Definition of trauma (per Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
1a: an injury (such as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent
b: a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury
c: an emotional upset
2: an agent, force, or mechanism that causes trauma
Definition of post-traumatic stress disorder (per Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
: a psychological reaction occurring after experiencing a highly stressing event (such as wartime combat, physical violence, or a natural disaster) that is usually characterized by depression, anxiety, flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, and avoidance of reminders of the event —abbreviation PTSD
General category of Trauma and PTSD according to Ayurveda and Caraka-Saṃhitā, assesses this as “ManoVikāra” or “ManasVikāra” or “Manas Roga” or “Manas Śārīra Roga” which generally is defined as psychosomatic diseases/illness/disorder.
The above shared definitions of Trauma and PTSD shows a pattern of development where an individual experiences trauma and with that, as a by-product of what the nervous system, and system overall, progresses generally into a PTSD response. This response is exemplary of how the mind and nervous system interact and experience, what some call a “heightened nervous system response'“ which when triggered can sometimes render an individual incapacitated or having an opposite reaction which is to act out in ways that can be abrupt and even possibly harmful towards the self or others. This heightened nervous system response can range from a general ability to perceive the environment with an increased sensitivity to it, to hyper-vigilance (as defined by wikipedia, Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect activity. Hypervigilance may bring about a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion) as a result of being triggered by an external factor that could somehow remind the individual of a memory rooted in trauma.
I have recently been inspired to write this article in the name of Trauma and PTSD due to my own reflections of my own journey, along with the interactions of clients, friends, and loved ones. This is a very layered topic, complex, and multi-faceted. This article would be quite lengthy if it was to be written in a way that included the various perspectives that describe trauma and its management. For the purpose of this article, with the intention of keeping it on the shorter side, I have decided to use myself as an example with regard to the process and work involved in achieving a certain level of homeostasis.
In my earlier youth, ages two to 17, I experienced multiple traumas that severely impacted me in ways that carried much weight on my growth and functionality in the world, until recent years. The earliest and first main trauma was the death of my father when I was almost two years old. During those years, I was molested as a child, beaten, heavily disciplined, emotionally and mentally degraded, shredded, and broken down. There was a great deal of economic hardship growing up. I was surrounded by an environment of anger, grief, and anxiety, mostly. I had no sense of self. No self-esteem. No voice. No trust in the world. No sense of safety. Minimal nurturing. No self-worth. No self-acceptance. I had a lot of anger as I entered into my teen years, which coincided perfectly with hormones surging through my blood causing everything to be heightened and magnified, during a period of normal development of any teenager. Let’s add into, not only knowing I existed but the question of why do I exist? Who am I? What do people want me to be? and mix this all up with the certainty that on a deeper level I knew I was gay and had to figure that all out since I was a teenager. I had this edge, aggressiveness, and controlling behavior, when I wasn’t anxious. In ways, they fed each other. Depression would fall in between, which lead to the few suicide attempts until my mid-20’s.
There was this impetus to pursue my degree in psychology so that I could understand a lot of what I had been through and figure out how to help myself because there was this inherent drive to connect with a life that I felt would be possible for myself by taking myself out of the hot seat. I wanted to be “normal” somehow and just had to determine what would make that happen. When I finally started dating guys, one of my boyfriends encouraged me to go to therapy because he said “I refuse to be with someone who was emotionally unavailable.” So, I followed the advice of a dear friend of mine and she told me to see this particular therapist, named Liz, that practiced this profoundly transformative therapy called Core Energetics, which incorporates breath, and movement, not so much “talk therapy'“ and I started connecting with myself in ways I hadn’t imagined. Along the ways I also found my way into yoga and meditation, and the beginning of holistic medicine through various outlets. This all started coming together and was synergistic with my process I was engaged in with Core Energetics. I had a realization that I had been out of my body for so many years due to my traumatic experiences. Massage, Shiatsu, acupuncture, yoga, and even herbs started to help me connect with being in my body. Core Energetics helped me work through the psycho-physical-emotional components of my own “recovery.” What was I recovering from? Answer, was trauma. What was I recovering? Answer, myself beneath the layers of pain and suffering. How was I recovering? Answer, by going through the actual pain in a safer place and away from the actual environment that fostered it to begin with. During my time with Liz I was given two diagnoses. The first diagnosis when I began with her was “Affective Disorder with Mixed Emotional Features.” The second and last diagnosis was “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
Like a magnet, life has had it be the case that I should gravitate towards other individuals who were also recovering from various traumas. What I realized was that many people had undergone trauma. For me, the constant was sexual abuse, but not too far behind was some sort of anxiety and/or addiction of sorts. I became a case manager/social worker and worked more with individuals who were in “the system” and these opportunities presented many reflections for my own inner process. It was quite fascinating to witness that as I was going layer by layer within myself that I would see aspects of myself in others. It is safe to say that I have seen quite a lot and experienced quite a lot in this lifetime and I continue to learn and go deeper within myself.
