fabric of our culture. When we do learn and understand how to view it as a process of integration of the psyche and soul, we can then begin listening to and gleaning the insight that comes from these episodes. And then, we can then move forward as a more informed and spiritually engaged people.
Surviving the internal apocalypse
I’m here to tell you that I survived my internal apocalypse. I survived it without the “mental health industry,” without medication, without really knowing what was going on inside me, and largely without family support (as they truly did not know what to do with me). What came to my aid during this shift was a combination of my ability to learn how to love myself and the every-day-saints in the physical and nonphysical realms that guided me to the other side.
The guides came in waves and they came in many forms. From the prayers spoken by my mother and by certain members of my old, hometown Methodist church, to spiritual beings and elders that visited me in my dreams…to everyday teachers of life that entered my reality at pivotal points…let’s just say that my support was non-denominational and inclusive of anything and everything that could heal.
The process began in 1999 when I graduated college at the age of 22. At the point of graduation, I felt lost and disabled in a sense that I didn’t know what to do with myself. Of course, this is a fairly typical place to be after college graduation (I will talk about our educational system in another blog at some point). However, this still shocked me at the time…to feel this utter confusion and sense of being no one, nowhere…as I had done everything “right” in the eyes of society. I had made good grades, was involved in honor societies, and was talented.
But, I still felt empty and lost. I also began to feel as if I was carrying a great weight that wasn’t “me.” This weight grew stronger and stronger as I floundered that first year after college, working at a restaurant and then trotting off to Ukraine with Peace Corps. It was as if this weight was waiting for me to be still enough so that it could pounce on me once and for all.
While in Peace Corps I experienced a psychotic break that was triggered by smoking pot. I had smoked it a few times before, so the results of this particular incident were unusual. Basically, this began a tail-spin dissent into disorientation, paranoia, panic, rage, depression, deep grief, and very dark places.
Let me just summarize and say that the experience was terrifying. It was triggered in that moment, but the affects lingered with intensity for about four years. I don’t mean waves of intensity. It was almost every moment of every day for four years.
Let me paint a picture. It was like being in a dark, deep hole in the earth. You can see the light above, but you can’t seem to climb out because the sides of the wall are too steep. You can see people walking by up there, talking and laughing. Down in the pit, you can see the glowing eyes of things that wish to destroy you. They are hissing and taunting you from the depths of the darkness. You don’t know how far in any direction the dark goes, but it seems cavernous, echoing, haunting. Your legs are heavy and leaden and it is difficult to move in any direction. Your mind and heart and racing and you are easily sent into a state of panic at any provocation.
Hopelessness is there. Anger is there. Paranoia is there. What is left of love and compassion? What is left of faith? And yet, what I would soon find out is that my redemption and my release were dependent on these core life-giving values.
I was literally crushed by the world, but it was all inside me. The world outside still had a radiant sun in the day and a silvery moon at night, but inside me a war was being waged. I had very little knowledge of how to even approach what I was feeling, much less express it.
Trauma and recovery
“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.” ~ Peter Levine, Ph.D
After many years of self-reflection about what happened, I have come to think certain ways about how the world works. One important piece, of understanding, which psychotherapist Carl Jung in his many writings and teachings articulated, is the natural urge for the psyche or soul to strive for wholeness..
I sense that the psyche takes us through certain experiences to prime us for healing. We have the choice to meet that healing or disregard it and stay in a place of stuck-ness. Looking back, I realize that I disregarded the call for healing for quite some time. The psyche had to create a cataclysmic moment of such intensity that my choices came down to healing or death.
Ultimately, given the very frank choice of death or healing, I chose to heal. This meant that I chose to fight, love, and brave my way through the pain of becoming a conscious human being. This was probably one of the most difficult and most rewarding decisions of my life. Yes, choosing to heal was very painful, and I can see why certain people might try to avoid this at all cost.
