What I Learned About Trauma Healing:
Post Traumatic Stress to Post Traumatic Wisdom
“You are capable of ceasing the absurdity of listening to the perpetual problems of your psyche.
You can put an end to it. You can wake up in the morning, look forward to the day, and not worry about what will happen.
Your daily life can be a vacation.”
-Michael Singer “Untethered Soul”
The Lens from My Past
What have I learned in taking action to release myself and others from the shame and guilt of my past?
But I needed a roadmap on how to do it and Dr. Perry/Oprah in their book “What Happened to You?” was just what I was looking for.
Today I feel freer than ever before. Although I have insomnia, I still woke this early morning feeling lighter. It’s so easy to allow the past to hold us hostage.
Someone treated us badly. We regret something we did or said. We can’t let it go. It clouds our present and inhibits our future.
I have a hard time forgiving others who have harmed me but mostly I have a hard time forgiving myself for the harm I have caused. Because of something that happened in my past, I have difficulty trusting, loving and accepting myself and others.
Those experiences of my past shaped the lens in which I see you, others and my world-a world of people I can not trust, who will cause me harm and always in the end abandon me.
Do I want to Move Forward?
What can you do to let go of the past and move forward?
First, ask yourself if you want to move forward.
Memories and emotions from the past may haunt you and limit you, but are you getting some sort of payoff by keeping those memories alive?
For people like me, playing the role of the victim brings attention and possibly sympathy (“Bad things always happen to me. You’d drink too if you had my life.”) Sometimes that’s the only kind of attention I felt I could attract, and the payoff was significant and there’s little reason for the subconscious mind to want it to end.
For others, being “right” is the payback. If a person lives in a somewhat uncertain present, holding onto the concept of being “right” about something gives that person a sense of validation, control and certainty.
While releasing yourself from a negative past may seem like an obvious choice for your conscious mind, your subconscious (which according to Dr. Perry controls 98% of your thoughts and actions) may go into a tailspin at the thought of letting go of something that it finds comfort or benefit in.
Stuck in the Past?
Many times it’s difficult to see your own habits and thought patterns because they’re so integral to who you are.
What do you believe about your past?
Once you can honestly say to yourself that you’re ready to let the past go, the next step is to closely examine your beliefs about that painful aspect of your past.
If I said that you were ugly, would you be offended? If I said that you have purple skin, would you still be offended?
You may be offended by the first statement if, because of a lifetime of experiences and how you’ve interpreted those experiences, you believe you’re ugly. Your mind doesn’t ask if my statement is true or not. It touches a core belief and sees the statement as a reinforcement of that belief, regardless of the statement’s validity.
But the second statement probably wouldn’t bother you because you know that your skin isn’t purple. Nothing from your past has called into question the color of your skin. You immediately dismiss the statement because you know it to be false. Why not do the same for the first statement?
And why would you believe either statement if I’ve never seen you before?
If you have a belief that says, “I’m no good in relationships. People always leave me because…” your subconscious mind is constantly looking for evidence to prove this belief while ignoring evidence to the contrary.
As the saying goes, bad things stick with us like Velcro while good things slide past us like Teflon.
Your subconscious may be holding onto a painful memory because it further validates a belief you have about yourself.
Is your belief serving you? Is it helping or hindering your ability to live the life you want?
If feeling the pain gives your subconscious a payoff, is there another way you can get this payoff along with some happiness?
It really is a choice.
When someone deals you a disservice, it’s hard to simply let it go. If they’ve hurt you, you can’t let them get away with it.
These are the beliefs that will keep you stuck in the past and forever tied to a person you can’t stand. What fun is that?
If someone harmed you, it’s up to you to either take it personally and let it fester inside you or let it go because you understand that other people are dealing with their own issues.
Forgiving, letting go and releasing are all about you and not about the other person. The other person never has to know.
It’s often easier to forgive when you can truly put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
From many personal experiences, I’ve learned that bullies are simply scared and insecure people who find comfort when they can knock others down. When they were young, they may not have received the love, acceptance and respect they needed. As a result, they have a hard time giving it and operate from a place of fear and control.
If someone has been nasty to you, instead of labeling them a nasty person, consider what’s going on in their lives. People in physical or emotional pain have a difficult time being nice. Are they dealing with stresses at home or work? Are they working through an illness that they don’t want to talk about?
If you were in their shoes, how would you have acted?
Look the Painful Past In the Eyes
I naturally want to avoid all painful things. Avoiding is a form of resistance and anything you resist will never go away. Resisting something gives it power.
