I read once that we all experience capital “T” traumas as well as lower case “t” traumas throughout life- Traumas being the bigger, longer lasting incidents such as physical and emotional abuse whereas trauma is akin to short term instances like injuries, illnesses, or losing your job. Many more examples in each category of course but as a subjective concept, your Traumas and traumas will be a very different list than anyone else’s. My Trauma began and continued throughout childhood and as a result, I have continually experienced trauma ever since.
Upon beginning Yoga Teacher Training, we were asked why yoga? Why did we choose yoga, what does yoga provide us, why are we interested in pursuing a deeper understanding of our practice, and why do we want to become teachers? I answered, “As an adult survivor of child abuse, I want to spread the positivity and acceptance that yoga provides for anyone who has experienced a similar situation. From that, I can steer my business to attracting exactly that kind of client, be it one recovering from past traumas or those with PTSD looking for a place to heal. I aim to provide a safe, loving place to practice while nurturing acceptance and compassion for the mind, body, soul, as well as the world that surrounds.”
My Yoga Guru SC has encouraged me to tell even more of my story and I am still getting comfortable with that- this is the first step. I’m not yet ready to face/ write/ share about my childhood Traumas,
so that’s not what this post is about (edit: that’s exactly what this post turned out to be!). Currently, I am going through a physical trauma that has dogged me for over 20 years. Injuries and illnesses I am oh so familiar with unfortunately but with my nascent spiritual practices, I am becoming more at one with and accepting of the physical and emotional pains I continue to endure.
I just realized I can’t really discuss my current physical traumas without getting into a little bit of those childhood Traumas. Damn. Alright… <gulp> here goes…
I was born to a world of violence, addiction, and domestic abuse. My earliest memory- maybe around 2 or 3 years old- is that of my father beating my mother, I can still see that moment clearly. Clutching my purple stuffed turtle and hiding in the hallway watching my dad kick, shove, slap, choke and scream degrading obscenities. I don’t recall being scared but totally confused, and I watched to try to make sense of it but my mind just couldn’t. As the years went on, they both took to kicking, shoving, slapping, choking, and screaming degrading obscenities at me too.
At 48 years old, I still have yet to make sense of it.
After sharing a bit of that story with my classmates in yoga training, my guru SC again guided me towards healing and introduced me to Deane Juhan, a local expert in the field of Trager-based bodywork. Prior to our first meeting, Deane asked me to make a list all of the injuries and illnesses I had experienced to date and after reading the list, Deane responded, “Wow, quite a list of further traumas and ailments! I think a lot of these things are indeed a result of your original (and ongoing) traumatic events. All of this has truly dysregulated your body and mind’s reactions for many years. It is not unlikely that your mother damaged your neck.” Mind. Blown.
First documentation of my neck issues, according to my spine surgeon, was in 2001. Doctors would ask if I had been through any traumatic event like a car accident or a fall or anything like that and I would respond, for over 20 years, “No.” I wanted so badly to get away from the childhood Trauma that I never considered it as the reason behind my ongoing physical traumas- until I met Deane. He taught me that my nervous system is completely out of whack from the abuse therefore responds to every exposure in a very amplified, all-encompassing way in order to survive. Once I was finally free of the abuse my senior year in high school, my nervous system had been set and hasn’t changed since. I embody fight or flight at any given moment even ’til today, my response button is stuck on high alert. I am finally ready to un-stick that button.
My mom choked me. A lot. Not her go-to move- she preferred hair pulling, pinching, and open-handed slaps- but when she was really angry, she wrapped her fingers around my neck and squeezed. The vertebrae that are the most damaged, and the ones that I went through Anterior Cervical Discectomy Fusion surgery for last year, are C4, 5 and 6: mom’s bullseye.
C2 and 3 as well as C7, 8 and T1 remain damaged and since the surgery, I have had flare ups where the pain is so great that I can’t move. Call all the Doctors, get all the pills, and the pain eventually goes away- until November 4th, 2022. The pain came back slowly, then intensely, then constantly, then went from the neck to the shoulder all the way down the arm into the hand causing tingling, numbness, and weakness. Yelled at several Doctors for help, got medication, can’t get an MRI until 11/28, can’t get steroid epidural until after the MRI so I sit here in daily constant pain. Three cheers for the U.S.’s fucked up healthcare system!
With no other choice, I succumb to the pain. I relent to this permanent reminder of the past. In those moments where the tears come to the surface and the self-pity rises up, I remind myself of what a teacher this pain has been and am grateful. Of course, not going through this would be my first choice but this is my path and my body telling me that it still isn’t fixed, my mind telling me I am still not healed, my soul aching to relieve both.
Under all these circumstances, I live to tell my tale and learn even more about how to take care of my body even though that currently means moving as little as possible which does not help with my fitness endeavors. Yet gentle is as gentle does so I now work with the medications: as soon as then pain decreases to a tolerable level, I take a walk. That may be once today or not at all if I don’t feel like it and that is totally okay. Don’t fight it, let the pain lead.
Without this physical suffering, I would never have sought the outlets for relief that have brought me immense succor throughout the years; therapy (of course), yoga (duh), acupuncture, bodywork, and meditation. I would never have gotten to the root of this issue if I hadn’t been honest about my story and if I had continued to hide from these horrible feelings. Now I know why my neck is the way it is, now I know why I have adapted to ignore the Traumas, and now I know the steps I need to take to give myself the care that my parents never gave me.
Am I “lucky” then to be going through this? Am I “grateful” for surviving an abusive childhood? Am I “gifted” with this heavy knowledge of how abuse and pain has informed my life? Yes to all the above- I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it all. And I sure like this person I am becoming because of it. Pain is temporary, internal peace is forever.
Without the pain, without the suffering, without the wondering and wandering and searching, one thing is for sure: I would have never started on a path to find out who I really, truly was. Never in a million years. And more than that? I would have never understood how big and beautiful life really, truly is. I would have been sleepwalking.
I am grateful for the pain. – Holly Whitaker