Personal Growth and Transformation



"When the bottom falls out of your reality, you then pay attention to yourself, your fears, dreams and needs in a very different manner. You have nothing to lose in letting the smoke screens in your life fall away. As you can learn to look at your life honestly, without excuses and self-imposed, preconceived conditions, you will find the levels of fear and anxiousness diminish. The willingness to re-evaluate the current ‘you" and the possibilities for a new "you" is what turns limitation into opportunity and destructive, old patterning into viable, healthy new paths of growth."

Meredith Lady Young
Language of the Soul: Applying Universal Principles for Self-Empowerment


How does one heal and grow from an unthinkable traumatic experience? It helps each of us when others open their hearts and tell their stories. In this issue and several following, personal stories illustrate how we can move beyond staying a victim and how to use painful events to grow spiritually. Know that the events that wounded us, whether or not they are as severe as those in these stories, can deepen our relationship with our Self and be used for the upliftment of our consciousness. To raise our consciousness out of the consensus reality of victim/victimizer consciousness, takes tremendous courage and vigilance.

Allow these courageous people to impact you and show you the way out of trauma. Their sharing is very personal and each of them hopes to show you that no matter how challenging a life situation, there are ways to grow and heal from the experience.

Some of the best teachers and healers are the wounded healers who have healed themselves. In the following months you will read others. If you are drawn to write your story, send it to me. If you missed previous stories you can read them now:

Story number 1, Overcoming Sexual Assault

Story number 2, Moving Beyond Childhood Abuse

Story number 3, In Memory of Betty Sitzer

Story number 4, A Turning–Point in My Journey from Being Born with Spastic Cerebral Palsy
to Leading a Productive and Fulfilling Adult Life

Story number 5, Letting Go: My Life After My Teenage Son’s Suicide

Story number 6, Moving Beyond Blaming Myself for My Son's Mental Illness

Story number 7, The Silence Is NOT Golden: An Exercise In Dysfunction

Story number 8, Discarding Toxic Tapes from Childhood

Story number 9, Murder Visits My Family

September 3, 1999, the day that changed my life

By Ute Lawrence

I used to greet each day with an almost naive anticipation of what wonderful things it might bring. I experienced a lot of joy and laughter and of course, periods of sadness and suffering in my life, but overall, I always believed that I could handle everything that came my way, good or bad.

That belief was shattered on the day that changed my life. The most intense suffering I ever experienced in my life started on September 3, 1999, when my husband, Stan, and I were on our way from London, Ontario, Canada to Detroit for a business meeting.

The sun was coming up and everything seemed fine. It was a beautiful morning. We were traveling on Highway 401 when suddenly, unexpectedly, we saw this wall of fog in front of us. As we entered it, Stan slammed on the breaks almost immediately and we found ourselves sideways on the highway, just missing a huge truck in front of us. Then all hell broke lose as an 18-wheeler went flying across the trunk of our car. Vans and cars slammed into us and into each other. The jolting from the cars behind were violent and the crashing sounds were loud and seemed to go on forever—with each jolt I felt this would be the one that would kill us. Violence of a different kind…, but then came this eerie silence. We started to look around and it was then that we realized that we were trapped with no way out.

The 18-wheeler that had driven over and crushed our trunk was wedged against the other side of the car. A van was on top of us. We would never have been found if the girl did not suddenly start screaming that she was on fire. I froze. I reached for my cell phone to call my daughter Natalie and to tell her and my son Marc that I did not think we were going to survive. I even had a quick regret about my new car. Stan and I were staring at each other. His eyes were huge with fear. I’m sure mine were the same.

At that moment, I looked up and a truck driver was standing on our hood. He had heard the little girl and he had a fire extinguisher to help her—and he found us. Stan yelled for him to break the windshield. Oh no, I thought, my new car. He bashed it in to free us—just in time.

The little girl was not so lucky. She perished along with 7 other people, including her father and brother, who were trapped in their car just a few feet away from ours.

We owe our lives to the little girl who died and to the unidentified truck driver. We will never be able to express our gratitude to them for saving our lives. And no one, helpers and victims alike, will ever forget the haunting pleading screams of the little girl "I’m only 14".

