Trauma and recovery. The image shows a group of 4 people, outside.

Welcome to the first episode of "Trauma Demystified," where we're laying the foundation for the podcast. 

Having experienced trauma often leaves us feeling alone and disconnected. Starting the road to trauma recovery can often feel like a daunting journey. Parts of us may be scared to look at what happened to us. The voices of stigma may tell us that we are forever broken. I get this, I have been there, too. However, you don't have to start the journey alone. I wholeheartedly believe that healing isn't just a possibility based on the insights of my healing journey and witnessing the transformation of my clients. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that it is easy - healing from trauma requires change and effort but it is possible and worth the effort. 

In a way, the episode plants the seeds for future ones. Since trauma can be overwhelming, I’ll give you some guidelines so that you can enjoy listening to it in the safest way possible.

Furthermore, we will begin the exploration of trauma and recovery. Have you ever wondered what trauma is? In this episode, you'll learn more about the definition of trauma and common categories of trauma - whether they are related to individual, relational, or collective trauma.

Have you ever found yourself dealing with painful emotions like shame and self-blame or a dysregulated nervous system? Many people who have experienced trauma can’t recall memories but have symptoms. In this episode, we will untangle common symptoms of trauma. Additionally, you will learn more about the medical perspective on trauma and how it can lead to stigmatizing beliefs while adopting a trauma-informed approach. Last but not least, we will start to uncover recovery and what recovery means. 

Throughout the episode, I’ll share more about my journey so that you can get to know me a bit better.  I hope that this episode gives you some insights into trauma and recovery and gives you hope that healing is possible.So, tune in and join me on this transformational path.

 

 

Listen to this episode on Buzzsprout: Trauma Demystified - Setting the Scene

 

Read the transcript below for a detailed dive into this episode's key insights and discussions:

Natalie Jovanic  0:01 

Welcome to Trauma Demystified, a podcast by Bright Horizon Therapies. I'm Natalie Jovanic, your host on this journey. In this podcast I draw from my professional expertise as a trauma informed counselor and coach, as well as from my lived experience around healing trauma.

 

In today's episode, setting the scene and revealing the podcast journey, I will introduce some ground rules and explain what you can expect from the podcast. Furthermore, you will get to know me a bit better. And I'll give you some ideas what trauma is and how recovery looks like. One thing I would like you to remember is that healing is possible and that you're not alone in that. So tune in and let's embark on this journey together.

I'm aware that we are touching on a complex topic, and I want to give you some ground rules because I don't know you and I don't necessarily see what's happening for you while you're listening to the podcast. The first ground rule is take care of yourself. If you notice that you have heightened emotions by listening to the podcast, please take a break, take a sip of water, go for a walk and do some activities to ground yourself.

Throughout the podcast, I will share theories and concepts and I hope that they might resonate with you. However, I would also invite you to use them to reflect on your own experience. And I would also ask you to take what resonates and leave the rest. All of us have a different healing journey. And some of what I share may resonate with you and some of what I share may not at all resonate with you. And so really listen to yourself and respect your own boundaries.

The episodes will build on each other so that you can deepen your knowledge about trauma and recovery. So today, I will just put some surface information out there and then over time, we will dig deeper. I also invite you to ask a mental health professional in your area if you notice, disturbing emotions or anything like that. And please stop listening to the podcast if this were the case.

So what can you expect from Trauma Demystified? First of all, I hope that the podcast Trauma demystified helps you on your healing journey and gives you a better understanding about trauma and recovery. I will share concepts and theories, expert insights, and tools and knowledge I gained on my own healing journey, and also knowledge I gain by witnessing the countless stories of my clients.

Throughout the podcast we will explore the various aspects of trauma and the potential pathways to recovery and healing. Since recovery is rather an inner process than rational understanding, I'd also invite you to reflect on your own life throughout the podcast. Recovering from trauma is a bit like peeling an onion, we need to peel one layer after the other. And there is a parallel with this podcast. I'm aware that I have a lot of content to share. However, I can't dump it all on you in the first episode. So I see the podcast as a continuous journey. In the beginning, we are focused more on foundational information, and we will dig deeper over time.

Second, I'm aware that stigma is still prevalent in our society. And I think many of the ideas out there when it comes to trauma can be quite stigmatizing and also aren't necessarily spreading hope for recovery. So I hope that you can sense that you're not alone by listening to the podcast, and also that you understand that healing is possible. Please note that it might be useful to also check out my blog post on brighthorizontherapies.com. In addition to the podcast since I can post more graphics on a website. And to give you a time by some idea, I plan to post a new episode once a month.

