It is just the way it is. The experience of trauma causes the mind, body and soul to close off. It is self protective. It is done in order to survive. It is a survival skill.
There has been a lot of research and study done on trauma over the past three decades...really since Vietnam. And we have learned a lot. We know how it happens, why it happens and we have done a lot to assist healing. And great strides are being made every day with people like Gabor Mate leading the charge to better understand, deal with, cope with and heal from trauma. We have learned that trauma contains a wealth of information and wisdom. But first, we have to know that we have it, which is sometimes the hardest part to see.
For me, my trauma armor was invisible. I didn’t see that I had it, I mean rarely. I was clueless as to the fact that I needed it or what role it played in my daily life. For a large part, this was because I was not able to own, accept or even acknowledge my trauma for a long time. It just lurked there in the background of my life, causing me to do things and behave in ways that only brought more trauma. And it was a vicious circle that I could not escape.
I drank. I drank a lot and that helped in the beginning. I found relief in the bottom of a Jack Daniels bottle. The kind of life altering relief that I could find no where else on earth. And so, it became my solution. And part of my armor. I could only express emotion and feeling when intoxicated. I was shut down, closed off and aloof the rest of the time. I needed alcohol to release me from the prison I created for myself. I couldn’t get out and you couldn’t get in and the longer this stalemate went on, the worse it got and the less I wanted to leave and less you tried to get in.
It took getting sober to really even acknowledge my trauma in a productive way. It took five years of therapy to deal with just one aspect of it. Just one aspect. Five years. Every Monday night...for five years. That is 260 therapy sessions. Think about that. Think about the time and money and weekly commitment that took...and not just the time spent in therapy but all the time that I was thinking about it, working on it and healing. It was a fuck ton of time really.
I realize that I am so lucky. Lucky to have the resources. Lucky to have been willing to dedicate the time. Lucky to be able to look at something that I avoided for decades. Lucky to be given the grace to do something that was incredibly hard and painful. Week after week. Year after year until that one piece of the trauma healed. And I am very happy to report that it did heal. The rage dissipated into something else, perhaps melancholy, perhaps sadness but it was transformed into something other than rage and hate. And really my life started over right there.
And the armor of my trauma became thinner, and patchy. It didn’t completely encase me anymore there were weak spots and places where people could see me, the fleshy vulnerable me that was not so inured to love, intimacy and trust.
And I found a process of uncovering, discovering and discarding all those tiny locks that I placed on my body, soul and heart. And I found a way to be committed to seeking them out and unlocking them and then shedding them. It has not been easy or all that fun. But I have remained and remain committed to the process of getting naked with my trauma. And while incredibly painful and terrifying, it has altered my life in ways that I could not have ever imagined. I walk free most of the time, plagued no longer, perhaps now only dogged which is much preferable than plagued let me tell you.
For me I have learned that trauma teaches you to close off, shut down and armor up. Healing teaches you to open your heart and develop boundaries for yourself, knowing where all the painful deficits lie, and vow to take care of yourself in ways that feel foreign and somewhat unacceptable often.
What I have learned is that once you begin to shed the armor of trauma, it is like being at the beach in full winter garb, sweltering on the shore, watching all the other people run around barely clothed and remain committed to sitting on the shore, encased in the armor of your winter gear. You might sit there like that dying with heat stroke for years before you find the courage to even remove a glove. But once you begin to take just that one piece of armor off, the rest come off so much easier.
For some of us the process is quicker, we see the freedom and breathy air of the sunlight and sea air hitting our skin and we are like, “fuck this wool sweater and shit” and we begin to remove all the things that are preventing us from having a wonderful day at the beach. Other of us, need some coaxing. We need encouragement and understanding, patience and time. We might need to sit in the sun for years wearing way too many armored articles than seems reasonable. And what I have learned is that judgment be damned, it just takes what it takes and sometimes the pain and fear is just too much and the person gives up the attempt at healing and just accepts that this is their life. That is one of the saddest things I have ever witnessed. A being hardened by trauma and unable to find the willingness within themselves to change, remove the armor, failing always to see that it is now safe to do so.
Pain invokes a closing down. A yearning to protect oneself and prevent more pain from entering. But for me, this process of dealing with and living with trauma has caused me to be willing to change. To remove the armor and open my heart even when terrified, even when it seems so unsafe to do so. For me, I only found the courage in a Higher Power. On my own, I could only put on more armor while telling myself all the while that I was not doing what I was actually doing.
Communion with spirit, belief in something greater than me was what I lacked and in finding this I too found the courage to heal. The wisdom locked up with all my bondage and fear, and by willingly facing it, I began the lifelong process of removing the armor that prevents me from feeling, from connecting, from living a life that is based on heart and soul and love and trust.
Armoring up is one thing. And it can be the only thing, but un-armoring, which isn’t really a word and really should be called healing instead, is a process that is so life affirming and so often missed. If you find yourself there, unable to unlock your armor and heal, please reach out to me. I do not possess all the answers, but I will happily share with you how I began and how I got free...if only one day at a time.
What if we all worked to create spaces safe enough for each of us to begin to remove our armor?