Working with Our Trauma Stories

There is much trauma in the world, and I mean Trauma with a capital “T”. After our NVW Book Study Group visited with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, the author of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, I felt grateful that he shared his story of working to find new ways of healing people who have truly suffered Trauma. I have been fortunate to not have suffered any major trauma like most of his patients, but I started contemplating what trauma (with a small “t”) had visited me during my life. I felt the resonance of how his work could assist me as a coach, and my first inclination was how to experiment and practice healing trauma with the most challenging client that I have: me.

What if I re-evaluated all of my memories of when I felt injured and viewed them again through a lens of trauma inflicted on me? And then, trauma inflicted on me by whom? There’s a long list of potential culprits: family, true friends, fair-weather friends, lovers, colleagues, teachers, bosses, strangers, gypsies, tramps and thieves. Oh, and let’s not forget self-inflicted wounds, and trauma that I may have caused others. As I sat down with my pen and morning pages, I blistered off seven notebook pages of paragraph-sized trauma stories without stopping. In the subsequent days I added five more pages and drained the swamp.

I cleared my conscious memory of all slights, injustices, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, mixed messages, debts unpaid, love misplaced, trickery, and muddled narratives. As I reviewed the story sludge that I had smeared across each page, I started to realize that there must be connections here; there was a deeper narrative for myself that I had to identify.

I sank into each story: where was I in my life at the time, how was I perceiving the world, how was I perceiving myself, how was I being seen, how was I being heard, how was I being held? As I let the pages flow over me, the themes started to present themselves and the so-called “trauma” started to define itself in the most salient human way.

In each story there was the distinction that I was not heard or seen, or I did not hear or see others. Within that distinction, I could understand very clearly that I was also not being held by others, or that I was not holding space for them. They were stuck, I was stuck. What was the meta-narrative for all of my trauma stories if the commonality was not being heard, seen, or held?

Betrayal. Abandonment. Loss. Each and every personal “trauma inflicted on me” story has those elements, driven home, it seems, by my own original narcissistic wound. As I felt into the various emotions and knots that were released and set free over the next several days, a lightness of body and mind prevailed. It wasn’t like a weight being lifted off, it was more like pulling the thread of a bulky emotional sweater and having it completely unravel and disappear.

What else happened? Forgiveness for the others. Compassion for myself. Deeper gratitude for Dr. van der Kolk and his work. I highly recommend this book.

Howard Davis graduated from the Professional Coaching Course in 2015.

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