Things I Didn’t Expect When Healing From Trauma, Part 1

We’re pleased to bring you a new, three-part series this summer from Rachael Clinton Chen, where she candidly shares personal insights from her own journey of holistically healing from complex PTSD and anxiety, and the things she didn’t expect when healing from trauma.

In the first episode of this series, Rachael shares some of her earliest memories of contending with anxiety as a child, how she managed it, and what eventually drove her to begin to seek help. 

From the heart-wrenching lows to the moments so absurd they bring laughter, and every breakthrough in between, we hope this series of heart-to-heart conversations will bring you hope, make you laugh, make you think, and most of all make you feel like you’re not alone.

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will be released on July 5.

Episode Transcript:

Rachael: Good people with good bodies. Welcome. I’m Rachael Clinton Chen, co-host of The Allender Center podcast. This episode is a little bit different from what you’re used to hearing from us. Throughout the summer we’re going to mix things up with a handful of episodes where I get to share some personal insights from my own healing journey and the things I never expected when healing from trauma. From the heart-wrenching lows to the moments so absurd they bring laughter, and every breakthrough in between, my healing journey from anxiety and complex PTSD has been a winding road. It’s one that I’m still traveling on. And if you find yourself on a similar journey, whether you’re forging ahead or feeling a bit lost, welcome. You’re among friends. I hope these conversations bring you hope, make you laugh, make you think, and most of all make you feel like you’re not alone. Let’s get started.

When I was in first grade, I had my very first existential crisis. I was a child who didn’t know at the time who was managing and navigating a profound amount of anxiety. But in Mrs. Hidary’s class, I experienced a kind of attunement and care that brought a kind of soothing I desperately needed but didn’t know. Mrs. Hidary read us stories every day under this big, probably made from construction paper, but a big tree that was on one end of the classroom. And it was big enough that it kind of created like a canopy. And we would sit under the tree and Mrs. Hidary would read to us. And one of the books she read to us was A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’engle. And for those of you familiar with the Wrinkle in Time, you would know it’s a pretty big story for first graders. It doesn’t… you know Madeleine L’engle understood that kids need stories that testify and tell the truth about the horrors of the world. And A Wrinkle in Time is one of those. And I loved this story. In many ways, Mrs. Hidary was offering a big enough story to make sense of the really scary and horrifying realities of being human. And she just knew that as little people, this is something that we needed. Another thing that Mrs. Hidary would do every day because this was the eighties and we still had rest time in first grade, so she would turn off all the lights usually right after lunch, and we would be invited to put our heads down on the desk and rest. And now this time for me, again, not known, no language for this is when my anxiety would peak the most severely. I would just start feeling like that just overwhelming sense of stress in my body. My legs would start shaking. And Mrs. Hidary somehow was able to attune to this. I was a very high functioning little kid. Again, it was a season in the world where there wasn’t as much clarity around the impact of trauma or how anxiety, what it can look like in kids. But she saw something in me and she would come and tap me on the shoulder very quietly and say, Rachael, would you prefer to color in the corner instead of taking a rest? And I would go and I would color in a coloring book and I would feel like a sense of soothing. So not only did Mrs. Hidary offer me a big enough story to make sense of the really scary and horrifying things of being human, she also provided creative outlets for soothing without humiliation and punishment I felt loved and cared for in a way I truly did not know I needed. And the thought of losing her on that last day of first grade, I had this whole body, mind, spirit realization that first grade was coming to a close, and that meant I was no longer going to be in Mrs. Hidary’s class. And that heartbreak was so overwhelming that it was like I had my first sense of how fast time moves. And I really did see my whole life flash before me because my little body, brain, spirit was thinking first grade went so much faster than kindergarten if time’s just going to feel like it keeps speeding up before I know it, I’m going to be graduating from college and then I’m going to be a grandma and then I’m going to die. And that’s a lot to take in a little body, but it gives me a glimpse of really, I was an incredibly anxious little kid. And so I actually went home, cried to my mom, could not stop crying. My mom in her kindness said, do we need to go back and thank Mrs. Hidary? But again, this is a story that at the time I would not have been able to actually make meaning or understanding of because it would not be until I was 22 years old. 22. I am like six and seven in this story. It wouldn’t be until I’m 22 that I got my first medical diagnosis of anxiety. So I look back on this little first grader and just see that she knew, she experienced and tasted something of grace and mercy for her little body and her little heart and her mind and spirit that she desperately needed. And I also have so much grief that it took so long to get some of the care I needed. 

