Updated: Nov 17
I have been asked many times how I healed from the trauma I experienced? How can I be so (mostly) confident and live with a measure of inner peace even when outer conditions are not always easy? Yes, I am happy to say that I am at home inside myself. I no longer suffer from the chronic instability of complex PTSD (c-PTSD) and a radical sense of confusion about my truth, my true self and my authentic self-expression. I have a refuge within that is usually pretty solid.
Yes, I do still get anxious, afraid, grieve, and feel sadness. I remain both tender and vulnerable, even while I am also strong. There are still places within that I am still working on. I also know that at any moment, life could throw me a curve ball, the impact of which I cannot predict. Nothing is certain. Life is filled with risk, as well as beauty. But I am dealing with all this with ground underneath my feet.
Wherever we are suffering, whether from some specific trauma or from just the vagaries of life, we may need healing. May this overview of my journey illuminate your way.
In the midst of our fragility, we can find great love and light that is a mystical source of healing and strength. Herein lays the critical ingredient to my healing: A psychologically informed and spiritual worldview grounded in an understanding of and engagement with the energetic and subconscious, archetypal dimension of my multidimensional humanity: body, mind/emotions, soul, and spirit.
I remember for years feeling so profoundly vulnerable that it was like having no skin—no buffer between myself and others. I was easily hurt, even when others did not intend to hurt me. I could also be randomly triggered into intense anxiety combined with deep crying, nausea and physical shaking. In my 20s, I would occasionally bang my head on the wall because I was in so much pain, as if I could somehow beat it out of me. I could not relax and I could not see things—or myself—clearly. I lived daily with what I can only describe as chronic brain fog. Starting in my 30s, in a difficult marriage and job, I woke up every morning with a feeling of dread sitting on my chest. Despite my naturally optimistic and hopeful nature, I was, a good portion of the time, simply miserable, even while I functioned in work and relationships.
I was in deep, deep psychological pain—which eventually in my early 30s morphed into severe physical pain. These are the symptoms of complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that can be caused by very egregious /or sustained traumatic stressor (childhood abuse, war, genocide, violence, etc.) and/or when there are multiple such impacts.
So, what was the pathway I took through and out of this miasma of trauma?
First, I had determination and a commitment to engaging with the shadow of my pain as consciously as possible. Every accident, mistake, error in judgment, conflict with others, every dream and insight, I put into service of a clarity of intention to attain self-knowledge and mastery. I knew how important it was to make, as Carl Jung put it “the subconsious conscious.”
Indeed, this is how I would define the core of transformational healing work. The psyche is so very complex and multilayered that there will always be deep imprints from events in our lives, as well as ancestral and collective elements. To maintain a powerful momentum for change and to step off the wheel of fate into harnessing our agency to create our destiny, we must often go very deep into our inner self. The ways we are wounded call us into this deep engagement.
On an energetic and psycho-spiritual level, the clear intention I brought to this journey was extremely important. The psyche itself—a dynamic dance between the subconscious, ego-consciousness and higher consciousness—responds very strongly to any intention we make in any area of our life. So, even as I was unwilling to live a half-life entrained to madness as my mentally ill mother had, I visualized myself in the future as whole, creative, prosperous, and loved.
Thus, between the ages of 23 to around my early 40s, I followed my inner promptings and the threads of synchronicity to find practitioners who could help. Each step led me from talk therapies into more and more energy-based, mystical and spiritual methods.
At the beginning, I engaged in short-term talk therapy. Speaking. Talking. Telling the story to someone kind and knowledgable who can bear witness and offer insight is a critical first step in the beginning of and along any healing journey. So often we suffer in isolation and are either silenced by those around us or silence ourselves out of shame, self-doubt or confusion.
It was such a relief for me to be able to talk to someone as, during those years, I continued to be embroiled in my mother’s chaotic life and subject to her escalating meanness, paranoia, threats, and manipulation. I had a great deal of confusion about interpersonal boundaries. I also did not have much confidence in my own perceptions since my mother had resoundingly imposed her distorted projections onto me—many of them negative and even cruel. So, it was extremely important to unpack not just the past, but what was happening in the present with someone who could help me navigate the intensity of my feelings about and responses to her, in particular, as well as to develop a more balanced perspective about myself with greater strategies for coping.
After about 2 years of a working with two therapists whose approaches relied on coming to better know myself through analyzing and unpacking the present and past and then working on changing my behaviors and responses, I was introduced to a Jungian psychoanalyist. For 4 years, I commuted once/week an hour from my home to delve more deeply into the subconscious and my dreams.
Even while my relationship with my mother continued to be problematic, I was able to engage with and activate the dynamic, constellated energies of psyche, soul and spirit. I knew that there was a person deep within me who was more true and real than the fractured identity manufactured in my conscious self out of conditioning and by a need to be who my mother told me I was. As Jung said, “the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.”
