I’ve been silent for a while, marveling at the intersection between trauma and spiritual awakening, wondering how it is that with even the most profound insights into the unity of all life, the realization of an order behind the chaos, and the reality that God is love, we may still be deeply imprinted, acting out the legacy of unresolved childhood trauma.
Twelve years ago I endured a terrifying dark night of the soul that revealed many deep insights about who we are, why we are here and what our relationship is to the divine intelligence. I thought (erroneously) that the sheer ordeal of the spiritual emergency would once and for all clear away the psychic debris that had so limited me for most of my life. I believed that the act of surviving the extreme panic, the almost unbearable alone-ness, the utter deconstruction of my identity, would in some way make me worthy enough to emerge into a new day of purpose, clarity and harmony with nature and the universe. The art that began pouring through me seemed evidence enough that despite the desolate wasteland of my former life, there had at long last come a great gift ready to shine through.
HIGH AND LOW TIDE
For a time, perhaps 8 or 10 years, this seemed so. But gradually insomnia, anxiety, chronic somatic pain and self-doubt begin to reassert itself. The visionary flood I’d experienced earlier had been like a high tide covering the rocks and detritus of my self sense hiding all the unresolved violence and abuse of my childhood from sight and awareness.
But like all tides that ebb and flow, the visionary experience too began to recede. Much to my dismay, all the rocks and sharp outcroppings of my former identity smoothed out and hidden by the high tide, were once again left exposed to bake in the light of the sun.
SLIPPING INTO DEPRESSION
I felt like a fraud, unable to access the light I’d previously felt. Instead, as time went on, the visionary states I’d been so hopeful of maintaining, became more like memories and less like direct experiences.
This alarmed me. I began slipping into depression, unable to understand what was happening to me. I increasingly blamed myself, denying my previous experience as valid. I increasingly wondered what was wrong with me for being unable to maintain the inspiration and intensity of what I’d imagined had been my connection to spirit. I had no idea that for many people like me, this was a normal occurrence. Normalizing what seemed a great loss enabled me to see the real work remaining while retaining a vision of the promised land I was heading towards.
As insomnia, anxiety, self doubt, chronic pain, isolation, and the feelings of being a fraud emerged, so too, did the dawning awareness of my own early childhood trauma, not just as an abstract concept but as a profound felt sense within the body. I realized with a jolt that this trauma had been impervious to years of talk therapy, meditation, spiritual practices, shamanic interventions, psychic and astrological readings, positive affirmations, and the like.
I saw with a great shock that essentially what I’d been trying to do was to heal myself through the process of “spiritual bypass”, to circumvent the reality and impact of chronic childhood trauma by rising above it. If I could convince myself that I was superior to the pain and shame of my trauma by having had X number of spiritual experiences, insights and realizations, I could avoid the actual work of having to deeply and profoundly love the frozen inner child who to this day was still huddling in a dark unlit closet beyond time, waiting for me to come rescue him.
There is, I think, a profoundly disturbing misconception among new age healers, psychics, and chanelers of the divine light that if they simply hurl more and more light at their clients, they are bound to heal. That somehow, given enough light, we can avoid the messy embarrassing feelings of rage, terror and grief. If clients do not heal then they can be accused of being resistant to the light, as if there is somehow some inner deficit in those who fail to respond to such well-meaning interventions.
THE TRUTH OF TRAUMA
But the truth is that trauma does not inhabit the regions accessible to the light because it is a thing born of darkness upon the earth. It requires the deepest forms of love and acceptance, without agenda and almost certainly, with the help of others.
The latest science tells us clearly that trauma actually reorganizes the brain and its chemicals, that it shifts us away from love and cooperation into isolation, constant survival mode, hypervigilance, dis-regulation, and chronic debilitating states of anxiety, rage, flight, fight or freeze states, disease and pain.
Trauma does not live in our cerebral cortex where facts and lectures can touch it. Instead, it lives in the amygdala and limbic regions, the reptilian brain that is beyond time and completely disconnected from reason and logic. Events of 70 years ago can erupt like a volcano as if they are happening now.
STRATEGIES WE LEARNED
In addition, the strategies we learned as children to keep our abusers at bay, to give us a chance to survive against annihilation, we continue to employ unconsciously in the present. These are the behaviors of appeasement, self-criticism, people-pleasing, of accommodation, of not questioning, or sacrificing ourselves in favor of another. We learned early to betray ourselves, to hide our light, to be inauthentic, to present to the world what others want to see, to deny our very needs, and to take care of the other at our own expense.
I used to say, “It is not a question of whether or not I’d be eaten. The question was always, which part of myself I could offer up next to minimize the damage and still live.”
It’s no wonder then that I felt like a fraud, flooded with constant anxiety. I wasn’t real! I not only couldn’t take care of myself, I didn’t even know what my needs were! The very thought of asserting myself, of declaring my own needs or wants, of taking up space or claiming real estate here on planet earth was enough to throw me into a panic. How dare I?
LIFE AS COMPENSATION
Life then, became a compensation. I’ll pretend that I’m spiritual, above needing anything myself, always deferring to whomever I’m with, always rescuing the other. I’ll be above needing real reciprocal relationships and beyond having any real down–to-earth problems that I can’t solve with lofty platitudes, spiritual abstractions or the false front of being some kind of visionary artist.
All that has collapsed now during this time of Covid. I am back in therapy, only this time utilizing the latest discoveries in trauma and attachment. I’m determined to no longer be food for narcissists for whom nothing but complete self-sacrifice will do. I’m determined to stop being one of the reasons our culture continues to deify and reward abusers, psychopaths and sociopaths with ungodly sums of money and power at the expense of the world and everyone and everything else.
LITTLE RICHARD, BIG RICHARD
For the first time in my life, I’m determined to stand up for Little Richard, for the small boy I once was, who is waiting still, not for a burst of light but for Big Richard to come to his dark hidden closet, to tenderly take him by the hand, love him unconditionally once again and tell him that yes, it really was that bad after all but now I’ve got you and I will never ever leave you again.