Part 01. I’m Fixed.
I’m screaming in the forest.
From deep within me, is a voice I haven’t heard. Words, curses, and rage.
Surrounded by tall pines, I am deep in the forests of Durmitor National Park, Montenegro. It is a beautiful land encapsulating a bright blue body of water, called the Black Lake. We are flanked by snow-capped mountains. It is a scene out of a fairy tale.
Except, I’m yelling.
A part of me thinks, what a cliché. Another part of me feels emboldened. There is no one around me for miles either way of the path. And so I throw my body into it.
I’m thinking about my experience in the corporate world. I’m thinking of all the silly mediocre little men who were too afraid to stand up for me. Who found ways to undermine and gaslight me.
Of course, at the time, I didn’t really have the language, context, or distance from any of it. Instead, I’m just yelling. After a while, my yelling turns from coherent sentences to curse words to enraged sounds. An onlooker may have thought there was an animal in heat…or pain. Or in painful heat. Either way, I ended up crumpled on a tree stump, crying hot tears of fiery rage. I’m saying things like: I forgive you. I release you. It was all happening without me even trying.
Hours later, I trekked back to the quaint wooden house of the Montegronan family I was living with. I felt a sense of peace. A sense of expulsion and calm. It’s out of me. I went to bed with a smile on my face.
Part 02. Maybe, All Isn’t Well…
A few years have passed since the Tree-Stump-Rage moment. Now, I’m living on a beautiful tropical paradise island. The ocean is azure. My skin is gleaming. I’m sleeping, exercising, and digesting food like I never ever did while I was in corporate. I spend hours and hours of my day doing yoga and meditation.
And then, I picked up Chanel Miller’s incredible memoir Know My Name. Infamously known as the Stanford Dumpster Rape Survivor, Miller talks about the lasting effects of trauma from the assault. The more I read, the more I understand. She explained trauma so well. Her writing makes me think about ‘trauma’ – such an overused word. It stirred up a lot within me.
I wondered, am I still traumatized by my experience in the corporate world?
I looked at my reflection in the full-length mirror propped against the white wall. Beaming, healthy, and happy. I’m doing work I love. Surely, this doesn’t look like the body and spirit of a person who is dealing with trauma.
And then, it was like a light within me was turned on. In my mind’s eye, I thought about what happened the other day.
Having started my new business, I found myself desperately eager to please my clients. Two days ago, a client sent me a three-minute voice note. Looking at the voice note, I found myself reverberating with fear. Trembling. I was convinced she was angry with me. Convinced the voice note was going to be a reprimand. She was going to fire me. I felt the knots in my stomach.
I waited for HOURS before I worked up the courage to even play her voice note. When I finally pressed the tiny gray triangle…I felt relief. She wanted to tell me just how much she enjoyed working with me. Why was I so worked up? Why was I trembling in fear?
Hmm. Maybe, there is something to this.
Part 03. What Now? What Else?
Did I really need to get help? Seriously? After all I have done? After all the yoga, sattvic healing food, Ayurveda, Muay Thai, deep healing relationships, incredible community and retreat? I was resistant to getting ‘help’. Therapy was something other people did. Other people needed it. I supported them. I thought it was a great idea. It just wasn’t for me. I didn’t do therapy – I went to coaches. I went to coaches to plan for my future – to get things done!
I had the ability to get over things.
TO move past it.
TO talk about it.
TO scream in the forest.
TO have it out of my system.
BUT – here I was. Two years into my post-corporate life and still not able to function as I used to. So I looked out for a therapist. I found a kind and incredible therapist. She is gentle. Slowly, slowly, slowly. In the last two years we have worked together, she has been slowly peeling back layer upon layer.
The more I am in therapy, the more it all comes flooding back. The fears, worries, and terror I feel about being bullied, being harassed, being taken advantage of, being sidelined.
I’m in shock. It is still in me…? But, but, but… I had my screaming moment on that tree-trump. I forgave. I was released. Why are these things still with me? I’m in a far better place NOW. I feel healthy. I’m doing work I love. My clients uplift, enliven and encourage me. Why is this still a damn issue?
Part 04: A Radical Awakening to Social Injustice
“Until you make your unconscious conscious, it will direct you and you will call it fate,” warns Carl Jung. This is what therapy, reflection, exercise, travel, love and conversations are for me. This is what writing does for me. This is how I make the unconscious, conscious.
BUT there has also been an intellectual component to my process.
Merely sitting in the discomfort of my personal experience and pain wasn’t enough. I needed to read extensively to be able to understand. Through the words of Audre Lorde, bell hooks, adrienne maree brown, Bryan Stevenson, Octavia Butler, Toni Morisson and so many more – I began to FINALLY understand the collective unconscious. The collective’s unconscious bias. The collective’s unconscious injustice. The collective’s unconscious brokenness.
Awakening to social justice gave me the framework, and the language to understand dynamics that I couldn’t even see before. Instead, I was screaming in the middle of the forest. Sitting on a stump – thinking all I needed to do was just forgive them. All I needed to do was cry it out.
What I’ve learned is that is not enough for me. My heart, my mind and my very spirit was so painfully hurt, struck down by casual everyday misogyny, classism and racism. The only frameworks I had was that of my Catholic upbringing, turning the other cheek, Don’t make a fuss about it. Move on. Expanding my awareness and understanding of the historical, systemic and cultural injustice was the only way for me to BE with the Truth.
