Exploring the Connection Between Trauma Healing and Physical Health

[This blog was written for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and recently published on their website.]

Over 20,000 research studies have been done on the impact of stress on the human body According to medical experts, no one study definitively proves that unresolved stress and trauma can cause physical illness. However, my personal experience has led me to believe that it does.

I am not a medical professional, nor am I a therapist or nurse. What I am is a professional patient who has battled a lifetime of illnesses, from Type 1 diabetes and high blood pressure to Graves’ disease and stage IV colon cancer (twice).

I believe my complex medical history is connected to the sexual abuse I experienced in my childhood. Exploring this connection has been a key component of learning how to heal from trauma.

Facing the Impact of Childhood Trauma

Typically, one of the first lessons children learn is the importance of telling the truth. For children who have experienced physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological trauma, this lesson becomes confusing and stressful. Frequently threatened and told to lie, children like me are led further and further away from a core value: the authenticity to speak directly from the soul.

The result is often a spiritual loss so deep that recovery from stress and trauma can feel impossible.

Late one night, during a hospital stay for surgery to remove two feet of my colon, I knew I was dying. It was at that moment that I vowed, if I woke up the next morning, I would teach my body, mind, and spirit how to heal.

 

Accepting What Happened to Me Was Not My Fault
My journey to healing required an emotional reset. I had physically survived the trauma, but my emotional wounds remained. I was always sad, hurt, and angry because of the years of emotional issues and suffering I endured. I wanted a person to blame and hold responsible for my pain. I wanted the individuals responsible for the abuse to apologize, but I learned amends rarely happen.

The healing journey is also complicated by the constant reinforcement of victim-blaming attitudes (by peers, courts, and media) that validate what perpetrators have been saying all along – that the abuse was the victim’s fault. Part of my process involved learning and accepting that abuse is neither the victim’s fault nor their responsibility; the responsibility lies solely with the perpetrator.

For years after being abused as a child and sexually exploited by a therapist, I carried around the feeling that I was at fault for these traumatic events because I was not smart enough to know better. In a new therapy group, I was shocked to learn that none of these traumas were my responsibility.

Learning to Heal
Healing started the moment I took back the ability to speak directly from my soul. I also found many other ways to cope and heal:

  • Understanding and telling my story.
  • Finding the strength to withstand abuse myths and disbeliefs.
  • Creating a healthy support system.
  • Checking in with my medical and mental health professionals.
  • Strengthening my immune system.
  • Believing in an inner, astute truth: I am not to blame for the abuse I experienced.

I continued my healing by writing several books including Never Give Up: Break the Connection Between Stress and Illness, which won a 2018 Living Now Gold Book Award for books that change people’s lives. Additionally, I reported my abuse to the authorities as a way to take my power back.

The Mind-Body Connection
As I have written in my book, I have come to believe that when people think they are responsible for emotional trauma, this false belief disturbs the mind, body, and spirit — potentially weakening their immune system and leading to stress headaches and muscle tension, depression and fatigue.

Sometimes I worry that the self-blame and negative self-talk following my abuse was actually more harmful to me than the abuse itself. As I blamed myself and took responsibility for my abuse, I found myself in hospitals for illness after illness.

As I look back from an emotionally healed place, I have a message to share: It is our birthright to heal from the abuse we did not ask for or want, and to become the physically healthy person we always wanted to be.

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Alexis Acker-Halbur is an award-winning author and an abuse survivor. Now she shares her experiences and tools with women and men who have been traumatized. You can learn more about her work on this website.

 

 

 

 

How to Safely Move Out of an Abusive Home

GUEST BLOG by Nora Hood

I’m thrilled to introduce you to Nora Hood, a blog writer and today’s guest. Her blog below includes critical information on how to move out of an abusive relationship and home. 

 

(Image courtesy of Pexels)

Find more inspiring articles like this at The Never Give Up Institute’s Blog.

How to Safely Move Out of an Abusive Home

 If you are a victim of domestic abuse, escape might feel hopeless. It can be hard to leave, especially if you have developed a form of codependency with your abuser. No matter what fears you have, leaving an abusive home is the best choice. Once you leave, you will finally be able to start your journey towards being mentally healthy. In order to make it out safely and find a new home, you’ll need to make a good plan.

Be Prepared

Before you leave an abusive partner or family, you should have a plan. You probably won’t be able to take all of your belongings, but you should make a checklist of important things to pack. You will need identification information, personal documents, any money you’ve saved, keys, prescription medicines, etc. You’ll also want to take anything of personal value to you.

If you want to file for a permanent restraining order in the future, then you’ll likely need evidence of the abuse. This could also help you send your abuser to jail. According to WomensLaw.org, evidence could include anything from pictures of your wounds, a personal diary documenting the abuse, objects broken by the abuser, medical reports from the abuse, and testimony in court from you or other witnesses. Having evidence will help protect you in the long-run.

While you will eventually need to purchase a new home, your best option for getting away as soon as possible is by finding a temporary place to stay, whether that is at a friend’s or a family member’s place. You could also stay at a shelter while you’re getting things together.