However, my advice it so to brave the terrain of healing and simply know that it will be painful…and eventually much less painful. It felt that I was living through the back-logged results of previous unskillful choices that I had made. It was like going through an attic of stored away experiences and reliving everything almost all at once (from this life and even from choices of my ancestors). To say that I felt haunted would have been an understatement.
Unfortunately, for some years, I feel that I unconsciously caused myself and other people harm. It wasn’t terrible harm, but enough to make me feel remorse for my ignorance when I finally started to come to consciousness. I hold these realizations with compassion as I know that my faculties were slowly being dominated by an ill-intentioned force that I had not recognized inside myself yet. At the same time, I take full responsibility for any harm that I may have caused anyone or anything during that time, including the harm I did to myself.
Stigmatism and awkward allopathy
I processed with my boyfriend at the time about what was going on inside me. However, I didn’t reveal all the information as I was too terrified to even talk about it. I chose not to tell anyone fully what I was experiencing as I knew what would happen to me. I would be medicated, sent to a mental institution, and my life would be riddled with social stigmatism.
To give you an idea of how Western medicine treated me, I’ll give you some examples. While visiting the US during my time in Eastern Europe, I went to a gynecologist. I had a variety of health ailments that went along with my psycho-spiritual suffering. I finally had the courage to tell someone what I was experiencing: anxiety, panic, dizzy spells, burping of my internal organs, insomnia, and arrhythmia. He told me that I should take birth control pills. (As you can imagine, my isolation and despair intensified.)
After a panic attack that felt nothing short of what I feel a heart attack would be like, I remember going to a doctor in Prague as I lived in Czech Republic at the time. Again, I did not tell her my mental and emotional symptoms, but I told her about my physical symptoms. She suggested that I drink more green tea.
Nightmare. Do you see what I’m getting at? These two visits to doctors began my long road of healing myself with alternative practitioners, my own intuition, and healers or guides.
As scary as it was for me to keep this turmoil inside me, I’m glad I did. I wish wouldn’t have had to, but some kind of misdiagnosis would have been the final crushing blow. I realize that for some people in our society, a diagnosis may be comforting. Maybe a comfort in “knowing what it is?” For me it would have made things much worse as it would have identified what was going on inside me as “me” or that I was something to be “fixed.”
I’ve now read too many stories and talked to too many people about being medicated and not being able to complete the process of the transformation happening to them. They become stuck in some kind of spiritual limbo with medications only increasing the underlying agony by squelching the process of inner transformation.
This spiritual limbo is important to consider in regards to healing trauma especially. If the trauma is suppressed inside the individual, it will literally eat them alive. I sense that many mental health diagnoses are simply band-aid terms for the splintering and deleterious effects of trauma. Because the mental health world is just now getting a sense of how to work with trauma, we are seriously behind in how to steward people and communities back to health.
I write this blog post to encourage individuals, family members, and friends to opt for a medication-free or low-dose route if at all possible. It’s not for everyone, but the majority of scenarios like this can be wildly freeing and transformational if they are framed in the right way and if the person experiencing them can get a glimpse of this framework, all the better. I also feel that it is extremely important that we create the communities, personal skills, networks, and knowledge on how to steward this process for ourselves and others.
We need a cultural framework and spiritual context for this. It is imperative that we have a framework, as the fruits of the journey are a beautiful and wholesome gift to the person experiencing the shift and the community supporting them. The person can actually come out the other side of trauma a more whole, loving, generous, connected, and centered human being. Why not develop the spiritual technology to make sure that this is allowed to happen?
Trauma, evil and shining a light into the darkness
Back to my experience, then… Another theme of my experience with unresolved trauma was my dance with what I would call “evil.” Truly, much of this energetic was put on me and passed down to me via circumstance in my childhood. In his book “Dispelling Wetiko,” Paul Levy describes evil very well as ignorance, darkness and blindness. He also describes the expression of evil in ourselves as a tendency to, “inhibit personal growth, destroy or limit innate potentialities, curtail freedoms, fragment or disintegrate the personality, diminish the quality of interpersonal relationships, and create divisiveness in the whole human family.”
