It all started one morning, when I was battling with a little voice that kept saying, “It’s ok, you don’t need to be at work at 9am, just call in and tell them that you will be delayed.” But the better part of me scrambled for change to take the bus and packed my bag tightly so I could hustle my way safely along the sidewalk. Then it all came crashing down. I tripped. I made a half coordinated attempt at keeping myself upright but ended up propelling myself into the corner of concrete wall landing with a bang on my ear, ripped the side of my neck with a slash as I fell backwards onto my knapsack. I could not breathe; it felt as if I had crushed my ribs.
Luckily, bystanders came to help, though this has not always been my experience. In this case, there was no transgressor, there was blood and tears but I was not a victim of household violence, or rape.
Would bystanders have come to my aid if there was an offender and if there was an act of violence? Or would I have become another case in support of the ‘bystander effect’ that has been witnessed across cultures and generations, like the horrific case of the young woman in New Delhi on a public bus in 2012. Or like what happened to The Runaway’s Member Jackie Fuchs, who kept her traumatic story a secret for too long, as she was scared that no one would believe.
My fall and experience still caused my body trauma, but it was a form of trauma that was acceptable and easy for people to come and lend a helping hand. Trauma can take many forms, has many components and can be experienced or triggered by a plethora of different events from accidents, relationships to experiences of violence or shock. Trauma can manifest physically, emotionally and mentally and lead to acute or chronic conditions, and can even lie dormant and experienced long periods of time after an event took place.
One story of a traumatic experience appeared again this week, this time on the cover of the New York Times. Here 35 women came together to ‘share their stories about being assaulted by Bill Cosby and the culture that wouldn’t listen.’ (NY Times) This represents a turning point on how society views and shares rape stories. Now, particularly online ‘there is a strong sense that speaking up is the only right thing to do, that a women claiming her own victimhood is more powerful than any other weapon in the fight against rape’(NY Times) and healing from trauma.
During my traumatic experience that week, where my body was crippled, I was gasping for air, and had the wind knock out of me, I had support. I didn’t have to wait in the emergency room, instead I received Bowen therapy and took Arnica, a common remedy used for bruising and physical trauma as my first line of defense. I also used Bryonia was for the damage to my rib cage, which was in a spasm. Then as the pain eased and I was able to lay down, I received BowenFirst™ Therapy. My lungs filled with air and every muscle released its guarded stance. Because the body holds cellular memory of all traumas, there was little eclipses of past trauma released effortlessly.
I felt so grateful that I had this team of support available to me and that I didn’t have to wait in a crowded emergency room while trying to gulp down painkillers. Only to be told by a doctor 5 hours later that my ribs were ok, and that I can expect to be in pain for a few days but it will pass. With Bowen therapy I didn’t need to take painkillers and I was able to be on my feet in just a few hours with little to no pain.
What I experienced was traumatic and I was lucky enough that I didn’t have to wait 60 years before I shared this story, I didn’t feel ashamed, I wasn’t unacknowledged, and I didn’t have to push it back and hide it from society. It has taken our culture decades for women to feel safe enough to share their traumatic experience of sexual abuse. Younger women in particular have helped open these doors by sharing stories online, and giving other women the power to speak up.
We forget that sexual abuse, just like a car crash, sporting accident, or a fall is a traumatic experience as well. It is just that rape is an untold trauma that is silenced, ignored, misunderstood, and unacknowledged. There are sexist cultural influences and dialogues that are so deep rooted in our psychology that we find ways to protect those who have transgressed upon us, and convince ourselves that no one would believe us anyways. Over 30 women came forward reporting sexual abuse from the same man and there were still those defending the culprit. Our society has had a terrible reputation for not believing women and girls who report sexual abuse. In any other case of violation and violence, a victim is not responsible for proving their own innocence, but when it comes to sexual violence onus falls upon the victim. This compounds the trauma experienced by victims of sexual violence – not only do they experience the original trauma but whether they choose to keep this horrific event secret or come forward with it, they are bombarded with trauma after trauma.
