Heal Your Trauma
Assume you are traumatized
“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.
Emotional trauma is part of being alive. Every newborn has had to endure the trauma of separation from their parent. And then a lot of things happen after that. Parents unwittingly carry forward intergenerational wounds. Children are cruel to each other. We are damaged by our upbringing. We make coping mechanisms. And the challenge of adulthood is to get ourselves sorted out, to become whole again, to let go of the old childhood structures that simply don’t serve us anymore.
To make matters worse, trauma can be hard to detect within oneself. We are very good at hiding things from ourselves. We numb. We make up stories to explain why we are how we are, and that it is permanent. We may even learn to love our trauma, in a way, because we identify so closely with it.
Here’s a suggestion: If you’re queer, assume you are traumatized and make healing an ongoing project in your life. Others may think it’s self-indulgent, but it’s not. When you put in the effort to improve yourself, you make more of yourself available to others. When you bring a better you to the world, everyone benefits.
Healing is possible
“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”
The good news: It is possible to heal trauma and triggers! We know a lot more about it than we did even 10 years ago, and new tools are opening up possibilities foe deep healing.
The bad news: It’s a long journey. Everyone’s path through healing trauma is different. Some people have a history of traumas with a lowercase t. Some have Traumas with a capital T. 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.
There are many tools listed below. Start anywhere that feels like it might be compelling. Don’t give up on an approach if you’re not seeing immediate results. It takes time for some of these approaches to really be effective.
Learn more about 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.
By “top-down” we simply mean using cognitive approaches like psychotherapy or mindfulness meditation to heal trauma.
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 healing trauma, 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 healing trauma
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
App: Woebot is a self-care bot that helps with anxiety and depression using CBT techniques
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
Psychedelic and psychoactive drugs
There’s strong evidence that drugs like MDMA (ecstacy/molly), psychedelic mushrooms, ayahuasca, and LSD, when used in therapy or with a guide, are among the fastest and most effective treatments for complex PTSD. Yes, 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, MDMA will become legal for trauma therapy in several countries by 2021.
Book: How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
Book: Trust Surrender Receive: How MDMA Can Release Us From Trauma and PTSD by Anne Other
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
When you have a powerful psychedelic experience, it’s helpful to process the experience afterwards in order to integrate what you learned into your life. These experiences can bring up so much material and it can take a while to sort through it all and really get the benefit.
Article: How To Integrate a Psychedelic Experience
Article: Intention Setting and Integration: How to Make the Most of a Psychedelic Expereince
Article: Integration Tips
Article: The Importance of Integrating a Psychedelic Experience
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.
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 eloquent 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.
The bottom-up approach starts with the idea that trauma is stored in the body, for example as tension or sterss in the belly, shoulders, neck, jaw, chest, etc. Advocates for bottom-up therapy say that if we reduce stress in the body, our emotions will follow suit and improve.
Article: Reiki, Tantra, and the Healing Power of Touch
TRE Trauma Release therapy
Video: TRE At-Home Exercises 1 2
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
Yoga is a huge world and there are so many styles that are different from each other. Some deeply spiritual, some that feel like an exercise class. Some are fast and sweaty and hot, and others are slow and deliberate and restorative. Every body needs something different. Here are a few yoga styles:
Trauma Sensitive Yoga
Video: Yin Yoga for deep emotional release
YouTube Channel: aad yog is an ancient form of yoga without alteration and adulteration
Video: Qi Gong — a 30 minute yogic qi gong routine with instruction
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 is about the healing power of cold and breath
Holotropic Breathwork, created by Stan Grof as a way of experiencing non-ordinary states of consciousness through breathing
Somatic Experiencing is a body-oriented approach to trauma 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 conjunction with EMDR or other modalities.
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.
Activity: Sensate Focus is a way of experiencing touch in a non-goal-directed way (not trying to have an orgasm) that is focused on the experience and sensations, rather than on evaluation. It allows people to practice intimacy by thinking less, and feeling more.