Discovering, understanding, and healing from trauma: the real trip

“Trauma,” as a word, sounds dramatic, like something that occurs only in the ER or in the dark alleyways of places we don’t want to go alone at night. Truthfully, trauma is a pervasive human experience that we have all gone through at one point or another – if you’ve had a bad psychedelic trip, you’ve had an experience of trauma. If you’ve had a bad DMT, acid, or mushroom trip which has significantly altered your behavior, mental state, or anxiety level, it’s likely that your trip was the straw that broke the camel’s back, causing a past trauma that you’d been keeping bottled up within you to rise to the surface and begin wreaking havoc on your life.

When I use the word “trauma,” I’m talking about any event – large or absolutely minuscule – that your subconscious mind viewed as a life or death situation: an awful car crash, a devastating breakup or divorce, being abandoned by a parent or ostracized from a group, getting separated from you mother in the supermarket, any kind of abuse, or even having your favorite toy taken away as a child. It’s not your job to decide whether or not something was a traumatic event – your subconscious decides that and reacts accordingly. Your job is to uncover, process, and heal that trauma so that it doesn’t hold you back as you move forward in life.

If you’ve had a bad psychedelic trip, there are a few possible reasons why, and the existence of subconscious, buried trauma is something that you must consider. In every guide I write on dealing with a bad trip, the first step will always be to write down everything you can remember about the experience in the greatest possible detail. Once you’ve gotten that out of the way, start to analyze the circumstances of your trip – music, people around you, your physical location, dosage, and even mindset. Circumstances are the most common or simple factors that will send a mushroom, acid, or DMT trip spiraling off in the wrong direction, but if those basic factors don’t quite seem to explain the intense, confusing, anxiety-ridden, or terrifying nature of your trip, you need to consider the possibility of a trauma pre-existing.

Right now, you may be searching your brain, unsuccessfully trying to think of some terrible event in your past – this was my situation. I felt like nothing really bad had ever happened to me and that, up until that bad trip, my life had been pretty easy. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered serious repressed trauma buried so deeply in my psyche that I had no memory of it. I’m not saying that this is the case for you too, but I am saying that you should consider it – it is always better to considering something and find out that there’s no problem than to live your whole life under the shadow of a monumental problem within yourself that you never looked into.

How does trauma work?

Trauma is a subconscious process, meaning that, even if you remember a scary event but don’t think it was all that bad, your subconscious may not agree. It may treat something small as a trauma even if you think you’re “past it” or never worried about it that much to begin with.

Because these processes are kind of “out-there” compared to how we normally think about ourselves and our brains, I’m going to use the metaphor of a computer – it’s an easier, more concrete way to think about all of this. If you’ve ever had a PC start malfunctioning or freezing, you’ve probably pressed Control+Alt+Delete to bring up the Task Manager in order to sort out the problem. You may’ve noticed that Task Manager has a tab where you can see its monitoring of the entire CPU usage. Your subconscious mind performs a very similar task: it monitors your emotional state, following along with it to make sure you’re doing okay.

The difference between Task Manager and this subconscious monitoring, though, is that right before the climax of a traumatic event (remember, this is anything, large or small, that the subconscious perceives as life-threatening), it shuts off the monitoring to prevent an emotional overload. In a real life-or-death situation, this function would prevent you from having a complete and utter breakdown during the moment that ultimately determines whether you live or die, presumably helping you to get through it.

When the subconscious turns off this monitoring, it packages an entire copy of your psyche up until that climax moment and stores it somewhere in your body. Think of this as a computer program like Microsoft Word doing an “auto-save” of a file you’ve been working on right before it crashes. The result is that you have a file stored somewhere on your hard drive that has all of the data up until a few seconds before the crash – this is essentially a hologram of your psyche, and it exists somewhere in your body.

The problem with all of this is that, while those “files” contain every bit of information you knew and felt up until the climax of the trauma, they don’t contain anything about what happened afterwards. If you’re reading this, I’ll assume that you survived the trauma, but your subconscious auto-save has no clue. For all it’s concerned, the trauma is still unresolved, meaning that it’s still happening right now. No wonder you feel anxiety, stress, or unexplainable pain or fear.

An important step of working with your own traumas is to find those packages and stop the looping playback of the trauma from continuing to occur in your psyche. I’ll explain some self-hypnosis techniques for doing that at the end of this post.

Uncovering a trauma

Below are some signs and indicators that you may have one of these traumas looping in your subconscious, and this is the first step to finding freedom from both your bad trip and the things that have been holding you back your whole life. Consider this a guide and a starting point.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve just felt different than the people around me. I have a hard time fitting in or relating to people, and I just feel darker or less carefree than they seem to. I’ve never understood why I’m not like normal people.” 

