Healing Your Trauma
Why this is important
“You can be fully in charge of your life only if you can acknowledge the reality of your body, in all its visceral dimensions.”
— Bessel van der Kolk, “The Body Keeps the Score”
No matter how loving and well-intentioned our parents were and no matter how safe our home was, we all emerge from childhood damaged by our parents, by our schooling, and by society in one way or another. Which means there's an opportunity for all of us to heal in ways that we didn't even know we were broken.
Trauma is part of life. Everyone has it in their past. It may feel like a negative memory that you keep returning to. An inner habit of self judgement that clouds your ability to be present. Sometimes it's simply the sense that you cannot seem to get out of your head, that your mind is on overdrive all the time and you can't focus, or that you often feel unsafe or triggered. If a negative memory is something that you believe shouldn't be a problem, and that you wish you could just “get over it,” but it keeps coming up, that is trauma. It doesn't matter how it compares to anyone else's trauma. If it hurts for you, if it limits you, if it dogs you, it is real.
“We see gay men who have never been sexually or physically assaulted with similar post-traumatic stress symptoms to people who have been in combat situations or who have been raped.”
— Alex Keuroghlian, a psychiatrist at the Fenway Institute's Center for Population Research in LGBT Health.
Trauma, PTSD and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are more common among queer people. Internalized queerphobias are also common. It's easy to see it in others, but harder to see how it exists unconsciously within yourself. It's possible to heal trauma and triggers. An in recent years, we have come a long way in understanding trauma and how to help people heal.
One of the pernicious things about childhood trauma is that it can be with you for so long that you come to believe it’s just part of who you are, something you have to deal with and carry around every day. Healing is possible, and healing can be life changing! I don't mean life changing like matcha ice cream. I mean Life. Changing. Truly improving forever how you relate to your own mind and body in every moment.
How to Heal
Everyone's path through healing trauma is different, even if the outcome is the same. Here are some directions and avenues where this deeper healing can take place. Some people have a history of trauma with a lowercase t. Some have Trauma with a capital T. Some have both going on. It's possible to heal from all kinds of trauma. A few lowercase-t traumas spread out throughout childhood can be more debilitating than one capital-T trauma.
DIY trauma workbooks
Movies to Watch
The Work, about trauma release inside Folsom prison
Being a Helper
As for being a helper or balancing the role of a helper, these books are fantastic when it comes to navigating your own trauma in relationship to a partner/family member/client/etc. Secondary trauma is real.
Top-down Trauma Healing (eg. talk therapy)
Therapy means so many things. There are many kinds of therapists. So, it's worth learning about various modalities (there are many) and talking to several therapists so that your work will be effective. With the wrong kind of therapy, it's easy to waste a lot of money. But the right kind of therapy is absolutely life changing and is worth every penny.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy
EMDR is used for PTSD, depression, anxiety, addiction, and phobias. It is different from talk therapy. It uses eye movement (or sounds or vibrations). When you recall a traumatic memory while doing these calming eye movements, the memory gradually loses its charge.
No one knows quite why it works, but the eye movement is similar to what happens during deep sleep. The theory is that trauma is stored in the part of the brain that isn't accessible via talking, so while talk therapy may feel good at the time, it doesn't always have a lasting impact. EMDR makes it possible to truly heal old trauma, sometimes in just a few sessions.
Video: Healing Trauma with EMDR
Book: The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk talks about the power of EMDR and somatic therapies for treating PTSD
Parnell Institute directory of EMDR therapists
Article: “Does EMDR Work?" (The Guardian, 2018)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Aside from EMDR, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been shown to help with trauma release. It is a more traditional talk-centered approach that aims to rewrite the underlying beliefs that lead to depression and anxiety.
App: Sanvello is an app that helps you relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression
Video: Feeling Good TED talk by CBT practitioner David Burns
Book: Feeling Good very popular book that has helped a lot of people with mood disorders, by David Burns
There’s a growing belief that psychedelics, when used in therapy or with a guide, are among the fastest and most effective treatments for complex PTSD. But they come with risks. This is an area of ongoing exploration and recent experimentation, with the FDA currently in stage 3 trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. If all goes as expected, psychedelics will become legal for PTSD therapy in several countries by 2021.
Book: How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
Video: The future of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy TED talk by Rick Doblin, head of MAPS
Movie: MDMA: The Movie
Movie: Trip of Compassion, about MDMA trials in Israel for trauma release
Neurofeedback uses EEG monitoring to improve brain functioning as you learn to alter your brain activity. By using computer imaging, you receive direct feedback through a “brain map” that indicates areas of your brain with excessive activity associated with PTSD, such as your fear center. Here you learn how to relax your body and mind to activate the outermost layer of your brain; that which is associated with thinking and decision-making. Typically, 20 sessions will give you enough feedback to understand how to facilitate regulation of your body and mind on your own.
