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Healing Trauma & Why It's Such Important Work

Annabella Sanchez, Bella Sanchez

I hope through sharing my story and embracing vulnerability I can help others on their healing paths feel less alone, more hopeful, and can increase awareness and destigmatize the conversation surrounding trauma, mental health, and how we all struggle. *I want to give a trigger warning as reading about trauma that resonates with you can cause triggering and stress.*

To begin, trauma comes in various forms. The two categories are small t trauma and big T trauma. Small t trauma includes a loss of significant relationships, complex or developmental trauma, divorce, etc (life-altering). Big T trauma includes physical abuse, a life-threatening accident, war, emotional neglect and abuse, etc. We all have trauma we have gone through that often has a big stigma on it and makes people uncomfortable to discuss, often because they have not faced their own. Both small t trauma and big T trauma are significant when they happen and should be treated with the same empathy and importance.

First, any trauma I have gone through does not take away from all the positive experiences, growth, and learning I experienced but still is very much real and has affected my health. I am very grateful for my life and know I am infinitely blessed. I hope through sharing my journey and experiences I can help others on their path of healing. Anyone this resonates with, I want you to know that you are not alone and your experiences and feelings are valid.

It's a Friday night and I am staring out my window at a bustling city down below with the sound of sirens peeping through my AirPods as I listen to a moody playlist of Arctic Monkeys, Lana Del Ray, Labrinth, and The Neighborhood. It's a cold night outside in Manhattan, mid-December to be exact, as I sit in my window wrapped up in a fluffy blanket with a book, hot peppermint tea, and the warm gleam of a Himalayan salt lamp. I ponder for a minute about my life, all that I have gone through, and all that I still face. It was the summer of 2018 when I thought about living in New York City and attending NYU which was now my reality in 2021. It seemed a mere dream in my mind because at that time I had no doubt I would be professionally showjumping which I knew University of Miami was my only choice in doing so and simultaneously obtaining a university degree. I think the deep inner me truly knew there was always a whole big world out there for me to explore outside of the sport I called home for 10+ years.

My years of riding came with a lot of positive experiences, a lot of negative experiences, and a lot of growth. With most areas of my life having inconsistency, I was always on edge and unknowingly stuck in flight-or-fight mode. On top of it I was treated like an adult by those around me and held to high expectations in my early teens. That coupled with my perfectionistic tendencies and high expectations of myself put my body under unnecessary stress. I was in constant work mode throwing myself into entrepreneurial ventures while juggling school and sports as a young junior-professional athlete. Sometimes I question if my overworking was a coping mechanism to avoid the world around me or rather within me, the problems I was facing, the need to cover up any insecurities with a hardworking external image. I was living in an adult world early-on that my hyper independence carried me through and would be on planes alone at 12 years old traveling across the country to stay at one of my coach's houses for training. Being a high performance athlete at a young age comes with a lot of sacrifices, but I was passionate and would do whatever it took to get to the top.. and I did for a while until I couldn't anymore.

Along with all the pressures of the sport, myself, others, and school in the background, I was dealing with health problems. After a few years of increasingly worsening health issues, I found an alternative medicine doctor and was diagnosed severely anemic around sixteen and also had contracted a parasite to which the doctor asked me how I was functioning daily... yikes. Anemia is when you lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your body's tissues- now imagine how important that is for a high performance athlete. I was often very drained by the end of the day and felt weak when riding a good amount of the time like I was always giving my all out of my body with no reserve fuel. My body was running off of high cortisol levels and caffeine to get it through the day which allowed me to perform but essentially damaged my body over time. My anemia carried over from my body's difficulty in absorbing nutrition that lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies which carried over from gastrointestinal issues which stemmed from a parasite and prolonged energy imbalances which were heightened by toxic environments and the resulting trauma that affected my mental, spiritual, and physical health.

Many times you do not realize how toxic environments are until you leave them. You can get stuck in them when you do not know any better, especially so young, and start to question your own reality and your own thoughts and feelings. Anyone reading this who this resonates with, I want you to remember that your feelings and experiences are valid. I felt shame for a long time and sometimes still combat this as I am very blessed and know that there are worse circumstances. However, diminishing my own experiences in the light of knowing someone may have it worse is very cruel to myself and emotionally dismissive. Thinking this way teaches you that your own struggles are insignificant which leads to hiding them, squashing them, internalizing them, and not asking for help when needed. The truth is that we are all human, we all have pain, and we often experience our struggles differently which is why empathy and love are so important to exercise. Our experiences and feelings are valid and should never be compared to that of another. It is common to brush off traumatic experiences, especially little-t trauma, as if they were nothing which is emotionally dismissive and has a negative internal affect on you. In brushing them off you are not acknowledging your inner pain or recognizing what you have gone through in order to go back, heal, and pull that part of yourself out of that experience. Many relive their past daily without being aware of it. It is common to get stuck in a past trauma and have it currently affecting your present whether you are always expecting the worst, constantly fearful and anxious, having physical health issues, panic attacks, and/or triggered by seemingly "small" things. Something that has been fundamental in my healing is IFS or internal family systems. I have been performing it on myself for the last year without fully knowing it until I recently learned about it through Gabrielle Bernstein and my therapist.

