Why the Journey Through Trauma is a Winding Path

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Three Roses

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Why the Journey Through Trauma is a Winding Path
« on: January 12, 2019, 06:37:56 AM »
I needed this today. Thought I'd share with the forum. ;)

Why the Journey Through Trauma is a Winding Path
By GRETCHEN L. SCHMELZER
February 6, 2018

EDITOR'S NOTE:
Gretchen Schmelzer, PhD, is a licensed psychologist, trained as a Harvard Medical School Fellow. She is a trauma survivor who has worked for twenty-five years with the complex issues of trauma, integration, and behavior change across every level, from individuals to groups to large systems and countries. She is the author of Journey Through Trauma. Here, she discusses what people often misunderstand about trauma recovery.

'A Seemingly Endless Series of Ups and Downs' was the tongue-in-cheek working title that I gave my book on trauma for the first five years I was working on it. This sounds vaguely pessimistic, except that the title actually comes from the guidebook description of a beautiful trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Backpacking this trail is what first taught me that losing ground is a requirement of gaining ground. You can’t summit a mountain without a lot of ups and downs.

When you are healing from trauma, this is not what you want to hear. If you’re like most people, you believe that recovering from trauma is a linear process. You think you’ll go in to a therapist, you’ll tell the story of what happened to you, and then you are cured — which is, essentially, the plot line of “Good Will Hunting,” and it mirrors our belief that the end of any ordeal is a happy ending. You believe that survival of trauma is the same as healing from it. Which is why you get frustrated with yourself and the process of getting well whenever you inevitably hit the places in your healing where you feel worse instead of better.

Some of the frustration comes from not understanding what the difficult terrain of healing trauma looks like, and some of it comes from not understanding the nature of trauma itself — especially repeated trauma.

There is a myth that all trauma is the same, and this isn’t true. There is an important difference in surviving a car accident (a single incident trauma) and surviving a car accident every single day for a decade (repeated trauma). No one can even imagine being in a car accident every day for a decade, but this is really what we’re talking about for survivors of child abuse, or sexual abuse, or soldiers or civilians in war who experience terror or trauma daily.

In a single incident trauma you are spurred in to action by your biology — a huge release of adrenaline makes you ready to fight, ready to act, and sharpens your memory of the event to clearly protect you from it in the future. But when trauma is repeated, we have a different set of reactions. Our human physiology is built for efficiency, and traumatic events require a lot of energy.

So if a trauma gets repeated, we don’t gear up, we go numb. We gradually shut down the physiological and emotional responses to trauma and we weave this strategy of protection into our personalities. Our whole system of self-regulation and human connection becomes changed and adapted for survival.

Repeated trauma is more than the trauma that happened to us. Repeated trauma is really three forms of trauma. The first aspect is the one we typically think of — what happened, the trauma that occurred, over and over. This is the trauma you can remember and name. The second form of trauma is what you did to protect yourself — the numbing, the relational isolation, the ways you organized your life and behavior to protect yourself from the trauma or any reminder of it. And the third form of trauma is what didn’t happen — the growth and development that you missed while you were surviving the trauma.

Recovery from trauma is different than you think, because it’s not just testimony, the discussion of what happened. Recovery from trauma is also a process of unlearning the old protections and behaviors you learned for survival and are no longer serving you, and chance to learn and develop new capacities that weren’t available to you when the trauma was happening. The reason healing from trauma is so uncomfortable is that both unlearning and learning require you to let go of what you are currently doing—behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, habits.

I call this process of letting the old learning come apart unintegration, and it is not unlike what we call “regression” in children. When a baby is about to make some developmental shift, say, learn to stand or to walk, they will usually have a week of falling apart. They had been sleeping through the night, but now they are crying again. They had been getting along well, and now they are continually fussy and irritable. Before and during the transition to the new developmental step, they are uncomfortable — it’s as if they have to let go of the handhold of the capacity they had in order to reach out and grab ahold of the new ability. We see this as normal and necessary in infants and children, but as a shortfall in as ourselves adults.

The pediatrician Brazelton refers to these developmental periods as touchpoints. Development requires effort and energy, and there are necessary periods of backsliding in order to make the leap forward. Growth, and healing, is impossible without this regression, undoing, or unintegration.

But the funny thing is that no matter how much of all of this I explain to you, the first time you hit one of these backslides — one of these downhills where you expected to go up — you won’t believe it, and you will feel betrayed. You won’t believe it the second or third time either. These moments catch you off guard; they feel like punishment or failure, but they are neither. They’re actually a sign that you are on the right trail, and that you are working hard on your healing. There is no healing from trauma without untangling and dismantling the old rules and protections of survival.