Looking back, I realize that this evil was a transmission from my family lineage, certain aspects that had been passed down and not confronted for generations. I am not sure of their origin, but I am sure of their nature and source. Of course, my family lineage also has to do with place, cultural baggage, and countries of origin. So, there is more to the energetic that I was dealing with than just “my family.” In summary, you could say that I was dealing with a part of the shadow side of the human condition that wasn’t faced or reckoned with in the constellation of my own family lineage.
There are some other factors to my dissent that I wish to share. I am a survivor of childhood trauma, but I do not wish to dwell on the details at this moment. With the growing awareness of ACE scores via the ACE study, the impact of childhood trauma on healthy development cannot be ignored. And, I make a direct correlation of my experience with psychosis with the trauma that happened in the terrain of my family of origin.
The more that I’ve looked into the shadowy depths of the modern culture I see so much that needs to be healed. There are so many traumatized people. And, they will continue to traumatize and pass this virus of the psyche on until they have the courage to transform the rage, sadness, and shame with love.
When I speak of love, I don’t talk about it lightly. I’m talking about fierce, primal, deep love…the kind that mends the abysmal brokenness of our hearts and minds. The kind of love that allows us to cry rivers of tears and not know exactly why…and yet feel that it is feeding our spiritual well-being.
Author and indigenous elder Martin Prechtel writes about trauma and loss,
“Over the last two or three centuries, a heartless culture-crushing mentality has incremented its progress on the earth, devouring all peoples, nature, imagination, and spiritual knowledge. Like a big mechanized slug, it has left behind a flat, homogenized streak of civilization wherever it passed. Every human on this earth — African, Asian, European, Islanders, or from the Americas — has ancestors who at some point in their history had their stories, rituals, ingenuity, language, and lifeways taken away, enslaved, banned, exploited, twisted, or destroyed by this force.
Now what is indigenous, natural, subtle, hard to explain, generous, gradual, and village-oriented in each of us is being banished into the ghettos of our hearts, or hidden away from view onto reservations inside the spiritual landscape of the Earth body…
Meanwhile, our natural souls, which are like Bushmen or rare waterbirds, know that our minds and our souls should be working together to maintain or replaster the crumbling hut of life. Instead, our indigenous souls are being utterly overlooked and pushed aside in the bustle of the minds’ competitive activity, until our true beings feel just like tribesman in a big, trafficky city: unwelcome, lost, and homeless.”
The deep need for a framework of healing and recovery
Recovery from trauma will take some kind of understanding and framework. It will take a shift in perspective on what process-oriented healing looks and feels like. There are programs out there that work, so why not implement them in every community!? This will also require that we arm ourselves with people who have the spiritual technology and vernacular to approach these events with skill.
The mental health industry, for the most part, lacks these skills. It is still dominated by individual talk therapy and medication, which has its place but is not he best means to approach psychosis. I do see how medication, used in a skillful manner can help with a mental health crisis. Mainly, medication can help in an acute state of crisis. However, as much energy that has been thrust into neuroscience and pharmacology will need to be exerted in the realm of the psycho-spiritual.
Whatever happened to me that day transformed my life forever. I felt that it was coming no matter what; it was simply waiting for the right trigger. That trigger opened me up to see the darkness, the rage, the violence, and the grief inside myself.
To say that I was terrified was an understatement. I thought about killing myself because it was too painful. There was a strong, suicidal energy about my experience. However, somehow I knew this wasn’t completely about me. The “suicidal energy” was almost its own being that had captured me and seduced my thoughts. I then realized that this energetic did not want to kill “me” necessarily, but dissolve or transform the dark matter that was clouding my sight. It wanted to kill the old me, the ignorant me.
Every sensation was an affront to me. Every emotion was new to me and shocked me out of proportion to its size. There was so much inner turmoil it is hard to capture in words.
