The Secret to Healing from Trauma

October 06, 2015

secret to healing from traumaOne of the problems of being an Enneagram Type 2 “Helper” personality, is that I often don’t know how to ask for what I need.

I walked into a grocery store the other day to buy another pregnancy test that would turn out to be negative, and the clerk laughed and said she’d sold four of them that morning. One to a woman with five kids who didn’t want a sixth. She looked up at me and said, “But you’re young, it’s going to happen for you.”

I know she meant well, but the truth is she has no idea what I’ve been through. She didn’t know I’ve lost 2 babies in three years or that next week I’m about to have my third surgery. From the outside, my life must look easy to her, standing in line in my gym clothes in Woodside, CA. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t.

When I started having nightmares a few weeks ago about my upcoming surgery on October 15th, for the re-sectioning of endometriosis, I thought it was kind of silly of me.

I thought I could just stuff it down with all the rest of the issues I wasn’t ready to look at because I didn’t really know how to ask for help.

In life, very few of us actually know how to articulate what’s going on inside us—our fears, our hopes, our insecurities, and ask for what we truly need from people.

So we just suffer, and those around us suffer also.

But as Sarah Bessey so eloquently said in her blog recently,

“When we don’t deal with our trauma, our trauma ends up dealing with us.”

I knew there was something in my waking up in night sweats, I needed to pay attention to.

I needed to learn a secret to healing from trauma.

So I sat in my garden with God and dug deeper. I asked God to show me where all my fears started. Then I had a memory.

I almost died as a baby.

I’m writing about it in my memoir, but I don’t tell a lot of people that, for fear they would think I’m dramatic (I kinda am dramatic.) But I have reasons to be.

When I was six months old, I screamed as they forced the tubes down my nose on my way to a sterile surgical table, the white walls stark and bare. My small intestine had intertwined with my large intestine, a rare occurrence with a fancy word: intussusception. Afterwards, with those tiny infant hands clinging, I grasped the tubes and pulled them free three times, until they finally taped my hands together like a kidnap victim. Then I laid there in that plastic incubator, kicking against the clear sides, angry and fighting for air, for control, to not feel so alone.

I know from the story my mother tells, she was there. I can almost see her on the other side of the glass, her blue shirt stained through with breast milk, standing helpless as it streamed out of her because they wouldn’t let her nurse me.

Maybe that’s where a lie was sown: “You’re all alone. You have no control.”

It’s taken a lot of therapy and writing to uncover the genesis of my neuroticism. Needless to say, the hospital isn’t my favorite place.

But as I uncovered the layers to my particular fears about surgery, I recognized something important:

The body remembers trauma.

Not only did my body remember my infant hospital experience, it also remembered the two subsequent surgeries I had for my lost babies as a result of ectopic pregnancies.

So while I felt stupid for thinking things like,

“What if I don’t wake up from the anesthesia?”

“What if they tell me I can’t have a baby at all,”

“What if they can’t fix me?”

My body was telling me different.

Those fears were clawing beneath skin. 

And it turns out, I’m not alone. When you experience a traumatic event, your brain is flooded with a chemical cocktail of neurotransmitters that throw your central nervous system into a state of ‘Fight or Flight’ designed to save you from the trauma you are experiencing. The ‘Fight or Flight’ response stimulates the production of adrenaline and cortisol to increase your heart and respiratory system, shut down the digestive system, increase muscle nutrition and oxygen, and shut down “non-essential” brain processes. This is a primary role of your sympathetic nervous system. The stress response to surgery is characterized by increased secretion of pituitary hormones and activation of the sympathetic nervous system.

Some people even experience symptoms of PTSD following a surgery or pregnancy complication.

Your body responds to trauma whether it be molecules of memory from a past surgery, a lost pregnancy, a violent attack, a painful birth, the sound of gunshots from a riot in Uganda, exposure to another person’s trauma, or even something as simple as a car accident.

It’s an intricate system of protection God created, but that protection was meant to be temporary. Left unhealed, it can wreak havoc on our emotions and long term exposure to cortisol can affect our body in serious ways, such as adrenal fatigue. I learned this the hard way in Africa.

In fact, many missionaries experience adrenal fatigue and trauma from prolonged and unresolved stress without ever realizing why they feel so terrible.

Underneath all this memory is a message of something we believed. I think the enemy doesn’t waste time in using trauma to sow lies deep in our belly:

No one’s looking out for you.

So I talked about it in therapy recently, and my counselor ended up praying a trauma prayer over me, and out of nowhere the wracking sobs started and the tears released things I didn’t even know I was holding.

Not long after that, on the grainy wooden bench of my garden I practiced a new technique I learned from a counseling training called Freedom Made Easy. I asked Jesus where He was in that hospital room as a baby. Immediately, I saw Him standing there holding me, soothing me, singing over me. I saw Him holding hands with my mother, comforting her as she leaned over me. And I realized, I was never alone. That whole time, His spirit had been there with me, as it had the day they removed my own baby from the X marks on my belly. After that, I felt buoyed by the knowledge that God would be present in my pain.

God is so good. He brings up our pain because He doesn’t want us to remain stuck.

A few days later, I was talking to a dear friend in a coffee shop, sipping a cappuccino, telling her about my experience.

She asked me a simple question: “So what do you need to happen differently this time to feel better about it?”

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about it, maybe I was paralyzed from my perceived lack of control.

“Well, I don’t want to feel alone. And when I wake up groggy and disoriented, I want Tyson to be there, and I want him to be the one to tell me what the results are instead of the surgeon. I want to feel safe when I hear the news.”

“Ok then,” she said, “You need to tell the surgeon and the nurses what you need to feel safe.”

“Can I do that?”

“Of course you can. It’s your right. And Sarita, I’ll be meditating on you when you go into the surgery. You won’t be alone.” She squeezed my hand hard.

And for some reason, after she released my hands, after I’d told my truth, acknowledged my needs, and made a plan, I could breathe again, breathing and exhaling in surrender.

Sometimes, all we need is to not feel so alone.

So I want you to know, whatever trauma you need to heal from, you’re not alone.

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For further help:

Healing from effects of trauma by Jim Banks
Healing the Wound of Trauma: How the Church can help
The Body Keeps Score

Find a counselor

Reach out to me for coaching and pastoral counseling

  • Doyle Theimer

    Thanks for sharing at such a deep level. This timely reminder helps me have more patience and compassion for persons I am in relationship with who have had, or may have had, trauma.

    • Thanks Doyle! Yes it’s so true. We need compassion for ourselves and for others and realize it affects our bodies and minds in ways we don’t always recognize. Thanks for being another wounded healer! :)

  • soo good sarita. that post by sarah bessy hit home with me too. i want to go back and read your links on here when I have more time to digest it, but i just wanted to say thank you! and i’ll be praying for your surgery next week.

    • Thanks so much Wynne. I appreciate all your prayers and support. Thought you might have some women in your life you might be able to share it with. I know we’ve all been through the hard journey of infertility. I always appreciate your openness to share as well! :) hugs!

  • disqus_o8sg8JDmEp

    This was heavy. And exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you for your witness.