So where are we going? We’re going to engage the non-linear and very human-sized journey of healing from trauma through some story and discourse. We’re going to hold together that we’re whole people and trauma disorders, our brains, our bodies, our spirits, our relationships and communities. We’re going to honor that trauma is really the way in which our personhood, and for me, I’m just talking about, yeah, again, I’m holding this holistic sense of our brains, our bodies, and our spirits primarily. I’m doing that because so much of my upbringing was located in ways that kind of spiritually bypassed the body. And trauma manifests so distinctly in the body. And so I’m just wanting us to think more holistically about who we are. But that trauma is really the way in which our personhood bears witness to the horror, suffering, heartache in the world in which we live and that we’re individuals, but we’re part of a greater collective. And we’re going to do the good work of holding the both/and of our beauty and our brokenness. So there will be laughter and grief and both will be honoring. 

This is a three part series, and my hope is just to kind of share stories from my life, and anecdotal experience that helps paint a more, I think, true picture of what it looks like to be in recovery. And I am going to talk specifically about the brain, about the body and about the spirit and what some of the healing journey looks like. And I just happen to be someone in my healing journey and just in my life in general that has a lot of wacky, weird, funny stories. And so in part, I wanted to just be able to share what’s the real human experience like in healing? And sometimes when you’re listening to someone on a podcast or you’re listening to someone who works in this field, it can almost seem like, oh, I’ve arrived somewhere and so therefore I’m teaching you or showing you how to do this. And mostly I want to contend with that and just say, no, we are all on a journey and the healing is lifelong. So as someone healing from CPTSD and who works at the intersection of trauma, embodiment and spiritual formation, in many ways, this is my love letter to the survivors and the fighters and the humanized healers and helpers who are courageously and compassionately tending to this journey of healing for the sake of themselves, their families, communities, and the world at large. Maybe you’ve experienced tremendous healing, but you’re hitting places where you need permission to re-engage healing even though you thought you were healed from this. Let this be a pause to discern what’s happening and perhaps discover new tools and perspectives for your own healing journey. It’s also a love letter to those of you who are working so hard to manage symptoms of trauma with very little help because you’re so capable and you’ve never been given permission to say, I’m really not okay. Those of us who know this reality often think: “I can power through it” – because we have. We can be really high functioning. We can often–we can’t often discern that suffering edge, but you don’t have to be in extreme crisis to get help. You don’t have to work that hard. You are worthy of care and your trauma is real. 

And also, let me just be clear, as I said, trauma is really the way in which our personhood testifies to the truth. And so for those of you who have maybe been able to high function your way through your trauma, we are living in a time where the collectives we are a part of, there are active genocides happening in our world this minute that we are connected to with our tax dollars, with our politics, with our power, with our weapons, and with our capitalism and consumption. So I’m thinking about what’s happening in the Congo with, I think it’s cobalt and millions of people being displaced, being murdered, being assaulted. What’s happening in Palestine and Israel. And most of us are living in contexts where there is such a disparity between how it’s being acknowledged or not acknowledged that of course, our bodies are manifesting the truth, bearing witness to the truth in a way that we can no longer just manage our way through because these realities are so overwhelming. And so part of my hope from just these stories is that you will receive some mercy and that you will get help and that you will know you’re not a failure, you haven’t done anything wrong, it’s just time for you to get the help and care that you need. So these stories and this hard won wisdom is for you. And to be clear, I’m not a licensed therapist or clinician even though I work in trauma, yet, I do have a lot of anecdotal experience of a person immersed in this field and my own experience with CPTSD and anxiety. So again, this is more narrative and anecdotal than prescriptive, but I really do hope you can relate. And as the fiercely kind and wise, Aundi Kolber, who we’ve had on the podcast often says, “Take what you need and leave what you don’t.” 

