top of page

You're Not Defective: What I Told Congress

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

Where my story begins with trauma work is with military veterans, alternative therapies, and the VA. This was about 7 years ago, which is hard to believe. For the last few decades, we almost exclusively heard about post-traumatic stress as experienced by those engulfed in war. We are now hyper-aware (to the point of trivialization) that this is not the only place this can occur. War creates such an extreme context that it is very easy to produce psychospiritual extremes. PTS is characterized by repeated activation of the fear centers in our brains. Those traumatic experiences are not confined just to the psyche but live in the body. PTS is actually perfectly normal and, with the appropriate protective factors and intervention, transitory. If you’ve experienced an extreme, it’s totally fine to take time to readjust. PTSD is when PTS evolves into chronic debilitation.

There has been an important shift in trauma discourse facilitated by re-emphasis on a simple word: “injury.” When people discuss trauma, it’s often the end of the story. It punctuates life in a way we can be quick to assume is a period. But a traumatic injury does not have to spell the end. A truly dangerous system of thinking has entered the mainstream with central tenets like permanence of distress, the centering of identity around traumatic experiences, and a belief in “being” defective. (i.e. I’m just fucked up, so let me stay fucked up and keep getting fucked up.) This thinking is part of an outdated and harmful school of thought that keeps people suffering and stagnating. It’s simply not true.

When people reinforce the concept of trauma as irreparable, people are doing harm. Note that while it is harmful to treat a traumatic injury as final, it is equally harmful to minimize its impact. Trauma hurts – and it may hurt for a long time. Like any injury, there may be days where it twinges long after it occurs. “Unhooking” the charge on a traumatic injury looks like a soothing of the nervous system and the unconscious mind. When you soothe those, your conscious mind is sustainably soothed. The triggers stop triggering because they can’t find anything to plug into. This is what I do.

Injuries can usually be “worked with” — the best approach to take is determined by the person who has been injured. Their risk factors, their experiences, their learning style, and their nervous system all should factor heavily in how healing is accessed. I am very pro-behavioral therapy for re-adjustment, but behavioral therapy must be paired with therapies that access the purely feeling parts of you. 7 years ago, I was tasked with studying the impact of creative arts therapies, somatic work, and subconscious approaches in PTSD treatment. The overwhelmingly positive findings were presented to Congress over a series of hearings. The point is this: it is known.

So, the next time you think about the traumas you have experienced, integrate a little of this knowing. These incidents of traumatic wounding may have been “small” or they may have been “massive,” but if you have been injured, know that isn’t the end of the story. You can punctuate your life experience any way you want.

82 views0 comments


bottom of page