Thoughts on Pain, Trauma, Therapy and Access
Discalimer: I’m not a psychologist, mental health professional or healer.
I do think deeply about life and our experiences in it. The following is MY observation of mental health, healing, trauma and access. These are my IDEAS – not substitutes for medical advice. Please trust your intuition over anything I may propose in the following section. And as all ideas – take my words with a pinch of salt.
Pain Stays With Us
After going through my few years of yoga, meditation, medicinal treatment, talk therapy, and family constellations – I think I get it.
Our painful life experiences stay with us. It isn’t as simple or easy as turning the other cheek, moving on or just smiling. Nor is it about working for a new organization, leaving your marriage or going traveling. My own journey of processing, healing and contextualizing has required a combination of physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual healing.
Trauma is Real
What I’ve since come to learn, after years of dedicated healing. A self-imposed time out. After being with the pain. After family constellations. After reading countless numbers of books. Of being with healers, coaches, and the rest of the people working in these fields.
What I’ve learned is this:
Trauma is real.
Trauma is unprocessed fear, rage and anger.
Trauma isn’t the same for everyone.
Trauma is something you can work through.
Going to therapy often and increasing my systemic analysis and framework has helped me heal deeply. Having the emotional, spiritual support of trained professionals – well that has made all the difference in the world.
It has opened my eyes to the extractive and exploitative nature of capitalism. I’ve understood the dysfunction of the white supremacy delusion and the nefarious ways it functions to extract and dispose of everyone else. I’ve understood the casual misogyny men inherit. I’ve learned about intersectionality.
Healing Beyond a Wellness Spiritual Weekend Retreat.
Our individualistic ableist ‘meritocratic’ culture has tainted our collective understanding of pain, trauma, and healing. We feel convinced that if WE or our ancestors experienced something horrific, we should get help… and then it should be OVER.
Scream in the forest, sure.
Speak to a therapist, great.
Take a holiday on an island, awesome.
And then – come back. Bounce back as if nothing has happened. Just “get over it”. This toxic positivity is such a harmful construct because it is a form of gaslighting. It is a way of invalidating someone who is already hurt, already struggling. Now they have to work through the sense of being hurt and also being told they are too weak/soft/delicate.
What our mainstream consciousness seems to lack is an appreciation of just how much of mental health is a continuum. Trauma responses linger for days, weeks, months, and generations. When something traumatic happens to you (even if you were completely unconscious for it) – the effects stay.
And when the painful reminders that we, too are human and our bodies, hearts and souls still can’t forget… well, that’s when society gets impatient.
Can’t you just postively psych yourself out of a trauma response?
No. What we need to hear is:
You are having a NORMAL reaction to an ABNORMAL situation.
The Road to Healing Is Treacherous.
I don’t think we are ever truly ‘healed’. Nor do I feel that we need to perpetually orient ourselves to a lifelong need for healing. As if we are constantly inadequate, broken and empty. As if – only when we are “fixed” can we start living. No – I reject that premise entirely.
BUT – when you know in your heart, body, and mind, that something has been broken – healing is one of the ways forward. We need time, space and support to understand, process, and recover from the hostility of the world. And that’s when we hit the speed bump. So how do I heal…? What should I do?
Healing isn’t a quick fix or one time affair. On the contrary, throughout our lives we will continue to navigate through trauma, oppression, and stress. How we react to this will be influenced by the conscious and subconscious mind. That our bodies are carrying the trauma not just of my entire lifetime of unprocessed instances of injustice… but of so much more. Of generations upon generations of sadness.
Access to Healing Is Fraught With Inaccessibility and Frauds
Part of what makes it so difficult to access healing – is just how difficult it is to find healers who are gentle, legit, affordable, and not causing harm.
Over the last seven years, I’ve worked with my fair share of coaches, healers, ‘shamans’, teachers, and “spiritual gurus”. It is a tragic sign of the times, that I’m sure you won’t be surprised to read that the majority of these ‘healers’ weren’t helpful and some were even harmful.
There was the coach who projected their unresolved parental issues onto me. Then, the healer more interested in their ego and reputation – than helping me. Then there was the healer who really wasn’t a healer. They were posturing, money-hungry, racist and casually patriarchal.
“Darling, I Thought We Talked About Your Stress Already.”
A dear woman in my life cracked me up. She was under a lot of pressure and her body was breaking out in scabs. Her husband had noticed this. He had a one-hour loving supportive conversation with her.
A few days later he noticed her scabs were increasing – he was surprised.
He said to her: “Darling, I thought we talked about your stress already.”
I guffawed so deeply when I heard this. What beautiful simplicity. We talked about your stress. Ergo. It should all be over now. I laughed, laughed, laughed. I laughed because I heard echoes of own my earnestness and desperation in his comment.
Because after all of my probing, reflection, and reading, there is one thing I know to be true.
The depth of our being is infinite.
We are forged in the fires of generations of hostility, trauma, pain and harm.
Our ancestors have been hurt, harmed and also caused harm.
We are born into a complex dynamic matrix.
Every moment we walk through the world with a brave heart and open mind, we are scarred.
Scarred by other people’s pain and unconsciousness.
There is a part of life which is just painful.
We don’t have to go it alone.
We don’t have to shove it all down.
We can find help, support and talk. We can find communities around us.
One hour of talking to your husband.
One moment of yelling in the forest is a very good start.