My Best Tools for Overcoming Trauma
There were many moments of healing throughout my childhood, especially in my foster/adoptive family and home church. But the official healing process, as an adult, began in the late 80s when I started going to therapy. I have continued off and on in counseling throughout my life.
In 2011 started working on my counseling degree. During this time, I heard about EMDR. This stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This type of therapy looked promising for my own healing, and I also wanted to learn about it with the idea that someday I might use it in my counseling practice. EMDR is basically a therapy treatment that deals with disturbing experiences or memories from the past. The therapy comprises moving your eyes back and forth as you recall a painful memory. It is not totally understood why it works, but it may be connected to the eye movement that occurs during REM sleep. It is believed that REM sleep is our brain's way of processing the memories of the day. I feel EMDR was extremely successful in my recovery journey. It helped me deal with my traumatic memories and triggers on a subconscious somatic level rather than through talk therapy. I did EMDR off and on for several years and it helped me deal with anxiety, anger, and fear in a more constructive way.
During the mid-2010s, I had what I believe to be a healing triangle. I was in a graduate counseling program studying trauma, I was doing EMDR with my therapist, and I was also writing my first book about my childhood abuse. Working with these three things was helpful. I looked at my childhood experience as I was writing the book. The EMDR helped me work with the trauma I was writing about. And I was understanding trauma and how to work with it through the educational lens of my graduate program.
Other tools that I currently use in my recovery journey are meditation, yoga, and journaling/writing. When I use these tools consistently, my mental health remains fairly stable.
Meditation: I have practiced meditation for many years. I was first introduced to it in the early 90s at my local mental health center. I immediately loved it because it gave me a way to calm my mind. Currently, when I keep up with my practice, the calming effects last for days and I’m able to deal with life in a more responsive, rather than reactive way. Mediation also helps me manage stress, anxiety, and depression.
Journaling and writing: As I shared earlier, writing my first book and now my second has been very therapeutic. Because I had worked with the childhood trauma for years, writing the story seemed like the last piece to let go of that part of my life. Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t still get triggered by the things that happened in my childhood, but I have been able to release the stories and I don’t have to keep thinking about them and trying to figure out how to overcome the trauma. Journaling has been an effective way to manage stress. Journaling about my feelings around events in my life helps me process them in a more rational way rather than just having a big wad of emotions that is difficult to manage.
Yoga: This practice helps with the physical pain that comes with aging. It helps me with leg, knee, and back pain. Yoga is also a good way for me to get in touch with my body and release some of the trauma that is trapped there.
John Hopkins Medicine gives these benefits of yoga.
1. Yoga improves strength, balance, and flexibility.
2. Yoga helps with back pain relief.
3. Yoga can ease arthritis symptoms.
4. Yoga benefits heart health.
5. Yoga relaxes you and helps you sleep better.
6. Yoga can mean more energy and brighter moods.
7. Yoga helps you manage stress.
8. Yoga promotes better self-care.
These are some tools in my toolbox that have helped me over the years. They help me manage my life and the effects of the trauma I experienced as a child. I don’t use these tools perfectly and that’s okay. The important thing is that I have them and I use them. Just like using a hammer to pound in a nail in order to hang a picture, I know if my legs hurt, I need to do some yoga or if I’m getting angry and stressed out, I need to meditate to calm down my central nervous system. I’m not great at consistency, but I try to not beat myself up over that anymore. The important thing for me is that I know I have these tools and I use them when needed.
I encourage you to think about the tools you have that help you live a healthy life. Just like the tools we use around the house, there are also things we can use for our health and wellbeing. Realize the tools you have and use them when needed.