IFS teaches you that we all have different parts of ourselves that we can get to know and interact with. It allows you to look at different parts of yourself with compassion instead of looking back on them with frustration. You are not just your anxiety, addiction, people-pleasing, anger, shame, high walls, fear, or other struggles and coping mechanisms.. those are simply parts of you in protector mode. They have done their best over the years to protect you in the best way that they know how. Healing trauma is addressing its effects on you and looking back on how you coped with compassion and empathy towards yourself and those parts. It is allowing yourself to feel those feelings, honor them, accept them, and surrender them (let them go). It is practicing forgiveness and choosing to live in love not fear. Thank those protector parts and tell them that they are okay now, they are safe, and your true self can take over. The true self is the most authentic part of us that operates out of pure love, empathy, and compassion. We all have this within ourselves although protector parts can cover it up causing disconnection to our true nature. Getting to know your parts leads to a deeper understanding of yourself and allows you to tap into different parts when you most need them while being aware of their activation and not letting them overtake you. For example, my work overdrive mode leads to burnout when it overtakes me and also is a coping mechanism that allows me to ignore my inner reality and emotions by being so tuned into work. When healing parts of myself I increase my awareness of them so I know if they are getting triggered and can bring myself back to center. By understanding my overworking mode I can mindfully tap back into its energy when I really need to get something done without it overtaking me. This work comes with time and requires many steps to reach including wanting to heal, recognizing the trauma you have gone through, facing its effects on you, becoming aware of triggers, healing the effects and being able to ground yourself when triggered, etc. I very much recommend therapy and energy healing when on the path of healing, self-awareness, and self-understanding.

I have dabbled in therapy especially as an athlete due to being way too hard on myself and a perfectionist. However, I have never maintained a true consistent practice until now. The first session with my therapist in NYC I walked in like a stiff board. My guard was way up and I was extremely uncomfortable. I felt like I was in a stadium with the lights off, a spotlight on me, and all eyes staring down at me. The strong immediate discomfort made me interested as to what was causing it and why my body reacted that way. She helped me relax with breath work and slowly talked me through the rest of the intake session. I came back much more relaxed the second time and through consistent practice with her have seen how she guides me in facing my fears, understanding my past, and moving forward. I have tried to dodge questions and she holds me accountable in a gentle way, bringing me back to what I was trying to avoid. This is part of why therapy is so helpful in working to heal and learn healthier behaviors as it guides you in confronting your uncomfortable emotions. Healing trauma involves quieting down resistance and overcoming it. I was resistant to showing my feelings in front of her. One day I came in already quite emotional after a morning filled with crying and a follow up with my doctor who told me I may have another diagnosis with the hormonal irregularities I was experiencing and abdominal pain. Just hearing I could possibly have something else on top of the gastrointestinal issues and energy imbalances I struggle with was too much. For a while, having these health problems felt like living in a cage. It is heavy to carry privately for so long. That day, I was truly overwhelmed after so many years of fighting my physical health problems that had led to trauma and PTSD. They cause a lot of pain, solitude, and stress. Thus, there was no hiding my feelings that day. Simply bringing it up caused a floodgate of tears within a few minutes of starting the session. Crying in front of my therapist was very uncomfortable, I could barely look at her, as I have a tendency to keep my struggles to myself and deal with them on my own instead of seeking help. I have come to understand that seeking help is not a weakness but it is a strength. Openly showing expressive emotions and being truly vulnerable in front of others is a strength. It still causes me discomfort but is something I am aware of and actively working through. That session I learned about EFT (emotional freedom technique) that helps activate your parasympathetic system and bring you back into your body by tapping on different acupressure points to move energy. It helped me feel calmer and more centered when in a highly emotional state.

My hyper independence, anxiety, people-pleasing, high walls, and early developed maturity were coping mechanisms and something I relied upon my whole life. Growing up in a dysfunctional environment, I felt like I could only rely on myself and did not want to burden others. In addition, the toxic environments during my showjumping years, in my teens and early adulthood where I spent most of my time, added to these feelings. Psychotherapy, spirituality, and choosing to actively heal are allowing me to notice these protector parts of myself, discover where they come from, thank them for protecting me, and release them. They still act up here and there as healing is not linear and takes time but I am actively becoming aware of them which enables me to mindfully work through them. It also helps me in recognizing trauma I have gone through and what healthy environments, boundaries, and behavior look like. Learning about toxicity you have experienced can be a shock at first as sometimes you do not even actively realize you were/are in a toxic pattern or experienced/ing toxic environments. However, your body knows and the trauma often is stored inside it. After a prolonged time, this can physically manifest into health problems while mentally you remain unaware and live disconnected from your body.

