how one woman after being too good most of her life overcame the trauma that had kept her locked away and discovered that life can be beautiful
Leah was a quiet child, a good child. She was born into an Irish family where there was no time to be “a wet blanket”. So Leah kept quiet and got on with it, but she felt half dead most of the time.
Leah was dealing with trauma that went back – way, way back – probably before she could make sense of what had happened to her. She had found a way of coping because Leah was a survivor. She retreated into her inner world where she found a way for “life to be beautiful” in the rich world of her imagination. No one really knew what was going on with Leah. Even Leah didn’t know.
Were You Too Good as a Child?
Were you too good or too nice child? And find yourself being too nice as an adult?
You find it hard to express your anger? In fact, very often you don’t feel angry when you know you should.
Perhaps you retreated like Leah into your shell way, way back. You escaped from a troubled childhood and found a way of surviving. You became passionate about books or learning. You got good at things. Maybe you found expression through the Arts as Leah did, or you became brilliant in a technical area, or you were always helping people. But these things didn’t satisfy you – something was missing.
A Trauma Story
The Princess who became Real, is a healing story written by Leah who was in a group I ran some time back. The story was part of a process that enabled her to free herself of the trauma that had been keeping her in this deadened state for most of her life. (I had asked the group to write a story that they would be interested in exploring dramatically.)
When Leah came into the group, she found herself often feeling isolated and separate from the rest of the group. She felt invisible as if the other members didn’t really see her or notice her. She yearned to feel included and experience a sense of belonging with them. This was something she had felt in some guise or other throughout her life.
At the time Leah wrote this story she was ready to change all that – like the princess in the story, she was ready to become real.
“The Princess who became Real”
When the princess was born she was taken and left at the entrance to a great maze.
It was winter and she crawled inside to get warm. She kept crawling as she could feel there was warmth at the heart of the maze.
The maze was green and beautiful, she held the princess in her arms for many days and many nights.
At night, the stars twinkled through and she was wrapped in luminous colours, the glowing patches of light from other worlds.
She longed to stay.
But one morning she woke up and saw she had left herself in body. She saw herself outside cold and pinched and stiff in the snow.
So she crawled out. She crawled and crawled and crawled to her body. She cried tears and she climbed inside. She was grieving to enter the world again.
She didn’t know what happened after that. She could never remember any of it.
But one day she found herself walking. It was summer time. It was warm. She was surrounded by beauty. She stretched her limbs and then she ran.
She ran and ran across the whole world.
Exploring the Story
Leah’s story is so simple, yet so powerful and moving in what it expresses. It expresses a deep yearning in Leah – a yearning that exists in many of us. To be real and feel part of the world. To be in a body and be able to run, play and experience being fully alive.
This is the power of story to heal. The story stands alone as a beautiful, healing story but in the group we were able to take this into profound and deep healing, that would effect a powerful shift in Leah at an unconscious level. The whole process took around 45 minutes, a process that could have taken her years in talk therapy. Not only that, it effected healing in members of the group who shared and empathised with Leah’s story – and found deep resonances with her when they took roles within her story.
How It Happened
In the dramatic exploration, Leah took the role of the Princess, and the group created the Maze out of chairs and coloured cloths. Leah wanted the curtains closed so that an enclosed, safe world was created.
It is interesting that the story takes place in winter, a time of contraction when the whole of nature withdraws into its shell to bring forth new growth. This is how Leah felt – cold, contracted and in stasis. Nothing was moving.
But it is clear this is not a story just about birth, because the Princess was already born. It was very important to Leah that she was dumped at the entrance of the maze by the group. This was an expression of the trauma she had experienced early in life – a trauma that had left her feeling abandoned and unwanted. Dumped by people who appeared not to care. Leah never explained what this was. She didn’t need to – the event in the story said it all. This is the beauty of working in this way – there’s often no need to analyse, take to pieces or talk about the traumatic event
Then Leah slowly crawled into the Maze. The natural response to trauma is to withdraw, to create a place of safety. Perhaps you know this for yourself when something bad happens. You retreat into your shell, put your head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich, pull the covers over your head and hope it’s all going to go away. In the same way, an animal hides itself away and licks it wounds until it feels better.
In a previous article Living Life Out Loud, I explain how in traumatic events your system cannot tolerate such levels of distress. There is a shutdown mechanism which I call the Cave of Safety. This is the place we retreat to – the natural response to trauma of any kind.
And with it goes your life energy. Everything retreats as in winter – and you become stale, flat, dead, de-energised, unmotivated. If you’ve been through a difficult experience and believe you should have got over it by now, this is why you feel so awful and uninspired. You want to get out of this place, but you don’t know how.
In Leah’s story, the Maze is an expression of this shutdown place. For the Princess and Leah, the Maze was a beautiful place. She was drawn to crawl inside, guided by the rest of the group.
As she says in the story:
“The maze was green and beautiful. She held the princess in her arms for many days and many nights.”As she arrived in the centre of the Maze, the group gathered around and became the Maze offering nurture and support. Although Leah enjoyed this and enjoyed feeling cared for both by the group and the symbolic Maze, she said that it felt impermanent—she knew she couldn’t stay there.
Leah, like many people who have experienced trauma, knows that they are not supposed to stay in this contracted state. Because the Maze, the Cave of Safety, the place of contraction – is not a real place. If you stay in that place you cannot be alive. You will go through the motions of life but feel that something is missing. You’ll be seen but not really noticed. You may be valued or appreciated by other people, but you won’t experience it like that. Because you are living a half-life, and after a time living in this way can become intolerable.
Another group member began to cry at this point, as the story had touched something deep inside her, demonstrating that this was not just Leah’s story. It touched each member of the group and brought healing to all.
Coming Back Into the Body
Leah knew she needed to return to her body. In the story, the Princess realised she was not in her body. She saw that her body was outside the Maze and it was “pinched and cold” from being in the snow. This is the reality of the frozen state that Leah had been in for most of her life. It can come as quite a shock for a traumatised person to realise this. That they actually have been in the freezing cold without being conscious of it.
Leah chose one of the group to represent her body, and it was important for her that her “body” lay on a white cloth to simulate the snow. Slowly she crawled out of the maze as emotion welled up inside her and she struggled to move her own body. She seemed to be trying to cast off a burden she was carrying so she could enter the world.
As she returned to her body, feeling and emotion welled up in her, as she realised there was a burden she had been carrying all this time. She felt the weight of it upon her – the burden of the trauma, the burden of being abandoned, the burden of feeling unloved, the burden of what she carried for other people when she took on this role.
In releasing the burden, Leah released too everything that the burden had meant to her – the abandonment, the neglect, both conscious and unconscious. The group moved around her, and she cried in their arms, experiencing the healing of their love and compassion.
Moving Out Into the World
An important moment came a little later when Leah felt an impulse to move, to move out into the world. First, she walked then she began to run and run. The “Chariots of Fire” music by Vangelis was played, and the whole group ran with her, running to express her being part of the world and belonging to the world.
It expressed the moment of realisation when suddenly things feel OK when what felt so hard and painful is now just a memory. This moment might happen sometime after the healing work or catharsis has taken place, it is not dramatic or cataclysmic, but quiet. This is what happened to Leah.
It was a moment when a sense of happiness flooded over her, and she realised it was possible to move forward and to embrace what life has to offer.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I am also always delighted to hear from you for any reason so do write to me if you have any questions, comments or just want to share anything. I’ll answer as soon as I can.