Healing From Trauma Thaws Frozen Emotions

Happy Spring! The ground is fully thawed where I live, though the color is drab and gray. Flowers will be here soon, evidenced by the rabbit that has emerged from its winter hiding place into our backyard landscape. Despite the state of the world, the natural world perseveres to its cycle like a hopeful promise.

The beginning of a warm season reminds me of what it is like to enter into the beginning stages of trauma healing. Like frostbite, the thaw is more painful than the freeze. It can take decades before frozen emotions are provided a safe and warm place to melt, and when it finds a safe environment, it oozes wounded parts of ourselves from a permafrost of fear into consciousness. For me, this was a period of uncertainty, waiting for each day to end, hoping to put a capstone on the anguish of knowing, truly knowing, danger chose me as a target.

Part of trauma healing is making the story real. A tragic and severe grief abounds in departing from the period of innocence (in adulthood, this is coping with denial), when attitudes often reflect a nothing-can-hurt-me mindset. The thaw into conscious truth often requires the support of a tribe, a community, a family, a church or spiritual practice, and an art form to manifest the loss of one worldview into a present-day identity. Speaking aloud this new identity, and scary comprehension of the world and its violence, explains why professional help is so important. Giving voice to the experience sews fractured selves into a cohesive whole, replacing fear with courage, growing beyond denial, and centering one’s new sense of worth around vulnerability rather than false stories.

I’ve been honored to be on the receiving end of multiple friends who’ve transcended from numbness and denial to a phase of vulnerability. This is an impressive feat for anyone, no matter where they are on the leg of the post-freeze journey. Because I’ve also experienced my own transcendence, it would be untrue to say everyone met me with empathy and encouragement. I was bitter and troubled, and often, a pain in the ass. Few knew what to say to me, a perceived ‘over sharer’ of my trauma story. Making it real for myself had an adverse reaction by many, which became the impetus of this blog and my longing to create a bridge for victims and their loved ones. Frequently, I observed the fumbling attempts of good men and women who fell short of sensitive responses to my confession of traumatic experiences. Can’t you figure it out? It was a long time ago. I should feel lucky that my mother, father, sisters, were still alive.

Though these suggestions were meant to be helpful, it made me want to avoid the world. Anger serves to justify the reality of violence and oppression in our world. The blowback I received shocked me—and it opened my eyes to our American default of victim-blaming. No matter how well-dressed, how laid back and cool, how smart, how much money one had, I felt semi’d by apathy. Not even rock star status can compensate for negligence. Like an insidious war, passive violence didn’t disappear with the passage of time. I was let down again and again.

When we are not equipped with trauma-informed tools, we unconsciously remain stuck in a censorship (or shaming) of the most educational human stories. We present ourselves as childlike in emotional scope. This is no longer OK. We are at a time in history when we all must approach softer ground of victim-advocacy. What we say reflects our capacity to be trusted by courageous victims speaking out to make a difference in the world. Trauma is no longer a taboo subject, but a theme of humanity in which our studies have taken adjacent flight into knowledge and preparedness. With all good intentions, and with my vastly limited understanding of all things trauma, I hope to spread helpful options to bridge the divide from ostracized to united.

It happens to everyone. An acquaintance or colleague makes a vague confessional of a personal traumatic experience, and you’re standing there, unsure of what to say. Below is a list to discern what is helpful and unhelpful when others unexpectedly disclose a personal trauma story. When in doubt, think of trauma as if your mother had been murdered. What would you want to hear? These examples are not everything I experienced, but they represent the imprint left by societal attitudes. I hope you find these lists beneficial, and if you have anything to add, please let me know by leaving a comment.

No-Good Responses To a Trauma Confessional: (Tones will vary in real life, but the message repeats an outdated societal attitude toward victims.)

  • You have to forgive people.
  • You act like… the world is ending…a bitch… a spoiled little brat…a liar.
  • Calm down.
  • That was a long time ago.
  • What is your problem?
  • You should be thankful… for everything you have…God is in control.
  • At least you’re… healthy…beautiful…
  • It’s always about you.
  • Can’t you get over it?
  • Wah, boohoo.

You’d be surprised at the various ways this tone leaks from well-intentioned people. As you can tell, getting out of the gig as fast as possible is contrary to our dominant need for connection. Of course, trauma has many sources and situations vary. It’s wise to aim for better, not perfection.

