What do I mean?
Back in 2005 when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan, a good friend of mine from my study abroad days in Scotland sent me some DVDs (remember those?) of “Long Way Round” – a 2004 show about Ewan McGregor and his good friend Charley Boorman riding their motorcycles around the world from London to New York “the long way round” through Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Russia, and over to the US.
My friend knew I loved travel dearly and since they rode through Central Asia where I was at that time, he thought it would be fun for me to watch those DVDs.
He was right; not only did I love that show hugely, but I loved the next one they filmed a few years later in 2007 – “Long Way Down”– where they again rode their motorcycles but this time from the top of Scotland down to South Africa.
The ardent traveler in me was always so nourished and inspired by watching those documented adventures!
BUT… it was also around 2007 that my own unresolved relational trauma history finally “caught up with me” and the next decade or so was spent doing really important adventuring on the interior plane versus out in the external world.
I forgot about those DVDs and couldn’t even let myself contemplate adventures like that when things felt so painful inside of me, so barely held together.
When I resurfaced briefly from my years of intensive recovery and personal growth both through therapy and my years at Esalen, followed immediately by my super-busy-and-without-any-disposable-income-years of graduate school and clinical licensure, I made time for a few wonderful trips with my husband abroad (including eloping in New Zealand and babymooning across the Balkans) before my daughter was born with severe colic (which made traveling beyond a 5-minute radius of my house nearly impossible for the first year of her life) and just when that cleared up, COVID struck and grounded my little family until Summer 2022 when vaccines for the 5 and under crowd rolled out.
All of us had our version of hard during the pandemic and, like so many others, the COVID years took a toll on me in many, depleting, trying ways, and one of those “smaller” ways was divorcing me from an activity that filled me with so much vitality and excitement: traveling.
But I didn’t know just how much of a toll that one aspect of the experience had taken on me.
I got a glimpse of the impact in Summer 2022, just before we got the news of the vaccine being available to my daughter when a random late-night Googling rabbit hole revealed that Ewan Mcgregor and Charley Boorman had reunited again to film “Long Way Up” – this time riding electric motorcycles from the most Southern Tip of Argentina to Los Angeles.
I binged it on Apple TV and all of a sudden, I could feel my old adventurer awaken inside me, I could feel a part of me “click on” again after years of being dormant and ignored.
That sense of aliveness and vitality I felt when I watched “Long Way Up” combined with receiving the wonderful news of the vaccine being available to my daughter made me start plotting and planning with my husband about how we could begin international travel again, but this time with our young daughter in tow.
Could we do it? Was it crazy to think we could adventure with her? Would it feed me in the way it used to in the old days? How on earth would I brush up on my French and Spanish after so many years of not using them? What on earth do you pack when you travel to the Sahara with a preschooler?
I asked all of those questions and still plunged forward making plans with the mountain of travel credit card points that had accumulated after nearly four years of not being used.
From then until now – in the span of 12 months – my little family and I have taken some truly amazing adventures around the world and my daughter, the one-time colicky baby who couldn’t abide being in her car seat for more than five minutes – has been a total travel champ on 14-hour plane rides, cross country train rides, horse rides up mountains, camel rides through the desert, ferry rides crossing to Africa, and more.
And I’ve frankly, since inviting this part of me back into my life and centering it, I’ve never felt more alive and excited.
So why am I bringing this up today?
What does this have to do at all with relational trauma recovery work?
This act of re-integrating or integrating for the first time the things that make us feel alive, enlivened, connected, and fill our lives with meaning, purpose, and joy has everything to do with the third stage of relational trauma recovery work.
Leaders in the trauma recovery space, especially Judith Herman, MD, have posited that trauma recovery occurs in three discreet stages:
Stage One: Safety and Stabilization. In this stage, we focus on ensuring one’s life is stable, sound, and equipped enough for the painful work that may be encountered in phase two. Stage one often involves learning about feelings, accessing and appropriately expressing feelings; ensuring safety both physically and emotionally and relationally; developing healthier, more adaptive coping mechanisms; and more foundational work required for the work of stage two.
