By Felice Dunas
Have you ever experienced a burn that instantly felt better once you put ice on it? After a few minutes of relief, it is natural to assume that removing the ice would not cause an increase of pain, so you remove the ice. Surprise, the burn becomes more intense and the pain sinks deeper into your body. You reapply the ice. This goes on for a while. Ice goes on, ice comes off to surprise you with burning pain. On again, off again. Finally you can remove the ice and the pain will have sufficiently subsided. Trauma works the same way in that it continues to trickle into your body unless you stop it. If left unchecked, this silent, toxic force seeps deeper continually over the course of years.
A burn feels better over time but trauma becomes worse. We all know a college football or tennis player who felt great until hitting 40 or so, when the trauma that had resulted from acute injuries during the teenage years has had enough time to warp the joints, creating arthritis, twist the bones, causing spurs, or dry the tendons, resulting in chronic tendonitis. As our returning soldiers can attest, post-traumatic stress disorder increases its deleterious effects as years pass; read the research on Vietnam vets or children who have inadvertently been harmed by rough divorces. Studies substantively documents that psychological trauma related disorders worsen over time. These effects are cumulative. They have memory.
First called “Hit Medicine” by our professional ancestors, trauma and its resulting syndromes were studied carefully as they were commonly experienced by soldiers and martial artists in battle and competition. Even today, the martial arts are highly rated as an injurious group of sports on the international, competitive circuit and, not surprisingly, “Hit Medicine” techniques are still employed.
How trauma expresses itself
Jackson, an athletic young man, rides his bike on a downtown sidewalk. As he passes the exit of a parking structure, a large, rust-colored van tears out onto the street and slams into him. His bike twists and flies through the air; his body follows and impacts on the asphalt. Unconscious on the sidewalk, Jackson’s head pounds repeatedly in spasm. I run to him, kneel down, and place my hand under his head to stop the seizures from hammering his skull into the pavement. Then I dig my fingernail into Heart 9 on his pinky finger. The seizures stop instantly. He opens his eyes and, looking dazed, asks me, “What happened?” “You were hit by a van and I stopped the trauma from blowing into your heart,” I whisper.
Alexis is nervous as she tells me why she has sought my services. She had been raped four years earlier and could not “come out of it”. Since the event, her interest in and ability to enjoy sex had eroded. She was letting people take advantage of her in many areas of her life and, haunted by nightmares, is angry with herself for not “letting go” of this painful incident. Increased muscle tension was causing repeated strains and injuries and this made it physically painful to make a living as a professional tennis teacher. What is the primary etiology of this growing quagmire of misery and stagnation? Trauma seeping into the organs, affecting the liver blood and shen.
National and Personal Trauma
It has been an important decade for studying trauma. We began the 3rd millennium with huge parties, followed by the 9/11 attacks. Practitioners have had the unique opportunity to watch patients react over time to its personal and national effects. We witnessed the differing methods by which people have resolved or suppressed trauma and have all treated this insipid, pathological factor. It has touched all of our patients to differing degrees. Even today, if you question your patients on how 9/11 affected them, you will find trauma’s residue.
Following the attacks, the divorce rate increased; the number of military enlistments went up; as did anti-depressant medication prescriptions, cigarette, and ice cream sales. Other industries such as travel, conventions, and weight loss struggled through the first year following 9/11. Crime rates fluctuated wildly, businesses were born, careers redirected, and habits broken. Prejudice eased between some peoples and increased between others, all in response to trauma on a national level.
I left Washington D.C. on September 10th of 2001 to return home after dropping my daughter off at college for the first time. She called the next morning, the first of my new life as an “empty nester”, and spoke of plane hijackings. One of the flights that went down had been my original return flight, which I had changed just hours before its departure.
