Being a trauma survivor myself, mindfulness has always been integrated into my treatment.
Recently I was enrolled into a mindfulness based CBT group where I’ve met like minded people who are struggling with trauma and struggling staying present.
So, what is trauma and why is mindfulness so important in regards to it?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event.
Ultimately, any event might be considered traumatic if you have experienced and/or witnessed a threat to your life, your body, your moral integrity, or had a close encounter with violence or death.
So why would a trauma survivor want to be mindful when flashbacks may be running their daily lives?
There is an immense amount of data that supports mindfulness as a treatment for people diagnosed with PTSD.
In brains of people with PTSD, deregulation occurs in the area of the brain that is associated with emotional regulation and memory. In the brain, the amygdala represents a core fear system in the human body, which is involved in the expression of conditioned fear. When an person is suffering with PTSD, the amygdala becomes over activated.
Mindfulness meditation is correlated increase in gray matter in the hippocampus, a decrease of gray matter in the amygdala, and neuroimaging studies have found that mindfulness meditation also helps to activate the pre-frontal cortex.
Mindfulness can help people train themselves to get unstuck from a vicious cycle of negative thinking, often a cornerstone of trauma.
I stare off and focus on a spot in the room. The image becomes fuzzy or non-existent and I’m instantly transplanted into my mind – into the scenarios I have been ruminating on.
I am back in my room from middle school. I’m surprised at how well I remember where everything is and what everything looked like. I am back there now, floating through the room to room, recalling the emotions I felt while here.
I was sat in my new therapist’s office in 2019 when she first told me she believed that I had gone through a traumatic childhood and adolescence and suffered from complex posttraumatic stress disorder (c-PTSD).
I struggled and resisted with someone telling me that my childhood was traumatic and developed PTSD. I had and have an intense love for those in my family – I don’t want to think that my mom or anyone did anything terrible to me on purpose.
Plus, I had never heard about PTSD unless it was regarding the military.
My therapist then explained more about generational trauma. Intergenerational trauma (sometimes referred to as trans- or multigenerational trauma) is defined as trauma that gets passed down from those who directly experience an incident to subsequent generations.
Talking to my therapist about generational trauma and complex trauma allowed me to understand different parts of myself.
After working with this therapist for half a year, we decided that my progress had stalled, and my alcohol intake increased steadily. I was transferred to work with the substance abuse team. Talking about my past traumas (emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect) in childhood and early adulthood ramped up my usage of substances, as I did not have the skills or understanding to cope.
Understanding the significant events that lead me to where I am now is essential in my healing.
I remember being very functional in high school, and I had an immense amount of pressure to get all A’s & be a perfect student, whatever that means.
I know my mom put so much pressure on me because she wanted me to have a good life – and this is the only way she knew how to push me to my full potential. Sadly, that full potential had a lot of drawbacks. I was restricting my food intake, bingeing, and abusing laxatives. I was highly insecure in my personal relationship with my boyfriend at the time, and because of my past abandonment issues, I always thought he would leave me for someone better. I wasn’t sleeping more than a few hours a night, and my relationship with my mom was terrible.
At the end of my personal relationship, three years later, when I was 20, my gut instinct was validated, and he was with another woman the weekend after he abruptly left me. This action in itself validated all of the abused parts of me that believed no one could be trusted and no one would ever stay.
This breakup sparked many mental health conditions to come out of the woodwork. I was hospitalized in 2011 after having suicidal thoughts and plans. After this treatment, I would see therapists on and off but didn’t receive the treatment I should have. I wanted to pretend everything was fine – I didn’t need to address anything; it was far too uncomfortable.
So let’s just pretend everything is okay.
And that’s what I did for years, just like I would when I was a child.
Mom was a source of my emotional abuse and neglect as a child, and a loving and caring parent was sick.
She was constantly ill, and that’s how I knew her growing up, but it was life or death this time. She had a stroke and had miraculously come out of it seems okay.
My family was at her side always during these few weeks in the hospital where she was ventilated. Unfortunately, she was displeased when she was back to her old self.
She didn’t believe we were there with her, and she fought with us.
A lot of tears were shed.
Back then, I saw her behavior as her not caring for us and being who she was.
Now, I can see and understand what traumatic experience she went through, and like me, she did not have the skills to cope.
She slowly deteriorated from 2018 on.
Placing her into assisted living and, eventually, a nursing home was excruciating for all involved.
My mom died in April of 2020. I saw her slowly pass over a few days and saw her lifeless after she transitioned to another place.
My biggest fear had happened, and my mom was gone.
In an instant. Where did she go?
Since then, I’ve been having PTSD nightmares during sleep and flashbacks during the day. In my dreams, mom is always dying or passed away. Some plans include being thrown into the ocean to feed the sharks and whales. Most of my dreams have an imminent threat present.
The theme here is hopelessness and helplessness. I cannot change what happened, and it hurts me – I feel stuck. I feel stuck, guilty, and fearful that another distressing or traumatic event will send me off the edge every day.
Yet – every day, I am hopeful. How can I be encouraging, you ask? Through these two distressing and traumatic events, I have grown substantially as a woman, as a girlfriend, as a friend, and as a daughter.
I now know what I am dealing with (complex trauma) and what needs to be done to heal.
I now know that I am worth more than what I look like.
I now know someone can love all of me.
now know that two things can be true at once.
I now know that I am resilient enough to battle future battles.