So let me put a few words just for those of us who need a refresher on what are some of these things I’m talking about CPTSD and anxiety, what do they really mean? Again, what is trauma? And the reality is trauma is actually, it’s not something that happens to us, it’s the way in which our body metabolizes what happens to us. So again, whether you have experiences of abuse or terror or bodily trauma that comes, let’s say from a car crash, chronic systemic oppression, trauma can manifest in our body. It’s that way in which our body is trying to metabolize all of the stress and suffering that we’re not meant for, but we are wired to be resilient in the midst of, again, you can’t experience trauma, you can’t experience harm and heartache and suffering without that impacting your body. And one of the things we know to be true is that trauma, It disorders, it brings up profound fragmentation between different parts of our brain, like the functions of our body, our thought processes, our gut. We’re going to talk about these things. And so much of what I’ve learned in my own healing journey certainly fragments our spirit and the ways in which we connect with God and are in relationship, it impacts our capacity for love. And so it has a pretty profound impact when it goes unaddressed, unattended to unnamed. Most of just even the language of trauma came out of studies with Vietnam veterans returning and trying to make sense of what were their bodies and their lives and their personhood revealing about the horror they had experienced and perpetrated. So trauma is not something that happens just because of something that happens to us. It can also be something our bodies experience because of things we participate in, ways in which we harm. 

PTSD and CPTSD–PTSD just means post-traumatic stress disorder. So people can be diagnosed with PTSD, again, after experiencing a car crash or having an assault that happens or experiencing something that is really terrifying. PTSD is typically something associated more with an event or a circumstance, whereas CPTSD is just complex post-traumatic stress disorder or chronic, it’s more where you have chronic experiences of abuse, stress, horror. So it’s a mental health condition that develops after experiencing chronic trauma. And I kind of talked about, I’ve named a few different things like whether it’s chronic abuse, whether it’s chronic poverty, chronic racism, experiences of patriarchy and misogyny can lead to CPTSD, high control religion, spiritual abuse. And also something that I just want to name is that all of us are going to have, trauma doesn’t discriminate. So all of us are going to experience symptoms of trauma from the horrors and heartaches we experienced. If we have good enough care providers, especially in our early life, or if we are able to be in a community that is caring and nurturing, that’s going to mitigate a lot of the impact of trauma on our bodies, even if it’s still there. So I just wanted to share those things. Some of the symptoms of PTSD and CPTSD again are going to be anxiety, depression, mental illness, honestly, I think what they’re finally starting to make connections to, but a ton of autoimmune disorders are connected to CPTSD, sleep disorders. So it is very harmful and very real. And so again, I’m going to be sharing stories about my battle with CPTSD. I’m not necessarily going to go into all the details of how that came to be a part of my reality, but I can say it’s a combination of my care providers working out their own intergenerational trauma and I think doing the best they could, I know doing the best they could, but having their own trauma that wasn’t being tended to or metabolized. So some of those experiences, being in spiritually abusive environments, being a woman in this world, being a white woman in this world, and the harm that is being passed on to me from white supremacy and the ways I’m participating in that wittingly and unwittingly. So again, there are a lot of realities as to why we might have a certain diagnosis. Again, I’m just wanting to say that some of these diagnoses can make us feel, and this was so much my story, this is just about me. There’s something wrong with me. And what I just want us to do is make that hermeneutical. Hermeneutics is just a way of reading. So what’s the frame and the way we’re seeing something, I’m wanting to invite us to make a hermeneutical shift of how we make meaning about the ways in which our bodies are telling the truth about the world in which we live in. 

And so for me, one of the primary symptoms, or at least the most obvious was and is anxiety and anxiety is it’s just that feeling of fear, dread, uneasiness. I don’t like talking about anxiety as a feeling because I think sometimes we’re told you can change your feelings, just control your feelings. Anxiety is so much… so embodied. It is so embodied. It’s a way in which our amygdala, the part of our brain that helps us survive that fight flight or freeze gets into overdrive. So we’re flooding all kinds of biochemicals. You hear things like adrenal fatigue from people who have experienced a lot of anxiety because we’re flooding, cortisol, norepinephrine, and all these things, which our stress biochemicals are also good, but for those of us who suffer from anxiety, when they’re in overdrive and they have kind of all the control, it doesn’t necessarily feel good. But the other biochemicals like oxytocin and serotonin and dopamine that help us manage the stress biochemicals and can kind of help us balance out and move back into the meaning making parts of our brain. Anxiety can make you feel sweat, feel restless, intense, have rapid heartbeat. Again, it’s a normal reaction to stress. But for those of us who suffer from chronic anxiety or a generalized anxiety disorder or just different ways that you can get diagnoses, anxiety feels like a way of being in the world. And for me, that didn’t just impact my body, it impacted my whole personhood. 

