Trauma is inevitable. Reality is we have all been hurt, and we have all hurt someone—even if unintentionally. The kind of trauma we each experience and our individual suffering might be different. I was doing an interview the other day about my latest book, “A Piece of Peace,” when the interviewer asked, “You touch upon how and why you fell sick. But you don’t talk about the trauma or the details of the incident at all in your book. I am curious.”
It was a legitimate question.
I teach yoga to female survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. I have seen how much relief trauma informed yoga brings to them. The focus on their breath, the turning inward, the unstimulated room — no music or oils or yoga spandex. As a trauma-informed yoga teacher, you don’t make the students adjust. You wear loose-fitting clothes, make sure the exit is always visible to them, and don’t practice any asanas that might feel sensual. You try to ensure, to the best of your capability, that survivors aren’t triggered.
As an author, I also share stories of women — several of whom are survivors. Asking them questions feels like sandpapering their raw wounds. I have always wondered, despite all the compassion, does talking about their trauma hurt them more than heal? I am not suggesting suppressing your feelings, but talking about the problem does not always change things for the better, does it?
I am not a psychologist or a psychotherapist. But as a psychoanalyzing writer and Ayurveda educator focused on holistic well-being (emotional and mental wellness, specifically), I have been trained to be mindful of how my behavior is influenced by people, foods, environment, and words. To recognize my triggers. To honor what makes me uncomfortable.
I told the interviewer that I made an intentional choice to not focus on my trauma in “A Piece of Peace” and focus on the triumph instead. This was for several reasons:
1. Not giving them the power: My trauma comes from witnessing a crime and then being gaslit when I tried talking about it. If I focused my book on the perpetrator and the events following that fateful day, I would give them the attention and the power they didn’t deserve. I lost my health along the way. I refuse to give them anything more.
2. We grow where our energy goes: After witnessing the crime and wanting to be heard, like a magnet I started to gravitate towards other individuals who were also recovering from various traumas. As a result of collective pain, my worldview changed. The eternal optimist in me started to see darkness. I started to write about pain. None of the above helped or healed me. It made me uncomfortable. I knew that harping on the negative and sharing the details about the traumatic incident in the book wouldn’t have fostered my healing. I wanted to share my story of survival and remind others too along the way that we will be okay, no matter the situation. I didn’t want my trauma to define my outlook towards life or my book.
3. We can all heal ourselves: Whenever anything unexpected happens, Ayurveda will tell you that our vata dosha gets provoked. This might look like restlessness, or anxiety, or pain moving through the body, or heart palpitations, or sleeplessness or constipation or racing thoughts. Our nervous system becomes eternally charged and backed up with multitudes of sensory input. I went through all of these stages, including but not limited to passing out at Abu Dhabi airport because I got triggered. I worked with Ayurvedic practitioners to lower my vata through diet and lifestyle, nourishing my mind-body, developing a good sleep schedule, reminding my mind-body that it was safe and none of it was my fault, but not numbing myself.
4. Going back there wasn’t useful for me: October 2013 was the month I witnessed this crime. Unprocessed trauma can become lethal, I agree. But revisiting that day and reliving the trauma didn’t help me move on. I doubted myself. I wished badly that I wasn’t present at the “scene of crime.” I didn’t choose to become a witness. I felt less because I froze in the moment. Re-exposure to my trauma made me sick. Literally.
October is Emotional Wellness Month. The core of my work involves raising awareness and sharing strategies to enhance people’s emotional health using mindfulness and Ayurveda coaching. But I wanted to get another woman’s perspective. I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Kavita Vasu, a psychiatrist who focuses on children, adolescents and adults.
She said, “Trauma needs to be processed but not revisited over and over again.” Wow, isn’t that powerful?
Vasu added, “I don’t feel it’s a good idea to make the trauma your identity. Because then we stay in victim mode.” She also went on to suggest that it’s important to process your trauma with the intention of moving on and not letting it affect every area of your life.
“Make healthy beliefs about yourself and about the world,” she said explaining that this means not walking around with your guard up, or turning at every corner to make sure you are safe. It’s important to keep oneself safe in life without constantly anticipating something bad is going to happen.
“Keeping that fine balance is important to allow ourselves to fully engage in life,” she said. Vasu offers strategies to her clients to get to the next stage of healing, so they can develop confidence and validate their own feelings.
I am grateful for people and organizations that hold spaces for people’s trauma and healing. In the month of October, we also raise awareness of violence against women and girls. We live in an over-expressive world where we are constantly expected to share and express ourselves. Trust me, I am all for speaking your mind. But it’s equally important to be cognizant of what does and doesn’t work for you. Being untruthful to oneself is also an act of himsa, or violence. What if you don’t want to talk about your trauma? What if you want to move on and heal yourself?
As Vasu points out, “It is absolutely okay.”
“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” ~ C.G. Jung