So now let's share a little bit about myself. On a warm Tuesday morning in September, my mother died after a period of great suffering. I could not imagine my life without her. And I had no idea how my life was going to continue. Her doctor encouraged me to see my mother's death as though it had brought her freedom. Freedom… I sensed by the energy of her words that being free must be wonderful. Freedom was a concept that I had never been known before - sadness and pain reward I knew. I felt that it may be a wonderful choice for my mother. I was wondering what I have to die for us to be able to be free from suffering. It was that day when I was 19 years old that I left home forever. I left behind darkness and violence and began my search for freedom.

At this stage of my life, I did not know that I had experienced trauma. My childhood was overshadowed by various types of violence. However, as a child, I did not recognize the impact it had on me. Because it was the only normal I knew, some of the memories and associated emotions I had very deep behind an invisible wall to be able to survive. They reappeared over time.

I had many different symptoms that are associated with trauma. However, in the beginning, I felt too scared to start my healing journey due to stigma and the belief that I would be forever broken. I needed to work through these first to find a more hopeful perspective for healing. After a while, I started my healing journey and worked with various mental health professionals. Some were useful, others were less helpful. However, all of them gave me an insight about what recovery means. Now, as a professional, I use the insights I gained in my healing to identify those approaches that are helpful and abandoned others.

So how does my story constitute constitute a trauma? The definition of trauma is that it is an experience that overwhelms our central nervous system, and blocks our capacity to integrate the experience emotionally. Trauma can be related to an event, a series of events are in during conditions in environments. So what do I mean by that? Just to give you some examples of events: events are related to incidences like accidents, natural disasters or rapes. Enduring conditions means that it's a more stressful environment, and that the exposure to the traumatic event is more continuous. So enduring conditions can be for example, emotionally abusive relationships, childhood neglect, or being targeted by systemic racism or discrimination.

The other thing I want to emphasize and I will dig deeper into that in a future episode, however, we can have either implicit or explicit memories around traumatic events. When we have extra sad memories, we really remember the event, we remember the memories. And we can recall what happened in those moments to a degree. In this case, it's usually easier to understand that we have experienced trauma. Implicit memories are only felt as sensory elements without words, which means we experience a bodily and emotional sensations. But we don't have any words or pictures and be feel these sensations disconnected from the event. In this case, is much harder to make sense out of our experience. And it's often more confusing to go through it and to really reconnected to what happened to us in the past.

Additionally, trauma is a wound that injures us emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. It is often more difficult to adapt after trauma happens because we don't feel a sense of inner safety. And very often, our reactions become more automatic, and more instinctual. So how do we become traumatized, we need to be mindful that the event or the environment itself doesn't determine whether something is traumatic: it is really the individual's experience of the event and the meaning they make out of it. Which in the end means if you and I want to go through the same experience, it can be traumatic for me, and maybe it's not traumatic for you. So we also usually respond uniquely, to what happened to us according to our inner and outer resources. For example, if we are children, and something traumatic happens to us, we usually don't have the inner resources to really integrate this experience. So it's far more likely that we put memories behind a wall. However, when we are adults, and we may have already developed more emotional capacity, it may be easier for us to just work through these experiences on our own. And then be aware like for example, how a parent responds to what happened to a child can also really make a difference in the healing journey of the individual.

Also, be aware that there are often complex interdependencies and layers when it comes to trauma. We need to really consider what was the family context and how we may be shaped by our families. But we also need to consider how we are shaped by our social environments like what is our intersectionality? And how does society respond to us? So the experience of somebody who is Black is probably very different than the experience of somebody who is white.

Another way how we can look at trauma is really, that we start to categorize it. I find the categories of trauma helpful just to understand my own story and also to identify needs for recovery because dependent on the category of trauma that happened to us. Recovery may look slightly different rent. So, the first one I want to touch on is shock trauma. It happens if an individual has a shock reaction to a specific event. In general, apart from some exceptions, shock trauma is more likely that we can identify it. Examples for shock trauma is, for example, assaults or attacks. It can be car accidents, it can be falls, it can be plane crashes, or near misses of accidents. Another element of shock trauma or natural disasters like earthquakes, flux, floods, fires, hurricanes. On a more personal level, it can also be stillbirth, miscarriages, sudden infant death syndrome, or a sudden death of any loved one. Another thing where we can add shock trauma is when with a diagnosis of terminal illness are when a family member is diagnosed with a terminal illness. And I think one element that is often overlooked, we can also have shock trauma after surgeries, dental procedures or other medical procedures. What do I mean by that, like for example, if a young child needs to go to the hospital, just because they have a serious illness and is disconnected from their parents like this can be a shock trauma. Another thing is if we have a really planned surgery, plan dental procedure, we still can experience that as a shock trauma.

