Healing from trauma requires holding two tracks

If you have ever watched 28 Days with Sandra Bullock or heard about people going away to rehab—you will recognize the desire to just ‘go away’ and heal and come back ‘fixed.’ When you feel bad, you just want everything else to go away—and you want to be able to just do what you need to in order to feel whole, to feel better.

And sometimes, especially if you are battling addiction, this might actually be necessary. But for most of healing from trauma, it’s not about going away to get better, it is about learning to stay. And learning to hold your life in the present and your trauma history at the same time.

In some ways this explicit instruction –that you have to have two tracks of your life running simultaneous—is left entirely implicit. It’s rarely said directly to anyone, but I have found it to be one of the more important healing skills. Letting your life run on two tracks at the same time is what allows for healing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a single person or an entire country—you have to be able to do both at the same time—managing the pace of life of you are living in the present, and managing the pace of trauma work—so that both are in a balance that allows you to do what you need to do. There will be days you have to focus more on the present, and there will be days you focus more on your trauma history—and take extra time to recover.

The illusion, once you start working with your trauma history, is that you can muscle through it. Once out, you can lean your shoulder in to it and just keep pushing though. But the pace of healing—allowing yourself time to digest what you are healing from, to rest, to gather your feet under you, and then to head back in, is what allows for real mending of what had been torn.

The two tracks, present and past—are what weave you together into a whole—and allow a new future to begin to emerge. I have found in my work that when people are working through a difficult trauma history that the present can get ignored—both in treatment and in their own estimation. But the present is what your belay ropes are hooked in to. The present is where you feel the solidity of your feet. The present is where you look around and feel, really, feel that whatever your history was, you have survived it. It is over and you are currently in an entirely different chapter in your book. Your ability to really anchor in to the present will give you a much greater capacity to heal your past.

Sometimes the metaphor I like to use is someone who is working two jobs—or really one full time job and one job they are trying to do on their own time. Like the person who is working full time and then comes home everyday to work on renovating their house. Both are true: they are doing the work they need to at their job AND they are doing the work in the evening to renovate their house. It isn’t easy.  It can feel tiring and overwhelming. Sometimes things go wrong in one place or the other. Or both. But you stay aware of both tasks. You hold both tasks as important.

Whenever you feel yourself getting too overwhelmed with the trauma history—you can reground yourself in your present. You can focus more on the everyday and mundane: clean a closet, get the oil changed in your car, meet a friend for coffee. Do something in the present that you can see, feel, hear.  And only when you feel solid again in the present, can you return to your work in the past. It can be really difficult to have both tracks playing in your head at the same time. It can be really difficult to hold the aspects of yourself—the ‘you’ you were then, and the ‘you’ you are now. But it is a skill worth working on, a muscle worth strengthening. And the more you practice holding both tracks, the more solid your healing journey will be.  

© 2014 Gretchen L Schmelzer, PhD