Stage Two: Remembrance and Mourning: In this stage, we confront the painful memories of our past, grieving them, feeling all our attendant feelings about them, making sense of our own personal history, and constructing a cohesive personal narrative about what happened to us and how we understand how the past impacted us.
Stage Three: Reconnection and Integration. In stage three, we turn our efforts and energies into re-establishing (or establishing for the first time) healthy, functional relationships – with ourselves, others, and the world. We engage or re-engage with the activities of life that bring stability, nourishment, meaning and a sense of vitality and aliveness to us. Activities, places, people, and pursuits that we have turned away from, disowned, disavowed, or simply let fall to the wayside after the (often) hard, heavy work of trauma recovery.
I’ve written extensively about stages one and two in the past (albeit without necessarily explicitly naming that created content as part of those stages) but rarely have I written about stage three.
But, borrowing from the words of the renowned psychotherapist and trauma leader Babette Rothschild, LCSW “The first goal of trauma recovery should and must be to improve your quality of life on a daily basis.”
And so this work of the third stage – having the curiosity about what enlivens us and improves the quality of our lives – and making the efforts towards this is, I believe, a critical part of our relational trauma recovery work.
And this will look different for all of us!
For me, I didn’t consciously mean to disown and make dormant that global traveler part of me; it unconsciously happened during my years of trauma recovery and then by necessity, it was deprioritized when I didn’t have disposable income in my graduate student days, colicky baby days, and the pandemic years before it was safe to travel with my daughter.
But re-engaging with this part of me has brought me a level of aliveness I haven’t felt in years and added so much to my quality of life in this third phase of relational trauma recovery work that I’m solidly in.
My invitation to you – no matter what phase of your own relational trauma work that you might be in – is not to dismiss, diminish, or disregard the value of reconnecting with the hobbies, interests, people, and parts of yourself that used to fill with you with vitality and a sense of being enlivened.
And if you’ve never felt that way, my invitation to you is to do the work to find out now what may bring you that.
To support you in this work, here are some prompts you can consider on your own or with your trauma therapist that could help reveal clues as to how this might look for you include:
- Was there something you used to do before your relational trauma recovery work began that you no longer do? Something that time, emotional energy, or circumstances got de-prioritized (consciously or unconsciously)?
- When you were younger, what did you daydream about? What filled your vision boards or Pinterest boards? Our early longings may still be salient and relevant and it’s possible to have these authentic knowings even as we journey through trauma in our younger years. Don’t discount what little you knew even if little you suffered.
- What sparks your jealousy when you see other people doing it? I’ve written about this before but jealousy is a wonderful clue and opportunity to know more about what we ourselves may most want and need.
- If you were parenting yourself again as a child, an adolescent, or a young adult, what experiences or opportunities would you give your younger self to help them experience the world and “try things on” to see what might light up their unique interests? Play around with this idea and notice if you have the desire to do those things and how it feels as you engage with them.
Again, the things that may give you a sense of feeling enlivened, vital, and on purpose may look very different than what it does for me or for anyone else.
Only you are the expert of your experience and only you know best what may be right for you.
But if you related at all to my essay today and if there’s a dormant inner adventurer in you that’s been tucked aside as you’ve focused on the “interior adventure” of relational trauma recovery work, I heartily recommend that you stream any of those shows I mentioned in the intro to see what it lights up in you!
And so now, if you feel so inclined, please feel free to leave me a message in the comments about what this essay evoked for you:
Did it spark your curiosity about what stage of relational trauma recovery work you might be in? Did you feel any curiosity or knowing about what does or might help you feel more vital and alive?
If you feel inclined to share, please do. I’d love to hear from you and so would so others, I imagine.
We get about 25,000 website visitors a month on this little corner of the internet and you never know whose day you’re making better by sharing your experience in the comments.
So thank you in advance for sharing.
And until next time, please take such good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.