Fortunately, I had this presence inside me that knew to take the role of observer. Later in my life, I learned that there is a term for this in psychotherapy called neutral observer. This observer did not judge me, did not take sides to the war inside me, did not encourage any thoughts or narratives…it became like a steward or shepherd to my process, helping me navigate the chaos. I then could see that the rage and violence was not me. I was not it and it was not me, but I was experiencing it.
I remember looking at old photos of myself during that time. I would be in my cheerleading uniform, my prom dress, my play clothes, my dress-up costume… I could sense the naivety of each image. I would look at those images and feel the chaos inside me and tell myself that this couldn’t be me. I would also consider how long this had been inside me and that I didn’t know!
Looking back on my journals, I wrote very little about the intensity of what I was feeling for fear that by writing down the experiences, that they would become more real. I would, instead, write about my need to care for myself and love myself. I would write about art projects or critical thoughts about society’s ailments. Ultimately, the tone was tender and hopeful, with a hint of despair.
No mud, no lotus
My upbringing did not give me the tools for this journey. Like a person deserted on a remote island with a few items from their former, modern life, I had to learn to navigate a completely new terrain…the terrain of the shadow…the terrain of the psyche. And, my ability to shine light into this realm had everything to do with my survival.
Fortunately, my mother was a creative arts teacher. She taught me the creative process which was essential for me to work with what was happening to me. I don’t think this was an intentional act on my part, but my mother had ingrained this in me so deeply, that I naturally drew from it.
In the creative process, everything is…well…a process. There are no static points and all is fluid. The fact that chaos leads to order and that order leads to chaos is a natural part of creation and destruction. This is what all the great creatives understood. Close observation of nature teaches the creative that we can’t hold on to a flower. It will eventually turn into the soil. But, it will bear a seed, which will drop to the ground and eventually flower again.
Later, I realized that I was born and raised in a culture that loved the flower and systematically avoided the rot and compost of the soil. We love the shine, but not the slime. As the Buddhist monk, Thich Naht Hanh says, “no mud, no lotus.”
To wade through my own mud was a herculean effort. I saw no merit in the muck. I saw no glimmer of hope in the rot. I was not being rewarded, exalted, or famed for being in pain. I was not being cheered on for confronting it. Therefore, even though I had a grasp on the creative process, I still suffered more than one ought to. There were stories attached to my pain that caused me more suffering, mainly because my circumstances were not viewed as “proper.”
Upon reflection, I realize that we need a culture that does more than just teach each other that life has peaks and valleys. They are plenty of old sayings and idioms that cover that territory. What we need is a cultural understanding and a spaciousness that allows the priceless journey through the deep, dark muck of trauma to unfold and to be unhindered. We need to learn to accept the muck and all the wisdom it has for us if we wish to have any lotuses among us.
One of the best myths that found me during my ascent out of that deep, dark hole was the ancient Sumerian tale of the Descent of Inanna. I first read about this abysmal descent through the book Truth or Dare by Starhawk. Reading about Inanna’s descent into the underworld struck me on a visceral level. That was my journey. Rev Gail Seavey speaks more to this in her post on Light that Yields Darkness.
She writes, “And what I have learned from telling this story is that Erishkigal (of the dark) and Inanna (of the light) are sisters that need one another. The darkness and light of the sky and the earth must yield to one another for the natural world to continue turning in its cyclical rhythms; the light of the ego must yield to the darkness of death for wisdom to be born; the dark of the flesh and the light of spirit must yield one to the other for the holy to incarnate, the pains felt in the dark by culturally repressed people must yield to the light to give birth to peace.”
So, why am I bringing my health crisis up now?
Why wait 15 years to write about this? Well, it’s taken me a long time to understand what I went through. A combination of explanations have come to me over the years: broken family, modern pace of life, ancestral wounds, angry nature spirits, digestive disorder, malnutrition, resulting unskillful choices and lack of self-love, vulnerable energy field influenced by malevolent forces, and denial of my soul’s desires and needs (all to fit into social standards of that elusive word NORMAL).