Good Enough Trauma-Informed Responses:

  • You’ve been dealt a shitty hand in life. I’m so sorry.
  • That’s a lot to overcome and process. Do you… need company, want to talk, need to be alone?
  • Can I give you a hug?
  • That motherfucker. Those motherfuckers.
  • What do you think triggered this right now? Let’s figure things out.
  • I don’t blame you.
  • You’re a hero.
  • Tell me more when you’re ready. I want to hear how you coped.
  • Damn. This is shitty news.
  • What the actual fuck is wrong with people?
  • I’m here for you. I’m on your side.

Empathy is spread from internal awareness to external evidence. We all deserve to live in a world where we feel safe and understood. Being truly honest about the bad habits of a societal attitude is to grow from conformity into the stability of a united and empathic root system.

RELATED NEWS: This Washington Post article delves into the future health issues of infant trauma and how, just because one can’t remember trauma, it has disastrous consequences to the mind and body.


All I Ever Wanted by Kathy Valentine. As a songwriter and bassist for the all-women band, the Go-Go’s, this autobiography illustrates a girl’s rise from childhood negligence to stardom, proving that trauma victims have the potential to be wildly successful in life.


I published a blog post on PACES Connection, a community of advocates and researchers to accelerate PACES science (Positive and Adverse Childhood Experiences Scores) in our communities and world.

Meanwhile, I am embarking on a new draft of my manuscript as if it were a sinking ship. It feels like a huge weight to tow to shore. I’m looking forward to May when I will rejoin my memoir writing group after a winter hiatus. A good book is never written alone.

WELCOME : Missy, SSwaffield, Harriett, Alli, Alison, Yoli, Laurie

Without readers like you, this would not be a growing community. Thank you!


I took this from the passenger seat while driving back home with my husband from California. Mount Nebo in Nephi, Utah is the tallest in the Wasatch Range, towering at 11,928 feet.

Wednesday Wisdom: Sensibility

Trigger Warning: Content contains sexual violence/trauma

The author Jessica Stern has been a huge influence on my writing work. She has written many books on terrorism (which I have not read, sorry, Jessica), but her memoir continues to inspire me with a single line. She wrote, “This is the worst impact of severe trauma: the victim loses faith in the evidence of her own senses.”

When I read this, I practically lifted my butt out of the chair with elation. Somebody finally understood me!

My story is not Jessica’s. Her memoir, Denial, A Memoir of Terror, reveals her journey as an expert on terrorism and her resilience to fear despite the extremely dangerous situations she willingly immersed herself in. Her investigative questioning to understand this resilience lead her back to her teen years when she and her sister were violently raped in their childhood home. As an emotional response to endure the incident, young Jessica willed away her fear. Afterwards, there was no memory of the event, as the trauma blocked her perception from her reality. She went on to live with a depleted sense of fear, which would explain her later obsession with danger. She wanted to feel something.

Trauma robs our perception of reality. This manifests in normalizing abnormal situations/behavior that we would typically avoid. The emotional wall meant to protect us has taken over, and rises each time the behavior occurs. We see it often in others, but it is much harder to see in ourselves as we have adapted to our own devices of self-protection. For whatever reason, this is a concept I continually obsess over and find absolutely fascinating. My own memoir delves into this notion, and whereas I have no expertise in the neurological manifestation of denial, I get it. I understand how emotions can be erased.

The way back to sensibility is through honesty, scrutiny, and one of the toughest jobs of adulting, emotional inquiry. We cannot arrive on the other side of trauma without the detective work into our own pasts. This requires guidance, support, a tribe, a community, an expert on trauma, loads of self-care, and absolute and endless loyalty to ourselves. It is not easy work, but when we regain our sensibility, we repair the broken link to the fullness of our identity.

Know that wherever you are in the journey, you are not alone. There is great power in each of us to immerse in healing, and many sources and methods exist for support. I like to think of myself as a friendly delegate. I’m happy to share links I have found helpful. Please email me if this interests you. Most of all, be kind and love yourself. You are so worthy of love.

Wednesday Wisdom: Uncertainty

On Monday morning, I woke up feeling energized and ambitious so I went for a run. It was short. A change of pace in my week, I hadn’t run in years, ever since it had proved challenging to my joints after giving birth to Kid A, (yes, a reference to Radiohead) but I ran with the mindset that nobody was judging me: I was slow and a little knock-kneed and, because of my life, a little nostalgic.

Now, eighteen years after giving birth to my first daughter, I am feeling uncertain as she is about to leave the house for college and begin a life of her own. I’m afraid of what the household will become without her, afraid of who I will be to the world—this woman with one less role visible to my friends and acquaintances of an identity I had sacrificed a career to become.