 Make Your Escape

When you actually leave, you will need to move quickly so you don’t get injured. Don’t try to confront your abuser before you leave because this could make your situation worse. It’s tempting to stand up for yourself, but the safest option is to leave without saying anything. If your abuser has a regular routine, plan to leave when they are out of the house.

In the worst-case scenario, your abuser will catch you leaving and try to confront you. In this case, you should call 911. If you know that a confrontation is likely, you should consider calling 911 as a precaution. If you don’t feel comfortable asking for help from the police, you could also ask a friend to be there with you. Abusers are usually less likely to attack if there is a witness.

Find a New Home

It can be hard to get your life on track, but one of the best ways to get a fresh start is by putting down roots with your very own home. This will give you the sense of independence and control that you crave. As a domestic abuse survivor, your life was in someone else’s hands. Purchasing your own home is just another step of the healing process.

But buying a new home won’t be easy. You’ll need to have a regular source of income and good credit. If your abuser didn’t allow you to have a job, you’ll have to find one, which can be hard after experiencing the trauma of domestic abuse. Another important part of the home purchasing process is determining what you can afford. You’ll need to consider your annual income, the down payment, how much you spend each month, what kind of loan you’ll be taking out, and the location of the home.

Once you’re financially stable enough to buy your own home, take your time to decide which one is best for you. Make sure you do your research on the area and look for a neighborhood with low crime rates so that you can feel safe. After you’ve found the perfect home and moved in, you should make connections with your community. Niche recommends checking out the town calendar and joining local organizations.

Escaping from domestic abuse is hard. The relationship can become addictive, and it can feel like there is no way out. But you deserve to have a happy and fulfilling life. Just make sure that you’re prepared to leave, so you don’t end up injured. If you want to learn more about surviving trauma and healing, The Never Give Up Institute offers a wide variety of information and healing tools that can help you start fresh.

Find more inspiring articles like this on The Never Give Up Institute’s website.

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Alexis Acker-Halbur is an award-winning author and medical miracle. Child abuse made her seriously ill and put her in harm’s way numerous times. She survived and now shares her experiences and tools with women and men who have been traumatized. To order her tools for healing trauma book, Never Give Up: Break the Connection Between Stress and Illness, click here. If you would like to read her 2020 published fictional novel, THE BEAR: In the Middle of Between, click here.

2020

Dear Wellness Seekers:

I recently wrote this poem to try and find some answers to my anguish. This year has been a disaster and yet I keep plodding on. If you feel the same, I hope this poem helps you understand the stress we all are under. Stay safe and I wish you well.

2020

The winds howled in chaos,
and life as we knew it was gone.
From politics to pandemic,
our hearts rallied to stay strong.

We went through months of anguish,
with our democracy shattered.
We cried and prayed and pushed the alarm,
yet, nothing seemed to matter.

I looked for a sign of hope,
but change appeared to be lost.
My depression grew with flourish,
my beliefs and values tossed.

“Vote” they said would do me good,
so I signed and mailed my ballot.
It felt fierce to express my right,
and cleanse our land of maggots.

I’m tired of the lies and
the evil forced on us each day.
The world laughs at my country,
Should I leave or should I stay?

Autocrats will steal my soul,
and make me think like them.
They will never ever succeed,
we will fight them to the end.

So, rise up America,
we need to take our country back.
Healing from 2020 will take years,
start to believe in truthful facts.

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Alexis Acker-Halbur is an award-winning author and medical miracle. Child abuse made her seriously ill and put her in harm’s way many times. She survived and shares her experiences and tools with women and men who have been traumatized. To order her book, Never Give Up: Break the Connection Between Stress and Illnessclick here, or her newly published fictional novel, THE BEAR: In the Middle of Between click here.

Startling Statistics from NO MORE

Hello Wellness Seekers:

I received this email today from an organization called, NO MORE: Together We Can End Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault. If you’re not on their mailing list, I want to make sure you know the startling statistics of rising abuse in our pandemic world.

STOP CHILD AND DOMESTIC ABUSE NOW!

 

Friend,

Today at a special virtual convening, NO MORE proudly joined with the Commonwealth Secretariat to launch a timely new “Commonwealth Says NO MORE” initiative. The effort is aimed at helping the 54 Commonwealth of Nations member countries address and prevent violence against women and girls.

The pandemic and the resulting lockdowns have dramatically increased incidents of abuse around the world, with calls to domestic violence helplines rising by up to 300% and abuse-related killings higher than normal. It is now estimated that COVID-19 is likely to cause a one-third reduction in progress towards ending gender-based violence by 2030.

The Commonwealth of Nations makes up nearly one-third of the world’s population. Together—with the Commonwealth Secretariat, the government ministers, high commissioners, business leaders, women’s advocates and celebrities who attended today’s convening and who are lending their voices to the Commonwealth Says NO MORE effort—we can help provide support needed now for victims of abuse and engage billions in efforts to stop domestic and sexual violence once and for all.

Therefore, the new Commonwealth Says NO MORE effort is critical, not only to respond to the immediate crisis but also to create longer-term solutions to prevent domestic and sexual violence. As a vital first step, today we unveiled the first-ever pan-Commonwealth digital portal, which offers countries and civil society organizations easy-to-use tools and resources to boost their efforts in helping victims and those at risk, and educating communities.