So when I was a little kid, if you were to ask my family, how would you describe Rachael? They would describe a lot of different things, because again, I want to name, I was a very high functioning little person navigating the impact of trauma. But they would say, oh, Rachael was, she was very smart, very independent, very athletic and paranoid. Paranoid is a word that was often used to describe me as a kid. And I do actually have distinct memories of playing in my yard and just being able to be attuned to the bugs and the flower. I actually have memories of not being hypervigilant and kind of what I would say felt cursed with anxiety where I wasn’t anxious, where I could play without hypervigilance. But I have distinct memories of that changing drastically. And yes, being incredibly hypervigilant. There’s family videos of me being at the park and we’re playing and we’re singing “Somewhere Out There” from, I think it’s with a story with Fievel. I’m not going to be able to remember the name of it, but the little mouse, “Somewhere Out There.” It was kind of like our Frozen of the early eighties. And we’re singing and we’re all running around and my parents are delighting and all of us, and then a car goes by with loud music and I immediately, it’s like I just freeze and my attention goes elsewhere. And I remember that moment feeling like I’m going to get kidnapped and nowhere is safe and my parents aren’t paying attention. Someone’s got to pay attention. So I started having panic attacks at a very young age. Now, did I know I was having panic attacks? Absolutely not. And panic attacks in little kids can look like obsessive thoughts can look like anger and rage and emotional outbursts that can’t be regulated. It just looks like a lot of dysregulation. For me, it looks like paranoia. And it was not something that any amount of logic was going to help. And that’s the thing that feels so paradoxically confusing is that anxiety is actually very logical in the sense that it’s our body responding to an experience of fear or stress. But logic is not actually going to help bring regulation with anxiety because when someone is anxious and in their stress biochemicals, they’re not in the prefrontal cortex of their brain where we make meaning and utilize logic to be able to ground ourselves. So it’s similar to I’ve had experiences. I still have experiences like this being on an airplane, and I get massive stress biochemicals when we hit turbulence. Now, I am a very intelligent human being, and I understand that for the most part, turbulence is not a true danger. Now, if it’s severe and you’re not buckled in, it can be dangerous. But as far as the plane staying in the air, turbulence is not that dangerous. I logically understand that. But when I’m on a plane and we hit turbulence, all my body feels is you are in a metal container, 40,000 feet, 30,000 feet in the air, and you’re going to die and you’re not in control at all. And so sometimes very well-meaning kind flight attendants or people will be like, “Oh, it’s okay. Turbulence isn’t that big of a deal.” Somehow that’s going to offer the soothing I need. I’ve actually said to flight attendants, unless you’re bringing me some free wine and cheese, I’ve got it. I’ve got to do some of the things I can do to bring healing to my body. So breathing or getting out my peppermint oil, or I do a lot of mindfulness practices of thinking of myself as a leaf on the wind that’s just bouncing with the airstream. So all that to say, I think really good intentioned people try to offer help by logically explaining things. So here’s another example. My dad tells this story. When I was three, I was terrified that… I was convinced that there were lions under my bed. And so he came in to help me and got out, I think in his best attempt, got out this little globe we had and showed me that lions, I don’t need to be afraid of lions because lions live in Africa and here’s where we are. And so he’s attempting to bring logic. Well, at three years old, I was like, well, that’s great, but there’s lions at the zoo. So again, it wasn’t that helpful. I was so wrought with anxiety that I did not have much imagination for… my imagination immediately went to danger. So we would be at the grocery store and my mom would do that thing where she runs in to grab groceries. She’s got four kids in the car, I’m going to leave you in the car for three minutes while I run in and get this thing. But those three minutes for me, I would be certain that we were going to get kidnapped, that everyone around us was dangerous. Again, I was a child in the eighties, so that was missing children central. So this is a story I can actually laugh at and also simultaneously be horrified by and deeply grieved by. So my parents were talking to us about stranger danger, and we had a code word. Our code word was bananas. And I grew up in Stillwater, Oklahoma until I was about 11. And at the time, there was a streaker and it’s on the news, and I’m listening in, and then I’m asking my mom, what’s a streaker? And she was like, it’s someone who exposes themselves to you, their private parts. And so that in my little kindergarten mind, I’m imagining someone literally being up in a tree and jumping down and flashing me, and that’s scary enough. But then I’m kind of merging all the stories. They’re going to kidnap you and you’ll be a missing child. And so I was scared by this, but also felt like a pretty profound responsibility to protect other kids. So one day on the bus, I told all the kids there is a streaker, and I explained what a streaker was, and I told everyone they needed to run home as fast as they can. So we get off our bus stop, everybody’s running home. My mom’s waiting for us at the driveway. She can see us get off the bus right down the street. She’s like, Rachael, why is everybody running? I tell her, well, someone had to tell them about the streaker. So I caused a lot of stress and anxiety to other kids too, in trying to manage mine and making sure everyone could stay safe. But I have multiple, multiple memories and experiences of having an encounter. I was very afraid of old men for reasons that make sense to me that I’m not necessarily going to share here. And so we moved to this small town when I was 11, which was its own kind of traumatic event to leave all your friends and move from a bigger town to a really, I’m talking like a thousand people, small town. And there was unfortunately, I think now this is probably just a way that he was being unfairly targeted because of his socioeconomic status, but just a lot of mythology around this old man. And so anytime he would walk by, when I would be outside, I would just take off running the other way. It was like my fight flight or freeze kicked in so strong, there was no staying. I would take off running and people would be like, what the heck is wrong? What’s going on with Rachael? Why did she just take off running? And so I just have so many of these stories. 

