When I wrote about my rape experience, I was still attributing my rapid processing of it mainly to some kind of innate emotional intelligence and wisdom that I posses. Now that I dipped my toes into studying trauma healing, I realized the importance of the body wisdom, physical processing, and how lucky I am to have had both the traumatic experience and the elements of healing – flight or fight, presence, and resourcing – packed into one or two days.
When you go through a stressful experience, your available response mechanisms are fight, flight, or freeze. Animals have the same mechanisms. At the highest level of stress, when your psyche perceives the situation as too dangerous to fight or flight, it goes into freeze, doing its best to keep you safe, trying to maximize your chances of survival by playing dead, or at least make it a non-painful death. Animals have a very natural way of releasing the freeze, if they survived the event, by going into flight/fight, which is running, shaking, howling. This lets their system know they escaped, they’re no longer in danger, and can return to life. Humans are wired in a similar way. If we get to complete the stress cycle with fight or flight, trauma is not likely to set in. If we remained trapped into freeze, this lingers into our system, interfering with our day to day lives, making us to function at less than optimal levels.
In my rape experience, I did go into freeze – I submitted to what was imposed on me. But immediately after that, I did go into flight. I literally jumped out of the car and ran away, seeking refuge, and taking care of myself. This informed my body and psyche that I survived, I’m now safe, and that it was by my own powers that I escaped, and that restored the confidence in myself. After I ran, I found some people at a patio table. I asked them to hide and protect me. They were a bit confused, and not too forward going, they just accepted me to hide among them at their table, but that was enough to restore my sense of safety even more, and to restore some of the trust in people.
After I escaped, I still had to complete a journey, going from there, to the place I was staying. This activated my presence even more, as I had to pay close attention to any potential dangers along the way. And I still did have some emotional intelligence, as I was walking on the street, telling myself “I am here now, I’m assessing my current physical state, I see that I’m ok, so this doesn’t mean anything beyond I had an experience and now I’m ok”. Staying in the present moment was an essential key to knowing I’m ok, I’m safe, I’m a badass for having dealt with this so swiftly, and I’m lucky nothing truly worse happened.
Taking a hot shower when I arrived at my hotel felt incredibly good. The warm water on my skin, warming up my entire body, my muscles, my guts. My heart pumping the blood throughout my whole body, washing away the stress hormones from all my tissues. The fact that it was the only day out of seven that I had hot water seemed serendipitous and like a message from Heaven, that I’m taken care of by a power greater than me. I could trust myself and I could trust the Universe. This restored my sense of goodness and safety even further, finding resource and refuge.
Another relevant experience was a bad trip I had with weed. Marijuana became legal in Washington state, and we bought a bag of chocolates. Half the dose made me sleep better. One night, I had a glass of wine and a little over half a chocolate piece. This combo sent my body into panic. I was feeling sick and afraid I was dying because of it. When the fear subsided, my body started doing these very random movements and sounds. Flailing limbs, shaking, punching. All the while I was very present, completely aware of what I was doing, and aware that I could stop it if I really wanted to. But my gut feeling told me it’s better to let my body do its thing than try to suppress it. At the time, I thought that it was the effect of marijuana. Now I know it was my body clearing out the fear of death. I’m so thankful I went with my gut feeling and let my body do its thing, in all its wisdom.
As I dive deeper into studying how trauma is healed, my intention is to learn how to use the wisdom of the body in an intentional way.
- Can we shake it out on purpose?
- Can we heal old trauma with additional layers that have built over the years?
- Is it possible to use the same techniques that heal acute trauma for resolving chronic trauma as well?
I want to know about you. Did you have any traumatic experience that you cleared out instinctively? Let me know in the comments and let’s learn from each other.