How dealing with trauma leads to ultimate healing
By Barrett Freibert
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson
Healing isn’t always green juice and Om Shanti. Sometimes it’s dishes in the sink for days, so you have time to write, and sob and stare at trees as if the answer will be illuminated at dusk. Healing isn’t always meditation and herbal remedies, sometimes it’s sleeping late because your body is super glued to the bed or screaming bloody murder in the privacy of your car. Most importantly, healing is not a solitary activity, it’s a communal one. We must be willing to ask for help for complete healing. Health is not just about exercising and eating healthy, it’s about making peace with our hardships and in our minds.
In August of 2015, chronic insomnia arrived like a freight train at midnight. Later, the culprit revealed itself as Lyme disease, unresolved trauma and excessive busyness. At first, I ignored the problem, drank more coffee and tried to wear the energizer bunny’s jumpsuit. Guess what? It didn’t work. No wonder my body was like wet cement, heavy and hard to move. I had just left a high-stress position in the market research industry where 12-hour days were not uncommon. When I wasn’t working, I was working out, socializing, or yes, scrubbing my tub with rap music blaring. The word “rest” did not exist in my vocabulary.
After five months of battles in my bed, I finally sought help and began listening to my mother, Babs Freibert, who is a Healthy Living Coach and eventually inspired me to become a coach too. My mom smells of frankincense, fresh linen and rooibos tea. She knew about Echinacea and alkaline diets long before they were in every magazine. She was “New Age” before the term was coined, revealing humor in dire situations and sharing cures for every ailment with her library of alternative healing methods. Although she taught me everything I know about holistic health, what I value most about her wisdom goes deeper. However, it wasn’t until I was very ill that I began to put her advice about emotional health into action.
For years, my mom told me, “We are as sick as our secrets. We can stuff trauma, put on a Pollyanna smile, positive attitude and move forward. But at some point, we get triggered and emotions erupt.” This is exactly what happened to me and to my mother. When I was twelve my parents divorced. Ten days after my fourteenth birthday my father died. And at 26, chronic illness knocked me off my feet. I had let my traumas build up like dirty laundry and it began to stink. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association now proves that PTSD (or trauma) is linked to autoimmune diseases. In other words, people that carry unresolved trauma in their bodies have a predisposition to illness.
In my case, a tick did bite me. However, Lyme disease, as well as many other autoimmune illnesses, go deeper than the physical realm, which is one reason why some people never recover. With such illnesses, treatment must begin with the physical. But we must also address our emotions that are inextricably linked to the physical issue. Right after my father passed away, my mom suggested my brother and I invite friends over. My brother was skateboarding outside with his crew when my mom found me upstairs in my room. She asked, “Don’t you want to invite your friends over?” I replied, “No. I don’t want anyone to know he died.” Looking back I see I was terrified to feel my feelings. For years, I stuffed them into my mind’s junk drawer, thinking, “Oh, I’ll deal with or feel that later.” Until it was too late, just like mama had warned me, my stuck emotions did eventually erupt.
My mom shares a similar experience with trauma leading to physical health issues. Little Babsy grew up protecting her beloved parents from the secret of alcoholism. From age five to nine, she became the parent. At school instead of learning multiplication, she wondered, “Will the milk be sour or fresh when I get home? How will I feed my baby brother? Will my parents still be asleep when I get home?” At one point, she almost became an orphan before her parents got sober. It wouldn’t be until 25 years later that my mom began sharing her story.
Babs says, “Keeping my story a secret was too hard on my system. At some point, it began bubbling up like a geyser. When it’s ready to be released, there is no stopping it. For me, it erupted in the form of a burning red rash on my arm. Doctors tried to medicate it with ointments and pills to no avail. It was only when I started sharing my story and changing my diet that allowed these poisonous toxins to release from my skin and begin to heal.” After she began talking, the rash disappeared.
In our culture, I hear people say, “Be strong. Don’t cry.” But being strong is actually allowing a friend to hold you in silence as you sob on their shoulder. It took getting sick for me to see this and put it into practice. Brene Brown, author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers and researcher of courage and vulnerability says, “The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy [and health] into the shadows.”
Wounds fester like sores if we leave the Band-Aid on too long, because “we are afraid of the dark.” Babs says, “The Band-Aid helps for a day or two but then it needs light, fresh air and to be open for true healing. Just as we have to be open and talk about our traumas for true healing to begin.” Rip the Band-Aid off and it stings at first, but it is only then that new skin is created.
We live in a culture that promotes quick fixes. Stressed? Have a drink. Have a headache? Pop an Advil. Hungry? Drive through McDonald’s. But there is nothing quick about healing and health. This is one reason why both my mom and I love coaching. Through serving others, we are reminded that through taking daily steps, like meditation, being present with our feelings, moving mindfully and eating loads of greens, it pays off in the long run. The habits have compounding interest. You may not notice anything after a month or two, but over time, it is what creates success.
My mom and I both have had clients seek us out to lose weight, increase their fitness or energy. Or so they think…Babs says, “Once they start talking and get in touch with some emotional obstacle that has been holding them back and once they acknowledge it and give it a voice, it moves out of the way.” Then, the healing begins. We are all like crying toddlers in big kid bodies, who simply want to be held, seen and heard. Tony Robbins, the world’s top life coach and business strategist, grew up with abuse and says, “It didn’t happen to me, it happened for me.”
Although this in no way justifies abuse or hardship, it illuminates that in the yuck of the muck is where growth happens. Being vulnerable and sharing our stories, not only helps us heal, but also allows others to heal through empathetic connection. Many think healing is like an angel playing the harp when in reality, it feels like drowning in a sea of snakes.
Today, I still catch myself red-handed, escaping through busyness, instead of sitting down to process my emotions. I constantly have to pause and check in with myself. So if I feel blue, I lean into it. I turn on a sad song and weep or schedule an appointment with my coach because the only way out is through. I do it over and over again. Just like a snake that sheds its skin each year.
At first, I feel exposed with raw skin in open air. But I continue to heal by scheduling time to simply be with myself. I ask for help from those I trust, like my mom and my spiritual counsel. And by doing so, I make more space for vitality by being present with each uncomfortable or lovely emotion that comes knocking at my door.
For more information:
Visit illuminousliving.com to work with Babs.
Visit barrettfreibert.com to work with Barrett.