Now, what was also true of this little part of me is that I was being raised in the church and I had a genuine encounter with God, a faith that was very real to me. And so I had a robust prayer life. I was memorizing scripture because we were Southern Baptist and Southern Baptist kids are memorizing scripture from the time you’re like two. So I had lots of resources cognitively to pull on, to try to bring soothing to myself. And I’m not saying those resources are completely obsolete. They’re not. It’s just that they can’t be the only, it’s like if you try to, again, like a toddler, I have an emerging toddler. Evie’s going to be two this summer. And when she’s dysregulated and not okay, there is no amount of talking to her I’m going to be able to do that’s going to bring her. She needs physical contact. She needs to know that she’s safe, she needs to know it’s okay that she’s frustrated. There’s different things that she needs and I still need to put language to help her make sense of things, just not in the moment she’s dysregulated. So I was a very spiritual little person and I was a very athletic little person. So for me, I want to take a moment to talk about what are the realities of grace that come as a part of our healing journey when we don’t even know we need healing, but something is being offered to us either again, through a Mrs. Hidary, a teacher really attuned and is not necessarily trying to be a therapist or a counselor, but is going to offer some structures that provide some soothing and care and attunement or ways in which our body is getting care and regulation of stress biochemicals that again, we don’t even know we need, but it’s offering mercy for me. 

Serene Jones in her book Trauma and Grace uses this phrase, “Grace is grace. It comes.” It’s one that’s been really powerful to me because grace is grace, it comes. And so I want to talk a little bit about what it was like to manage my anxiety unawares. As I mentioned, when I was 11, we moved to a small town. And one of the things that’s true about living in a small town is you can basically do every sport and every extracurricular activity. And so as much as living in this small town for other stories was not a good time in my life, I was bullied pretty profoundly. I was the new kid from the bigger city, just a lot I didn’t understand. I had a lot of innocence and I didn’t understand, social dynamics and envy and group think and threat and scarcity and all those realities. So I actually had a very lonely time for a big portion of my experience here. However, physically I never stopped. Lemme just tell you a list of the things I did. I ran track, I played basketball, I played softball. I was a cheerleader. I played in the band. I was even a mascot for a season. I was the panther for the high school team. When I was in junior high, I wore a Panther mascot costume and did all the cheers with the cheerleaders. Those are just, I did violin, piano, I played the clarinet. I was in marching band. So I just was always moving in my body. And one thing we know is that movement, especially running or certain types of physical activity, actually bring a lot of endorphins, which can help manage stress biochemicals. So there was something about even in a season that both in my home, in my social relationships was incredibly painful, I was just constantly on the move. Let me just give you a little picture here of what we’re talking about. So let’s say, so there would be the girls game basketball game and the boys’ basketball game. So yours truly would play in the girls’ basketball game, would change into my cheerleading uniform and cheer for the boys basketball game and play with the band at halftime of the boys game. So again, I just stayed so busy. But one thing I know now that I didn’t know then is that that constant movement probably saved my life. And running was the sport I really took to. So from fifth to eighth grade, I was running track. I was running the mile, I was running the 800. I was a good long distance runner, and there was something about running that just felt so good. And what I know now is I was getting a lot of endorphins that was helping to bring some soothing. 

