“Healing involves discomfort but so does refusing to heal. Over time, refusing to heal is always more painful.”— Resmaa Menakem, psychotherapist and author
Trauma is a conscious component of injury and is an obstacle to healing. My days in Intensive Care being unable to breath because of Covid-19 taught me something about trauma.
Healing is something you do yourself. When it happens naturally, we suffer, struggle, and prevail and this becomes the foundation of our experience. Our body and our mind learns this is the healing process. The suffering motivates our struggle and our struggle appears to us to be a definitive part of healing. We take credit for our recovery even if we normally take little credit for anything else in our lives.
It is true that struggle creates focus, and the struggle and focus may be necessary components of healing. But the actual healing process, or the details of the process, may not depend on any of your willful actions. You didn’t heal because you are rested and warm, your healing forces you to rest and seek warmth. You were following directions.
Your immune system, organ functions, and blood chemistry are self-correcting systems. Your struggle and focus may direct you in working with your body, but it’s likely that your healing would either proceed regardless, or your healing might force you to comply with it. What we think of as our personal choice, such as how to take care of ourselves, is really our mind responding to our body’s command.
Resting, keeping warm, doing what seems to help are voluntary actions, but anyone who tries to ignore these signals and “get creative,” such attempting freezing therapy, will quickly be reminded of what their body wants them to do. What happens when you follow your body’s directions, but it doesn’t work?
Something different happens in your mind when your healing fails. When this happens, you are left feeling that you are not capable, powerful, or good enough to prevail. It’s not enough to rest and sleep; it’s not enough to focus, act, or know; ultimately, your being is insufficient and there is nothing you can do with any of your resources. You are insufficient. You do not have the power to prevail. Your inner self can be deeply injured in this case. It is a deeply confusing experience that can cause you to panic or become numb.
There is something about being able to act that creates a faith in oneself. It is less important that you’re successful or effective, what’s important is that you have something to do and some way to do it.
At higher levels, we find support in family, community, and nature. Yet when this all seems to fail, we risk coming to the belief that either we are not good enough, or we have been abandoned. Our options are to freak out, fight, or collapse. It is at this point that we may become deeply frightened: we are slipping away and there is nothing we can do about it. We make choices all the time along these lines and, to some extent, we suffer small traumas.
We might put our faith in the healer. Up until this point, the healer was a secondary, supporting character, but when everything you do fails, the healer becomes a transcendent figure, the person who will determine your survival. Here is where the prayers to God become fervent, or the appeals to the healer become desperate.
At this point you enter a mentally malleable state, your mind becomes neuro-plastic and who you are may start to change. This is a critical, unstable point. If having faith in oneself is critical to healing, then being supported in one’s faith in oneself is necessary.
The action that one needs to take need not be physical, although physical progress would be most welcome. One is looking to consolidate one’s energy to a more unified sense of purpose. In this, support can be as important as progress.
When I was in Intensive Care I was isolated and alone. Without my cell phone and charger I feel I would have been traumatized even more. The hospital had no sense of me as a person, spirit, mind, or being. I was just numbers on a machine being managed by nurses and doctors who seemed to have no idea what to do with me. Under these conditions, most people die for lack of mental support.
I was having trouble breathing, but that’s not what I remember. I remember holding on to survival. People were pumping oxygen into my damaged lungs in order to see numbers read out on their machines. Numbers were the goal, not healing or supporting my ability to heal myself.
Is this the limit of allopathic medicine? Is this how most people are treated? Put into an antiseptic bubble and dosed with pharmaceuticals until they either prevail or succumb? I have a new disrespect for medicine!
“We need to pay special attention to the breath secondly because it is a very powerful and centrally important system. Somewhat like the flywheel in a car engine, the breath regulates all the other autonomic systems, including brain function.”
— Peter Levine, psychotherapist, from Waking The Tiger