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The Long Healing Arc of Developmental Trauma

"Shortly after my thirty-sixth birthday, I felt gripped by feelings of distress I could attach to nothing specific, an emotional state that initiated what has become a decades-long healing journey.  Early on, my healing attempts were hit-and-miss, but over time, as I developed self-care practices and reached out to professionals as needed, I found that meaning replaced my anxiety and joy my despair."

So begins the back-cover copy on Once Upon a Body: Creating Meaning, Peace, and Joy after Early Trauma.  I call the ten years I spent charting my journey from a seven-month, caged quarantine when I just turned two  to my seventh decade of life on Planet Earth  "An ACEs Recovery Narrative." I call it this to connect with others who identify as trauma survivors, post-traumatic growth hopefuls, and members of healing communities that end the isolation trauma brings in its wake.

My first healing sources - time in the natural world, story, and dance - rescued me from constant dissociation, initially at home and later, at school.  These sources of joy also lessened the reactivity that scarred my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood and made less troubling the deeply ingrained conviction that I was worthless, especially when terror prevented my recognition of the supportive adults doing their best to penetrate the fog of my constant agitation.  Because my grandmother's  beliefs included the necessity of "soldiering on" in the face of tragedy, the two-year quarantine of her older daughter and the seven-month quarantine of her younger granddaughter, each in separate buildings, became "nothing" in the face of the massive challenges left by two world wars and the Great Depression.  'Children are resilient' was her mantra, one she employed whenever she was close to admitting how very traumatized our entire household had been by medical quarantine for TB and the socially stigmatizing divorce that followed this equally stigmatizing quarantine experience.

My therapist, chosen in my thirties, was the first to name Attachment Trauma and introduce me to the work of Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby.  This experience of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) gave me the priceless gift of cognitive understanding, but it couldn't alter my outsized startle reactivity, my dissociative flights in my compulsive search for safety, and my inability to create boundaries in my desperation to recover and discover a sense of self/Self.  For many years, I believed my life was a series of random puzzle pieces that could not fit together, no matter how hard I willed them to create something identifiable.  And then I discovered the role my body played and plays in healing and in the ultimately joyful experience of wholeness.

I know I am not the only mature person who has suffered from early trauma without knowing this is the cause of deeply perplexing professional and personal isolation.  In offering this book to others, I am hoping to support the growing communities spreading trauma-sensitivity in schools, courts, hospitals, and mental health facilities.  Healing always depends upon our ability to connect, sometimes through conversations exploring surprising sources of healing, sometimes through our shared experiences of CBT as the beginning of understanding, and sometimes through comparing the discoveries of somatic techniques that do what words and ideas cannot:  acknowledge the grief and rage and bewilderment in our wise and hospitable flesh and so transform these reactive states into energy that supports the lives we long to fashion beyond the reach of early trauma's long and sticky fingers.

I hope you will relate to the experiences of unconscious as well as conscious healing I describe in Once Upon a Body.  I hope too, that you will take the time to share, with me and others,  your experiences of intuitive and unconscious healing, and how these led and lead you to consciously choose to deepen your experience of how we heal from the worst that has happened to us. In sharing, we lighten our healing loads, spread optimism regarding the process of healing, no matter how long it takes, and take our place within the vast landscape of human experience.  In this landscape, there is room for all of us, no matter our traumas.  I am grateful to share this landscape with you.

Jane Buchan

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