When the Body Remembers

In the first few years after my mom’s suicide, I dealt with trauma daily. I had nightmares and crying spells and anxiety attacks all the time. It was common for something to trigger my memories and my body and mind would shut down for the rest of the day.

It’s been twenty-four years since I last saw my mom and, while I have done an incredible amount of therapy and healing, my body still reacts this time of year. I get sad and my chronic fatigue syndrome flares up. I can’t get enough sleep. I ache all over. My digestion slows down. I cry at the drop of a hat, even when I’m not able to pinpoint my sadness.

The reason I experience all these symptoms is that my body is remembering the trauma of my mom’s suicide even when my brain isn’t thinking about it. Every cell in our body has the ability to remember trauma, even when our mind doesn’t. I have done a lot of work to process the memories of Mom’s death; of finding her body and the story that surrounds those memories. But I have only recently begin to understand body memory. I am learning ways to connect my mind and body to help release the tension when it begins to build up. Here are a few things that are working for me:

Be in the moment and feel the feelings. It’s easy to try to hide from or numb tension, stress, and anxiety. But when I acknowledge that something is happening in my body and am honest with myself, it’s easier to give myself what I need; which is usually a cold drink of water, a nap, and a hug from someone I love.

Make self-care a priority. Our society tends to reward those who never take a break and always put themselves last. When dealing with post-traumatic stress, these behaviors are not rewarding for the body. Slowing down and simplifying my day is often the best thing for me. Turning down the lights, lighting a candle, taking a bubble bath, listening to soft music are all ways I can connect my body and mind. For some, exercise is the way they connect mind and body. For others, walking in the grass with bare feet. Everyone has to figure out the method that works best for them.

Talking to my therapist, my friends, and, most importantly, to God. When depression rises up – in my mind or my body – I have to resist the urge to isolate. Isolation does not allow my brain or body to connect joyfully with others and joy is the exact thing I need when my body is trying to protect me from my past trauma.

Overcoming trauma is a long process, but thankfully, I serve a God who is bigger than my pain. He created my mind and body to be a miraculous work of art; one that does things even the most intelligent doctors don’t quite understand yet. He not only sees my past, my present, and my future, but He cares about all my days. He is the healer and His love for me allows Him to collide with my pain – and My God always wins.

“He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.”

Psalm 91:4 NLT

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