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:
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
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
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,
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Ute Lawrence is the founder of the PTSD
Association Inc. and CEO of the Performance Enhancement Center
Ltd. Sign up for our newsletter: http://powerofonediscovery.com/newsletter.php
The International Emotional Wellness Forum
invites you to participate in a groundbreaking event in today’s
world of extreme change. The IEWF will shed new insight and
bring deeper awareness of the devastating effects stress can
have on health and performance. The forum is designed as an
inspiring platform to learn and network in an unparalleled
wellness immersion and to take home tools for positive change.
Some of the world’s leading authorities, including Dr. Deepak
Chopra, will present their ideas and the most current
information on the many faces of emotional wellness.