There are many ways to get in touch with trauma that we have experienced before we knew language. And accessing this information is key to beginning to heal from early wounds. Many of us will need therapists to help us access and process this material; we will need support in healing. There are many things though that we can do on own when we are ready.
1) Freewriting – Writing in an associative manner Natalie Goldberg style (Writing Down the Bones) yields powerful results. Put your pen or pencil to the page and write whatever is in your head and heart without lifting the pen from the paper. Give yourself a prompt, a focused assignment, and a time frame. For example, give yourself 10 minutes to write about a scar. What does it look like? Be specific. How did you get it? Of course, if you were a baby or a toddler, you won’t have the language to convey a memory of it, but you have the stories that others have told you. Start there and soon, with enough time, you’ll begin to tell your version. In freewriting, you write whatever is in your mind about the topic no matter how crazy it sounds. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar or penmanship. (More about how in the next post.) Freewriting is very different from writing in a logical, chronological, rational manner where you are super attentive to the audience and focused on making sense. In fact, freewriting is not for anyone else’s eyes. You must feel entirely safe and in control of who sees it. If someone is expecting to read it afterward, it’s not freewriting because you will alter your piece. You must convince yourself it’s for you and you alone. Later, you can do with it what you want.
2) Drawing and/or making visual art – I’m not talking about being an artist. I’m saying just get out a pencil and make a sketch. Since you already know that you are trying to access early material, just see what appears. Try drawing with your non-dominant hand if your dominant hand is too uptight. In my early 20s when I was suicidal, I drew a series of drawings with a pen. These pictures displayed my early trauma from infant surgery so very clearly. I was in therapy at the time, but because I didn’t trust my counselor deeply enough, I did not show them to her. These drawings held the key to what was bothering me, but I could not risk showing her. Drawing them though is important. Many of us judge ourselves after making a picture. We compare it to some famous artist or deride ourselves by judging it as childish or simple. Be aware of this tendency and see if you can let the judgments go. Here’s an art prompt: Draw a picture of the place you lived as a baby. Did you go home to an apartment, a house, a relative’s place, an orphanage? If you never saw this place as an older child, draw what you think it may have looked like. Had your parents or caregivers ever described it? Your drawing may be a complete fantasy and that’s ok. See what comes up.
3) Do some bodywork about your early issue. I did Middendorf Breathwork, a beautiful and powerful way to get in touch with one’s natural breath and in the process, learn where the blocks to this natural breath are so that obstacles can be resolved. I don’t want to suggest other types of bodywork because I haven’t engaged deeply in other forms. I like Breathwork because it honors where one is. The exercises don’t ask you to override blocks. The exercises bring you to an awareness of the presence of natural breath in your body and those places where one’s natural breath is not present. In this way, a subtle and gentle unfolding is able to occur. This delicacy is important for trauma survivors, for it gives us our control back. Often, our control has been taken away. We were helpless, facing a life-threatening situation, and we must gradually and lovingly find our way back to our physical and emotional sense of ourselves. We must be invited to trust our bodies again. I know that for the longest time I hated my body; it had betrayed me early on by being sick and needing an operation, and I was angry at it. Slowly, breathwork allowed an expanded breath and awareness of my body, which afforded me a bigger, richer life. For trauma survivors, this work takes time. That’s ok.
By engaging in these types of activities (and, of course, there are others–dance, sculpture, music……), we activate the right side of our brain–the side that was recording the trauma while the left side went offline. I know this is a simplistic way of saying it, but I’m no traumatologist and just want to get the general idea across. The right side of the brain has the story we need to make our lives whole. Then the left side, with its logic, time-sequencing, and narrative-sense, can integrate the pre-verbal trauma. Then, we’ll have a picture and understanding of the whole story, more of a sense of completion of the trauma, and an ability to move forward.