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  October 28, 2002

Facing Trauma

In last week's Thought (Early Experience, October 21, 2002), I explain how early experience can be imprinted on the cellular level, and how the repression of overwhelming stress at these times can cause serious problems later on in life. The question is: how do we access these "hidden" early traumas?

The paradox is that they are not hidden at all - they are with us every day. They are there in every uncomfortable, neurotic feeling; every excessive struggle; every act-out; every "psychosomatic" symptom, every nightmare, every phobic reaction, every depressive mood, every anxious thought, every panic attack, every drinking binge, every act of blind rage, every addictive craving - every single speck of our emotional illness is the face of the "hidden" pain. The feeling sensation of the trauma is not hidden - it is our conscious recognition that is hidden. We are not asleep to the traumatic pain - we suffer with it every day. We are simply asleep to the fact that this is so!

Like a man who continues to search for the glasses on his head, we are unaware and in denial of the fact that the suffering and unhappiness we have is old, traumatic material screaming to be recognized.

Sometimes I hear people say things like, "I feel so stuck. From the moment I wake up, it's pressure, pressure, pressure. Sometimes my head seems like it will explode. This marriage and this job are going to crush me - there's no way out. I wake up from dreams of being suffocated. I feel like I'm going to die."

In such a case, I would not be surprised to discover that this person's birth was very long and difficult, and that their mother was frightened and internally tight. The torturous symptoms described in the previous paragraph are exactly what a baby goes through in a difficult labour. Unfortunately, people suffering from birth trauma - who don't know that's what it is - live that horror over and over again every day of their lives.

Children naturally strive to release traumas from their bodies by crying, fussing, shaking, and throwing "tantrums." I believe that in most cases, fussy, "colicky" babies are simply trying to release early trauma. Ruling out hunger and other serious problems, children who are held lovingly and allowed to express their discomfort will often find the inner balance they seek. Of course, if they are being brought up by parents who are dysfunctional, neglectful, and abusive, they will continue to be overwhelmed by more stress, and their unhappiness will not go away.

We do not live in a society that accepts feeling expression. We are not shown that from conception a baby needs a happy, healthy experience to become a happy healthy adult. We are not shown that stress and pain from those early times makes us unhappy, and that the way to health is through expressing (pressing out) those unhappy feelings.

We are kept in the dark and told misleading information about what health and happiness are. Eventually we lose touch with the obvious truth of our bodies and fail to understand our own pain. Many of us chase after all the drugs and distractions that this society peddles until we get worn out, get sick, and die.

Consider this - if most people could not get their daily fix of coffee, cigarettes, beer, food, chocolate, candy, donuts, shopping, TV, radio, telephones, sex, magazines, Internet, shopping, antidepressants, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, painkillers, etc., our whole society would grind to a halt. Millions of people would be in the throes of unbearable anxiety, panic, depression, rage, confusion, despair, and pure bodily pain. What does this say?

This says that the trauma load in the modern world is astronomical. Billions of people are suffering from unreleased pain - and they don't know it. This pain is not hidden; it is spewing all over the world, in racism, political oppression, economic slavery, poverty, violence, and war. It is calling out to be recognized for what it is.

The fact that our emotional discomfort is the trauma, and that feeling it is the answer, seems too simple to be true. But it is that simple. We don't have to go searching for our childhood issues, our birth traumas, or our intra-uterine pain. We are living them every day. We just have to allow ourselves (with safety and proper support) to feel this suffering that we run from.

Every moment, our history stares us in the face. Perhaps it's time to open our eyes and look.

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