The in-depth dreamwork of the Jungian approach opened the portals of imagination where it is far easier to shapeshift one’s perception and psyche. We all have this innate source of creativity within us; when we begin to tap into it, those elements of our personality and psyche that seem so fixed and inexorable begin to move like lava. As Jung himself noted, the subconscious speaks in and responds to images and symbols.
Working at this level accelerated changes in my self-perception and began, slowly, to shift my responses to my inner and outer worlds. By tapping into the soul dimension of this imaginal work, I was able to shift out of heavy emotional states more seamlessly and quickly. Therapy became as much a creative process as a tool for insight. I had found a fount of gold: the “part of the human self or soul that is not subject to the laws of space and time,” as Jung put it. Working in the eternal creates a quantum shift in the trajectory of healing surface symptoms in the mind, emotions and body.
Towards the end of that cycle of inner development, I began to have a sense that if could explore my past lives, it would help. It was as if my deeper self was pointing to something beyond present circumstances that were influencing outer events and thus, my emotions and mind. As it worked out, one day, I was perusing a community bulletin board at a local health food store and saw a flyer for a woman who did something called “somato-emotional release” and “energy healing.” I was 32 years old and had been stalking the healing I so desired for almost a decade.
The first session was powerful. I was launched through light touch as I lay on a massage table into experiencing the death of a French Holy Warrior on a field of battle somewhere in the Middle East sometime in the Middle Ages. As I saw, smelled, tasted, touched, and sensed in my own body/mind his agony and awakening to the wrongs he had committed in the name of Christ, I was led far deeper than any Jungian session had taken me into the imaginal and archetypal dimensions of the psyche. I was viscerally, emotionally experiencing this man’s life and demise. We were one.
Indeed, this man presented as a life I had lived. His personality, in a manly man’s body, mirrored some aspects of my own. Further, he exemplified an extremely strong warrior’s mind and views. Here I could see a reflection of my determination and strength, my draw to spirituality and religion, as well as my tendency to be so very hard on myself. Because, as he died from a staff driven through his solar plexus, he had a life review and saw the error in his belief that killing was what His Lord Christ wanted. He saw the faces of despair, fear and terror of his hundreds of victions, plunging him into despair that he was irredeemable, evil, and would not sit at the feet of Jesus in the afterlife, as he had so fervently held would be his reward.
As I engaged through my inner mind and voice with him, I was able to help him understand the meaning and purpose of his life and to convince him of his inalienable human right to love, forgiveness and redemption. I told him that I was part of this journey. I finally felt his soul leave his body. When I got up from the table, miraculously, my own physical and emotional pain were gone.
I knew the next day that something groundbreaking, miraculous and life changing had happened. Though trauma symptoms did return—albeit with somewhat lesser intensity—I knew I had found something that would profoundly change my life and, finally heal me fully. Over the next 10 years, I continued to work in energy healing modalities—towards the end, shamanic energy healing. I also combined this with working with a talk therapist steeped in trauma-informed and mindfulness practices.
In the process of working within the holographic matrix of reality with many existences and powerful creative energies and archetypes, I was able to work with the physical pain I had developed throughout the soft tissue of my body as a portal into my deep psyche. Working with and between the mind/emotions, physical and energy bodies finally healed my symptoms of c-PTSD.
Now, even as my life was not over, as there always is, there was—and is—yet more work to be done. When we diligently dive into the lava of our psychology and seek to mine our most difficult experiences, the journey ultimately becomes spiritual. Not in the sense of religion—but in the sense of knowing ourselves as divine and beloved. As interconnected within a greater matrix of spirit that is unbreakable. It is ultimately, in my experience, harnessing this knowing—not just in my mind as a concept, but as an experience along imaginal and energetic pathways of my being, my soul—that we access and then can build upon that profound place of refuge that is our birthright.
So, while I remain tender and vulnerable—and even now am working on healing some old, old grief that has long awaited attention—and even while I do get anxious at times and new challenges in life emerge, I know that when I free fall into heavy states or make mistakes, I have a place to come home to within. I also have powerful tools to work with—the mesa from my spiritual practice gifted to me from the Q’ero medicine people of Peru. That is another spoke in the wheel of recovery that has been critical to my healing. I also know how to journey both deep into myself to find the source of pain and how to transmute it.
I hope this story gives you determination and hope for yourself. Unlike the years when I was doing the intensive work of healing symptoms of c-PTSD, there is so much more understanding of trauma and its effects and so many modalities to choose from. Take what calls to your heart.
And may my journey teach that, as Jung said, “We don’t get wounded alone and we don’t heal alone.” I am grateful to the many talented and compassionate therapists and healers who helped me. As a therapist-healer myself, I continue to pay it forward to my clients and my friends.