This is a general melancholy or just a subtle feeling that something about you is different. Maybe when you were a child, you felt that all the other kids were more naïve than you or less complex than you. Maybe you’ve always struggled to fit in, make friends, or keep friends. This fits in with what we think of as “social anxiety,” because you should always remember that anxiety doesn’t just come out of thin air. Anxiety, like everything else, is a cause-and-effect experience. When we feel different, it’s often because we are different – perhaps we’ve experienced more pain, complex emotional situations, fear, sadness or loss by the time we’re five years old than most people experience by the time they’re 35 years old.

If this is your situation, it will help to try to identify when you began to feel this way. Try to nail it down to a specific age, such as around second grade, then that will help you zero in on when something traumatic may have occurred. If it seems like you’ve always felt this way and can’t identify the starting point, it’s likely that a trauma occurred or began to occur when you were very young – before the age of five.

“I can’t seem to keep my weight under control or get myself to exercise. There are certain foods that I just can’t stop eating, and I find myself at the refrigerator when I’m sad or lonely. Even when I do lose weight, it seems to come right back again.” 

If you’re in a situation like this, finding yourself always in a struggle with your diet, weight, and willingness to exercise, it’s very likely that you’ve experienced some sort of trauma. A general rule of thumb is that, if you’re carrying around more than 25 extra pounds, that weight is playing the role of body armor. Excess weight less than 25 pounds is usually life-style related, but any sort of binge eating or emotional eating habits can signify coping with a trauma.

When we subconsciously use extra weight as body armor, it often signifies a trauma related to our feeling of safety. Perhaps you began struggling with your weight after your parents divorced, making you feel like your whole world was falling apart. Perhaps you were robbed, hit, or sexually violated, making you feel unsafe even in your own body. For women, weight as body armor can also signify the desire to ward off unwanted attention from men, perhaps as a reaction to rape or childhood sexual abuse. You may work up the willpower to lose weight and find that it immediately comes back – this is because the weight is serving an emotional purpose, likely to help you feel safe and secure.

Food is also something that provides comfort, security, and certainty in times of uncertainty, loneliness, and sadness. From a young age, we’re trained that candy, ice cream, or pizza are rewards for good behavior or treats to cheer us up on a sad day. Soon enough, we establish a subconscious pattern of associating junk food or sweets with the positive emotions of camaraderie, success, play, joy, and happiness – no wonder we turn to food when we’re feeling down.

Start paying attention to the reasons why you eat – I even recommend keeping a food diary with records of your emotional state before seeking out a snack or meal. Do you find yourself “hungry” or wanting chocolate after you’ve had an argument with your significant other? Do you find yourself unconsciously grazing in the pantry every time your father calls? Once you understand the patterns of your eating, you can try to identify the root causes.

“There’s a part of my body that just hurts. I’ve seen doctors about it, but nothing they do ever seems to help. I’ve tried everything, but it just keeps giving me trouble.” 

This is a tale-tell sign of one of those packaged traumas, which your subconscious stores somewhere in your physical body. Pain in the body without explantation is the mind’s way of begging us to go inward and deal with a problem that we are most likely ignoring. It’s important to understand that you can have pain in your body that is not caused by anything physical – it can be purely emotional or psychosomatic, i.e. a medical condition caused by an emotional or mental factor.

If you have a pain point in your body, try this brief meditation:

Sit down in a comfortable place where you aren’t concerned about being disrupted or bothered for a few minutes. Close your eyes and focus on your breath, noticing the sensations of your inhales and exhales. When you feel calm and centered, use your mind’s eye to look at the spot that’s been bothering you. What color is it? Don’t think too much, just notice whether it seems to naturally have a color. What about its shape? Is it inside your body or outside your body? Does it have a texture? How big is it? How light or heavy? Just notice all of these things, and don’t worry if you’re not sure. When you feel ready, open your eyes again and write down what you felt.

If you were able to identify that your pain spot has a color, size, location, shape, texture, etc., you were identifying the appearance of a subconscious container holding within it an unresolved trauma. It’s very common to experience a color, but if didn’t seem to have any of these qualities, it may just be a medical issue.

In the case that you feel like it’s a trauma container, try to think back and remember when you started having trouble with that part of your body and if you had a negative or scary experience that involved it – perhaps you have pain in your jaw and can trace it back to a time when your father smacked you in the face as a child. The areas we have pain may also relate to the symbolic meanings of those areas of our bodies – perhaps pain in your feet comes from a feeling of being trapped, unable to leave, or escape a person or situation in your past.

For this case, I would recommend trying the self-hypnosis techniques I’ve explained at the end of this post.

