The other day my husband Thom and I were having lunch with a friend. That’s when Susie (not her real name) asked the question, “How do you cope?” Sure we were talking about a couple of troubling current events, but the question still surprised me. Why? Because I tend to think that most of the ideas I write about here on SMART Living touch on ways to cope and move forward in a positive way. That’s certainly the way I handle stress in my life. But clearly that option wasn’t helping Susie. Then later, I happened to pick up a new book I’d been offered to review and the answer became clearer. What I’ve come to realize is that there isn’t just one right way to cope with stress or trauma. Instead, like with any “rightsized topic,” we each need to find what works best for us and then work to allow it to bring us the comfort we seek.
Of course, an operative word is “work.” Even with this new book entitled The Transformation—Discovering Wholeness & Healing After Trauma there is no simple or fast cure for overcoming life’s challenges. And yes, I’m well aware that statement probably turned off a large number of you who may have started reading this post. While it doesn’t have to be a difficult process, it does require effort, intention and commitment. A simple pill, a bottle of wine, a weekend workshop or even a short shopping extravaganza won’t do the trick—at least over the long haul. In other words, we have to want to find resolution, and do the work.
Even then, as the author of the book, James S. Gordon, MD explains, there are two other cultural myths that keep us from even starting the process of healing and coping with issues that plague us. They are:
- It’s a fairly common belief that only people with huge and dramatic traumas need to seek healing. Instead, Gordon believes that every single person on the planet has in the past—or is currently experiencing—some form of trauma in their life. Gordon says that if you have ever fired from a job, lost someone close to you (a pet, a boyfriend, or much worse) that you cared about, have suffered racism or decimation of any kind, been mentally or physically abused, faced a life-threatening illness, suffered in an accident, gone to war, or been a victim of any one of hundreds of childhood abuses, then you have been traumatized. In other words, it’s not just the big stuff that gets us.
- The second myth that must be dispelled is that people who suffer trauma are subject to a permanent, crippling, life sentence. This myth suggests that those who’ve experienced trauma will suffer from the experience for the rest of their lives and never recover. But the good news is that trauma, like most stress, is a not necessarily a permanent emotional or physical debt requiring a lifetime of treatment. Naturally, the more dramatic the trauma, the more work and effort required to work through it. But it can, and in many cases will, “transform” into a greater sense of wholeness and health for the person involved than ever before experienced.
And James Gordon should know. He has spent the last 50 years working with some of the most deeply traumatized people on the planet. In the beginning of his career, the most common answer to people with emotional issues was drug treatment. But gradually Gordon began realizing that drugs were merely treating the symptoms—suppressing rather than resolving the trauma behind the patient’s problems. His quest led him to find and study nonpharmacological ways to initiate transformation and healing.
Eventually his research guided him to all forms of alternative healing, including indigenous healers, shamans, and other spiritual leaders. Eventually, his studies culminated in his creation of The Center For Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM). There, not only did he treat thousands of people, he also began teaching hundreds of others to go out and do the same. Ultimately he and his students have helped to transform and heal millions around the world. Everyone, from firefighters after 9-11, to children involved in school shootings, to survivors of torture and war around the world, each have been led to understand and use some of his practices to heal and transform their trauma. But let me be clear—they don’t eliminate it—they transform it.
When you read the stories and experiences that Gordon relates, it is very obvious that most of us could be guided to do something similar with the stress and trauma in our lives. He also goes to great length explaining how toxic it is for our bodies and minds to be stuck in a stress or trauma response. But again, it takes work and commitment to move beyond it. What is also obvious is how any of the practices (or combination thereof) could lead to a deeper path of self-awareness and self-discovery regardless of how deep or shallow the experience of current stress or past trauma.
Fortunately Gordon offers a wide variety of practices he uses to initiate healing. Some of them I’ve used myself at one time or another, but many I had never heard of before. Others options seem rather outlandish to be honest—and others just practical advice. Still, Gordon mixes in wonderful examples of real-life people and how certain practices provide a “right” avenue for each of them to reach deep inside and transform what had haunted them in the past so they could eventually arrive at a new awareness of themselves today.
A few of the most interesting practices included in the book are:
- A meditation he calls “Soft Belly.” This meditation is a core element of his treatment.
- Shaking and Dancing. Yep, there is both shaking and dancing involved as part of an expressive meditation.
- Doing a series of drawings to access your unconscious mind—starting with where you are to where you hope to be.
- Journaling and dialoguing with your emotions, illness or problem.
- A way to access your inner (Wise) guidance.
- Biofeedback and Autogenic.
- A trauma-healing diet.
- Using Genograms to uncover the trauma of our ancestors and how that relates to us.
There are actually many more practices in this book that I can see would be very helpful to anyone with stress or trauma—or simply someone who is on the path to greater self-awareness. But Gordon is clear that not all of them work for everyone. As each of us are individual and have individual experiences, he suggests trying them all out and then “rightsizing” (my word not his!) to see what works the best. His writing is easy to understand and very engaging. Plus the stories and examples he uses to explain each practice offers additional insight to their value.
What it boils down to is that stress a normal response. The problem occurs when our stress becomes trauma that is chronic, and it effects our bodies, minds and emotions in hindering ways. Fortunately, Gordon is convinced that if we are willing, “…our greatest pain can teach us the most important truths about ourselves; who we are and how deeply and inextricably connected we are to one another; what gives our lives Meaning and Purpose; and how we can live with greater wisdom and compassion, joy and Love.” From where I stand, I’m convinced that these practices could help anyone asking themselves, “How do I cope?” Who knows whether Susie will ever give them a try? But I believe a SMART place to start would be to recognize what, where and how stress and trauma are activated in each of our lives—and then transform ourselves accordingly.