The portal also provides victims with access to critical information, including local helplines, shelters, safety guidance, and legal aid—a service particularly important in communities where the pandemic has disrupted such support.

Please, check out the new portal and take the pledge to join us. Thank you very much!

LEARN MORE

Pamela Zaballa
NO MORE Global Executive Director

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Alexis Acker-Halbur is an award-winning author and medical miracle. Child abuse made her seriously ill and put her in harm’s way many times. She survived and shares her experiences and tools with women and men who have been traumatized. To order her book, Never Give Up: Break the Connection Between Stress and Illness, click here, or her newly published fictional novel, THE BEAR: In the Middle of Between click here.

Living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

I received the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) about ten years ago, after my daughter was involved in a serious accident while walking to school. Before the accident, I worked hard to keep my life, my family and their world so protected that the instant she got hit, my controlled snow globe world instantly cracked, hit the ground, and shattered. In fact, when my son and I were talking the day of the accident, he looked at me and innocently said, “Things will never be the same again.”  Extremely prophetic words that at the time neither myself nor my family had any idea what they would come to mean.

During the year following my daughter’s accident, I was busy with tending to her health, taking her to appointments, trying to work full time, and keeping our household running as normally as possible. Simultaneously, I kept having strange experiences that were making me feel like I was losing my mind. I couldn’t stop and think about what was happening, nor did I have the words to describe it to anyone. It was just an overwhelming sense of fear, and general feeling that I was going slowly going mad.

I was becoming anxious. I started losing all sense of time; finding myself wondering where I had been the last few hours and feeling incredibly disconnected from my body and the world. I was called into meetings at work because my performance was terribly erratic. I felt physically sick all the time. And I kept having these bizarre explosive memories leaving me feeling out of control and disoriented.  I knew something was seriously wrong with me, so I made a call to a psychologist who agreed to see me the next day.

When I started working with my first therapist, I was anxious to tell her everything all at once. I thought if I could word-vomit everything that was coming to my mind, that would be enough to feel better and get back to work.

I didn’t understand that I was having flashbacks, and that I was living in a constant state of crisis. I was writing my therapist letters from a dissociated state which made no sense but felt vaguely familiar as she would read them aloud. I would lock myself in my room for hours fearing that I was going to hurt myself, and I didn’t want to be around my family. I felt out of control, thinking I was losing my mind, feeling like I had failed my myself, my family, and I began spiraling down a very slippery slope.

One of the most important practices to have in place when beginning trauma therapy is to have a safety plan. I needed to develop tools for many things, including distress tolerance. Once a plan was in place, we could begin the process of working on and processing my trauma.

Not only was my therapy about processing the memories, but I also had to start accepting that there were some intense effects of the trauma, and they influenced how I saw and reacted to the world.

I also had to face how my trauma affected my relationships with my family, friends, parenting style, and career. While dealing, and coping with the trauma, there were a lot of “aha” moments. I saw how my behavior and ways of coping with life, were a direct result of my trauma and not because I was a bad person.

Some of my PTSD symptoms still have a good choke-hold on me. As with many illnesses, PTSD can be invisible on the outside. My symptoms include (not limited too) flashbacks, concentration issues, becoming overwhelmed which leads to feeling like my brain is shutting down, difficulty making choices, anxiety/depression, and a sensitivity to triggers. I sometimes use the phrase, “triggers, triggers everywhere.” The wind can blow a certain way, or fireworks, or a car backfiring, even the moon can sometimes bring on flashbacks.

Once I was able to name and accept my symptoms, I needed to learn to work within my deficits. This wasn’t easy or comfortable for me. And honestly, there are still times I find myself becoming frustrated and angry at my PTSD. When that happens, I stop, and use my grounding tools to rest and reset.

Writing gave me the courage I needed to address the pain I was feeling. I would write even when I thought I had nothing to write about. Often, I would write and send what I wrote off to my therapist. I started to find that I could write what I couldn’t say aloud.  At first, it provided distance from having to use my voice, but then I found writing gave me a voice.

Learning to recognize and acknowledge each step on my path towards health and understanding is a long and never linear process that helps keep me in a resilient mindset. I also try to remember to notice the perfect moments. I made myself understand that are 24-hours in a day, and within those hours are some spectacular moments.

I was not going to let the effects of what happened to me keep me from trying to have the life I wanted. I never lose sight of my goals. They are to live with my past, live in the truth, and recognize and relish in the feelings of internal contentment. Some days those goals seem as far away as the furthest star, and other days I understand that, I am living in my truth, I am content and understand that I’m not just a survivor of trauma, but that I am thriving despite my trauma.

Thank you, Alexis and the Never Give Up Institute for inviting me to be a guest writer on your blog. The work you do is truly inspiring!

Alexis Rose
Author, Speaker
https://atribeuntangled.com/blog/
atribeuntangled@gmail.com

Thank you, Alexis Rose, for your enlightening blog on PTSD. I know my readers will appreciate your insights, vulnerability, and power to survive. Thanks a million for being a guest blogger on my website.