What I realize while reading the above list is that the themes are so interrelated. In my case, they are all dependent on each other. They co-arise with each other to form the contents of my reality.
Now that I am on the other side, my mission is clear in life. I wish to call out what bits of revelation I gathered during my experience so that it can be of some service for others.
If you are a trauma survivor or a family member or friend of a trauma survivor, this is very important to understand. While in a state of trauma, the trauma is repressed until the psyche is in a place that it can handle the trauma. A person will eventually act out or self-destruct to handle the trauma. If you notice this behavior, don’t ignore it. It is very important that people get the support they need to work through it.
No, my words probably won’t make the pain go away. And, it does feel cheap to say that it will all get better…but it will. Truly, not everyone’s experience with life is the same. Some do have psychotic breaks that are gentler and more ecstatic. But, this article is focused on those in spiritual crisis from a suppressed trauma (either in this lifetime, or passed down in the family lineage). What I’ve noticed is that the trajectory is similar for many people: a trigger => psychotic break => chaos, dissolution and despair => and then a long journey to the other side through healing.
Due to being compressed like a coal lump into something more akin to a diamond, I have some things I’ve learned along the way. I’d like to share them with you. I will be the first to say that I have a lot more to learn about trauma and recovery, but for what it’s worth, here you go:
1. The only way is through. At some point we have to accept what we have been given, work with it, and transform it. The first step is accepting it so that you can even move through it. And, yes I know. It’s ugly. It’s painful. It’s dark and intense. But, accept that part of you so that you can find a way to work with it and heal it. Accepting it is the first step to bring it into the light.
For those of you with history of child abuse or troubled past, this video shares some good insight on how to integrate pain and darkness so that it transforms and dissolves. And, here is a blog post I wrote years ago about my process of working with these psychic forces.
“We do not always allow ourselves to work through pain. More often than not we think pain is a sign we must stop, rather than find its source. Our souls do not like stagnation. Our souls aspire toward growth, that is, toward remembering all that we have forgotten due to our trip to this place, the earth.” ~ Malidoma Some
2. What is happening to you is not “you.” Learn to observe it and not over-identify with it. If you fall into the trap of identifying with the chaos going on inside, it is a very slippery slope of the mind. The negative forces will surely continue to win if you think that you are “it” or even begin projecting “it” onto an outside person. Meditation can help to provide the means to observe the various forces at work inside and around you without identifying with them and being pulled around by them.
3. It’s all up to you. Even though there is support in the outside world, you are the only one who can go through the unfolding and reach the other side. In this amplified state, cause and affect take on a whole new dimension. Each action will result in an uncanny and almost instant reaction in your energetic field.
For the first time ever, you may begin experiencing the effects of your choices in the moment that they are made. This will heighten your awareness on the power of choice. This ability to experience the effects of your choices will prepare you to be a conscious human being.
4. Place yourself in and around beauty, even when it hurts. Seek out quiet and beautiful places like calm home spaces, meditation halls, the forest, cared for spaces, and retreat centers. It will seem cruel at first, to be in such a beautiful place of calm and serenity while feeling like hell inside. When you feel you are ready, I suggest doing this.
One key element to my healing process was a women’s circle I was invited into early in my years of dealing with my descent. It provided me the essential social integration that I needed to move through my pain. We are social creatures and need to be held and not isolated when we uncover traumatic experiences. (A side note: there are also men’s circles, mixed circles, and various theme-based circles out there).
These strong, beautiful women heard my dark stories and simply held them. They didn’t try to fix it. As well, they reflected back to me compassion and understanding. They each shared their own stories, allowing me to step out of myself for a bit to relate to their stories about life. Considering that I only utilized talk therapy for about a year (and I’m glad I did for that period of time), this circle proved to be the where the deep healing was happening.