Yoga (traditional) has been in my life for almost 25 years and Ayurveda, which is a complete system of holistic medicine, for almost 18 years and both have improved the quality of my life immensely by incorporating a creating a way of life, a lifestyle that included getting into my body with the yoga exercises, philosophies, and the Ayurveda that supported me by having an appropriate diet for my body and mind, along with herbs and whatever else was needed. Over the years, and as needed, I have been in and out of the Core Energetics therapeutic setting. This is what has worked for me. It has such a strong element of exploring the emotions through not only the mind but also the body, which tends to be lacking in some therapies. Coupled with the yoga and other hands-on modalities I have indulged in over the years, yoga, CE, and Ayurveda are a staple in my life! One summer, I had the pleasure of working with a trauma specialist, in addition to working with CE and Radical Aliveness (another adjunct technique) and really shifted amazingly to a whole new level I didn’t ever think I would successfully arrive at with both feet planted. It was also during this time that I had this powerful realization that in order for me to truly transform the hardships into victories I had to let go of a story. I had this story for so long that said things like “I am broken”, “No one has had it worse than me”, “I am beyond repair”, “Something is wrong with me”, “I’ll never overcome this.” So on and so forth. I realized that there was some distortion in the comfort of holding onto my story because I didn’t know who I would be if I let go of the story. I willingly let go of the story and the shift happened. What used to seem to keep me bound, no longer had a hold on me. I felt a lightness in my being. I felt a regulation in my nervous system occur that I didn’t think was possible. Sure, I may have moment of being anxious but how it’s managed and how long it lasts is very different these days. I am human and still have human moments, and that perfectly okay!
Over the years, I have worked with clients who have had traumas on the full spectrum. Baby steps, for sure, since it is a very delicate process. I’ve supported friends and colleagues as well. We are all in this together and can support each other as needed. I continue to work on myself daily with all my tools in the tool box that I have and maintain full responsibility of myself. I remember one day sitting in my 12 step group for Survivors of Incest Anonymous meetings and everyone went around the room saying “hi, I am so and so, and I am a survivor of sexual abuse.” The response would be “hi, so and so, welcome and thank you for coming.” So, during this one time, I had this epiphany that I didn’t want to be a survivor anymore. I wanted to live life. When it was my turn to introduce myself I said “Hi! My name is Antonio and I choose to start living today” because I no longer wanted to allow my past to make me a victim any longer where I am just surviving life. I wanted to live it. This is what I have been doing since then and will continue to do so.
it is a duty, pleasure, and humbling honor to work with others in ways that involve a holistic approach in managing trauma and PTSD. I am confident to also share that part of this process has consisted of working with addiction. I’ve had my share and I am no longer weighed down by old addictive patterns. I recently wrote this piece on addiction. This piece is also important because it is very common for those suffering from addiction that they are self-medicating with some sort of externalized form of temporary pleasure that is meant to help the individual temporarily feel better, for whatever reason. It’s a little long, so I hope you have a few more minutes to give me your attention.
THOUGHTS ON ADDICTION...RECOVERY
Addiction- That behavioral and complex thought/emotional process that depends on something outside of us for a sense of completion/satisfaction, but causes perpetual suffering and on various levels depending on the addiction. It’s that substance that we feel we can’t be without. Who would you be if you didn’t have that substance to depend on to feel good? Are you able to stop doing that one thing or does it control you? What is your object of attachment? These are good questions to see what your addiction is for you.
It is a type of disease. It definitely involves a “diseased” mind on some level and the intensity of the disease can manifest in physical dependency. Examples of this include but aren’t exclusive of others are alcohol, heroin, meth, and sex.
Recovery- success involves willingness, full honesty, vulnerability, dedication, disciplined commitment, along with adequate support. Initially, when sobriety starts, that ideally means full withdrawal from the “object of affection”. But the tendency is to find some other vice to substitute which is still counted as a relapse, especially in the beginning.
The honesty piece is a crucial factor that must be emphasized. As honest as we can be with ourselves, the better help we can receive. Lying only perpetuates the self-loathing and deepens the downward spiral into self-destructiveness. Adding to anxiety and depression. Lying consumes us from the inside out and becomes passive-aggressive tendencies which further the additive process, even justifying it more so. For instance, “I’m lying. I feel like shit about it. I’m afraid to say anything. Now I feel isolated. I feel like shit. That drug can make me feel better. I feel bad and guilty about wanting it but I can’t stop myself. I feel like shit. I isolate more. I finally get the “hit” I was looking for. I feel great and shitty at the same time. I crash. I hide.” So on and so forth and as many variations as there are people and people with their addictive tendencies.
The recovery/sobriety support typically includes a group meeting(s), sponsor, networking, medical intervention if needed, a therapist, and loving friends with clear boundaries. Failure to implement all these can cause more harm than good. It’s an investment in yourself until stability is achieved. Then maintenance is essential and can look any number of ways depending on the nature of the person and the substance of addiction.