Another category of trauma is developmental trauma. So developmental trauma occurs during childhood and adolescence. So it occurs in this critical period of our lives, when we actively develop our personality and our nervous system. And developmental trauma can be relational or it can also be systemic. So just give you some examples. adverse childhood experiences belong in the category of developmental trauma. For example, if a parent uses alcohol or substances, or if a child is experiencing or witnessing violence or neglect in the home, if there is a chronic illness, either for parents or if the child has a chronic illness or if the child needs an invasive medical procedure. Other examples for developmental trauma, systemic oppression, racism and discrimination and bullying.

Apart from developmental trauma, we also have relationship trauma. So relationship trauma refers to trauma that we experience in relationships, either with one person or with a group. And so a relationship trauma can happen on a relationship level or community level. In general, relationship trauma can have a really complicated impact if the other person was in a position of trust, or if the other person was supposed to be a safe place for the individual. Just to give you some example if it was a teacher, if it was a parent, or if it was a partner. So in the category of relationship trauma, we have family and relationship violence. We have bullying, stalking, violence, robbery, physical sexual assault, on a more community level, we have war and genocide.

Now we move more in the direction of systemic and collective level collective levels of trauma. So in this category, we have systemic violence and structural violence. And what we mean by this are the social structures and the government policies that result in mass losses, deconstruction of culture, and ongoing oppression. So just to give you some examples:  the impact of colonization on Indigenous people, like residential school experience of the 60’s scoop in Canada. It also affects other groups that are intentionally marginalized, like people belonging to the queer community, Black people and People of Color. And in general, if somebody belongs to an intentionally marginalized community, they have less access to resources to meet their basic needs, and they often have poor health outcomes. While the dynamics of racism and oppression are not okay, they’re still very prevalent in our society. And so we need to be aware that of recovery in the context of systemic oppression means to work with trauma, but also on how to find ways to protect the individual from further trauma because before society doesn't change, the life of the individual will still be exposed to these dynamics of oppression.

Sustained community based traumatic stress refers to a form of psychological distress or trauma that affects an entire community, or groups of individuals over an extended period of times. And this is is a really complicated layered experience of trauma, because it usually affects the established relationships in the community. In this area, we have war or cultural or faith based conflicts, we also have acts of violence or losses involving the same relationships without the opportunity to fully recover. And we also have the events or the impact of multiple suicides within a community. In general, these types of event impact the whole community, and really have a ripple effect through the community. And it often affects small and remote communities in a more profound way.

The next category of trauma is intergenerational and historic trauma. What we mean by that is the ongoing wounding across generations, which comes from systemic and structural violence and oppression, or other collective trauma, and why the contemporary generations may not directly undergo the same traumatic events, the influence of history persists in the presence and manifests as disruptive relationships or changed teachings. And also, we need to be aware that the effects of trauma can be intergenerationally passed on through mechanisms in the epigenetic. So in the end, the trauma doesn't change the gene, but alters how the gene functions. Therefore, we may inherit and inherit a tendency towards either vulnerability or resilience. So this can include traits like anxiety, depression, optimism, positive or negative coping, so it can go in both direction.

So when it comes to these categories of trauma, and if I look at my own life, I was exposed to mainly developmental and relationship trauma as far as systemic violence. And to some degree, there is historic trauma in my family, because my mother and her parents lived through the Second World War. And they were exposed to bombings and other things that happened to them, and they had to flee. So all of this likely affected their mental health. I would also say they lived with unresolved trauma and this likely also led to the disrupted relationships in our family.

As a takeaway from this is really be mindful that trauma is relative, and that the individual experience matters. We can have implicit or explicit memories of trauma. And the categories of trauma can help us identify and label what happened to us and define the needs for recovery. So another trait of trauma, as I said, is that we often recognize trauma by the symptoms we are having instead of the memories. As I said before, very often, we only have implicit memories. We may see the symptoms, but we may not really have all the understanding of what happened to us, so that the symptoms show up.