I also was a part of a really incredible youth group with youth leaders who just provided a really safe haven to be middle schoolers and to have relational connection that I wasn’t necessarily getting at school. And so those are some of the things that I feel like God was so generous to provide for me that allowed me, I mean, in some ways it’s a double-edged sword because that grace allowed me to kind of stay grounded enough that I could still be really high functioning and most people would not know what’s going on beneath the surface. 

By the time I got to high school, that kind of capacity to high perform back to, we moved to Edmond, Oklahoma near Oklahoma City. I went from a school where I had 20 people in my grade to a school where I had 500 or over 500. This season for me actually was some of the worst anxiety I experienced in the latter part of my high school career. I had a really significant, very comprehensive jaw surgery between my sophomore and junior year. I had a very, over, what’s the word I’m looking for, A very intense reconstructive jaw surgery to fix a physical deformity that once my growth spurt started to really impact my capacity to chew. But my whole face changed and it was really painful. And the biggest thing I can look back now is it impacted my capacity to run cross country and track. So I actually ran cross country my junior year after the surgery. That was so brutal because I was still so deeply healing and I had lost a lot of weight because I was on a liquid diet that I stopped running. And so on one hand, part of why my anxiety massively increased is because I wasn’t running. And so all those stress biochemicals are no longer getting some kind of companion. 

It was also a season of incredible spiritual abuse that I’ve talked about before on the podcast where I was set up in a relationship with one of my youth leaders that impacted the second half of my high school experience. And navigating being really in an abusive relationship in an already anxious body really put, I started having severe panic attacks. And again, during this time, I’m making good grades. I get back into running. I’m the student council president. So incredibly high functioning in some ways suffering profoundly in other ways. In college I would eventually get out of that relationship and experience a pretty significant season of healing from the spiritual abuse, at least a start to that. And I was running cross country and track my first two years of college. So again, this grace of kind of spiritual healing and this physical outlet that’s keeping things regulated enough that I’m not going over the suffering edge, so to speak, in a way that I can’t manage. Now after my, I quit running my junior year cold-turkey, which is a funny thing to say, but that’s kind of looking back, that’s what happened to my body. I quit running. I went to work at a church camp between my junior and senior year, was set up in another very abusive dating relationship that was short-lived, but probably one of the most deeply impacting of my life with a narcissistic church leader man who was 12 years older than me. And it was one of those relationships where I got chosen very publicly and then I got discarded very publicly. And it was a shattering for me. It was a shattering experience. So once again, this kind of spiritually abusive, very patriarchal reality in my world, bringing a kind of shattering to my body that 100% put me beyond a capacity to manage what was going to happen in my body. I actually started having symptoms of OCD, which again went undiagnosed. And because I was in a kind of hyper-religious environment, I internally and just the way I was making sense of it was that this was a spiritual attack, that God was allowing me to be tested just like Paul so that I could prove my faithfulness. But the amount of paranoia, the amount of OCD, the amount of panic attacks, I genuinely don’t know how I still graduated cum laude to be honest with you. I don’t know how I kept doing work other than I didn’t know any other way to do it. And I had a good friend, my best friend Ann, who was also my roommate who was studying psychology, but also just a very kind good person was like, after seven or eight months of me, literally, I don’t know how some people weren’t like, she’s insane. This is a definitely not okay person. And she kindly sat me down and just said, I think that you might actually be struggling with anxiety. I don’t know if this is all just spiritual attack. And I’m telling you, I was to the point in trying to make sense of my anxiety, and again, we’ll talk more about this in the next episode or the next couple episodes, I’m going to talk more about the impact of the spiritual context I was in on making sense of how my body was manifesting trauma and in a way that compounded the trauma and is a part of why I have complex PTSD because what’s being told to me in high school when I’m navigating the panic in this abusive relationship is the pastors of my church are telling me basically everything you’re experiencing is just, you need to change your mind. It’s a failure of love. There’s no fear in love. The Bible says do not fear more than anything else. So I’m already feeling as if I’m a failure spiritually, but this is the one thing besides running and these endorphins that’s helping me regulate this incredible suffering I’m experiencing. Things got so bad for me that senior year of college that I started to think because I could not make sense of why I couldn’t experience peace. I’m reading all this scripture. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit. I got so unwell that I actually thought maybe because at that time I believed in a rapture that I didn’t want to be left behind. And if that’s a worldview you hold, there’s this sense of there’s going to be a time period where God removes God’s spirit from the world. And so I was like, that’s what it is. We’re in that time period. So I don’t have access to the spirit. That’s why I can’t have peace. So I’ve just got to pull up my bootstraps and be even more resilient. 