Moving into Peace
The best way to rid yourself of the pains of your memories is to approach them directly.
Go to a quiet place (mine is my rooftop balcony overlooking the mountains, seen in this photo). Now close your eyes and take ten deep breaths. Try to clear your mind as you do this.
Now think of the painful memory. Bring it up in all its vivid details. Where are you? Who is there? What are they wearing? What are they doing and saying? Watch the whole memory as if it’s on a movie screen and you’re an objective observer.
As you watch the movie, scan your body. What do you feel? Where do you feel it? How does it feel? Is your gut in knots? Are you having trouble breathing? Is your body tense? Whatever you’re feeling, focus in on it. Where exactly do you feel it and what exactly are you feeling there?
Your body is a storehouse of information that your logical mind has a hard time processing. Your body is your intuition, your True Self. It knows what’s best for you if you can get quiet enough to listen.
As you focus in on the feelings in your body, ask the pain or negative sensation what it’s trying to tell you. Remain open to answers you wouldn’t expect.
If the answers are based in fear, keep asking. Your True Self never speaks from fear, only love. Keep asking until you feel good about the answers, no matter how crazy they may seem.
As you receive the loving answers, go back to your movie. Play it again. How do you feel now?
Repeat this process of watching your movie, noticing the sensations in your body, asking them questions and being open to the answers.
With practice, this can significantly reduce the emotional triggers buried in the memories.
This kind of work is difficult on any level but I have to tell you, having the pain of my past hold me hostage for so long, having it break down everything that I’ve ever built in this life, doing the work to release it will forever be the most important step I have ever taken in life. If you are brave enough to do this kind of work, don’t go it alone, seek other supportive loving people to surround you with love and belonging. Consult your doctor and psychiatrist and inform them you are doing this kind of healing. And most important of all, put a time limit on it (I give myself two hours each morning). Then do something else to regulate yourself out of the pain of your past and into the present moment: rock, dance, tap, meditate, breathe or take a walk in nature and focus on the rhythm of your steps, find something with rhythm, it can be very desensitizing.
Our ancestors knew this; many cultures embraced drumming sessions as a part of their daily lives. Babies know this: they use rocking to soothe. It’s in our DNA! I use music because for 25 years I was a classical musician and teacher. I usually use music that is repetitive in nature (minimalism), music with great structure and rhythm and slow changes, like the works of Philip Glass, Steve Reiche, John Adams and John Luther Adams (YouTube “BECOME OCEAN” by John Luther Adams).
However, in celebration of completing this work, this morning I’m listening to “The 4 Last Songs” by Richard Strauss. This work is all about stepping into the unknown, being at peace, and entering a state of eternal rest. No, I don’t feel like dying….quite the opposite, I finally feel like living! I feel I am finally laying to rest the pain and shame of my past.
At the end of a long and successful career, when a composer still has the power to move his audience with a swansong of such sublime beauty that it takes your breath away – well, you know that work is a masterpiece.
That’s the way I’ve always felt about the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss since I first heard these sublime songs (I’ve included a link in the comments below). These songs, performed by the late great Jessye Norman, put me in a state of complete peace and serenity each time I hear them. This recording (in my opinion) is one of the greatest ever made in classical music.
The Eichendorf poem which translates as ‘At Sunset’ is fittingly the last of the four, with the first three songs all settings of poems by Herman Hesse. Beginning with ‘Spring’, the second is ‘September’ followed by ‘Going to Sleep’ – each seems to be part of Strauss’s preparations for death. The words are all warm, wise and reflective with no hint of religious consolation as death approaches, but rather a deeply felt appreciation of the world before leaving. The overwhelming effect is a feeling of serene peace.
It’s simply one of the most touchingly beautiful ways for a composer to end his career. And for me, it’s one of the most fitting ways to say goodbye to a painful past that has held me hostage for so long. This morning as I watch the sunrise in the Sothern California Desert, I weep tears of gratitude as I hear the words of the 3rd song (Going To Sleep):
“With unfeathered wings, I go into the beyond….. My soul is completely free….”
“We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” -Promise #3, Big Book of AA
We don’t know each other, but if you are reading this we share a common thread. And I am here to tell you I support anyone of you who is brave enough to step out of their past and into their future. I promise you’ll find more souls like me on the same path!
“The knowledge of the past stays with us. Letting go of the pain of the past doesn’t mean we let go of the truth. To let go is to release the images and the emotions, the grudges and fears, the clingings and disappointments of the past that bind our spirit.” -Jack Kornfield
Loving kindness to all…