“I have a strange affinity for a particular household object or place – like I’m magnetized to it, but I can’t explain why.” or “I have an unusual fear of a certain object or place – it just gives me the creeps. I feel irrational for saying that, but I can’t deny what I feel.” 

This is an indication of some traumatic occurrence that involved those particular objects or places. Perhaps you were hit with a household object that you’re repulsed by or sexually violated with an object that you’re magnetized to. Perhaps you suffered abuse in certain place, sparking a seemingly irrational fear of that type of place, be it closets, parks, or basements. There are many possibilities, and one way to investigate the situation is to face the thing that magnetizes or scares you. What do you feel when you pick this object up? What do you feel when you enter the space that freaks you out? Start keeping a journal of these feelings, because they are clues that will ultimately lead to their source.

In the case of being magnetized to a certain object or place, there is often something unresolved in your psyche that has to do with it. In my own case, I was magnetized to my grandparents’ basement for years as a child and teenager. I remembered that I always went down there when we visited, but when I began to truly think about it, I could not remember hardly anything about what I did down there. After going through healing work to uncover my trauma, I finally realized that I had been continuously sexually molested there. While this is certainly an extreme example, it serves to illustrate that a magnetism or repulsion doesn’t just spring from no where – it is most definitely worth exploring these feelings.

“I find myself relying on a particular substance – I really feel like I have to have it to feel good or normal. I know it’s probably not healthy to use something like this as much as I do, but it’s the only thing that helps.” 

All things in this world are cause and effect. We don’t develop reliance on a certain substance for no reason – it is always a coping mechanism. You may find that you’re constantly smoking pot, getting buzzed on alcohol a little too often, or even micro-dosing acid more than you know you should. In these cases, the substances help us escape and numb ourselves to the issues we’re facing. In my own case, I led myself into a nicotine addiction after my bad trip without even thinking twice – I needed the feeling of calm serenity that it gave me, and (at the time) I didn’t care if I got addicted.

If you’re overusing a substance, you owe it to yourself to start trying to understand why. I will always recommend journaling or writing as the best way to start uncovering these things. Start by keeping track of when you feel emotionally compelled to use your substance and what it is about that substance that helps you so much. Does weed help to mute your anger? Does nicotine help you feel like everything will be okay? Do psychedelics make you feel meaningful and like there’s more to this world? Once you have a better understanding of what need your substance is satisfying, you can start to uncover the source of that need, which will often lead directly back to a negative, scary, or traumatic event from your past.

“My dreams are really strange, even violent at times. Sometimes I wake up from a dream in the middle of the night and have a hard time going back to sleep because of how intense or unsettling it was.” 

Dreams are direct messages from our higher selves. Think of them as things your higher self or true self really wants to you know, but the only way it knows how to communicate with you is through symbols. Once you learn your own higher self’s symbolic language, you’ll begin to understand these messages – for example, at times, I have dreams in school or classroom setting. By keeping records of my dreams and analyzing them, I’ve learned that my higher self uses a school setting when it is trying to directly teach me something or give new lesson or understanding. I think of it as the “school of life.”

If you have odd or complicated dreams, I would recommend starting a dream journal, perhaps on your phone. When you wake up in the morning, immediately write down your dream in as much detail as you can and if you have ideas about the meaning or message, write that down too. Once you’ve got several dreams to work with, sit down and start trying to analyze them. Here are some things to consider:

  • Start by identifying the location or place where the dream’s plot was taking place. Try to think of this place in symbolic terms: a hospital is a place of treatment or healing, a school is a place of learning, a prison is place of containment or punishment, and a home often means your own mind or self. The ground floor of any place is usually representative of daily life, the basement is your subconscious mind or past, and the upper floors are your higher, spiritual self.
  • Second, identify who the dream is about. If you were seeing things from your own perspective, were you your current age, older, or younger? Were you an observer, a fly on the wall, or a direct participant? Who else was there? What might they symbolize?
  • Third, what do you feel during the dream? Your feelings about it once you wake up are irrelevant. Consider a dream in which you visit a sick relative and shoot them with a gun. In the dream, you felt relieved even though, upon waking, you feel shocked and disgusted with yourself. It’s likely that whomever you shot is a source of pain in your life and being free from their presence would be an enormous relief to you.
  • Understand that violence in a dream isn’t really violence, but rather your higher self trying to really get its point across. In the dream above, you would never truly shoot the relative, but your higher self was really needing you to understand how much you truly long to be away from them.

Self-hypnosis techniques for trauma

Read through these techniques before trying to do them. It may help to record yourself reading the steps so that you can have something to guide you through the processes. A special thanks to David Snyder, whose work was the basis for these adaptations.

