Warning: those will serious mental illness or debilitating PTSD must seek treatment. Nothing I wrote here should detract from that fact. SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
Want to know how to heal from trauma? How to recover from abuse? How to become a whole, healthy, integrated, and free human being?
You don’t heal from trauma. You don’t recover from abuse. And very few people will ever be whole, integrated or free. You probably won’t be the human that achieves it, nor will I. If you are someone fascinated by the so-called ‘paranormal’ or like to engage in spiritual pursuits from mediumship to ‘ghost hunting’ to psychedelic use to ritual drumming sessions, you absolutely depend on trauma to feed your hobby or practice. That is the subject of the next post. But for now, this is the point: spirituality is born of trauma and our efforts to “integrate” and “overcome” it reveal more about our biases as a culture and our desires to monetize every human need than a sincere desire to increase happiness.
Why is Weight Watchers so successful? Why does the “wellness” industry that runs rampant in California do so . . . well? Because these institutions, ideologies, and belief systems DO NOT WORK. Because they do not work, either to keep your weight down or to integrate your trauma, they make a lot of money. Psychedelics, the ultimate “healing” modality for your terrible childhood, are quickly being monetized–because it’s not one good trip and you’re done, or a few weeks in your Reiki circle, or a few years in integrative therapy, it’s FOREVER. The people making money from your pain know perfectly well that healing isn’t going to happen, not the way most people expect it will; that your happiness will continue to be as elusive as it ever was, and therefore, you will ramp it up: more therapy, different ‘healing’ modalities, stronger psychedelic trips in more expensive ‘containers’, and more classes that take cultural appropriation to new lows (shamanic journey Meetups, Ayahuasca ceremonies, African drumming circles). None of it will solve the “problems” that you are told can be solved: memories of childhood trauma, varying levels of abuse, CPTSD, and substance dependence (food, alcohol, drugs), not to mention the garden variety depressions, anxieties, and existential dread.
Why can’t all of the above, all that makes us sad, angry, or confused, be fixed? Why can’t we integrate it, heal it, overcome it, and “let it go”? Simply because upsetting events in our past have contributed to who we are now; trauma is something most of us endure, and it’s not some separate element that can be extricated from us like pus from a wound. There are ways to lessen our automatic emotional responses to a discreet, awful memory, but to pretend that an overall ‘fix’ exists, abuses people’s trust and takes their money. The wellness communities hold out a promise of ‘wholeness’ that depends on the ideology of “healing”, a word that loses its meaning when nobody talks about what healing feels like, what it looks like, how it might manifest itself. Perhaps if we delve deeper into what we mean by healing, fewer people would blame themselves for their lack of happiness and pile on shame and self loathing to the pain they already endure.
For that is the real cost. We turn to wellness communities, psychedelic integration circles, retreats, shamanic practices, therapy, and a host of other modalities to relieve emotional and spiritual pain. We often come away feeling that it’s our fault that we have failed to ‘heal’. Somehow, we made a mistake along the way: the dose wasn’t high enough, we didn’t enter the desired trance state, our ecstatic dancing wasn’t ecstatic enough, we didn’t “LET GO” (this is a big one, the one concept that really hurts us), we failed to “surrender” to whatever the experience was, we didn’t let someone “in”, we lacked trust, faith, openness, or whatever else we were supposed to have/do, and the result is: we are not good enough in one way or another. This echoes our dysfunctional childhood messages and traumatizes yet again, this time at the hands of those who purport to heal us.
Let me take this opportunity to call bullshit.
All of the wellness, psychedelic, and therapeutic practices I have mentioned could help you–but not to become a “better person”, a “healed” person, or a “whole” person, free from pain and trauma; the best that they can do is help you accept yourself as a product of many influences, experiences, relationships, and conflicts you have endured over the decades, and perhaps tamp down the emotional chaos that they still inspire. Perhaps. I am not even sure anymore that you can control or redirect your emotions around highly-charged situations and events. I wonder; even long after I considered myself “above” the anxiety that my family has created over my lifetime and “healed” from the medical horrors I endured as a child, I still don’t feel that I control the emotional responses that boil up and over when I am powerfully reminded of my past.
The expectation that I not react emotionally and physically to traumatic situations and associations was and is worse than the original sins. Traumatic situations happen continuously, both on a personal and planetary level–to be alive is to be on alert for bad things that lurk everywhere. You can’t cure that.
Perhaps, as a culture, we have focused far too much on what hurts us and the phantom healing that we need (remember, the more healing you promise, the more money you make) than what is pleasurable, delightful, beautiful, and inspiring. Will we do any good in the world for ourselves or others, or for our little planet, by excessively focusing on all the terrible crap we endured? Is there a tad of narcissism in all of this exploration of personal tragedy and how to overcome it? Where is our concern for the community and our larger families? Why are we not focusing on healing our racial, economic and cultural divisions instead of our personal horror stories? We heal ourselves insofar as we join the messiness of the human community and see how we can be of service. Maybe that’s the only healing that might exist.
It’s not surprising that the United States monetizes wellness and healing, since most of our collective endeavors are about making money. The religion of materialism and capitalism keeps us in thrall to the possibility of living very well while desperate, unhappy people hand us the keys to our mansion. And of course, there are good people who simply try to help and make a living at the same time, but watch out for the predators, for they are everywhere.
Instead of overcoming your trauma, try accepting exactly who you are right now and how you feel. Imagine that there was no shame connected to sadness or grief. Imagine that it’s just as valid to feel confused and unhappy as it is to feel blissful and one with the universe. Imagine that you are one with the universe and completely loved just as you are, with all your trauma, pain, and disappointment. Our spiritual nature reveals itself through the cracks, the breaks, and the falling apart of what we think and hope that we are.
P.S. I have nothing against ecstatic dancing, but if you see me writing around naked under the moon, call for help.
–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD