It’s not time. It’s not time for me to write the details of my own trauma — of the traumatic events of my past.
That time will come, but not now.
But as I continue my journey in life, in my faith, in my yoga and mindfulness practice, in the school of parenting, and in my closest relationships, I’ve become increasingly aware of the pervasive effects of my own traumatic experiences.
I’ve become aware of fear — recognizing how easy it is for me to flinch. Not literally flinch, but a flinch of the mind when I sense danger. I’ve come to recognize how, because of trauma, I live with a subconscious fear of “What’s next?”
Trauma altered the way my brain responds.
This is true for many of us.
Trauma, as Bessel van der Kolk writes, sticks around:
“We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present. Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”
In my twenties, I was dipping my toes into talk therapy. I was seeing a psychologist. I was at the tip of the trauma iceberg.
Then I went to a Christian conference. The pastor was an internationally known Christian leader. Highly charismatic. And he said these words:
“The highest and best use of your life is not ‘getting well’ — the highest and best use of your life is serving Jesus.”
Then he read a bunch of Bible verses about losing your life, taking up your cross, selling all you have.
Idealistic, ambitious, and untrained to recognize classic dualisms (either care for yourself or serve God was what the pastor was saying), I guess I had to make a choice.
I fired my therapist at the age of 24.
Then proceeded to go lose my life.
I soon learned that Jesus usually doesn’t miraculously heal trauma, any more than he miraculously heals cancer or asthma or a broken femur.
You’ve gotta go to the doctor. You’ve gotta take medicine. Do the physical therapy.
I don’t beat myself today up for choosing Jesus over therapy as a young and idealist twentysomething. It’s hard to do the hard work of self-care when you’re a man in his mid-twenties
So few in their 20’s get on the road less traveled.
Young men and women, many who are victims of trauma, “press ahead” with all the new experiences of life. And we all love new: new diplomas, new romances, new careers, new marriages, new homes, new babies.
It’s all wonderful. Nothing wrong with it.
But it is a distraction to the work of therapy.
And, anyway, why get bogged down in “getting well”?
But the wheels, later down the road, can start to wobble. Mine did. All the newness of everything wears off. Kids get older. Money gets boring.
Familiarity can breed contempt.
The bigger house still isn’t as big as those other bigger houses.
And there are new setbacks. I wrote about two of mine HERE.
Like Solomon, many end up asking themselves, “What’s the meaning of all this?”
And even with the joys and victories and successes, for many sufferers of trauma, something has affected us at — physically — our core. In places neuroscientists refer to as the reptilian and the limbic brain.
Bottom line is that tragic stuff has happened to all of us.
And if it happened to us, it happened to our brains.
I think of physical things. Like a motor of a car. Putting the car into first gear. Pressing the gas. The motor is fine until the RPM’s are too high. You can hear it. You need to shift to second gear to relieve the stress, the physical stress, on the gears.
That’s trauma. Physical stress on the actual brain. It’s PTSD. Holocaust survivors have the most gripping stories. So do soldiers who saw battle.
My goal in the months and years ahead is to swim deeper into the waters of self-awareness — live the examined life that Socrates speaks of.
Not sure there’s another way to truly live.
A note on “Freewriting.”
Every Friday, I set my timer on my iPhone for 15 or 20 minutes. Then I start writing. I don’t stop. I write whatever pops into my mind. After 15 minutes, I go back and quickly correct all the blatant typos. Then I publish it on Paulosophia.
I started “freewriting” in the early 1990’s because I had read this short article called “Freewriting.” I was a horrible writer back then, with the most severe writers’ block. The article said you have to write WITHOUT STOPPING. For a fixed period of time. Even if you have to write the same word over and over again. Over time, you get better, and more confident.
Writing becomes as easy as talking.
I can’t count how many freewriting exercises I’ve done over the years. Thousands for sure. I still do them almost daily. My kids know them well. I hope you will, too.