This was how it all started for Stan and me. Here we were, a middle-aged couple, pulled out of our car with a few cuts. All around us was carnage. Yet, by some miracle or fate, we were spared. So why did I not feel ecstatic to be alive? Shouldn’t I have felt joy that we had been saved. However, that was not the case. That night when we returned home, neither Stan nor I would sleep. We thought if we did, we would die. Copious quantities of wine fixed the problem.

The next morning Stan went off to get milk for our coffee. He could not leave our driveway. He sat in the car crying. The newspapers the next day told the bigger story of the accident. The National Post wrote: It involved 87 vehicles, including up to a dozen tractor-trailers, and the line of wreckage stretched for about two kilometers along Highway 401. At its centre, 15 cars and 5 tractor-trailers collided before being consumed in flames. Many of the victims, still trapped in their twisted vehicles, some with roofs sheared off, made desperate, dying pleas as their autos caught fire." This was the worst accident in Canadian history, killed 8, and injured 45. They cited the fog as one of the main causes. "It was a strange fog, extremely dense from the east, which is strange; usually it comes from the west."

I started second-guessing myself. What if we had taken Stan’s Jeep, which he had suggested that morning, instead of my Mercedes sports car? The 18-wheeler could not have catapulted over the Jeep. It would have sheered off the top of the car because it sat higher. What if we had had the hard top down? What if I had not left my handbag and passport at the office, which I never do? Our departure time had been delayed because we had to go over to the office and pick them up. Would we have missed the fog if we had left earlier? My mind raced through all the possibilities as I tried to reconstruct the day.

I could not get the image of the little girl out of my mind. Things kept coming back. Her screams. The sounds of the crashing trucks and cars. The feeling of slow motion on impact. The fires. The smoke. The tires blowing from the intense heat. The desperate attempts by helpers to move my car to free the girl. One of the helpers trying to lift the car until his own face was scorched by the flames. My complete inability to think, to move. My first thought that my new car was ruined. Our scrambling to get out of the car through the small windshield. And the fog. It had blinded us, captured and destroyed all of us in some way.

I soon found out that the person I used to be was no longer there. I felt that someone else had replaced me. Someone who no longer resembled the strong, decisive businesswoman I used to be.

Of course—I looked fine on the outside. There were no outward signs of the inner disaster. Inside I was deteriorating and eventually that decline would reveal itself. I’ve always put on a strong front. It’s my nature, my upbringing. It had never occurred to me that I could be rendered helpless. I still went to my office and every day I simply sat staring into thin air. One day, I had a phone call from an employee at my bank telling me that it had been two weeks since the accident and she thought it was time "to get on with it." The business’s financial statements were due. A lesson in the fact that "life goes on"? There is not enough compassion out there to give someone the time to heal?

Well, the fact of the matter is, it took me years "to get on with it," aided by all of the help and therapy I could find. Prior to the accident, I was known as an aggressive, focused, no-nonsense magazine publisher and a female one, at that. That’s what I wanted back. Instead, I walked around with a huge charcoal-gray cloud around me. I could feel it and I knew others could, too. I was not the same and that created a huge struggle within me. My belief system was shattered, I lost my confidence, I became indecisive, scattered, unable to finish anything, never mind finishing things perfectly.

I knew I needed help and my doctor referred me to Dr. Ruth Lanius who specializes in Post Traumatic Stress and its treatment. She determined I was a good candidate for EMDR (Eye Movement De-sensitization and Reprocessing). This is one of the newer PTSD treatments. It helped me cope with some of the immediate "symptoms" of the trauma. It also resurfaced other earlier traumas in my life and to my amazement, when they did resurface along with them came the emotions I experienced at that time.

After several treatments, the grey cloud parted slightly and I saw a sliver of sky. I realized that I could not "shove this experience under the rug". That’s how I dealt with negative experiences in the past. I was told that I am a disassociator. This and my past traumas had to be dealt with so I could indeed "get on with it".

It is now September of 2006. When I look back several therapies and revelations come to mind that were pivotal in my healing process. The most important revelation was that there was no return to the old self. This traumatic experience is now part of my life. It is who I am now. The acceptance allows one to re-connect with the world outside.

