The Wave of Trauma


“Running from my traumatic memories only gave them more power. But this time, as I decided ride this wave of emotions, I was able to deprive these negative emotions of their power”

Few of us in recovery, and probably most people in general, could not honestly say that they have not experienced some form of trauma throughout their lives. When thinking about trauma, there is a common colloquial definition prevalent in society today that paints a picture whereby victims of trauma are limited to veteran’s who have served on the front lines of war, children that have been abused, parents who have lost children too early to disease, rape survivors, etc. While these are all obvious and horrific forms of trauma never to be overlooked, there are more quiet, opaque and insidious traumas which, unless accurately identified and processed, can easily slip through the cracks. Examples may look something like bullying in schools, disconnected and detached parents to a child who needs emotional connection, shaming statements made towards a child who questioned religion or authority, latch-key kids left to raise themselves, witnessing addiction in the home, among various other experiences which would constitute as trauma. Although it may seem to some that there are qualitative differences between these two “categories”, I think we can all agree definitively that all these traumas need to be dealt with, on an individual level, with an equal perception of severity. When comparing traumas, a friend once said to me “it is all relative”, meaning an individual’s trauma is a cross they must bear, and one they must take equally serious as one would when be dealing with a more “obvious” traumatic event. The reason I want to point out these societally-created distinctions between the perceived severity of traumas is because in order to find healing, we can take a very humanistic and general approach to processing and working through them.
Before describing this process, I want to present quickly an anecdote to help paint a real-life situation where this particular individual took the steps to integrate negative emotions associated with his trauma in order to move past them. He described it as follows: “I was driving in my car and it was late at night. My stereo was broken so I was left alone with my own, soon to be overwhelming thoughts and emotions. I began to think of a time when I was a child, and I won’t go into details, but this was an awful and extremely painful time. I could feel a rush of emotions begin to flow through me; like seeing an impending tidal wave to which there was no escape. Normally, I would call a friend, smoke a cigarette, hell, id start singing the alphabet if it meant I could distract myself from the darkness and doom that was rushing in. This time, however, I decided to try something different. Instead of running full speed in the opposite direction, I was going to let this tidal wave hit me. And it did. And I began to cry so uncontrollably that I had to pull off to the side of the road. I sobbed hysterically for about 10 minutes. It was painful to the point that I saw no way out and had such a visceral reaction that I wish I had never embarked on this spiritual journey in the first place. Just as I thought ‘I cannot take this anymore’, I began to feel some relief. As the seconds turned to minutes, I started to not only not feel horrible, but to my surprise, I began to feel content and proud of what I had allowed myself to experience. I realized at that point that running from my traumatic memories only gave them more power. But this time, as I decided ride this wave of emotions, I was able to deprive these negative emotions of their power. Since that day, I have decided to ride these ominous and often horrifying waves rather than run from them, and that has made all the difference in the world.”

As we can see from the above anecdote, learning to sit with negative emotions and allowing them to flow through us takes courage, faith, and understanding of oneself. While this is an arduous task to take on, we can begin to see the fruits of our emotional labor come to fruition. We also can remember that if these feelings become too much, we have the power to say “enough is enough for right now”. We mustn’t push ourselves beyond the boundaries of what we are currently capable of bearing, however, as we progress through and engage in this type of emotional work, we will find that each bout with these traumatic memories, they begin to lose the power they had at the start of this journey.

At SOUTH ORANGE COUNTY DETOX AND TREATMENT the clients were assigned an art project that identified the traumatic event in each person’s life that inhibited growth keeps the addict feeling stuck and unable to move forward. We had the clients identify the trauma as “a wave” and discussed that when fighting giant waves, or feelings the trauma brings, the likelihood of losing one’s life becomes more evident if all energy is absorbed in fighting over allowing the wave or the process to occur without fighting the emotional work that is involved in healing the wave. It became evident early on during processing, this concept of “riding the wave” was foreign and even anathema to most of them. We can begin to understand how taking this perspective easily leads one down into the path of addiction whereby one doesn’t need to do any emotional “work” per se because the drug or drink does the work of taking the pain away for the individual. Immediately the clients began working on their waves and understanding traumatic events and the parts of them that were fighting to emerge through giving up the fight to avoid feeling and surrendering to the process of healing. Here at SOCDT we take great pleasure in weekly art group as each person has the chance to begin healing through artistic expression in a comfortable, non-judgmental way.