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Trauma and Transformation

I was recently speaking with a friend and the word trauma came up.

Trauma is defined as an experience be it physical, emotional, mental, social, and/or spiritual which impacts us in a negative way, causing us to feel vulnerable, fearful, distressed, and even pain.

I was taken by the thought that I had experienced trauma.

In this particular instance, my friend expressed concern as I shared an occurrence in which my life was in danger. From my perspective, it was simply another page from my story of adventure. I will admit that I lead a far from conventional life and one that sometimes resembles blockbuster movies. As I narrated, I could see the cascade of awe, discomfort, and sympathy expressed by my friend who listened wide-eyed and patiently. He responded, “wow, that must have been traumatic.”

This brought me to consider my own trauma/s. I struggled to see myself as an individual with trauma, so I shrugged off the comment and said, “no, I chose not to identify with trauma.”

Since this exchange, the word trauma has echoed in my mind and I have wondered how to communicate my response in a useful way.

I am hesitant to share my process in fear that some may feel I am diminishing trauma and trying to sweep certain experiences under the rug in a show of avoidance and/or fear. I will do my best to counter this potentially dangerous territory by taking responsibility for the following statements as my truth. This is my personal approach which is informed by my life’s experiences, education, and personal code of ethics. I wish to share it in the event that it may reconcile traumas and reinforce the power the individual has in his, her, or their healing process. These wounds are inevitable and the way we approach tending to these injuries is important to our development of acceptance, self-love, and transformation.

Everyone knows the phrase, “silver lining,” and we are often reminded to “count our blessings,” in the face of challenge. This is a simple exercise in gratitude. When we practice acknowledging what we have and the positive aspects of experience, we are able to reclaim the experience and pocket the good stuff. I would like to take this a step further and say it is equally important to note what was adverse about an experience. When we examine the points of discomfort, the shadow side, we get a sense of our personal needs. This means, we are asking ourselves what is triggering for ourselves. From here, we have gained a better sense of self as we are able to learn that some experiences evoke discomfort and even pain. Ideally, we gain insight through this reflection and seek experiences that keep us safe from threats. This becomes security and self-acceptance.

Unfortunately, we cannot predict the twists and turns life will inevitably take and thus, it becomes even more important to learn that beyond understanding and accepting ourselves, we must also cultivate self-love. Self-love is the path to ensuring that we trust in ourselves and are grateful for all that we identify as regardless of external threats. Self-love will return us to the truth that we are all worthy of love and that our existence is a testament to this. Self-love is a continuous practice that builds resilience. So even a trauma that challenges our self-love can become transformed through the continuous practice of accepting, respecting, nurturing, and honoring ourselves.

What happens when trauma occurs, and we feel vulnerable? How do we overcome betrayal, harm, fear, shock?

This is a personal question and where I diverge based on personal views.

My answer: transformation.

We cannot undo a trauma, nor can we run from it without exhausting ourselves. Transformation offers us an opportunity to reframe the experience and to help us stand in our self-love as warriors of humanity fighting to refine ourselves throughout life.

Most people are familiar with the Taiji, the yin/yang symbol as many know it. It is the circular symbol which contains two sides, one black and one white with a smaller circle in each side with its opposite color. It represents opposition and the idea that opposites contain an aspect of one another as they are defined by each other. The curved line in the center expresses the transformation from one into the other at its most extreme. The two essentially become one.

I would consider trauma to reside at the extreme of human existence and to be the opportunity for transformation into its opposite, healing. Trauma can be released, and the individual can become free of the scars at all levels of existence. This happens as the individual steps into the experience and honors the good and bad as one, the yin and yang of trauma. From here, the individual has the opportunity to identify with their growth from the experience and perhaps the tools which have surfaced from addressing this experience. This may include feeling resilient through healing the wound, understanding what it took to move beyond the trauma, knowing what it is like to experience trauma, and even developing compassion for oneself and others who understand the depth at which trauma impacts us. A teacher once said, the most precious gems arise from years of natural phenomenon and extremes which place pressure on the system. As rock, sand, minerals, water, lava, heat, and cold move through cycles, gems are formed and shaped into beautiful structures refracting light and creating colorful and inspiring displays of light. This is the power of experience as transformation, trauma included.

A story of transformation: my mother, a warrior of self-love.

My mother was born breached. Her twin came second and passed on a few days later. It was an emergency delivery which placed both children at risk. My mother was quickly and forcefully removed to spare her life. This birth trauma left her with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. So, from birth, she had come to know trauma. She went on to live a life in which she was in and out of surgery, given medications and props to keep her mobile, teased, and told she was handicapped and unable to perform the way other people could. Her physical challenge became a source of emotional and social insecurity. She was raised in a crime-ridden border town and the child of immigrants who worked as field workers in California, harvesting the food that fed millions so they could feed themselves. Her story is one of challenges many could not imagine surviving, and yet she thrived.

My mother had mental security and it was through acceptance and self-love that she prevailed through life’s unexpected trials. She remained dedicated and disciplined and achieved higher education, raised a family, and met her career goals. She trusted in herself to reach for her goals and this belief transformed traumas into opportunities for change and growth. Her faith in herself and her resilience were perhaps born from the drive to overcome obstacles which asked her to make the extra effort and become innovative in her life’s work. Not only did she overcome many traumas, but she transformed them into tools. Her story may evoke sympathy in the narrative, yet for her, it is precisely what has offered her wisdom and when I ask about her traumas, her response is “everyone experiences trauma,” and later “but you don’t have to carry it.”

A few words from my father about this…

It is so true that challenges give you the opportunity to see things differently. It’s the beginning of transformation for some, but a dead end for others. It is knowing how to circumvent the dead end that transforms you completely or partially. When I asked your mother to marry me over the phone when I was at a phone booth at Camp Lejeune, NC, I recall she was so mature and asked me if I could live with her challenge which was going to get worse as she got older. There was no hesitation. The mind is a powerful healing tool that the medical profession has slowly accepted as having some benefit. I say it is the only true self-healing tool that can transform a person.”

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