Fight, Flight, Freeze: My Story of Processing Trauma


As I sat with a client at the local public library, deeply concentrating on what was being said, I felt a hand plant on my shoulder. Without a conscious thought about what was happening, I froze. I could not breathe or move as thoughts of panic flooded my mind. My heart began to beat wildly as I felt the surge of cortisol flood my veins. In my mind I imagine this scene followed by me, the bad-ass super-strong fighter, grabbing the person’s hand, standing up, and flipping them onto their back with a flick of my wrist (as they do in all the amazing Kung Fu movies). Yet, here I am, catatonic. Helpless. Fearful.

8 seconds later (yes, only 8 seconds has gone by, my mind moving faster than the speed of light) I hear a familiar soft voice utter, “Hey Caitlin”. Another client of mine interrupts my irrational reaction, enabling me to break out of this fixed, frightened mindstate. “How are you?” she continues.

With as calm of voice as I am able, and a half cocked smile, I reply, “Oh, hi. You scared me.”

Oh the joys of unprocessed trauma.


This is one of many instances when unprocessed traumatic events momentarily take over my nervous system and cause me to become reactive. My on-going mindfulness practice creates pause in these moments, which allows me to act in socially appropriate manners (i.e. not decking a person in the face at the public library), but it does not address and dissolve the root of the problem. For this reason I sought out help in the form of counseling, coaching, meditation and yoga to process the events which lead to this immediate and unnecessary reaction of flight, fight, freeze.

Below are helpful practices, resources, and information I have found on this journey to process traumatic events and situations. Somewhat clinical and cold upon introduction, the process is rich, insightful, and well worth the 5 minutes of scientific explanation. 


When an event or experience takes place, the brain encodes the information and sends in through the nervous system. The nervous system processes the information and decides if the experience should be disposed of or stored. This occurs several times throughout the day and takes place during differing states: level, equanimous states, meaning they are neither overly pleasant nor unpleasant, or during distress. The latter of the two creates a trauma response. Trauma, which is held in the tissues of the body, is defined as an event or situation which occurs and is not processed normally.

During the trauma response the brain and body are flooded with cortisol, activating  fight, flight, freeze. If this occurs, the events are not processed and recorded as usual, creating gaps in memory. If this happens often the amygdala, a gland regulating chemical distribution in the brain, gets sensitive and reactive to this small signals of danger, fear, or elation, releasing abundant amounts of chemicals when it’s not necessarily needed.  

It should be noted that the amygdala cannot tell the difference between physical and emotional distress and when the amygdala is activated, physical symptoms present themselves. This allows one to conclude that to release this trauma one must process it physically, using the body.

To address both the cognitive and physical aspects of trauma, one might find Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy), which supports deactivating the changed thoughts which lead to chemical releases in the brain, along with mindful physical practices, helpful. Mindful physical practices reconnect the present focused mind to the body support the processing of the event. These practices might include yoga, tai chi, qigong, walking, swimming, or any other movement which is done mindfully (meaning paying attention to the movements, on purpose, non-judgmentally and with kindness).

If one is able to watch their thoughts and combat them by coming back to the present moment, checking their truth, rationality, and importance, combined with reconnecting to mind and body, watching the body sensations while processing the trauma, a person can help their mind and body understand it’s not in danger, and therefore can processes the event. Mindfulness practices support this process by means of practicing present minded focus while not in a trauma response, making the present focused awareness more accessible in heightened states. To begin this process, identify the location in the body where the trauma is held, create a visual representation, identify thoughts connected to the sensations, and process with the help of a professional. Below are steps aligned with this process.

Steps to Visualize and Process Trauma

  1. Outline your body using drawing paper, a journal, or large piece of butcher paper.
  2. Get colored pencils, markers, paints, oils, or a No. 2 pencil.
  3. Listen to the the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Body Scan Meditation (optional, but very helpful) https://palousemindfulness.com/meditations/bodyscan.html
  4. Draw what you feel in your body.
  5. Write any thoughts connected to the sensations and their location.
  6. Process with a professional.

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The map outlining trauma held in my body, overlaid with the 7 chakras, represented by the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and yellow.

Remember, the process of identifying and processing trauma in the body is ongoing. Utilizing a professional counselor, mentor, yoga teacher, and/or coach is helpful when moving through this process. After processing a certain trauma, do the activity again to reassess progress, supporting the ongoing nature of healing mind and body.

For questions please feel free to email me personally at Caitlin4Wellnes@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

 

Work with Me: The Road to Recovery

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I specialize in recovery-based life coaching for people seeking all aspects of well being: balance, clarity, focus, fulfillment, serenity, health and success. This means supporting clients recovering from the disease of addiction by guiding them through important decision-making processes with heart-centered purpose. Drawing out my client’s own inner wisdom and truth to transform challenges into meaningful change with an emphasis on wellness and mindfulness practices.

Part of recovery and avoiding relapse involves gaining new life skills and having a new vision for your life. One way to work through specific issues and continue learning and growing is by working in conjunction with a certified Recovery Coach. Recovery coaches focus on the present and future in helping clients make lifestyle changes, move forward to meet their goals and increase their life satisfaction. When working with a recovery coach you can ensure all client/coach communications are strictly confidential. Recovery Coaching is recognized as a key element of the new integrated treatment industry standard, Recovery-Oriented Systems Of Care.


What is a Recovery Coach?

Recovery coaching is the collaborative work done between a professional Recovery Coach and their client to take the client from where they are now to where they want to be. Clients who hire a recovery coach usually are seeking relief from their addictions, or are seeking to enter into recovery, or want to enhance their recovery, always looking for a safer, more balanced, happier life. Coaches help clients sustain positive life changes.

