Friday, September 13, 2013

Starting Fresh and Forgiving the Trauma

I think we have all heard the word trauma. It probably means something different to each of us. This week, we marked the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and I have been reading an interesting discussion about how people in the United States were traumatized differently if they were actually in New York, D.C., or Pennsylvania vs. the rest of us who “just” watched it on television. This year, we had a similar event, though smaller in numbers, with the Boston Marathon bombing.

But even without these major events on our own soil, if you’re an American reading this, most of us hear the news about what is happening in Syria and the rest of the Middle East. I have not seen the photos (I refuse to watch them because I do not think at this point I can handle them), but I know they are out there. I did watch the video of the woman dying in Egypt during their revolution in 2009. As if we do not have our own individual trauma, we now have a world of shared trauma. In an instant, we can be across the world watching someone die . . . over and over again.

On an individual level, we all have experienced our own personal trauma. Today, I was talking to a yoga therapist, and she asked me if I had trauma as a child. My response was, “don’t we all?” I mean, I looked back at some of the very intense physical issues I had to deal with as a very young child, and I see now how incredibly intertwined they are with my current physical situation. There are many people who believe, and I think rightly so, that birth itself is a trauma. And then, of course, there are the children and adults, who deal with ongoing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. 

I rarely discuss the work I do on this blog. Part of that is because so much of it is confidential, but also because it is really not the specific point of this blog, and because I frankly think it would be unprofessional to get into anything beyond the most general. Trauma is a really big word in the juvenile court world. These days, the goal is to be a trauma-informed or trauma-responsive system. It is a noble goal, and one I do not think anyone takes lightly. The legal world is, therefore, focusing on this one word a lot. The military, and even the NFL, are talking about responding to traumatic brain injuries and PTSD.

The word trauma seems to be everywhere.

And I sometimes feel like we get lost in the word because we use it so much. Do we get desensitized to it because we talk about it so much? Do we forget sometimes real peoples’ lives are at stake below this word TRAUMA that seems to pepper every discussion we have?

I cannot stress enough how important it is to have these discussions, to help people accept that their trauma is real, and it is okay to experience the repercussions. It is important to have these discussions to find the best ways to work with trauma, and perhaps most importantly, to realize we can heal from trauma. I have written about this before in the context of healing professionals and vicarious trauma. But during this time to focus on forgiveness, I think it is important to look at trauma as something to forgive.

It is very easy to dwell on why things happen to us. It is very easy to dwell on how terrible it is that they happened.  It is very easy to be upset about decisions adults made in our lives when we were children when we think we would have made different ones. But the truth is that life happens. We all make the best decisions we can along the way. And as long as we hold onto the victim stance, our bodies will respond with dis-ease.

There is an entire aspect of yoga focused on trauma and how best to bring very traumatized people into yoga safely, so they can begin the healing journey. But regardless of who we are, yoga is going to force us to see our own trauma, whether we watched the Twin Towers fall, were beaten by a parent, or fell down one too many times as a child. We are going to face whatever good and bad experiences we have had in our lives, whether we want to face them or not. Yoga brings us to the brink of our humanness.

At times it can be very difficult to accept that we are still feeling the effects of what happened to us 5, 10, or even 50 years ago, but the truth is that we are. Some of us get really upset at ourselves for not healing, not getting better fast enough. But as someone said to me once, “what would you say to the child or the person in the moment they experience the trauma and the fear?” That is how we need to treat ourselves regardless of when the reaction to the trauma arises. We must learn to forgive the event, the people who we have told ourselves caused the event, and the fact that we are re-experiencing the event however many years after it occurred.

I have often wondered why the Jewish New Year is before the Day of Atonement. Would it not make more sense to let go of the past, ask for forgiveness, and then celebrate with the New Year? But as I look at it from this lens, I realize it does make sense.  In fact, it makes a lot of sense. The fact that the new year happens first reminds us that the world has already moved on. Now we just have to follow suit. We absolutely can move on and heal. We just have to do the actual work to allowing the healing to happen. And that is forgiveness.

We have to let ourselves forgive ourselves, each other, and the Universe for whatever we believe has caused us dis-ease during the year. And we can do this because we have already opened our hearts and attitudes to the idea that we have moved past it, that we are on a new path. And through forgiveness on so many levels we can begin to heal the trauma each and every one of us experiences, whether it be trauma or Trauma.

How are you forgiving the past? Yourself?


© Rebecca Stahl 2013, all rights reserved.
The post, Starting Fresh and Forgiving Trauma, first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.

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