Guest Post by: Dr. Anna Baranowsky and Teresa Lauer
Joanna, a trauma survivor featured in our new book, “What Is PTSD? 3 Steps to Healing Trauma” coped with the domestic violence she experienced throughout her marriage as many survivors do – she turned to food for comfort. Reeling from the daily verbal abuse of her husband, she morphed from a fit, athletic young woman to someone who could barely walk without great physical pain. The end of her marriage signaled the need for true change and while she began with something she had enjoyed previously, yoga, it signaled the opportunity for her to feel better about her body – more like her old self – yet different; improved. Almost as if a living, breathing testament to what she had lived through, and survived.
In the third step in healing trauma, we encourage an exploration into meaningful connections in life. Connections that engage us in ways that make our lives feel authentic and engaging today. Physical connections are one type of connection that prove vital to our well-being and is one of the four areas of focus we introduce to our clients in helping them begin to live again (the other three being Intellectual, Creative & Artistic, and Spiritual & Personal Growth). You may opt to return to physical activities that you once enjoyed, or always wanted to try, such as yoga, running, Tai Chi or simply something fun, like bowling! To be doubly effective, try to ensure that your physical endeavor has some social interaction with others. Being with supportive people can act as an incredible buffer to all types of stressors in life.
Many trauma survivors intuitively seek a deeper level of physical connection, finding ways to harness a sense of physical well-being through activities that nourish the body and release endorphins increases our sense of hardiness and body wisdom. Many people report feeling a sense of increase self-confidence as their bodies get stronger. For those who have suffered physical traumas such as chronic, serious illness, debilitating injuries, physical abuse, childhood abuse, miscarriage, disabilities, and more need to proceed slowly and chose activities that honor the place where it is possible to work rather than a vision of the ideal physical achievement.
Our skin is our largest organ and well, touch feels good – babies need it to survive. We have over 4 million sensory receptors in our skin and we know that touch reduces stress (hence the popularity of massage and bodywork), but at the same time, pain is our body’s warning system, so for those who have experienced physical trauma, the very thing that may help, may seem out of reach and unattainable.
During a traumatic experience, we, as humans, have certain mechanisms allowing us to cope. The disconnection that many trauma survivors experience is normal for this abnormal situation, but while it protects us, it also freezes us in time, often extending long past the time it is useful and becoming a way of life. Achieving physical reconnection paired with a new social outlet may prove to be a perfect first step in beginning to live again! Joanna demonstrated incredible courage in conquering her fears – first in her willingness to learn about and understand the impact of PTSD on her life and then in more about the three steps of healing: finding calm, remembering your trauma, and beginning to live again! Research and more importantly, our clients continually demonstrate that we are all wired for recovery and are constantly moving in that direction. Healing can be a rocky road. However, it is also rewarding and maybe even sweet.
About the authors:
Dr. Anna Baranowsky is the director of the Traumatology Institute providing training, consultation and service. She is dedicated to the care of trauma survivors in her practice and focuses on empowering individuals, gro-ups and communities to build skills for self-care and resiliency. In her role with the Institute, she provides comprehensive trauma care training and compassion fatigue resiliency programs to professional care providers.
Teresa Lauer, LMHC is a therapist specializing in Marriage and Family Systems Theory with advanced expertise in how trauma affects the individual, couple, children, seniors, and those with special needs (Autism, Asperger’s, ADHD and Learning / Development Disorders.