This is messy and uncomfortable, and there is no healing without the brave and awkward attempts at what is brand new. And both of these will make you feel like you have let go of gravity itself—of all you knew before. It will feel like sliding backward, but this sliding backward is the path forward, and if it feels like a seemingly endless series of ups and downs, you are exactly where you need to be.

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sj

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Re: Why the Journey Through Trauma is a Winding Path
« Reply #1 on: January 12, 2019, 07:20:01 AM »
that was perfect for me today, too
thanks for posting Three Roses  :thumbup:

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Hope67

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Re: Why the Journey Through Trauma is a Winding Path
« Reply #2 on: January 12, 2019, 10:04:45 AM »
Hi Three Roses,
This is also very helpful for me, it really helps a lot.  Thank you for posting it. 
Hope  :)

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JWK

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Re: Why the Journey Through Trauma is a Winding Path
« Reply #3 on: January 12, 2019, 06:48:43 PM »
This is great information!  I also highly recommend "Healing from Hidden Abuse" by Shannon Thomas:  https://healingfromhiddenabuse.com/

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BeHea1thy

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Re: Why the Journey Through Trauma is a Winding Path
« Reply #4 on: January 12, 2019, 10:28:29 PM »
Three Roses,

Thank you for posting this. I particularly like this paragraph
Quote
The pediatrician Brazelton refers to these developmental periods as touchpoints. Development requires effort and energy, and there are necessary periods of backsliding in order to make the leap forward. Growth, and healing, is impossible without this regression, undoing, or unintegration.

It seems like a bitter pill to swallow that this pattern is "necessary", but I don't get to "choose" the healing method; only if I want to participate.

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Elphanigh

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Re: Why the Journey Through Trauma is a Winding Path
« Reply #5 on: January 16, 2019, 07:13:38 PM »
Thank you for posting Three Roses! I adore this book, and Dr. Schmeltzer as a whole. I have read the book twice, and am currently leading a book club on it. So much of what she writes is so relatable and humbling but hopeful. I needed to read this today  :hug: :hug:

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BeHea1thy

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Re: Why the Journey Through Trauma is a Winding Path
« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2019, 02:13:41 PM »
The Five-Phase Cycle of Healing Repeated Trauma-Gretchen L Schmelzer, PhD

My (Gretchens's) method of healing is made up of five distinct phases. These five phases of the cycle of healing are

1.   Preparation (getting ready)

2.   Unintegration (a controlled coming apart)

3.   Identification (sorting, identifying, and experimenting)

4.   Integration (weaving the pieces back together)

5.   Consolidation (solidifying and stabilizing)

From an emotional, cognitive, spiritual, physical, and relational perspective, each phase has its own focus and purpose, as well as its own set of skills and capacities from you and your guides or support system.

Three Roses,
Thank you for your initial post which promotes the book and it's author. After enthusiastic responses, I acquired a copy and am reading through it now.

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Three Roses

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Re: Why the Journey Through Trauma is a Winding Path
« Reply #7 on: February 04, 2019, 04:03:42 PM »
 :hug:

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Kizzie

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Re: Why the Journey Through Trauma is a Winding Path
« Reply #8 on: February 04, 2019, 05:14:31 PM »
Quote
....the title actually comes from the guidebook description of a beautiful trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Backpacking this trail is what first taught me that losing ground is a requirement of gaining ground. You can’t summit a mountain without a lot of ups and downs."

I will not look at my journey to recovery in quite the same linear or negative light now - tks Three Roses  :thumbup:
« Last Edit: February 04, 2019, 05:23:56 PM by Kizzie »

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Three Roses

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Re: Why the Journey Through Trauma is a Winding Path
« Reply #9 on: February 04, 2019, 06:16:43 PM »
 :hug:

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Redwing1972

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Re: Why the Journey Through Trauma is a Winding Path
« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2019, 11:44:29 PM »
Thanks I needed this...
I have one confusion, today anyway, is this the book you folks are talking about?
"Journey Through Trauma: A Trail Guide to the 5-Phase Cycle of Healing Repeated Trauma"

or is there another one I am not finding??

Thanks for being here...
Redwing

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Three Roses

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Re: Why the Journey Through Trauma is a Winding Path
« Reply #11 on: Today at 12:54:49 AM »
First of all, this looks like a first post for you, Redwing, so welcome! And yes, I believe you're correct in that the title of the book is "Journey Through Trauma: A Trail Guide to the 5-Phase Cycle of Healing Repeated Trauma", by Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD. I only read that first, short article so I can't say what the book is like, but maybe BeHea1thy can say if they would recommend it or not...?