Stripped of this identity, who am I? The uncertainty is crushing. To be known as a mother is a privilege in which one doesn’t anticipate loss, but loss is a mother’s playground, an interpretation of growth and change weakened by the fear of feeling incomplete.

I am sad and I am grateful: grateful for being there to see her first smile, her first steps, her first tumble, and the many more that would follow. She was ambitious and alive and it was exhausting to keep her safe. In fact, keeping her safe was my career, but now I must retire.

Where do I put my energy? Where do I put my worry? It would be crazy-making to worry about her and I trust I have done my job well enough to forsake the helpless act of fearing the worst.

I must move forward. So it is here, in these words, on the page, where my identity finds me. It is here where a map to understanding my own emotions makes sense of the confusion. In two days, I will be a different parent, a different spouse, a different writer. I will be an identity both old and new, wisened, and free. Isn’t that the point life makes over and over? That freedom still possesses sacrifice and uncertainty? That we must continually move forward because it is the only direction to go?

‘Wonderland’ by Jaume Plensa, Calgary, Alberta

Beautiful words on parenting: The Last Time

Wednesday Wisdom: Success

When I began writing my memoir, the question most often asked was if it would be published.

In the beginning, I was adamant. Yes! Why else would I write? It was like asking if I intended to eat the plate of food in front of me at the dinner table. I was ravenous for indulgence.

Another year went by. I wrote as consistently as I ate. Writing was part of the day, something to sustain me. It gave me a voice and a safe place to reveal my fears and I grew less afraid of what I might discover about myself. Some days brought feasts of time and some days, a snack, but overall, a reliable practice built trust between my voice and my story. I honored the time I had carved out of the day for myself and my intentions softened. I was no longer anxious about life’s uncertainties or the book’s completion. Writing is like coq-au-vin. It needs time to absorb the flavors.

In the past five years, writing has opened my world. I have shared my story with others, who in turn have shared their own hard stories with me. Vulnerability is less threatening when you trust yourself. With writing, I have grown in authenticity, courage, and compassion, and in return, my tribe has grown enormously on social media and in real life. I am grateful for the tenderness that surpasses familiarity, and witnessing strangers in support of strangers is one of the most amazing aspects I have found through memoir writing.

Today, I was honored to be interviewed by Karletta Marie, in Australia, about the importance of sharing our most vulnerable stories. We spoke for an hour and a half. Our conversation was ignited with passion for the experience of renewal that memoir writing provides. Her mission to interview authors and professional writers about their growth stories is an act of compassion. She has witnessed the fear that holds people back and her work provides inspiration with narratives of courage.

But will my book be published?

Yes, although I don’t know when. At this point, it doesn’t matter. My measure of success is no longer a book deal, a monetary figure, or even a hard copy of my work. My goals to connect with others in honest and gritty exposure of fears and truth without guilt or shame was something I hadn’t considered at the onset of my writing journey. My prerogatives have changed. The book will be done some day, but I am successful today.

Seeley Lake, Montana

Wednesday Wisdom: Creativity

I’ve created good writing the past two days, shirking off exercise and other balancing activities that make me a mostly well-rounded individual.

Creativity requires stepping away from the world to dive deep into the needs of the project. Much like a newborn baby, art demands its needs without a language.

It isn’t until you’ve spent hours and hours agonizing over the possibilities that you begin to understand a project’s needs. Sometimes, the writing wants a detail, the color red to call attention to this spot here, or action, an explosive shift in the plot’s direction there.

I know the struggle and joy of being pulled toward my writing. When we burrow into art, we burrow into servitude. The ebb and flow of creative work requires strong communion with our state of being, opening ourselves to a place of potential and possibility, trusting that we’ve created a sacred harbor for self-expression, no matter how limited in time and space, within our immediate world.

Building the sacred harbor takes courage. You might have to push people away, people who bring toxic and negative energies that deplete you. On the other hand, that space will soon be filled with support and respect for the art that only you can make. Giving ourselves permission to feed creative impulses becomes not just a want, but a need, to engage in communion with our emotional and spiritual landscapes. Often, we are afraid to admit these needs, or, we don’t know how, because we haven’t learned the language.

The art will speak for you. I was forty-two when I began to write. When I allowed my voice to fall onto the page, my world transformed from fear to courage, hate to love, shame to pride. It’s never too late to reinvent a lifestyle based on art or to adopt a new way of living in service of your needs. It only takes courage to try.