When I treat patients who are releasing childhood abuse or discover through BowenFirst™ that there body has been traumatized, I witness the gentle and deliberate release of the physiological stress that their body was holding unto. I have not had the opportunity to meet victims of Bill Cosby, let alone help them, but I assume many of these women have faced different challenges in their lives, ; some may have relationship challenges, some may have health issues they don’t seem to be able to surmount or that keep reoccurring. If we were to compare their trauma to 80% of all the other women, it would be similar. What they had the courage and opportunity to do, was to speak on behalf of all women about trauma.Because I treat chronic illness and trauma, I can affirm that the underpinnings of so many health issues lie in the traumas that exist in our bodies. What so many people don’t realize is that trauma not only has a conscious impact on what we struggle with emotionally, but it also has a physiological effect; there is a body consciousness of all traumatic events. Each event adds another layer and builds upon former traumas. These women who have experienced amnesic rapes have experienced trauma, every cell in their body holds onto that experience. So it really does not matter whether one has memory of the events or not – the body does.
What is trauma? According to the dictionary definition:
“A deeply distressing or disturbing experience.”
What one person perceives as stressful may not be to another. Stress, like other experiences is in the eye of the beholder. We create our stress through the lenses of which we filter our experiences and our attitude and outlook on life will inform the impact events will have on us. In western medicine, we have the inclination to believe that the brain is resilient. It isn’t. We can usually manage to come to terms with an incident or repeated incidences when we felt helpless, deceived, betrayed, used or taken advantage of. But what happens to our body?
In my experience, the body still holds the impact of our experiences. Despite amnesia during the actual “sexual” acts, the context provided the trauma, the inability to get support, the “nobody would believe you,” what we feel impacts our body even if on some level we have rationalized our experience away.
What Bill Cosby did to the 35 women cited in the New York Times article was cruel, but our culture made it worse by not listening to these women or any other women who have experienced abuse. I can’t change the culture that surrounds rape but I can help the bodies that have lived through its trauma.
As a doctor I wish to help and heal men and women that have faced trauma. BowenFirst™ Therapy can help the body heal from all traumas, from falls and accidents to abuse.
BowenFirst™ therapy’s very simple orchestrated input on the skin, muscle proprioceptors, fascia and neuro-lymphatic system has the effect of reprogramming the neural network of the body’s diverse operating systems such as circulatory, hormonal, digestive and eliminatory systems. More commonly known as “rebooting your body”, BowenFirst™ therapy works through the autonomic nervous system to rebalance the sympathetic system- the body’s fight, flight and freeze- response to trauma with its innate restorative qualities which are found when the parasympathetic system is in balance allowing for rest, repair, rebuilding, regeneration and a sense of wellbeing. Though BowenFirst™ therapy is performed on the body, the therapist works with the body, activating and nourishing meridian systems, releasing stored emotions such as fear, grief, indecision and sadness. As this treatment affects body-mind-spirit, and that every cell in our body holds the memory of all occurrences, memories are released as well as their corresponding pain sensations and bodily localizations.
The amygdala is the center for fear conditioning. The amygdala is in the limbic mammalian or emotional brain – is the nucleus that processes all information from the environment that might carry with it, a threat. Often when patients experience early childhood trauma, death of loved ones, abuse or any situation in which helplessness is felt, they experience dissociative states because their response to the trauma was the freeze state. When the Autonomic Nervous System attempts to regulate itself, they will often experience a type of shaking- a physical and emotional release of the trauma. This release is very natural in traumatized animals. In humans, it requires a safe and aware therapist that can be present to allow this healing process to take place.
When pain is associated to trauma, there are numerous other health conditions that come into play from our autonomic nervous system becoming frozen in this state of protection. Let’s not forget that the autonomic nervous system also regulates the digestive system through the enteric nervous system, our detoxification pathways through our liver, kidney and skin, and our respiratory and circulatory systems. Basically our bodies believe that the trauma is not over even if our mind has another version of reality. BowenFirst™ therapy involves the body’s relaxation response and helps auto-regulate the autonomic nervous system. This is of paramount importance since we can only heal when we are in parasympathetic mode.
Our trauma can heal. And just because that is true does not diminish the absolute need reframe and stop violence against women and how our culture deals with it. Just because we are strong, does not mean that we should “take it”, “allow it” and keep silent.