So, in these places of calm and beauty, you will begin to learn and understand the workings of the trauma in your mind very well. They will really stand out and show you what they are made of. You will see them for what they are: broken, angry, afraid, greedy, and tormented. Each time you go to a place like this, a part of you can be healed when you allow yourself the opportunity to practice compassion for these difficult parts of yourself.
5. Keep returning to love in yourself and in others, even when it hurts. Seek out practices and people that will help you keep returning to love. Loving-kindness or “metta” meditation is an ideal practice. In the same way that a beautiful place brings about hurt, so will true love or abiding compassion.
Love will show us where our blind spots are and this can be painful. But, don’t run away from yourself. If we choose to have the courage to see this, the healing will quicken and the dark forces that have co-opted our humanistic faculties will decrease.
6. Surrender to the process, but never give up. At some point we surrender. We surrender our agendas and strategies, and we allow Spirit to inform us. We surrender notions that we know what to do. We surrender our small self to the flames of transformation.
However, surrendering is not the same as giving up; giving up on yourself means that some higher force is going to save you and that you have no part in your own transformation. Surrendering is simply a statement to the universe that you know you are broken and that you wish to become accountable for hurts and harm done. You, along with your higher self or God, want to become accountable for what you carry in your own skin. You want the harm to end with you. And ultimately, you want to co-create with the universe to create heaven on earth.
7. Tap into art and expression. Creativity is the perfect medium for healing. Everyone is a creative. My mother taught me this at a young age. In our own perfectly-imperfect way, we can draw, sing, paint, act, dance, sculpt, and write our way through the trauma.
The vehicle of expression can be the very way that we identify the workings of trauma as well as move through it. By bouncing our experiences off other people, we create the potential for increased understanding and awareness of the nature of trauma.
The late Gabrielle Roth, who developed 5 Rhythms Dance, wrote that, “In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions:
When did you stop dancing?
When did you stop singing?
When did you stop being enchanted by stories?
When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?”
8. Utilize food medicine and plant medicine for your healing. I have always taught that food and plant medicine are essential for coming back into balance. An act of self-love and reverence, whole foods and plant medicine (straight from the source when possible) can cause a dramatic shift in one’s being and put you in right relationship with wholesome energy.
Some of my first steps in recovery were to change my diet and to begin to take certain herbs for healing. I truly sense that what we are beginning to understand about the microbiome and our gut flora have a large part to do with wellness and mental states. Considering the intimate dance between the gut and the brain, making sure you are absorbing nutrients, sending healthy signals to the brain via the vagus nerve, and eliminating waste is of utmost importance.
Originally, I started with a Revised Adkins diet, was vegetarian for four years, and then shifted to the GAPS diet. My best advice is to eat whole foods close to their source and prepared traditionally when possible. I deeply feel that the very act of putting the elements of food into our body is a concretizing act of bonding our spiritual body with the physical world. It’s very important to eat pure water and pure food when healing.
And, as an herbalist, I feel that the plants are really demanding that we take notice of them and use them in our recovery process. Medicine County Herbs out of NC has a great little booklet called, “Ease Your Mind: Herbs for Mental Health.” Contact them at email@example.com for more information.
9. Don’t fool yourself. Trauma is tricky. It will make you feel that everything is ok and that you are in control. It will make you project onto the outside world that everything else is problematic, but not you! The traumatized self will hide from you making it hard to pinpoint and understand. Lies, manipulation, inflating or diminishing reality…these are all the territory of the traumatized self. This part of ourselves, in an attempt at protecting and being in control, can eventually suck the very last drop of life-force out of our system.
Of course, protection is needed after a trauma. It is natural and essential for the human psyche. And, I definitely sense that when a person is going through a psychotic break, they are much more vulnerable to “negative forces,” for lack of better words.
However, when we finally get our footing and build our energy up, we need to let go of that overly protective mechanism. Otherwise, the very thing that once protected us can suck us dry energetically. Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, reflects that, “…if the way that we protect ourselves is strong, then suffering is really strong too.”