And what happened is I went to Italy with my family. It was my first international travel, and I had been talking with my mom about needing therapeutic help. And I think because of the spiritual environment we were in, that was very frowned upon. And so I think in an attempt to protect me, she was kind of like, well, only crazy people go to therapy or go to counseling because that was what we were being told. And so we go to Italy as a family, all of this stuff is still happening to me is still very true to me. So being in a foreign environment, in a language I don’t speak, even though we are Italian-American, and there was a lot of beauty of being there, being in a place with all my siblings where we’re still working out all of our relational dynamics and we’re really close, but just you’re staying in small places. It was a breaking point for me, the fact that I would say I had multiple breaking points, but this was a breaking point because I was doing things like I threw a digital camera down on a cobblestone street. I was so dysregulated. And the way it was mostly manifesting was rage because that can actually be a part and a symptom of complex PTSD, and that can actually be a symptom and a way of soothing anxiety. So I was just having these rage-fest outbursts that I couldn’t control. And I remember this pivotal moment sitting on the train somewhere between Florence and Rome with my mom and being like, I am legitimately crazy. I am radically accepting that I am not well. And I want you to know when we get home, I’m going to the doctor and I’m going to talk to the doctor about medicine and about what’s going on with my brain. And my mom was on board and said, okay, I’ll help you. So we returned home. I’m 22. I am two months away from graduating from college cum laude. So with a pretty decent GPA in a really hard Christian liberal arts biblical studies program. I go to my pediatrician who I’m still seeing at this point, and I say, I’m crazy and I need help. And we start talking. And he says to me, Rachael, you’ve always been a little bit more on the anxious side of things. Now again, I’m guessing he did not have much trauma-informed framework here. He’s just knowing I’ve always been a little bit of an anxious person. Now I remember saying to him, I am. That’s information that would’ve been helpful like 20 years ago. And we talked about how he had noticed an increase in the anxiety since I had stopped running in college. And we talked about biochemicals for the first time. Someone’s talking to me about how the body actually functions. And I remember he said, I think you’re going to need some medical support to help bring balance to the pretty profound imbalance of your biochemicals. And I said to him, I could never do that. That would be basically just admitting that I’ve failed and that I don’t have enough faith. And he very wisely and kindly said, if you had diabetes, would you take insulin? If you couldn’t see, would you wear glasses? Your brain is imbalanced in your biochemicals and there’s medicine that can help restore and regulate that. Why would you not take that? And there was something of framing it that way that just released me from a lot of judgment and a lot of like, oh my God, how hard, I mean, how tortured I was. I don’t actually know how I survived that period of life. The first step for me in actually beginning to understand again, still at this point, and I’m going to bring things to a close, but still at this point, I would’ve said, I’m an anxious person. I struggle with anxiety, but at least there’s something that can help. And so I did go on medicine for the first time in my life, and I remember about three years after, or three weeks after going on the medicine, I started feeling a sense of calm and peace. And I remember calling my mom panicked and saying, something’s wrong. And she was like, what do you mean? And I was like, I don’t feel fearful or anxious. Something’s wrong. And she was like, Rachael, this is actually how many people it’s kind of their baseline. And that was so profound for me because I don’t know if I’d ever since a very young age experienced a sense of calm as the baseline. So not saying I didn’t experience stress or I didn’t experience fear, or I didn’t experience anger or different things, but I had not known what it was to start from a place of maybe things are okay enough. 

So that was the beginning of my real intentional healing journey at 22 years old. Now, when we come back for part two and part three of “Things I Didn’t Expect When Healing From Trauma,” I’m going to talk more about what it meant to start to make meaning of how I came to be an anxious person and what was some of the other help I needed in healing from CPTSD and in managing, with a lot of kindness and mercy, anxiety. And so I will talk more about the impact of trauma on my body, the impact of trauma on my spirit, and some of those other realms that had to be a part of joining in with the medicinal help of really finding a more holistic way forward, not just so that I could be healed, but so that I could become a more liberated, healing agent in the world around me. So, until next time.