When I was one years old I contracted pneumonia. I was taken to the hospital where I would spend the next week in a dripping wet plastic tent, strapped down a lot of the time to keep an IV in me. My mom would visit but was not allowed to hold me so I would cry and cry every time she came. When she was finally able to bring me home, I was brought home to a very dysfunctional family, who had unresolved traumas of their own. I was terrified of everything, especially women in white. Within a year I was diagnosed with asthma. My system had become stuck in the freeze stage of fight, flight, or freeze which according to Dr. Peter Levine in his book Healing Trauma, it’s what happens to a child when experiencing an overwhelming situation and is unable to complete the natural arousal cycle of fight, flight, or freeze.
Because a baby cannot run or fight it goes into the immobility stage and if the system is in fear when it goes in or comes out of the mobility stage, it can potentially stay stuck for decades until the arousal cycle is allowed to complete itself. Growing up I was labeled as extremely shy but the truth is I was just plain scared of everyone and everything. In my 30s I had an incident that landed me in the ER and my trauma was re-triggered all over again. At the time nobody understood what was happening. I spent the next 13 years of my life trying to heal a whole host of symptoms that included anxiety, panic attacks, rapid heartbeat, severe insomnia, obsessive thinking, adrenal dysfunction, asthma and more. Little did I know that what lie at the root of all those symptoms was PTSD.
The more fixated and desperate I became to heal, the further I pushed my system into fight or flight and the sicker I got until one day it got so bad I was out of options. I had nothing left to do but surrender. I stopped trying to fix myself. I surrendered my fear that I would die and leave my children without a mom and I made peace my priority. I then began an intense practice of bringing my focus to the present moment through all my senses. I stopped judging and labeling all of my discomfort and just let it be. I begin practices to soothe my limbic system and within a few short weeks things began to change dramatically. I still had no idea I was dealing with PTSD but I knew that letting go of my fixation with healing and just learning to be present and grateful for each moment was of extreme importance.
Eventually I began to put the pieces together. After close to a year I was becoming much more functional. I still had symptoms but they were milder and fairly manageable. At the time my son had been an avid climber. I loved watching him climb. The grace, strength, and beauty of it all put together in one fascinated me. There was something about climbing that really called to me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it as the idea also terrified me but the call won. My daughter and I decided to sign up for a membership at our local gym, Gold Crush, along with my son and we’ve been climbing together ever since.
In those first few months I had many hurdles. I was a 48-year-old mom to two teens coming into a climbing gym that was filled with predominantly fit males 35 and under. I felt very much out of my league. I had to use my inhaler most days when I climbed. My heart would beat rapidly, my palms would sweat and my limbs would get weak and shaky even on the easiest of climbs. I was terrified to fall or jump down. I had never really trusted my body and now here I was doing something that brought up many of the very symptoms I was so afraid of when triggered. Yet I was in control. I could go as high as I wanted or stop whenever I chose. There was something about being in control and yet challenging my fears that was very exciting and empowering for me in those early days. By the end of each session my mind and body were high on endorphins and I felt victorious! I couldn’t articulate it then, but I knew deep healing was happening.
Later I would find Dr. Levine‘s work and discover I was actually intuitively taking part in a titration process by meeting my fears a little at a time. He explains how by touching the somatic sensations from the stuck energy a little at a time while combining some grounding exercises allows the body to move the energy so it can complete the arousal cycle that got stuck during the trauma. I had the balance of knowing I was in control in a safe environment while having the positive experience of climbing with my kids so the fear began to transform into excitement. As I transformed my fear through climbing I was also unconsciously transforming the somatic energy still stuck in my body from the trauma. Climbing of course is not the only thing I did to heal. There’s been a lot of work in between then and probably more to come but it’s been nine months since that first day in the gym and I am truly a different person. I rarely feel nervous or scared anymore when I climb. I rarely use my inhaler. I’ve broken my identity I grew up with as a scared, weak, disempowered girl and from here on out I only see myself climbing higher and higher.