The everyday struggle for those of us with Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD) is real. It is both brain centered and body manifested. The theory of Developmental Trauma Disorder is considered to be the result of ongoing destabilizing events, taking place during the normal developmental milestones of children. These events coupled with a feeling of helplessness, powerlessness, and the inability to communicate at preverbal stages, result in DTD and undermine children’s crucial development for physical, emotional and mental well being. DTD is defined as “a pervasive pattern of dysregulation, problems with attention, concentration and difficulties getting along with themselves and others” (van der Kolk, 2014, p. 158).
When I graduated from Naropa in December, 2015, I had a pseudo plan. Move back to California in May and get a Master’s degree in Oriental Medicine. But before I even left Colorado, things began falling apart for one of my children, who was living nearby. I was paralyzed with fear (my critical thinking skills began to shut down), and also recognized the reality of my situation: I’d given up my home, quit my job and all my belongings were packed and ready to go. I had no idea what to do. It took several days beyond my original departure date, but I managed to somehow get on the road. I cried for most of it – gut wrenching, two-year old little girl filled with terror sobs that gripped me and folded my body in half crying. There was no gentle weeping going on here. I was terrified and I was grieving. My body was in complete fight / flight / freeze / faint mode. After several years of being able to remain in my body during stressful times, once again I found myself dissociating in small ways – bits of conversation, details about what part of the state I was driving through, etc.
“Dissociation is described as a sense of numbness, with a look of shock or flat affect, alteration of consciousness, memory, personal information and identity, inability to focus, violent eruptions or abstract responses (Pierce, 2014). Internally, I experienced loss of time and presence, extreme stress in new situations, loss of focus during conversations and sensory overwhelm in loud or chaotic environments. I vacillated between dissociating and hyper-vigilance; aware of every aspect of my surroundings” (Wilkie, 2015, p. 3-4).
In 2011, while completing my Associate’s of Science Degree in Holistic Health, I became completely incapacitated for four weeks due to ongoing back pain. I began exploring different assessment and treatment options. A series of x-rays showed disk and joint degeneration in my spine and left hip. The doctor couldn’t do much; they gave me some pills, and sent me home. I took a few of them out of sheer desperation. As a practitioner of Oriental medicine and body worker for eight years, having worked with many clients, I began to wonder how I was sourcing my own body movements – was I sourcing from a place of joy and wholeness? Or from some other experience? I certainly didn’t feel whole or joyful. I also did not recall an injury to my left hip so what the hell was happening?
In the middle of June, we received a phone call that our dear Grandmother Josie was in the hospital and things did not look good. She passed away quietly and quickly. Her memorial service took place toward the end of the month and within a day, I’d decided to postpone acupuncture school. Everything in my personal life felt upside down, my brains were so scrambled I could not think straight, and I was deeply worried about my adult children. There were strong words being thrown around, accusations being made and angry narratives being projected onto one another. I didn’t know how to deal with each day much less address this terrible hurdle amongst all the others. I felt as though each day was a fire fight, and choosing which one to put out first became the first task of each morning. I was becoming very, very tired.
Flash forward to July, 2016: on Monday, I spent the day at my storage unit carefully perusing boxes and unburdening myself of miscellaneous items I felt I could live without, let go of and share with others. Books, clothes, movies, art supplies and more – I packed them up and dropped them off at Goodwill or packed up for friends. This had been my 2nd trip to storage to unclutter my life in preparation for moving to Santa Fe – my goal right now. Although I’m currently living in the Hollywood Hills with my sister, I realize that California is no longer for me. My soul craves the peace and quiet of open space. My nervous system appreciates the sounds of nature, the whisper of the wind, the sounds of snow falling and there isn’t much of this to be found in the city.
On Tuesday morning, once again, my low back and sacrum seized up on me. I was devastated. My back had been symptom free for more than a year. I’d emptied a 5X10 storage unit and loaded a truck, twice, by myself with no flare ups. Why? Why now?!! Why at all? I felt angry at my body. Disappointed in the work I’d been exploring during the last 4 years – why hadn’t it worked?! Sad that this was taking place in my body and life AGAIN. I felt defeated. Defeated by life, by trauma, by the somatic intelligence that exists within my body. This somatic wisdom was developed over time beginning when I was a little girl as a method of protection – stay small, hide, remain folded up and invisible. The message from my body was multifold – slow down, be good to me, be kind, pay attention, and relax. There is another message too – one of noticing what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.
“Hold on honey, it’s almost over. My mind kept pushing me and so I pushed my body. The mantra became my talisman – one I had carried with me for decades and that ultimately set me up for dangerous patterns of everyday somatic function. This mantra was linked to early trauma, but I didn’t know that at the time. In my third year at Naropa, I would revisit this mantra and find healing in actually walking away from a triggering event rather than pushing my body forward with aggression” (Wilkie, 2015, p. 6).
Right now, I’m swimming in the deep end of things with no shore in sight and I don’t want to be here. I want to be anywhere else but here. At least, that is how life feels. I want to be on the shore of a peaceful life where struggle is not the norm, where lack is lacking, where abundance is abundant. I’m camped out with my sister, far beyond what we thought my length of time here would be. Her place is cozy and comforting – a cocoon – while also being fairly small for the two of us. I’m experiencing this as a time of healing and bonding for us and I also recognize that I’m running out of money with no work and only a few loose plans. These situations alone can be stressful for me, but put them all together – no income or clients, no plan, bills and a fast dwindling cash flow, I’m freaking the fuck out. No wonder my body is seizing up. I’ve been sitting, a little paralyzed with fear – fear for my adult child’s situation and outcome, as well as for my own – but mostly waiting. Waiting for the big idea, thinking about what I could do, should do, whatever. And when I reside in my mind, my body begins to suffer. The message of pain I received was a flag – pay attention! Hello!! Get back in here!
Born of these collective days during the last 2 months has been my website and this blog. I’m still trying to figure out how to embed links here, photos, etc. WordPress is a little challenging for someone like me, but I’m making every effort to keep this blog authentic and true to the moment while working out the details of maintaining a professional method of dispersing this information and my personal narrative. Dealing with a traumatic childhood is hard work. Healing this pain requires a diligence and tenderness that is not automatic. My propensity to be comforting and tender with you as my client has often superseded my ability to be comforting and tender with myself. Self care and gentleness is something I’m cultivating every day and the messages from my body help me to do so – reminding me to live in the one place I’m terrified to be.
And so this morning, I took a gentle walk. I turned a corner on the path, and stretched my body and my mind. Gentleness and kindness took over as I felt into the spaces of my somatic discomfort. I breathed deeply. I rested. I walked some more. Gently. Mindfully. Slowly. How did it feel to move slowly? What did I notice? Did my legs feel the need to run? Did I want to run toward the situation I was most fearful of? Did I want to run toward the situation I craved the most? Or both? Was I okay being in the moment and walking slowly toward wherever I am meant to be? Was I comfortable being in the now? There were many answers to all of the these questions. Answers I will explore with art.
Look forward to postings about Attachment Theory, personality theory and Art as therapy.