BUT if someone says they are in recovery and aren’t able to provide some sort of mature and grounded in reality provision around their sobriety, then run!!! This can be a slippery slope and red flag indicating that a relapse has already begun and is rooted in denial. Denial can hurt both the person seeking recovery and loved ones. Blinders on can cause accidents. Don’t be naive. If we are naive to it, this becomes apparent in people who are co-dependent and enablers, then we fall into the cycle with them which becomes this tugging and pulling.
Sobriety, at least for a couple of years (I’m being modest) involves absolutely no substances. Not the main one and not the supplements. You’re either “clean” or not. Maybe as time progresses, for example, there’s a possibility to have a drink if meth was your fix but this depends on the person and the inner work they’ve done. Definitely not meth, ever. There are some who are in recovery for 10 years and can have that one glass but there are others who are absolute and don’t touch a thing. As they say in the rooms “one is too much and 1000 is never enough.” It depends on the person and their personality, whether they have addictive personalities, if it even runs in the family, or not.
Aside from the chemical dependencies that substances such as alcohol and heroin have, which have the highest relapse rates being 90%, which requires utmost care and attention in detoxification, there is the mental component that underlies all addictions. In that, there is some root emotional/thought that exists. There is some sort of trauma embedded in the mind and tissues that must be carefully and gently excavated that is the subtle caveat for the manifestation and presentation of suffering that leads some to these addictions. Getting to the foundation of this is imperative! Otherwise, the person stays stuck and repeats and repeats and repeats this destructive patterning. We each have a responsibility to ourselves to do this work. As painful as it may be at times BUT the weight of this pain is less so than the actual substance of addiction, in the long run. It seems like the drug may be better short term but the long term harm is extensive and deeper.
Lives are lost to addiction daily. The rate is extremely high. The person could overdose, lives are lost to death or seem like the walking dead, hearts are broken, getting raped happens, bankruptcy, debts, poverty, homelessness, loss of friends and family, and even harm towards others. Suicide isn’t an uncommon thought in an active addicts mind. Whether they admit to it or not. Whether they purposely try doing it in one shot or slowly over time as part of a degradation and deterioration process. If they physically remain alive, some people with such active and profound addictions walk around like the walking dead. They walk around with a shell, appearing as a shell. They’ve forgotten who they are and have believed their thoughts. On many levels, we all have this addiction because the mind is slippery and it manifests in subtle ways for some of us.
The mind can create or destroy. It just depends on where it’s focused. When we lose touch with who we are at the core, it becomes eclipsed by a cascade of thoughts that suppress it and convince us of suffering is the only way. Yet, some part of us is yearning to be free. Fundamentally, there are two ways to be free from suffering that are proven to be effective. 1) we die 2) we work through our shit on a daily basis and keep putting in support so we don’t have to do it or be with it alone and eventually the old skin sheds and we morph into the version of ourselves that we yearn for.
On a deeper level, there is so much pain, guilt, and shame they carry. Especially when it’s out of control. It’s a perpetual cycle but there’s either a breaking point where enough is enough and the above-mentioned steps are put in place to secure and reclaim their lives OR death becomes the end of this level of suffering but leaves behind those of us to grieve around the loss as part of this tragedy.
Life is a choice. Dealing with the pain or avoiding it is a choice. The pain doesn’t go away, it just comes out in other ways. The only way out is in and with support. It can’t and shouldn’t be done alone! And that’s if you truly want to live.
In conclusion, I get trauma, PTSD, and addiction, believe me. I also know that these are quite complicated at times and I by no means am claiming to be a licensed expert in the field such as a psychologist or clinical social worker but I have had extensive experience on both sides of the fence, with important tools combined such as therapeutic models such as Core Energetics/Radical Aliveness, yoga, Ayurveda, meditation, stress management techniques, and massage which have caused me to feel successful in my own process and in my life at this point. It is possible! With the right support and willingness, a lot can be accomplished. All that’s needed is gentleness, patience, diligence, dedication, and remembering you’re human. This was that path that worked for me and I understand that some variation of this integrated approach would be highly beneficial for many individuals. It brings me great joy when I get to work with individuals who come in to see me and are willing to have me support them in whatever way I can, with whatever tools I have, and I am deeply touched when I see the transformations, shifts, leaps and bounds that happen in this “recovery” process.
Public Service Announcement: If you or someone you know is dealing with similar issues, please feel free to connect with me. If I can help, I will. If more is needed, I can offer some resources to support in figuring it out. This wasn’t meant to be done alone. It can’t!
Concept of Psychosomatic Disorders in Ayurveda
Diagnosis and Management of PTSD
Complimentary and Alternative Medicine for PTSD
A Modern Ayurvedic View of Trauma
Trauma Redefined in DSM-V
PTSD AND TRAUMA
Yoga as a Treatment for PTSD
What is Trauma Informed Yoga?
Definition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Definition of Trauma
DISCLAIMER: This information is meant for educational purposes only and not considered medical advice. Any changes in lifestyle should be reviewed by a qualified professional/practitioner and/or primary care physician if you are currently under their care for specific conditions.