Eyes Wide Open

Photo by  Austin Neill  on  Unsplash

One of the most important things I decided to do when I started my CTRC (Certified Trauma Recovery Coaching) training was to have an open mind. I truly believe this is a quality most successful people have in common.

The thing I didn’t count on was just how eye-opening the training would be so soon. I’m three classes in and let me just say that I could barely sleep after this last class because of how much my mind was blown. I’ll talk about that in a bit, but what I want to share first is that I’m not the only one whose mind is being blown by trauma-related discoveries.

Oprah is doing a special on 60 minutes and even from this short clip — you can tell how deep this issue has become for her. You can tell how passionate she is about trauma-informed care and the lasting effects of childhood trauma.

Did you watch it? Were you as blown away as I was when I saw how emotional she is about this topic? Even if you’re like “yeah, so what, Oprah gets emotional/passionate about a lot,” I argue that having one of the most influential and philanthropic leaders of our world talk about this issue is a huge step forward for trauma survivors and advocates alike.

Much like Oprah says in this clip, I too, have felt a significant change in the way I’ve started viewing others, especially those that are exhibiting signs of long lasting trauma. I feel like I’m definitely developing a deeper understanding of the kind of pain that people often go through (alone) and how that can effect their decisions, their health, their relationship with others, etc. In other words, I can already feel myself becoming a more compassionate version of myself.

Oprah talks about how she doesn’t believe she suffers from PTSD in relationship to her own trauma, and that’s another thing we share. I think she, like me, has always wondered why some adults are able to survive and thrive despite their trauma while others are not.

But I believe now, it is directly related to the relationships and security we feel as children. This is also backed up by the ACEs test which stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. This measures a variety of adverse events, relationships and experiences that we could have as child and how we felt about them then, and how we feel about them as adults.

This study is incredibly eye-opening when you start to see the patterns and experiences matching up. I encourage you to read more about it:

ACEs Science 101
ACEs Science FAQs What is ACEs science? ACEs science refers to the research on the prevalence and consequences of…acestoohigh.com

Once you’ve read a bit more about what ACEs is and how it measures traumatic individuals, you’ll see that the higher the ACEs number, the more likely someone is to have trauma-related health issues, mental illness, trouble forming and keeping relationships, etc.

But… you can also see how someone with a lower ACE score can still have trauma in their life, but their ability to recover is much more likely.

This doesn’t follow a hard and fast rule, of course, but let’s see a real-life example to see some correlations.

My ACEs score is a 3. What that means in simple terms (because really, trauma and life are very complex things) is that while I’ve had traumatic experiences in my life that have affected me, I also grew up in a very loving family where I felt safe, secure and loved. I had parents who believed me when I came forward about my abuse. Parents who put me into therapy. Parents who told me that they loved me and would take care of me. There was never a lack of love in my family and because of that, I truly believe I was able to healthily recover from my trauma — or if not completely recover, have a very tight grasp on my recovery.

Looking back now, I see just how important the love and relationships were to my overcoming my trauma. It’s not only important for someone’s recovery, it’s vital to living a healthy, sustainable life.

Now, let’s look at someone I know from an online support group I used to frequent, Jane (yes, name has been changed). She and I both had a similar traumatic event happen to us (sexual abuse) around the same age by the same type of adult in our life (our uncles). But a key difference between Jane and I is that her parents did not believe her when she came forward with her abuse. Not only did they not believe her, but they let her believe she was a liar. They told her she was a “bad girl.” They shamed her, made her feel even more guilty than she was already feeling (common trait of a trauma sufferer). Her ACEs score is an 8.

So while Jane and I had an almost identical traumatic event happen to us — Jane had the added trauma of other adverse childhood experiences. The healthy relationships that could have helped her reach recovery so much sooner was missing from her life.

As a result, as an adult, I still feel very loved, safe and secure. I am able to form healthy relationships and thrive despite my trauma. Jane, on the other hand, is not doing as well. She suffers from extreme anxiety, can barely hold down a job, is an alcoholic and doesn’t have many healthy relationships.

So you can see that 1. trauma is NOT relative to one specific instance of trauma because trauma is cumulative. It adds and adds and adds. 2. Treating trauma early is the best way to circumvent the lasting effects of trauma and 3. The importance of those early familial relationships (whether that is literally or figuratively) is often overlooked.

This was only one level of the knowledge gleaned from this week’s class. There were so many important things that I learned this week, that I can barely contain it all in my head.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve felt like I was truly “called” to do something — and it’s exhilarating to have that feeling back. To know, deep in your soul, that there is something bigger than you out there. That there is a place where you belong and also a place where you’re needed. I think that’s all we ever really want in this life, right? To find that thing that fills up our soul. I think I just found it.