So before I jump into the different symptoms, I want to say that the knowledge around trauma is constantly evolving. And the field of psychology is slowly moving from the medical system to a trauma informed system. The problem with the medical system is that it always comes from our perspective for what's wrong with you. So it looks at the client and their symptoms and tells them what's wrong with them. And this perspective really contributes to stigmatization. And it also doesn't acknowledge that the symptoms of trauma are usually a adaptive coping mechanism to what happened to an individual.

So we need to be mindful that in the past, the medical system really contributed to stigmatizing an individual. And so the trauma informed perspective looks at symptoms from the perspective of what has happened to you, and explain symptoms as a result of the trauma an individual has experienced. So I want to emphasize that if I read through the list of symptoms, it doesn't say that there's something wrong with you, I would really invite you to see them as adaptive coping skills due to a traumatic past, or strategies that help you to regulate a dysregulated nervous system. So recovery means that we are slowly working to navigate the symptoms and find healthier strategies.

 

So here are the symptoms of trauma. Like for some people that can be depression, anxiety, fear, for others, maybe anger, irritability, mood swings, decreased interest problems with concentration, for some people can be insomnia. I'm often noticing guilt, shame and self blame. For some people, it can be hopelessness, but also social anxiety or panic attacks. And what is very common that people either have overwhelming emotions or that they are numbing their emotions. Sometimes, they can be in the constant swing between numbing and overwhelming emotions.

Another symptom of trauma is the dysregulation of our nervous system. So we are constantly in hyperarousal and hypoarousal, which means it is also connected with the fight flight freeze and fawn response. And I will dig deeper into that into in our next podcast because I think it's important to understand that. But the thing is, first of all, there's nothing wrong to have fight flight freeze or fawn responses. Some of it is really our natural response as a human being. If you have experienced trauma, we tend to stay in the states very long, or we may even be stuck in one of those states. So just be mindful that It all exists on a spectrum. dissociations are also a symptom of trauma. Some people may have hypervigilance and mistrust. Some people tend to have suicidality and self injury. Some people have nightmares and flashbacks. Other people struggle with chronic pain.

Other symptoms like eating disorders and borderline personality disorder are very closely related to trauma and a usually as symptoms of trauma. And addictive behaviours often help us to regulate a dysregulated nervous system. So in this context, addictive behaviours are often related to trauma.

So just looking at my own life, I'm aware that my symptoms changed over time. I used to have a lot of guilt and shame and self blame. I was suicidal. I also had self injury, especially in moments when I had a conflict with my partner. In the beginning, after I left home, I had a lot of nightmares and flashbacks. I had a dysregulated nervous system. And I think I in the beginning I was more going between overwhelming emotions and numbing, and over time, it went more into numbing. So looking at the symptoms, I would invite you to also look at yourself and explore for yourself: What symptoms of trauma do you notice in yourself?

So now let's jump into recovery and how can recovery look like. Before I jump into talking about recovery, just for myself, I want to say that one of the major obstacles for me to recovery were the stigmatizing beliefs that I had internalized. My family believed that people who went to counseling were crazy. And I was convinced that I was forever broken. And so as a result, I did not even think that positive change was possible. And I really dreaded to talk about my experience because I was so afraid of judgment.

However, I started my healing journey, indirectly by reading books from other survivors of childhood abuse. And I found a lot of comfort in reading this books because they told me that I was not alone and that I was not crazy. And over time, they really gave me the courage to start my own journey. Another obstacle I had was that I had a part within me that was very loyal to my family, and that wanted to protect them. It takes a lot of courage to bring up a difficult family story in front of a counselor. And I really didn't like the judgment. And I also didn't want to blame them for their behaviors. Because to some degree, I was aware what happened to them. And so I was aware that there was a lot of unresolved stories for themselves. It took me a while to understand that it wasn't about blaming them, but really taking care of myself and taking responsibility. About what how what happened to me has affected me. I also need to say that I was lucky enough to find mental health professionals who didn't judge my family and responded in a compassionate way. In my 30s, I intensified my recovery. I worked with a diverse range of healthcare professionals, whether they were coaches, counselors or facilitators of family constellations. I also did a two year training and Family Constellations, which was really essential for my recovery because people there were non judgemental and were really giving me the space to explore the depths of what was going on in my family dynamics.

My own healing journey later on inspired me to change careers, and the modalities I'm using as a counselor are founded in my healing journey from trauma, and really deep down answering the question: what allows people to grow and heal deeply.

I know that many people who come to work with me have the idea that they need to fix something but on the other hand, I think it's often the question what allows us to grow that just allows us to create a more healthier relationship with healing.