Note: Current research does not support conclusive resultes about the efficacy of neurofeedback.
Article: The weird science of neurofeedback
In the act of drawing, the patient makes an initial reorganisation of the form of the trauma, and begins to differentiate the adaptive ego, which has the tools and the ability to restructure the experiences, and the traumatic emotional part that suffers those experiences in a condition of impotence and passivity. The person may rapidly access pre-verbal and motor-sensory language, activating inborn creative skills. The use of this tool enables us to access the traumatic material gently, limiting dissociative reactions, bypassing avoidance and flight behaviour and setting a distance from pain by objectivizing. A protective space is created between the self and the part that holds the suffering. A voice to the inner child. The patient is offered the possibility of drawing what is occurring in the self's here and now, and given a choice of different graphic materials. At the end of the drawing and assessment phase the person is asked to note what has emerged, and a brief space of time may be allowed for description without interpretation.
Good relationships are key to healing trauma.
Queer community sports
Dinners with queer family
Building a circle of trust
Creative writing and journaling
Can't afford a therapist right now? There are many ways to get free therapy, so don't give up the search. You can go to a training clinic at a university, for a reduced rate. If you're in the US, you may be able to use Medicaid. Call SAMHSA at 800.662.4357 to speak with someone, confidentially, who can help you find options.
Meditation & Spirituality
Meditation is very powerful and can be used to reduce the symptoms of PTSD by calming the nervous system.
Here's a few general books about reconnecting to yourself and your spirituality or consciousness as it exists separate from religion.
Good feels, motivation, and inspiration
Bring in regular motivation and reminders for self-care:
Religion & Spirituality
A lot of LGBTQ oppression comes from religious organizations. So if you come from a religious background, does this mean you have to stop being religious? Not at all. There are lots of options, and many inclusive churches and spiritual communities.
Book: Pray the Gay Away by Bernadette Barton is a study of present-day religious oppression of LGBTQ people in the US
Film: Believer about the Mormon Church's inner struggle with LGBTQ rights, featuring Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons
Film: Trembling Before G-d, a 2001 American documentary film about gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews trying to reconcile their sexuality with their faith.
Affirmation, an independent organization supporting LGBTQ Mormons
Follow a Dead Teacher
Many queer people have suffered from religious shame and oppression growing up. So as adults, it makes sense that they may become untrusting of all religious and spiritual guides, philosophers and teachers of all kinds.
This is unfortunate, because having your own spiritual life is incredibly valuable and healing. One way to proceed and reclaim your own sense of consciousness or spirituality is to follow a dead teacher. A dead teacher has no possible incentive or means to harm you or take anything away from you, so you may find it easier to listen to them.
The best dead teachers, in my opinion, are recently dead teachers who lived during contemporary times. Because you do not need anyone else who is currently alive to help you interpret the words of a recently dead teacher. You can have your own relationship with them, and listen to them directly, and decide for yourself how you want to apply their teachings in your life.
Dead spiritual teachers
J. Krishnamurti, Indian philosopher and writer
Alan Watts, an English philosopher
Suzuki Roshi, spiritual teacher who brought Zen to the United States
H. W. L. Poonja (“Papaji”), Indian sage who taught self-enquiry.
S.N. Goenka, Burmese-Indian teacher of Vipassana meditation—a no-dogma practice of self-directed meditation
Living spiritual teachers
All of the people listed below have offered free media online that can help you. Watch and listen to each of them and see if you connect with any of their messages. All of the people below have your wellbeing in mind.
Bottom-up Trauma Healing (body-centered)
Article: Reiki, Tantra, and the Healing Power of Touch
Trauma Sensitive Yoga
TRE Trauma Release therapy
Rolfing is a massage technique that is about balancing the body.
OSHO Dynamic Meditation
Yelling and screaming and beating sticks against trees
Treating yourself to a local spa / sauna / massage / steam room
Tai Chi, Qi Gong, or other body / movement practices
Video: Qi Gong — a 30 minute yogic qi gong routine with instruction
Somatic Experiencing is a body-oriented approach to PTSD healing. It attempts to promote body awareness and release the residual physical tension that remains in the aftermath of trauma. It is sometimes used in combination with EMDR.
Breath Work and Cold Exposure
It seems so simple but breath work and cold exposure can be very powerful for healing. For example, reducing inflammation via cold exposure can be incredibly helpful for depression.
Max Strom / Breathe to Heal
Wim Hof Method (cold exposure)
Holotropic Breathwork, created by Stan Grof as a way of experiencing non-ordinary states of consciousness through breathing
Of course, having sex is fun. But sexuality also has a spiritual component for those who are willing to explore it. It can be very healing, can help you develop self-acceptance and validation of your body. It can help you be in your body more fully.
Healing with nature
Ocean adventures: surfing, swimming, kayaking
Wilderness therapy including backpacking, mountain climbing