10. Learn the art of prayer and use it daily. When I went through my health crisis, I instinctually started to pray. I prayed because my life depended on it. I prayed to anything and everything that would listen. And, I’m glad I did. What started out as an extremely desperate call for guidance and for support has now led to a very positive, prayer-filled life.
When I pray, especially out loud, I find myself in this intimate dialogue with the unknown and unfathomable. It is both humbling and heartening. Establishing this relationship with that-which-I-don’t-understand, I feel, is a necessary part of the healing process.
11. Serve others. A big part of my healing process was social service work of which I did for about 10 years after my psychotic break. It was through the daily acts of serving others (mainly in at-risk neighborhoods with low-income families) that I was able to strengthen my capacity of love and compassion for myself and others.
I was given different teachers everyday that taught me about all aspects of the human condition. What I realized is that the act of service is never one way. I was not helping “them.” We were helping each other grow in understanding and the ability to give and receive. I encourage you to find a particular service project that speaks to you and dive in. One of the best books to help guide you in service work is the book “Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self while Caring for Others.”
Permaculture also became a means for me to serve the communities I have lived in. This design-based approach to earth-centered life ways, was a very important doorway for me to step through in my early years of recovery. I not only developed a broad network of inspired individuals eager to transform their relationship with themselves and the earth, I had a positive means to frame next steps in my life. While taking a permaculture course in 2004, I also tapped into my life-work which is herbal medicine and working with plants.
12. Pay attention to your dreams. Undoubtedly, the dreamworld always gave me honest information about my health and well-being. When I was in my darkest place and in the worst health, I had nightmares. Of course, I had healing dreams, but they were rare.
I began to pay attention to my dreams because they were shocking me awake. At first, I didn’t know how to handle them and they truly haunted me. But soon, intuitively, I began to work with my dreams. One of the best tools is, when waking from a dream or nightmare, to visualize going back into the dream and remedying the situation from a courageous and compassionate place. What does your psyche need to heal in that dream? What would have you preferred to happen in that dream?
Some years ago I took a workshop with a Tibetan dream doctor. He added further illumination to my own intuitive work with dreams. In Tibet Traditional Medicine, dreams are one of three common ways to diagnose a person (the other two being pulse and urine). The dreams are filled with the unfiltered and honest contents of our psyche. The great, late psychotherapist Carl Jung also drew on the dream realm for healing and recovery.
My love for the healing abilities of the dream realm were further solidified when I met Tayria Ward, now a dear friend. She helped me realize the potential for dream-work to not only heal myself on a personal level, but to heal communities and groups. Her life-long work is to bridge the modern mind with the wisdom of the indigenous mind through the reintroduction of dream-work.
Final words and questions to contemplate
There’s so much more that I wish to express about trauma and healing (and that they are one in the same). But, considering the length of this blog post, I will share some final words, pose some questions for us to contemplate, and suggest readings and resources.
I wish to point out again that something is dying in our culture. Those who wish to identify with those outmoded energetics of control and harm will surely go with it. So, for those who feel suicidal, know that it is not “you” but a cultural energetic that you are picking up on. At least, this is what I sense.
At the same time, something is being renewed in us and I can feel it. It is our capacity to heal. Can we heal through the pain and actually learn from the dark voices that constantly challenge us to find our authenticity and truth? Can we begin to love ourselves again? Can we find our place in the web of life again?
“A society that could heal the dismembered world would recognize the inherent value of each person and of the plant, animal, and elemental life that makes up the earth’s living body; it would offer real protection, encourage free expression, and re-establish balance. Its underlying metaphor would be mystery, the sense of wonder at all that is beyond us and around us, at the forces that sustain our lives and the intricate complexity and beauty of their dance.” ~ Starhawk
Laura Kerr, PhD’s blog Trauma’s Labyrinth
Films and Videos
Crazywise documentary film
Rufus May ~ The Doctor Who Hears Voices (scroll down to watch film)