HEALING FROM FLIGHT OR FIGHT MODE
“Your body is in flight or flight mode,” she said.
Fuck, I thought. Another healer telling me something I feared.
For the last three years, I have seen numerous body practitioners, healers, and acupuncturists in the pursuit of healing pain in my body. This time, I was laying on a table in Mexico with an English healer. Her accent felt soothing until I heard those words again: Fight or flight. The letters strung together a feeling I was desperately running away from. Like a shadow I couldn’t escape.
“I know life has taught you to be strong and to keep it all in, but you can let it go now, my love,” she continued. “When did your trauma start?” she asked as she placed her hands underneath my belly button.
I didn’t know how to answer her question but somewhere in between my tears and nodding she acknowledged the date of origin.
“Did it start in the womb?” she asked.
My relationship with my body didn’t start until recently. Prior to that, my body wasn’t something I ever acknowledged. It was just there, like the air I breathed unknowingly everyday. I never considered it something that needed to be respected, to be heard, or to be valued, and I’ve often wondered if that’s why it was so easy to give it to others for so long. It’s felt like a lifetime of discomfort has lived in my body, and the uneasiness I felt made it easy to ignore that I had a body in the first place.
The term “mind/body connection” trailed behind me for years, and I ignored it. That is, until my physical pains were so intense that I couldn’t overlook them. My body was quite literally screaming for attention in the form of bladder infections, ovarian cyst ruptures, hemorrhoids, migraines, lower back pain, and debilitating menstrual cramps.
Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from themselves.
Bessel Van Der Kolk
I read dozens of books on how trauma impacts the body, and began to understand how my experiences, no matter how much I tried to ignore them, lived in my body. My mind might have tried to suppress and ignore, but my body, no matter what, remembered. It had been screeching for recognition and healing for a long time.
Dutch psychologist and author of “The Body Keeps The Score,” Bessel van der Kolk, has been researching how trauma lives in the body since the 1970s. His findings show that trauma rewires the brain, changes the way we experience the world, and negatively impacts our body in the form of physical injuries. He believes unresolved trauma to be directly responsible for mental health issues, drug and alcohol addictions, abuse, and violence. While trauma can and often does cause physical discomfort and injuries, his latest book explores how the most harmful wounds are the ones inflicted on our psyches. He claims the most dangerous thing we can do is to ignore these emotional wounds and focus on symptoms rather than causes.
I learned that each organ has an emotion attached to it. And I remembered my acupuncturist telling me that my consistent waking in the middle of the night at 2 a.m. meant my liver was waking me up. He said, “Liver is the organ of anger.” It was the first time I acknowledged I was angry, a word I would have never previously identified with. But since I grew up in an agitated household, it only made sense that residual anger was impacting my body.
Finding language for trauma is an important step in recovery. And in practicing that language, my trauma has been slowly leaving my body.
Louise Hay, famed author and self-help healer, is known for discussing the connection between the mind and body. Her best-selling book “Heal Your Body,” published in 1976, traces the emotional equivalent to physical ailments. My hemorrhoids explained my fear of letting go. Menstrual cramps were an indication of rejecting my femininity. My lower back pain symbolized my fear of money. Every one of her explanations for my physical aches made me want to sob at the emotional accuracy.
Finding language for trauma is an important step in recovery. And in practicing that language, my trauma has been slowly leaving my body. After the experience with the healer, I emotionally collapsed. I cried more than any moment in my life. It was as if every painful experience, every traumatic memory was leaving my body in the form of tears.
I let everything go that day. The weight of my history. The gravity of my family. The density of my trauma. I couldn’t carry it anymore, so I let it go. I finally gave myself permission to let it go.
Since that day, I’m aware of the fragments of trauma that still linger in my body. But I feel lighter, and this process has taught me to reprogram my brain to listen to my body. My body is the only real home I’ll ever own, and I’m learning to tend to it with love and patience. And while it’ll always be a place that stores my trauma, it’s also a nest to welcome freedom, and a shelter to feel safe in.
photography by Britney Gill