In light that so many of us deal with childhood trauma, especially trauma connected to sexual abuse or religious abuse, I thought I’d share some of my experiences with PTS (post-traumatic stress, also known as PTSD) and subsequent depression—and the various tools I use to manage my triggers. One of those tools is writing. I hope that what I’m sharing today will help you in your life, too, whether you’re a trauma survivor, reader, or writer.
(Keep scrolling for the video version of this post.)
In a following post, I’ll share the little-known, cutting-edge medicine that saved my life and could help you, too, if you’re a survivor. In this post, I want to go into things you can do that don’t require a doctor’s visit.
Sometimes you need little things, such as small activities you can bake into your day, to get you out of a funk, gradually or instantly. One of the best tools with an almost instantaneous result—when you’re in a dark place or triggered—is body movement.
Growing up Amish, I experienced . . .
. . . routine physical, verbal, and emotional abuse for stepping out of line or not conforming to the rules of Amish society. After I escaped from my now-no-longer-practicing Amish parents, I was repeatedly raped by the two (nonpracticing Amish) uncles who had helped me escape.
This all happened before my 17th birthday.
Eventually I got away from my uncles and made my way to Columbia University, becoming (to my knowledge) the first Amish escapee in history to graduate from an Ivy League university.
Despite thinking I had finally made it, I couldn’t escape dealing with my past. During all the years after that childhood trauma had occurred, I suffered from PTSD: panic-inducing flashbacks, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and attempts.
I’ve found in my journey of self-empowerment that in addition to traditional therapy, there are many supplemental activities that help me to better manage post-traumatic stress.
When I went in for traditional treatment, I started working through my emotions and trauma intellectually, but it wasn’t until I stumbled upon alternate, physical tools that I could use daily and incorporate into my everyday life that I really began to see improvement.
I wish I had known about these tools sooner. I’m sharing them here in the hopes that they reach the people who desperately need them and can use them to work through their own traumas.
Over the course of 5 posts, I’ll share 5 tools I use regularly, starting with body movement.
Tool #1 – Body Movement
According to Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, your body stores grief in your cells. You’re made of cells, so your grief literally is in every fiber of your being. This is why physical movement is so important. Changing the physical state of your body—moving it in different ways—can work out the grief in your cells.
I grew up in a culture that viewed the body as a taboo object, especially when it came to sexuality. I wasn’t allowed to dance and I wasn’t allowed to work out. I was completely out of touch with my body. The body was a workhorse, not something to derive pleasure from.
When I moved to New York City and took my very first yoga class, I found so much release and relief that I wished someone had told me eons before to try it. What I didn’t understand at the time was that the yoga movements/poses were releasing grief/trauma in areas that working out on a machine or running simply didn’t touch.
According to Yoga Today, when we go into deep hip opener stretches, we might feel intense emotions. Our hips are a place on our body where our muscles clench tight and don’t release. This is even more the case for sexual assault survivors because we’re unconsciously clenching in an attempt to protect ourselves. Along with this muscle tension, we also store emotional tension in our hips. When we finally get a hip release, we allow the tension and emotions we’ve been holding onto to escape.
If you can’t afford to pay for yoga classes, look to see if there are free or donation-based classes in your area or online. Often studios will have donation-based classes open to the public or instructors will hold free sessions at a park, outdoor space, or online.
If you feel too intimidated to attend a yoga class with other people, look up a free video––YouTube has lots––and follow along at home. However, I highly encourage you to make a trip to the studio because you can’t learn proper technique without an instructor’s help. Many instructors are empathetic and aware of what yoga can bring up emotionally. There’s even a movement for trauma-informed yoga training so you can look for instructors with that credential, too.
If you’re in the NYC area, I recommend checking out Christopher Harrison’s AntiGravity Lab and ask for Eileen (or her recommendation if she’s not teaching a class). She’s super conscious, in tune with how this can affect survivors. Tell her I recommended her to you and she’ll give you even more aware attention. (NOTE: I don’t receive any financial compensation for giving her a shout-out but even if I did, it’d be because I personally find her teaching beneficial.)
Dance and yoga are two forms of movement that are extremely healing. I especially like Gabrielle Roth’s ecstatic dance. I’m not affiliated with the company and I don’t financially benefit from giving a shout-out, but I found value in her lessons and I highly recommend taking a class. Or just search for this on YouTube. There are lots of good free videos you can learn from. If dancing in front of others is too intimidating, find a video online and dance at home.
Today, no matter how I’m feeling, I force myself to get up and move. Every day—or 6 days a week on average. I personally prefer working out on a ski machine (NordicTrack) followed by my own version of yoga on the mat.
Whatever form of exercise you choose, just get up and move. Every day.
Stayed tuned for 4 more tools I’ve used to help me manage post-traumatic stress. Until then, I’d love to hear from you.
What is your favorite way to get moving? Dance, yoga, or something else? Have you tried this tool? Does it work for you?
And, please feel free to ask me any questions about this post’s content.
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Watch the Video (coming soon)
Keep scrolling for the video version of this post.
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