Technique #1: Helping to heal and uncover a childhood trauma 

This technique is particularly helpful when you’re not sure about a trauma you’ve experienced or think you may have repressed something from childhood. It will help you to develop a connection with your child-self again and offer them an opportunity to voice their feelings.

  1. Find a quiet, comfortable place where you can relax without worrying that someone will bother you. Leave your phone in another room or turn it off. Sit comfortably, but don’t lie down or you might fall asleep.
  2. Close your eyes and begin to relax: feel a wave of cool, nurturing relaxation start at the top of your head and wash over your entire body, taking with it any negative feelings or worries from the day. When it has covered your entire body, feel the wave exit through the tips of your fingers and toes. With every breath you take, allow yourself to drift deeper and deeper into a state of profound relaxation, deeper than you’ve ever been before. Continuing to breathe, turn your attention to the tiny muscles of your eyelids. Squeeze them, hold, and then allow them to relax. Allow your eyelids to relax so much that you wouldn’t be able to open them without tensing back up again. As you do this, you move deeper and deeper into this state of beautiful, nurturing relaxation.
  3. When you’re totally relaxed, let your mind drift to a memory from your childhood of a time when you so completely joyful and happy. Whatever memory arises, feel it completely: every scent, taste, emotion, sight or sound that you felt then. Allow yourself to become completely enveloped in this beautiful memory. You may see it through the eyes of your child self, or you may see it as an observer – either is fine, simply become completely absorbed in the memory.
  4. When you feel ready, enter the memory as your current self. Go to your child self, scoop him or her up, and introduce yourself as them from the future. Spend time with your child-self, making them feel more unconditionally loved, safe, and secure than they ever have before. Tell them all the things they will ever need to know about life and the challenges they will face in the future. Tell them how much you love them. Spend as long as you wish doing this, as the process is deeply therapeutic.
  5. Once they feel totally loved and totally safe, ask them if there’s anything they’d like to tell you. Just listen with open, nonjudgmental ears. If your child-self has something to say or some secret to tell you, let them say everything they need to say. Once they’ve finished, let them know how good they were for telling you and ask them what would make them the happiest little kid in the world. If it’s ice cream, give them a big bowl of ice cream. If its playing at the beach, take them to your mental beach and play.
  6. Once you feel you’ve completed you work here, deepen your breath. Focus on your inhales and exhales, and gradually bring your awareness back to the present moment. Notice the sensations in your fingers and toes. When you’re ready, count back from four, and when you get to one, open your eyes. Notice how you feel.

Technique #2: Helping to stop a traumatic loop in the subconscious 

This technique is helpful for healing from a trauma (large or small) that you’re aware of consciously in the form of a painful memory. Doing this process can help stop that loop because it alters the memory, letting your subconscious know that the trauma is over and you’re alright.

  1. Find a quiet, comfortable place where you can relax without worrying that someone will bother you. Leave your phone in another room or turn it off. Sit comfortably, but don’t lie down or you might fall asleep.
  2. Close your eyes and begin to relax: feel a wave of cool, nurturing relaxation start at the top of your head and wash over your entire body, taking with it any negative feelings or worries from the day. When it has covered your entire body, feel the wave exit through the tips of your fingers and toes. With every breath you take, allow yourself to drift deeper and deeper into a state of profound relaxation, deeper than you’ve ever been before. Continuing to breathe, turn your attention to the tiny muscles of your eyelids. Squeeze them, hold, and then allow them to relax. Allow your eyelids to relax so much that you wouldn’t be able to open them without tensing back up again. As you do this, you move deeper and deeper into this state of beautiful, nurturing relaxation.
  3. When you’re totally relaxed, let your mind drift to a memory that is scary or haunting to you. See the experience as it’s unfolding, the sights, smells, sounds, and feelings that have bothered you all of this time. This time, though, things will be different.
  4. When you feel ready, enter the memory as your current self. Go to your child self and pull them out of the situation, rescuing them right before things get really bad. Take them far away to safety, to a beautiful place where they feel happy and free. Let them know that it’s all over and ask them what would make them the happiest little kid in the world. If it’s ice cream, give them a big bowl of ice cream. If its playing at the beach, take them to your mental beach and play.
  5. Once you feel you’ve completed you work here, deepen your breath. Focus on your inhales and exhales, and gradually bring your awareness back to the present moment. Notice the sensations in your fingers and toes. When you’re ready, count back from four, and when you get to one, open your eyes. Notice how you feel.

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If you begin to uncover a trauma within yourself, you may find it helpful to work with an experienced professional who can give you guidance for how to heal. More on working with professionals here.

Hope this helps,

Olivia

acosmichaven@gmail.com