Stan and I visited the Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, which gave us amazing refocusing gifts. We met Dan Baker, PhD. founder and director of the Life Enhancement Centre at the ranch, and author of the books "What Happy People Know" and What Happy Businesses Know". He has influenced our lives forever. He is a man who understands and is able to teach others about the positive powers of healing and renewal. He is a proponent of positive psychology, which has emerged in the palette of recent therapies in the last five or six years. He uses a positive template for leading a meaningful life. He has said, "You will never see a truly happy and simultaneously hostile or anxious person because these states are essentially neurologically incompatible." In other words, happiness is just as attainable as it is opposite. It is our choice ultimately.

In dealing with PTSD, this new avenue of therapy does not discount the residual memory of the event. It understands that it will stay lodged in the deeper, lower parts of the brain. We are still wired for hard times. The fight, flight or freeze reaction is always with us. However, trauma’s fearful, harmful effects after the fact can be overruled by a positive, conscious reordering of our psychology. In addition, time has given us the wonderful adaptive features of the frontal lobes, what Baker calls, "the highest achievement of human brain evolution." This is where our positive emotions can be evoked, especially when false alarms go off.

I learned about HeartMath® and the method of Freeze-Framing®, which is a recentering tool that I’ve used ever since in my daily life. It is a restorative antidote for calming flashbacks and anxiety attacks—highly successful, highly recommended.

You don’t forget the event. But, when the triggers arise, you can start using HeartMath tools to change your reaction. Literally, you stop the movie, freeze frame. You shift your focus, touch your heart. You breathe deeply, and activate a positive emotion such as appreciation for a person you love. This is not so foreign to us. We learn this during childhood when parents say to a distraught child, "stop now, take a breath, and calm down." The fast beating heart begins to slow down; the brain gets the message too. I later traveled to the HeartMath® Institute in California to become a licensed trainer in this tool.

I also had sessions with Dr.W. Newby a Cognitive Behavior Therapist here in London, who after my first visit sent me home with the book "Wherever you go there you are" by Jon Kabut Zinn and a meditation CD. He encouraged me to start meditating. (very difficult for someone with PTSD). But minute by minute, I was able to increase the stillness. Dr Newby says that anxiety disorders are very treatable, but best treated when they are fresh. That’s also a message to seek help early on. Newby’s approach is to help patients integrate the traumatic experience into themselves through exposure, going over the trauma to strip the horror away. He calls PTSD a bubble of undiagnosed experience, something that exists without a context. "My job," he says, "is to help patients massage this experience into their reality."

In 1999, the same year of my accident, an article was published in the e-journal, Traumatology, by Robert Grant, Ph.D., entitled "Spirituality and Trauma." I only found his abstract this year when I was doing research for this book. He tells us that trauma can bring us to a new level of living in the spirit. In his conclusion, he writes:

Trauma, in spite of its brutality and destructiveness, has the power to open victims to issues of profound existential and spiritual significance. Trauma throws victims onto a path that mystics, shamans, mythic heroes and spiritual seekers have been walking for thousands of years. Read his paper in this newsletter after my story.

We can all be broken, overwhelmed and rendered powerless by a traumatic event. Our health can be restored only through the assistance and trust of others. Deepak Chopra has said, "Healing is not a matter of solitary work." In our culture, to refuse to acknowledge this comes at great cost I encourage anyone reading this to ask for assistance. Because our fundamental dependency on each other is the common ground for all emotional restoration—and spiritual transformation. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this statement. Stop. Think about this as an opportunity of a lifetime. Which it is.

Shame can be replaced with humility. Guilt with empathy. Denial with acceptance. Anger with patience. Depression with revival. Life has deeper meaning. It is far richer, compassionate, courageous, more forgiving. We can encounter the brokenness and wounds of others without fear. Having been healed, we become the wounded healers. We rejoin the human race. Rejoice!


Excerpts from the book "The Power of Trauma" from the darkness of trauma to a life filled with light. By Ute Lawrence. The book will be published as an e-book in November 2006. For more information, please contact us at

Ute Lawrence is the founder of the PTSD Association Inc. and CEO of the Performance Enhancement Center Ltd. Sign up for our newsletter:



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