Over the years, the symptoms of trauma subsided, and I wrote the memoir A Brave True Story to stand up against stigma and give other survivors hope. Later in life, I experienced trauma due to systemic oppression. And in a way the skills I had developed in my recovery from childhood trauma were useful. However, the journey was more challenging, since it is a social dynamic, and there's not really an escape from it. I will explain a little bit more about recovery in this episode, but I will dig deeper into it over the next episodes, because I think it really matters that you understand what it means. Also so that you can choose healthcare professionals that really work for you. Unfortunately, not every counselor or coach is trauma informed, or works on a model that facilitates recovery from trauma. Therefore, it is really good to understand what is good to look for.

So how in general does recovery look like? So here's a bit of a preview concerning what recovery from trauma means. First of all, I want to emphasize that recovery looks different for each individual. And recovery also needs to be adjusted based on what happened to somebody. So my story is my story and your story, your recovery path may look different. There are common themes and recovery, but people need to start where they are. And depending on the phase of recovery you are in, you may need different tools and also different modalities. Recovery from trauma is based on Judith Herman's phased model for recovery from trauma, which means you don't need to jump into your most traumatic story. And very often, you don't need to tell it at all, to recover from trauma. So the first step to recovery is really restoring safety and stabilize life from an individual. And then at a later stage is about resolving the trauma, grieving the losses and then reintegrating the individual into their lives. In general, for recovery, it means about increasing self awareness, recognizing triggers, working with triggered parts in a way that you can manage them. It means working on emotion, expression and regulation. And very often, it means to reconnect with your inner sense without being overwhelmed and what's going on.

Every person has a different journey to reconnect with their bodies dependent on what happened to us. So there is not really a timeline that you can set for it since it is really an inner process. The other element is to learn healthy coping skills like self soothing, or inner safety. Another objective of recovery is to create empowerment for the client so that they can regain a sense of control and feel like they're able to make choices, they're able to set boundaries, and they're able to assert one's needs and preferences. So very often, when we have experienced childhood trauma, we may not recognize what our boundaries are, and we may not even be connected to our needs. So in this context is really means to reconnect with the needs and start to identify them. Very often, recovery involves integrating the traumatic experiences into one's life story, without a dominating or defining one's identity, so that the individual can move forward with a sense of wholeness.

What I find especially useful when it comes to recovery is really to see emotions, and difficult emotions and beliefs as parts of us and really start doing parts work because it helps us so that we can start to manage our different parts and recognize them. And it gives us more empowerment on how to move forward. I know it may sound weird, I will go a bit deeper into parts where in the future because for me, it is a central element of recovery from trauma, especially if an individual has experienced developmental trauma. What I want to emphasize is the importance of connections for resilience and recovery, that we need to be mindful that these connections need to be set up supportive and healthy. It is also about the connection within oneself, as I said in the past connections with our parts, because sometimes we have parts that we have access to that we don't want to look at. It is also healthy connections within the relationships we have, and also with the community and the culture we are part of. And so this is a really core element of healing trauma.

And this is where I think that I was really lucky because the two years of my recovery I had a support group that no matter what happened or what was going on for me, they were there for me. And so they gave me the space where I could really go to very painful places and come back and I was aware there is somebody who cared for me. And I still remember when I went work with my own trauma, how my colleague said to me, just repeat it, breathe, breathe. So one element of recovery is reconnecting with our breath, because this can be very healing. Another element that is also I think what is essential for recovery is in a non-judgemental environment.

So this was a very brief explanation about recovery. I will dig far deeper in future episodes because this is one of the core elements of this podcast. And also like recovery is a journey and it is a process.

So what is our takeaway from today's episode? I would love you to take away is to understand that trauma overwhelms our nervous system and also blocks our capacity to integrate an experience emotionally. It is often easier to identify trauma by the symptoms that are present in our lives. Trauma is not a lifetime sentence, and recovery is possible. The need for recovery really depend on what has happened to us. So it is an individual journey.

If you liked this episode, please subscribe to Trauma Demystified. If you'd like to have more information, please check out our website www.brighthorizontherapies.com. If you want to find out more about my healing journey, you can find my memoir A Brave, True Story, a transformational memoir about healing family ties and relationships on amazon.com or amazon.ca.

I will publish the next episode in October. In this episode, I will explore the window of tolerance and its importance for the recovery from trauma. And so I'm looking forward to hanging out with you soon and I hope you have a beautiful time.

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Natalie Jovanic

Natalie Jovanic

Master Therapeutic Counsellor & Trauma Recovery Coach

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