Nora is 4 years old. She and her family have traveled to the United States seeking asylum. It has been a long and difficult journey, but with her mother keeping her close, she trusts that she will be safe.
When she arrives at the border with her family, she is taken from her mother and other relatives. Suddenly she is scared, helpless, alone, confused and most traumatic, she is no longer with the one person who can make her feel safe in mind, body, and spirit—her mother.
Her little nervous system kicks into full sympathetic response (fight, flight, freeze) and she becomes hyper aroused and alert. Though she doesn’t know it, this experience is forming a memory in her body—and as of this moment her nervous system is likely to respond to the next experience of fear, uncertainty or confusion the same way, but with more urgency. It does not matter if or when she is reunited with her mother, her body now knows that this danger (registered by the body as a threat to survival) can and did happen. It will never want to forget.
Because the body’s number one job is to ensure our survival.
Nora is eventually reunited with her mother, but because of the trauma her mother has also been impacted. Both Nora and her mother experience increased anxiety, hyper-vigilance and intense stress-reactivity. Neither can put down their guard. They trigger each other without understanding why or how. As Nora gets older her trauma response continues to “fire” with each experience of perceived vulnerability, uncertainty or confusion. As time goes on this creates more and more discomfort in her body, as the continual drip of her body's sympathetic response sends a cascade of hormones and biochemicals that she can't control with her conscious mind. She can no longer take the sensations of fear and anxiety and begins searching for anything that can give her some control over the feelings.
She is now a teenager. She begins cutting to escape the pain inside her body. She discovers sex and becomes promiscuous because it helps her forget. She begins partying with her friends—spending less and less time at home. She is at risk and is eventually sexually assaulted at a party, and again later by a "friend." She tells no one because she blames herself.
She feels broken, confused and can’t take the pain. All the while not understanding that her body has wired itself to “protect” her from her early trauma. A friend gives her a prescription pain killer and she takes it. For the first time she feels true relief. Temporarily.
Each time the drug wears off she feels the pain more profoundly, but now it’s compounded with a feeling of shame and deeply rooted self judgement. Her relationship with her mother is almost non-existent. Two trauma survivors must be profoundly aware of what is happening in their bodies, and have the capacity to regulate in order to reverse the devastating feedback loop of trauma. Neither Nora nor her mother have this capacity.
As time passes Nora feels broken beyond repair, profoundly unlovable and full of shame. She needs to continue using drugs if she is to escape the world of pain that has become her reality. She turns to heroin because it’s cheap and easy.
Lonely and lost Nora finds a sense of connection and belonging with other addicts. She does things of which she is not proud because scoring heroin becomes her primary need. She is now trapped in a life she can’t see a way out of.
Seem far fetched? It’s not.
I have worked for years with women recovering from addiction that had some version of this story.
Early experiences of separation, rejection, confusion, helplessness and fear all create unconscious neurobiological changes in the body—that are reinforced throughout a lifetime until they become unbearable.
It is a sad truth that the decisions of this administration have already done their damage, there is no reversing the fact that tens of thousands of children may have a path similar to Nora's. Donald Trump will leave a legacy of trauma.
And we cannot prevent trauma from happening in the world. From abusive families to abusive administrations, it happens every day to thousands of children everywhere. But we can reverse the cycle of trauma and addiction by helping women come back in contact with the very sensations that they have been running from.
Breath by breath.
And in doing so a woman is empowered to take the steps toward healing. This is the path of TIMBo.