Studying my Own Trauma to Serve Others

In Article, Uncategorized by YFFR Ambassador

If one looks back on his or her life, one can see it hidden in plain sight.  Let’s call it what it is: Trauma. 

We all have walked through this without a choice.  The question is, how do I choose to heal and where do I go from here?  Do I continue to look through the veil of hatred and anger masking my brokenness and pain continuing the cycle and damage?  No.  I choose to stomp my boot on the serpent’s head. You cannot go from here.  Trauma does not define us.

trau·ma

ˈtroumə,ˈtrômə/

noun: trauma; plural noun: traumata; plural noun: traumas

             1. a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.

             2. emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may be associated with physical shock and sometimes leads to long-term neurosis.

Photo Art by Dan Sun

Our bodies have a natural response to trauma.  A normal response.  Reactions may include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives and can get stuck looking through the lense of what has happened to them.

I have been one who could not get past the shock of a traumatic season in my life.  The man I married who was a trained firefighter became a police officer in the inner city.  We had three children under the age of five. Growing up in quiet suburb with no idea how mean and vile the streets can be, the new environment of the inner city rocked me to my core.  I had no grid to understand how ruthless and horrible humans can be to the innocent. My response was hyper-vigilance and fear.  Walking through a grocery store looking over my shoulder for a bad guy was a way of life.

I had already been set up to fear men.  The women in my bloodline had experienced abuse from the men they loved.   Trauma can be passed down and it was passed down to me. The lense I looked through was, “all men are a piece of shit.”  This is how I began to view my husband.  I began to treat him accordingly.

As I look back, I see a man who loved his country and loved people begin to hate.  I noticed anxiety over little stupid things.  Again, a normal response to what he was seeing on the streets.  We made changes to schedules, we went to counseling, we reached out to the department, we reached out to our church yet I found myself hopeless.  No one could offer any help that could mend the damage taking place.  I went numb.  Another natural response to trauma.

My only solace was on my yoga mat.  I had started practicing after the birth of our second child.  A practice of “me time”.  The only time I had to myself. The yoga room was a place I could be in my body feeling and moving in all aspects of my being and connecting to my innermost parts, the secret place with my God.   I have a teacher who would say, “Yoga is the path to the self… a platform to the Divine.”  This place is where all emotions can be felt at once.  I could breathe. I could feel.  I could move in freedom.  Ashtanga Vinyasa.  The pearl out of all yoga in the West.  A pure practice of matching movement with breath combined with moral and ethical principles, leading to spiritual truths and enlightenment.  A clean connection with the Divine, through all the bodies senses.

Yoga Class at a Yoga For First Responders Teacher Training Intensive

  I could not convince my partner and friends of what I had found through yoga.  I began to meet the ones who knew what I knew.  I saw them fighting for the same thing and we shared what we had found on the mat: a universal and ancient truth available to anyone willing to try: an endless learning-well of how to operate in this deteriorating body while here on earth.  A place of healing and wealth. My practice had lead me to become a full time teacher in a time the masses are running to this ancient practice.  We all have trauma. My plan was to take yoga to inner city police to give them what I know in the practice of yoga, I just wasn’t sure how.  Then, I was introduced to Olivia Kvitne. 

I was in awe of this beautiful woman who had a non-profit already set up for first responders. Whose ethical and moral principles lined up with mine.  I knew I was coming out of some heavy stuff and was not prepared to approach the department in the beginning of my recovery. I just sat and listened, applying what I was learning to my own story.  Diving deeper into the depths of the trauma I knew I was carrying. Walking head on into the pain and suffering staring it straight in the face. Feeling it.  Embracing it.  Releasing it.  With my boot on the head of the snake. You cannot go from here.  Trauma does not define me.   

Yoga is all about taking care of yourself.  I had developed a regimented self practice in all areas of my life to the best of my ability.  Self care was my top priority.  I know you cannot teach what you have not practiced yourself a thousand times. As a teacher I knew I had to take care of myself and face my shit before I could offer any hope to my students. Counseling, yoga practice, study of scripture, eating healthy food, making good choices and tending to my daily basic needs was all I could do to mend my wound.  Caring and loving myself in the midst of disaster. The practice of self care led me to self forgiveness and accepting my response to trauma.  In other words, forgiving myself for flipping the fuck out.  The body has normal responses to trauma. and I know them well.

We have a recorder in our mind, body and spirit.  At times this record shows back up. And it replays over and over in our psyche and throughout our whole being.  It displays an image and, like a projector, projects that image into how we see the world.   The damaging words and actions can replay in the back of our heads.  So, we react accordingly.  We act out the trauma because it is stuck in our bodies.  Having this record in our body can seize us up.  We become somewhat plastic, numb, and in pain.  This seizing continues until you begin to move, feel, warm up and become aware on a higher level of what is truly going on.   Replacing the negative destructive thought patterns with positive affirming truths about who you really are. Replacing the negative with positive.  Reprogramming the brain.  This is yoga.  Training of the body, mind and spirit.  You train the body, the mind and spirit follow, you train the mind the other two follow suit. We are a triune being all interconnected.  You strengthen one area the other two are affected. 

Trainees at Yoga For First Responders at a Teacher Training Intensive

The study of trauma with Yoga For First Responders has given me deeper knowledge of the psychophysiological benefits of yoga through my own personal experience.  I have come to the place of healing and restoration with a depth of knowledge through the practice of yoga that continues to grow.  Yoga For First Responders has set me up with resiliency and strength to replace the trauma lense and live a supported thriving personal life with health and wellness as my vision: bringing hope where there once was disaster.  I now have the tools to navigate through the rocky terrain of life and \to be able to process the body’s automatic response to stress. This is yoga and trauma does not have to define you.

Thank you, Olivia.

Your #1 fan,

Elektra

Elektra Hendrickson is a Level Two YFFR Ambassador living in Kansas City, KS.