Getting half a handle on some basic trauma-digestion processes

I usually don’t write about the good times on here because writing is mostly my tool for getting through the tougher times.

When I’m well, I stay off screens; I stay outdoors, or around people without distracting myself with electronic devices.

Some thoughts have been circulating lately around the topic of trauma healing (in this case mostly emotional and some related to medical procedures), while doing readings, studying, discussing with a friend or two.

After perhaps eight years of casually messing around with the topic, doing various DIY things found here and there, I recently got the feeling that I’m perhaps finally, vaguely, getting a feel for it and a grip on some basic principles.

Some of these principles I’ve known intellectually for quite a while, but (presumably) only recently has my relatively more stable life situation actually allowed my bodymind system to carry out some of these steps of integration and shedding.

At least, in a sense, I recognise them after the fact.

First principle

One of these principles is what Peter Levine (I think) calls “pendulation”, essentially accessing disturbing body memory from a stance of safety and deliberately “swinging” back and forth between the two experiences – moving in and out of the two emotional climes, essentially building multiple bridges between the shattering mental content and the current sense of comfort, safety and support experienced by the body right now.

It’s like traveling back and forth in rapid succession, but still having your feet more firmly planted in the (safe and comforting) present; on the “here” shore. Dipping your toes in the water, but knowing you are always close to the land.

This, as opposed to using all your force to hold the flood at bay.

A basic precondition for doing this is that there is access to dry and safe land in the first place.

Oddly, since I started somewhat having that access recently, I have the impression that this process, carried out repeatedly over various shards of shattered emotional memory fragments, is not only easier – it almost seems like it wants to carry itself out naturally, somehow; as if a sense of safety somehow automatically (or: naturally) “wants to” start running the healing process of integrating the unpalatable lost soul fragments.

Might be that if I didn’t have some knowledge on this, it wouldn’t be happening, or rather: perhaps I wouldn’t understand what’s happening and block the process.

Second principle

The second principle is that this process is somatic. I’m not sure it could be done without access to the emotions, which in my case worked only via access to bodily sensations and feelings, and literally years of meditation and various body-based practices needed to not only learn to feel them more clearly, but actually tolerate most of them without freaking out.

With these two basic conditions in place: tolerance for feeling extreme sensations and emotions, and a halfway safe rooting in a trustworthy present – it seems like the former yearn to get “burned up” in the fire of the latter.

It’s like opening the floodgates to let the water run into a soothing Sahara of sand that can absorb it, more or less. This Sahara has to be very large and very stable. Otherwise this is just going to hell.

The physics of flooding

On the other hand, it really seems like once the conditions are met, the physics of the psyche want to move towards equilibrium and integration, given I have enough sensation-tolerance – essentially given that intense body memory sensations don’t kick me out into space into forgetting where I am now and what I have learnt on the way; in a way this is good to find out: that for some significant degree of healing, the screen doesn’t have to be all filled with light; it’s just enough to have to some degree mastered the bag of tricks that prevents it from getting flooded in complete blackness regularly; it seems that having some of both on the screen – even a single pixel of the lighter stuff – builds the bridges (or, initially, cobwebs) that allow the self (?) to travel between the two, to have some mobility – to essentially no longer feel (be) identical to the abyss.

It seems somehow that that’s, in some ways, enough (for something) – it’s not necessary that everything be light; it’s just necessary that the self not be (feel) identical, fully immersed, essentially being the dark – it’s just enough when the two are no longer split off from each other by an absolute, impermeable barrier.

This also requires, however, that some of the light be flooded and mixed and enmeshed with the dark content. This is the fear; this is what I didn’t want to do – because whenever I’d try, I’d just end up completely swamped in the absolute dark, rather than moving between the opposites.

Essentially, perhaps the light just has to be strong enough. It needs to have grown for a long time; or perhaps you must have learnt over years and years to inhabit it in a relatively safe manner. Last but by far not least (see my last post), external conditions must be met – safety must be provided, emotional and material.

Third principle

Resources must exist. Again, from Peter Levine in part – it is good to seek out, deliberately experience, and expand upon the parts and aspects of the body and soul that feel relatively sane (“resourcing”).

Essentially, the idea perhaps that content cannot be deleted – but it can be complemented and reinterpreted, and to some degree “outweighed” by its context; perhaps not outweighed, but at least (partly) balanced, re-contextualised, re-integrated.

(A while ago I’ve written about this using the metaphor of painting, see “Recycling ruined canvasses is like working with your past“.)

I assume this process has limits; and an extremely slow graduality.

Its nature that feels like catching floating abandoned soul-fragments and reminding them where they belong in a bigger structure reminds me of the New-Agey concept of “soul retrieval” – it indeed feels that way, shards of soul, greyed, floating in space – having floated there for decades perhaps, not knowing to which body they belong or in which place to sit; perhaps because the body itself was somewhat dis-embodied, chaotic, disintegrated.

Some shards that hold magnetism, some capable of “disappearing” the mind into black holes – years and decades of a mind that consisted chiefly in jumping around shards, from island to island, not recognising (it)self, as in the presence of one fragment (when one fragment floods the whole screen), all others are forgotten.

Fragments, of different ages, of various emotions and ambients, that do not communicate and that do not remember each other. Exhausting, switches, every few hours sometimes. Profound pain in this; in the first steps of developing a slightly coherent self (feeling, how late into my life is this?!) and looking at this previous (and often still present) modus operandi from an outside perspective, philosophical questions arise, too: is the soul built? made? is it given? does it change across the lifespan, actually, just like a plant changes from seed to stalk, leaf, flower, fruit, dried timber, deadwood with mosses? is consciousness that plastic?

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3 thoughts on “Getting half a handle on some basic trauma-digestion processes

  1. Yes, I think having a stable life situation, both physically and socially is key for processing trauma. And then, the bodymind (like that word) does a lot of that work on its own, as soon as it feels safe to do so.
    And the pendulation is important, I think. For me this also means moving back and forth between “light” situations and processing stuff. You don’t have to work full time on an issue, it’s good to do fun stuff and be silly in between. This doesn’t mean you are denying the process or not taking it seriously. The bodymind cannot be in processing mode the whole time, and it doesn’t need to be.

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    1. You have a point here. I think I lose that sometimes, i.e. i go into processing and then loop around in it for too long (until my brain and generally system is fried, exhausted, and starts being incoherent) out of greed of wanting to get everything done at once i guess. then, when i feel good, i don’t want to touch on anything at all even if it presents itself. kind of, maintaining the split – not moving between the two modes fluently.

      that seems to generally be an issue for me, actually Caroline was trying to convince me it’s an autistic issue (the problem with changing states fluently and building bridges/transitions), but i’m not sure – no way to know.

      btw. also, i didn’t mean just taking time off from processing; also meant just holding stuff in consciousness simultaneously.

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      1. Thanks for the clarification! I think this looking simultaneously at the traumatic experience and the safe current situation is something that I practiced with “guided imagery” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guided_imagery). They use the image of a diver with a life support line to the boat as a description of the connection that is maintained between the client and practitioner during the process. So in a way you are moving into the experience, but at the same time partially stay observer and stay connected to the counselor.

        Someone told me, this practice was stolen from the shamanic practice of travelling, and in a way I think the same stuff is done there, you are travelling somewhere, but at the same time there is a part of you that controls the travel and that observes it. At least that’s the way I do it.

        In any case, this ability of partially staying in observing mode is something good that actually came out of my experiences with mainstream psychology. But as mentioned above, I think it is also part of different spiritual practices. I think Buddhism also has a comparable practice where you partially stay observer (disidentification?).

        From what was written here: https://musingsofanaspie.com/2012/10/24/the-angry-aspie-explains-it-all (especially in the comments), it seems that this all or nothing attitude is typical for the spectrum. And I definitely have it. But at the same time, with my different exercises (psychological and spiritual), I can definitely now see different things at the same time, maybe better as some people who strictly follow enlightenment philosophy. So I don’t think it’s something people on the spectrum cannot learn.

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