Emerging from the Depths of Trauma
“The culture expects one to be manic: hyperactive, spend and consume and waste, be very verbal, flow of ideas, don’t stay long with anything—the fear of being boring—and we lose the sense of sadness…It’s so ego identified that we don’t even see it as a syndrome! What we see as a syndrome is slowness, sadness, dryness, waiting. That we call depression, and we have a giant pharmaceutical industry to deal with it.”
“Of all the demeaning forms of prejudice, aspersion that categorically denies the validity of one’s experiences is most undermining. Even blatant hatred is not so corrosive to one’s sense of self trust…People’s lives have been badly damaged through inappropriate medical treatments, poor ‘spiritual’ instruction, and an overall lack of personal understanding of the transformational process.”
-El Collie from Branded By the Spirit
It’s possible to spend the first year in trauma therapy learning to believe that what is happening inside us is indeed real and that we aren’t making it up. These feelings and sensations can be so buried and repressed that we can’t believe them at first. They can be like another world, completely foreign to us. Slowly, though, we can began to experience these feelings and sensations and they will began to move from “it” to “he/she” and soon “I” and “me”.
In the beginning, one has to take microscopic bits at a time, to learn to tolerate the bewildering and frightening physical bodily sensations without being flooded and subsequently shutting down or raging either outward to the world or inward towards oneself.
It can be like the Ayurvedic and homeopathic principles of taking a bit of snake poison as the antidote to a snake bite.
These cellular memories are so very different than intellectual memories. In one’s mind, we may not remember specific details, but in our bodies, when we get quiet and go deeper within, they are there and they are real.
There are different levels of reality as the Lake of Mind shows and trying to prove one level can only be done at that level or deeper. One cannot prove the reality of the mythological realm with the intellectual mind or surface senses nor can one prove the Ultimate Reality with one’s ego. But there are hints and the closer one gets to the deeper realities, the stronger the hints become and the more sense they make.
Peter Levine says that the younger you are, the more you will respond to stress, threat and danger with paralysis rather than active struggle. When one is older, one has the capacity to think and react aggressively to resolve one’s dilemma. He also says that the antidote to anxiety is not relaxation but aggression since we either need to fight or flee, rather than freeze. At early stages of life, especially birth trauma, all we can do is freeze—and we can stay frozen at the deepest levels for decades. And, it can be like hell.
Aron Ralston, the young man who survived for 127 hours trapped in a slot canyon with an 800 pound boulder pinning his arm, describes hell in one of the most poignant ways I have read:
“Hell is conventionally portrayed as a crowded, infernally hot place—Milton’s Pandemonium—ruled by a horned devil overseeing the torture of lost souls. I know better now. Hell is indeed a deep, chthonic hole, but hot? No. It is a bitterly dark and unbearably cold place of lonely solitude, an arctic prison without a warden and but one abandoned inmate, forsaken even by the supposed ringleader of the underworld. There is no other spiritual energy, good or evil, on which to project love or hatred. There is only one emotion in hell: unmitigated despair wrapped in abject loneliness.
-Aron Ralston from Between a Rock and a Hard Place
While this type of isolation and immobility are truly hell and terrifying—similar in ways to solitary confinement which our country continues to use—trauma therapy has great wisdom for dealing with these most intense feelings and sensations.
“In order to unravel the tangle of fear and paralysis, we must be able to voluntarily contact and experience those frightening physical sensations; we must be able to confront them long enough for them to shift and change.”
“Too much expansion or feeling can be frightening, causing precipitous contraction.”
-Peter Levine from In an Unspoken Voice
This can happen to us over and over as we slowly learn how to deal with the white hot and lightening fast speed of the sensations and feelings that exist in the depths of trauma. At one moment nothing is happening and at another moment the energy will bolt through your system. When we allow ourselves to go into the feelings, often in the safety of the night, without the aid of another person or skilled guide, we may experience very difficult sensations.
“Just this much”. These words sum up the best way to handle the terror and rage from deep trauma. It is what is required for us to master our emotions, “to befriend them so we may be guided by them”, and “the tools that allow us to do this are the twin sisters of awareness and embodiment.” It can also be important to have a therapist or someone who knows say, “this could be dangerous”. Few people do. Few people know that true danger awaits when one goes deep inside our caves where our demons—our uncared for parts of oneself—reside.
But we can and do come out of this frozen state of immobility, though when we come out we may experience rage. Rage that wants to kill. Rage that scares you so much we choose to shut it down for fear of hurting others.
As Peter Levine says, coming out of immobility and the depths of trauma leads to intense rage, which causes one to want to hurt others so people often suppress it before they can feel it. And, this suppression requires a lot of energy. Thus, people suffer from depression—chronic depression in some cases. And, psychiatrists then medicate these symptoms with anti-depressant drugs.—hardly the solution for resolving the root of the problem.
El Collie in her book Branded by the Spirit devotes a whole chapter called “Pathologizing the Spirit” to the misguided efforts of the medical profession. In paragraph after paragraph she documents how little doctors, therapists and family really know about the Kundalini process.
“The idea that all the pain of awakening can be mollified through herbs, pills, massages and the like keeps us from addressing the real inner problems that Kundalini works so hard to unveil. Generally, once Kundalini has risen, we can’t get away with Band-Aid solutions for long. Eventually the deeper issues force themselves upon us in a way we cannot escape. Many proffered solutions to Kundalini difficulties, from prescription medications to holistic remedies, are intended to reduce the intensity of the process. We may eagerly reach for these nostrums in the mistaken belief that intensity is in itself an unhealthy state. Yet peak intensity is where the greatest breakthroughs in consciousness—and concomitant inner healing—occur.”
Learning how to experience peak intensity without frying your nervous system or causing even more suffering is key. The typical advice one often gets from therapists is to allow yourself to feel the feelings. The message one often gets from spiritual teachers is to become a witness and allow the feelings to wash by as if in a river. But with trauma, this advice is often useless and can even be retraumatizing.
“When one is flooded by rage…the capacity to stand back and observe one’s sensations and emotions is lost; rather one becomes those emotions and sensations. The rage can become utterly overwhelming, causing panic and the stifling of such primitive impulses, turning them inward and preventing a natural exit from the immobility reaction.”
So, one often learns to disassociate from these feelings so one doesn’t harm others. One might appear to function relatively normally to the outside observer (at least one hopes that’s true) and even have a spiritual practice, but both can at best unintegrated and uncoordinated, and at worst hollow and fake. Doing so comes often at the expense of harming oneself. And when we inhibit our own feelings and naturally required “discharges”, we get stuck and we lose our belongingness in the world. As Peter Levine says,
“While traumatized humans don’t actually remain physically paralyzed, they do get lost in a kind of anxious fog, a chronic partial shutdown, dissociation, lingering depression, and numbness. Many are able to earn a living and/or raise a family in a kind of ‘functional freeze’ that severely limits their enjoyment of life. They carry their burden with diminished energy in an uphill struggle to survive, despite their symptoms.”
This explained why people learn to shut down a part of themselves so they can function in the world—and it can work for a long time.
 In an Unspoken Voice, Peter Levine, p.313
 Branded by the Spirit, El Collie, chapter 11, “p. 119”
 In an Unspoken Voice, Peter Levine, p. 66
 In an Unspoken Voice, Peter Levine, p.52