Recovery is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life and strive to reach their full potential.

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Freedom!

“A belief is just a thought you keep thinking.”
– Abraham-Hicks

Recently, a yoga student of mine introduced me to the work of Abraham-Hicks (for more information click here). After doing some research, reading from their website and watching several videos, the above stated quote stuck with me, “A belief is just a thought you keep thinking”. After several days of reflecting this attitude or way of thinking, I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment! I realized we get to control the beliefs we have about ourselves, others, how we feel, think, act, and respond.

One word came to mind…

Freedom!

If we are in control of all of these aspects of our cognition, our life, and how we come to the world each day, we have real freedom. It is then that we don’t fall victim to our circumstances or how others think of us. Rather, we get to decide. How empowering is that?! Read More

Times, They Are A Changin’

Whether we like it or not, change is inevitable. It may be the cause of catastrophe or crisis in which one is asked to change their lifestyle, habits, relationships. Change can happen while mindfully addressing an issue. In the latter of the two situations one may ask themself, ‘What pain do I feel? Anger, resentment, frustration, tightness, hate, jealousy? What is the cause of this pain? Is this pain necessary? What can I do to change this?’.

There are many times in my life which I have changed from both crisis and choice. One specific life altering change, which I believe has led me down my current path (which I am grateful to have found), was brought on by crisis. For 15 years of my life I suffered from bleeding stomach ulcers. Whether brought on by diet, drinking/ eating habits, stress, running or a combination of all these factors, as I got older my ulcers lasted longer and seemed more debilitating. They would leave me bed bound, in the fetal position, for up to four days at a time.

Following my final upper GI scope my doctor told me to, ‘Stop drinking alcohol, coffee, and try to stay away from lettuce, and tomato. You may also need to stop running so much,’ ending the conversation with, ‘You need to relax. Try meditating’. My internal dialogue not exactly matching my head nods and ‘Uh-huhs’. ‘WHAT?’, I thought, ‘Those are all my favorite things! I am an ultrarunner. I am a drinker. I love gin, whiskey, beer, and most of all, coffee. And what the f**k is meditating?’

Now I see the false refuges, my many identities, with which I was attached. ‘Who would I be without these labels? What would I do instead?’ And as cliche as it sounds, I was left with one question, ‘Who am I?’.  

Instead of seeing this as the end of my fun journey through life, I imagined the opening to a new chapter in a long book. I could now walk through the world without the label of ‘runner’ or ‘drinker’ which I found liberating. I had lived in a drunken/ hungover haze for a decade. The simple act of going to a hockey game, the movies, dancing, or a Super Bowl party sober was a new experience, which made it fun and exciting. And meditating daily, although I found it difficult in the beginning, allowed me to come back again and again to my foundation which has supported my ongoing success with these changes.

Asking oneself these difficult questions, ‘What pain do I feel? Anger, resentment, frustration, tightness, hate, jealousy? What is the cause of this pain? Is this pain necessary? What can I do to change this?’, is challenging. It is difficult to look at oneself, one’s life, one’s patterns and discover  which were moving toward your goals and which were hindrances. But as Bhavani Maki states, it is a hero’s path. And in this story called life, all those who take steps to better themselves and others are heros.

You are a hero.

May we move at our own pace toward one common goal, happiness.

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Good Vibes Idaho. Her life goal is to inspire others to take risks, believe in, and ultimately become their best selves. It is her desire to encourage and support your journey to living well.

The Importance of Community

Over the past few years, I have immersed myself in exploring the Eight Limbs of Yoga and how they affect the body and mind. At times, the Eight Limbs of Yoga have seemed daunting, unreachable, and yet simple (read more on the Eight Limbs in the ‘Interested in Yoga?’). These practices have given me the courage and awareness to question my beliefs, habits, and ways of thinking, in search of liberation from pain, fear, and hate.

Because of this awareness, I can more clearly see how pain and fear have profoundly influenced my life. Because of the pain I felt, I looked outside of myself for relief. This took on the form of approval seeking from others, drinking to escape, and adding more and more to my schedule until I had no time at all. These were crutches I used to function in everyday life. I did this to escape my feelings of unworthiness or non-acceptance of self. It was much easier to add more, numb, or ignore completely my feelings than to sit with the pain.

At one point, I realized I had the ability to notice my habits. I was aware of my false beliefs and how they shaped my being. Aware but somehow unable to break the chains of habit. It wasn’t until I found others, communities of people, who had broken through these chains, that I was able to break through my own. These communities supported and guided me on my journey, and continue to do so today.

During the beginning of my journey it was difficult to find teachers or people on the same path. I searched online and read any book I found at the library on the subject of yoga, Buddhism, meditation, or eating live foods. I found myself walking into shops, yoga studios, and meditation groups, feeling out of place and nervous, only to be welcomed with open-arms by genuine people passionate about self realization, acceptance and love.

Slowly, over years, with the support of these people, I have removed the crutches from my life. No longer do I drink to numb, base my acceptance of self on what others think, or constantly fill my schedule until I am overwhelmed with stress (this is the toughest for me! I have come a long way, but am still a work in progress).

As I found these groups, others seemed to find me. Each person asking questions about meditation or healing their bodies and minds with food or yoga. With each new situation, I find answers to issues which support me on my path of healing while supporting others on theirs. I find the bonds of the communities surrounding me getting stronger, more interwoven, with each passing situation or life event.

Whether it’s a community of yoga students at your local studio, coworkers, meditation group, hiking buddy, sister, mother, father, aunt or uncle, son or daughter, feel supported by this web of care, love, and acceptance. It is from these bonds that we can flourish and become our best selves, aiding others in their journey. At the end of the day, we are all One.


 

Some of the many communities I belong to

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