I lost both personal friends and patients in D.C. and N.Y. buildings. I sat quietly for a month. When I was not sitting, I was organizing my linen closet, eating chocolate–the ultimate heart yang tonic–or cleaning out my garage. My brain had no apparent organizational ability and my thoughts could not follow one another in sequence. I treated few patients because I had nothing to give. Whatever I had, I needed to redirect into myself to find my way back, out of shock and into my sense of personal identity. I had lost patients, friends, motherhood (or so it felt at the time), and everything else that we all lost as citizens of the US. I had also, almost, lost my life.
Energetic imbalances began expressing symptoms through my heart and spleen, shaking my sense of self and ability to metabolize information. It went on to affect my kidneys and liver, filling me with an underlying sense of dread and the inability to either express my emotions or resolve them. Breathing was difficult as chi congested in the channels. My lungs responded to my contracted breath and sadness with an upper respiratory infection. A year later the lung crack on my tongue was wider than it had been a year before. Everyone in this country has a 9/11 story that reveals trauma’s energetic dynamics. Do you recall yours?
We end the decade with one of the most profound financial challenges the nation has ever faced. What is the recovery process that the media and think tanks continue to monitor? It is, in part, the healing process from another national trauma. How quickly do we as individuals and a nation open our wallets and let go of survival fears? That depends upon our collective ability to nourish ourselves and one another as we heal or suppress the traumas we have experienced for the past few years.
The energetic dynamics of this force have unique qualities and affect every person differently, depending upon their individual strengths and weaknesses. But there are some consistencies that identify its toxic presence.
Consistent features of trauma
- Trauma acts like a wave of chi moving from the surface of the body to the interior. Many patients can describe the rolling feeling that passed through them at the time of the damaging event.
- Both physical and emotional trauma can be accompanied by an immediate denial of injury. I call it the “I’m fine” syndrome. Patients can injure themselves and before they notice a severe injury, those who rush to their aid are assured by the victim that they are “fine”.
- Depending upon the severity and location of the injury, i.e. tennis elbow or heartbreak, trauma’s residue can show up in an instant or seep into the joints, organs, emotions, bone or blood over decades.
- All the organs and many forms of chi play a role in the body’s ability to create, be effected by and minimize trauma. When looking for trauma residue, take a thorough history and listen carefully. Trauma will have its most disastrous effects where the “weak links” are in your patient’s body.
- Wei chi is our defense against any external force entering the body. Trauma’s ability to affect us is, in part, determined by the strength of an individual’s “shield”. One of my teachers described the protective space-helmet shaped dome of wei chi. “The helmet rests on CV17 in the front and GV14 in the back”, he said. “It extends out several inches from the body like an astronaut’s helmet. You must tell your patients to always keep the area between these two points (the head and neck) protected because only the strength of this shield keeps them from the elements of life.” Of course wei chi protects the entire body not just the head and neck. And it can be protective against some traumatic events, such as mild physical injuries. But that protection can be of no use at all when some forms of trauma strike. An example occurs when you are in the middle of eating a meal and you learn of horrible news. The strong emotions that burst open in you directly effects the liver and its actions upon the stomach. As chi stops moving, chi movement being a liver function, everything in your stomach stops being digested and it sits, like a rock, unmoving. In this case, wei chi could do very little to protect you and the trauma will have to be addressed through the organs as well as wei chi supportive points.
- The liver cleanses and moves all that comes into the body. When trauma gets in and causes stagnation, it is the liver’s duty to rally against it. Liver chi is always affected.
- All the meridians can show signs of trauma because it is through them that the disorganized chi creates chaos in the body.
While the multiplicity of faces worn by this hidden pathogenic factor may confuse the practitioner initially, there are methods by which this force can be discerned and overpowered. “Hit Medicine”, one of the first uses of acupuncture, moxa and herbs, is still worthy of your exploration and study. We take different kinds of hits than those first treated by our professional ancestors. But our medicine is large and has genius enough to address all the insults that life has to offer.
FELICE DUNAS, PhD, is an international professional speaker, consultant and executive coach who has used her understanding of behavior, the human body, and Ancient Principles to enhance the lives of individuals, couples, families, and corporate and health care industry CEOs for nearly forty years.