I was gardening yesterday and thinking about trauma recovery. I was enjoying the sunshine and digging up one of my garden beds to prepare for the spring planting season. There is one corner of my garden that has been home to an invasive species of flower. I have wanted that space for vegetables and decided it was time to dig it up.
I started digging. At first, I plucked the leftover vegetation that was still visible at the top of the soil. I dug deeper. I started pulling up the roots. The more roots I dug up, the more roots became exposed. I realize how deep those roots went, and how vast the system was. The deeper I dug, the more roots were there. I was amazed at the intricate and solid web of roots that supported the flowers. It was huge, and difficult to uproot.
I started contemplating how this was a perfect metaphor for therapy and trauma recovery. When we begin therapy, all we see is what is on the surface. In fact, what is on the surface is often what brings us to therapy in the first place. It is the behaviour we wish to change – overworking, or drinking too much or challenges in our career. This is the vegetation above the surface.
Exposing our Roots – Trauma Recovery
In therapy, we begin to dig a little deeper. What are the roots of the problem? Perhaps after a little therapy, we start to see the connection between what we are doing now and the historical reason why this behaviour makes sense. We begin to uncover the surface roots of the problem that lie just above the surface. We start to see how our behaviour now might make sense, but still causes problems. Perhaps this is old relationship wounds, traumatic experiences in the workplace, or isolation and loneliness.
The more we dig into therapy, the more we start to become aware of how deep those roots go. We see how our childhood experiences shaped our dysfunctional behaviour, and old trauma and difficulty underlie our present-day struggles. It is the same with trauma recovery, the deeper we start to dig, the closer we get to the ‘core trauma’. This is the thing that happened to us and prompted putting down the roots of dysfunction.
Types of Trauma
For some, it is ‘big T’ Trauma: sexual and physical abuse, neglect, emotional manipulation, or death of a parent or caregiver. For others, it is ‘little t’ trauma: consistent lack of emotional responsiveness from our parents, bullying, emotional manipulation, overindulgence, or helicopter parents. Each type of trauma manifests differently, but both are equally damaging. These are the deepest roots of all, the hardest to pull up.
Sometimes in therapy, we start to feel worse before we feel better. This plant is a perfect analogy. When we first begin to dig, we expose bad feelings. Feelings we had previously spent a lifetime shutting down and covering up with more topsoil. When we first expose those bad feelings, we begin to embrace reality. We let go of the sparkly decoration and flowers of dysfunctional behaviour that was hiding these darker roots. It takes some digging in therapy before we start to uncover the vastness of the root system. After a time, we uncover the underlying trauma driving our current behaviour. We can begin to pull up those deep roots of trauma and emerge into a new version of ourselves.
Eventually, we also start to uncover some of our power. We experience that we have choices now in how we feel or behave that we didn’t have as kids. We start to stand in our grownup power to choose differently. This power emerges the more we release the past hurts. The more we feel those old feelings and release them, the more we create space in our lives for now options.
A New Version
As I pulled out the last of the roots of the plant, I sat back and appreciated my handiwork. In front of me was beautiful, freshly tilled soil that was now ready for new seeds to be planted – productive seeds that will produce vegetables.
In trauma recovery therapy, it is the same. After working through those early traumas, those feelings of grief, rage, and loneliness, we reveal new and fertile soil where we can plant seeds of self-love, connection, and emotional freedom. We become freshly tilled and ready to flower a new version of ourselves – ready for the kind of life we want to live.