“I’m here to take you away.” Her breath was icy against my ear as she spoke. Her voice sounded more like a serpent’s hiss—each syllable slithering across my skin—causing the hair follicles on the nape of my neck to constrict. Involuntarily, the nerves between each of my vertebrae responded in succession, until the charge of her words radiated throughout my entire being. Just as I thought I would be lifted from the floor by the sheer force of her voice, her talons pierced into my flesh.
Agony erupted from me, but the others in the room could not hear my cries above their own myopic arguing. As each of her talons broke the skin, consciousness began to ooze from the punctures. The front talons of her claw encircled my left collar bone, the back talon adeptly pierced the thin layer of muscle between my ribs, stopping just short of my trembling heart. I reflexively raised my left arm to batt her away, emitting another cry of pain as I did. Her second claw caught my arm in midair, encircled it like a tourniquet of razors. It wasn’t until then when I felt the full weight of the Snatcher upon me.
Although she was similar in size to one of the vultures circling above the fracas in my mother’s dining room, she exerted an unnatural heaviness on my shoulder. As she bore down on me, I felt my shoulder blade crackle and I began to crumble beneath her presence. By now my cries of pain had been reduced to mere whimpers and my attacker remained unnoticed by either of my parents.
“You have no right to take him from me!” my mother cried through her sobs.
[Excerpt from The Left Hand of God, Chapter 1]
I’ve just shared with you a short excerpt from the original draft of my second book. These paragraphs introduce a personification of a shoulder and neck pain I’ve carried with me for as long as I can remember. While I’ve gone to the chiropractor, my PCP, a massage therapist, and a specialist for these symptoms as an adult, it wasn’t until this past month where I experienced significant relief from this chronic pain. Through working with my EMDR therapist, I was able to trace the source of this “injury” to an event when I was 8 years old. By slowing down, and mindfully observing how my body responded as I reprocessed this painful memory, I discovered how I had transferred the overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame from this event into my body. There it sat, painfully unprocessed for almost 40 years.
For the past 5 years, I have taught a Trauma Theory and Practice course to anywhere between 60 and 90 Masters of Social Work students. Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book, THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE (2014), is one of the primary texts for the course. In his book, the renowned Dutch psychiatrist explains how early childhood trauma is often carried into our adulthood in very real, physical ways. If our emotional pain isn’t alleviated, we can push it into our physical bodies and carry it with us indefinitely. Eventually however, our bodies begin to break under the burden.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered through the Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences study that early childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect and even household dysfunction-like having a parent with mental illness or a parent’s divorce-can lead to increase risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. As the number of Adverse Childhood Experiences increases, so does the risk. For a better understanding of the ACEs Study click here to watch a short video and to take the short (10 question) test yourself.
In addition to experiencing this relief from a long-held painful memory, I have witnessed others receive healing from physical pain through reprocessing traumatic memories. Just this week, for example, I had a client tell me that their Crohn’s disease has gone into remission for the first time in over 15 years. While there is no proof their work in EMDR and DBT sessions has caused the remission, I am not surprised and told them they could hope to experience some relief from their IBD symptoms when they began to reprocess their childhood trauma.
Another client, who has been working through a series of memories about repeatedly being ignored and told they were exaggerating by their mother when they were very sick, has been experiencing relief from fibromyalgia. Again there is not any proof the relief is due to their EMDR sessions, but it isn’t surprising to me they are experiencing relief from physical symptoms when they unburden themselves from their emotionally traumatic past.
So, this week I encourage you to consider what past painful experiences you’ve been carrying around with you, perhaps for decades. Is it possible those migraines are brought on by something that reminds you of your traumatic past? Maybe that nagging lower back pain is made worse by interactions with a coworker who is similar to a critical parent. Perhaps those chronic stomach aches are brought on by more than just acid reflux.
All the research i the area of trauma and the body shows us that our body does indeed keep the score. If you would like to find out how to help improve your body’s chances of finding relief from the consequences it’s carrying, or if you have an encouraging story of healing to share, please reach out and let me know! Email me at WillKoehlerLCSW@aTraumaInformedLife.com or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.