Much of my time as a teenager was dedicated to showjumping. Half way through high school I switched to online school so I could travel more and dedicate higher amounts of time to my sport. I am so grateful for the years I had as a high performance athlete. It was my true passion at that time and horses will always have a special place in my heart. I miss those animals daily and hope one day to have my own backyard barn in the mountains with my retired horse Cassano and other rescues if that time comes. I had some amazing coaches that truly mentored me and positively influenced my career. At other times I had verbally abusive and emotionally abusive coaches that greatly contributed to me living in flight-or-fight mode, having panic attacks, and being on edge. I've been name-called, yelled at until I cried / while crying, left without guidance at a majorly important competition that was the last of my junior career and thus very meaningful to me, had frustrations taken out on me hours prior to a big competition which left me in tears and unable to finish prepping my horse or mentally prepared that day to perform well, degradingly yelled at in front of other people without reason, etc. None of this is okay or has any place in the career of coaching or a position of mentorship (or frankly anywhere) as it is bullying, abusive, and some if it is all too common in sports. As stated in my blog post "My Advice To Young Professional Athletes," please do not stay in toxic environments. It truly contributed to killing my passion for the sport and put lots of stress and tension on my body while increasing my anxiety. Many times I was scared to leave these environments or felt like I had no choice but to stay. When it comes to toxic coaches, please know that nothing is more important than your well-being and leaving to uphold it is the only right choice in this scenario. Sports administrations truly need stronger regulations on coaching behaviors and tactics in sports. I am blessed to have met two other beautiful people during my university and high school experiences who were very accomplished professional athletes, one in dance at Julliard and the other in D1 golf. Both are now retired due to losing passion for their sport through experiencing abusive coaching and facing years of toxic environments.

Realizing that prolonged exposure to toxic environments affects you is key to starting your healing journey and becoming more self-aware. It begins with becoming curious about the pain and triggers and why they are there and wanting to improve yourself and your life. The bravest thing you can do is face yourself and learn about how your trauma affects you in order to heal and move forward in a healthier state. Many people run from themselves their whole lives and many carry unhealed trauma. It is far too regular while deeply affecting people inside and causing anxiety, depression, a pattern of toxic relationships, trauma triangles, unhappiness, codependency, stress, generations of dysfunctional upbringings, etc. I hope through sharing parts of my journey I can help in de-stigmatizing the discussion around trauma and bringing more awareness to it as well as mental health and emotional well-being. It’s okay to not be okay, you are human. You don't need to hide your inner pain in fear of what others will think and you do not need to go through your struggles alone. I have done this and have seen others I deeply care about do the same and it’s painful to feel and watch. Having trauma and struggles doesn't make you any less of a person. Embracing your emotions and asking for help is a strength.

We are all human, we all have struggles, and we all feel. Our greatest strength lies in our ability to spread love and kindness both to ourselves and others. Here is to spreading kindness, empathy, compassion, and love to all.

Resources that have helped me: Books & Podcasts, Surrender & Let Go Meditation, Overcoming Anxiety & Fear Meditation , Morning Yin Yoga, Vinyasa Authenticity Morning Yoga, Release Suppressed Emotions Meditation, Floatation Therapy - Sensory Deprivation (NYC: Chill Space), Acupuncture (Miami: Miami Holistic Care), Energy Healing (Miami: Bagua Center), Psychotherapy (NYC: Intuitive Healing NYC), Therapeutic Bodywork & Mindful Strength Training (Stuart, Florida: Bodytopia - Abby Alphers)

“Time doesn’t heal all wounds, it just gives them space to sink into the subconscious, where they will still impact your emotions and behavior. What heals is going inward, loving yourself, accepting yourself, listening to your needs, addressing your attachments and emotional history, learning how to let go and follow your intuition.” -Yung Pueblo

“When you are compassionate toward yourself, you allow yourself to be vulnerable. And that’s incredibly important. Your authentic truth is your magnificence. Your willingness to let the world see your truth is your greatest contribution.” - Gabrielle Bernstein

“We all have a bag. We all pack differently. Some of us are traveling light. Some of us are secret hoarders who’ve never parted with a memory in our lives. I think we are all called to figure out how to carry our bag to the best of our ability, how to unpack it, and how to face the mess. I think part of growing up is learning how to sit down on the floor with all your things and figure out what to take with you and what to leave behind.” - Hannah Brencher

“This world has too many who judge and not enough who listen, because when you listen, really listen, you begin to feel. And when you begin to feel you begin to understand.” -Jm Storm

“Change is inevitable, growth is optional.” - John C. Maxwell

“When you heal trauma, you heal the nervous system. When you heal the nervous system, you heal the emotional body. When you heal the emotional body, you heal the psychic (empathic) body. When you heal the psychic body, you heal vibration. Once the vibration is healed, realities change.” - unknown

“Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn't know until you lived through it. Honor your path. Trust your journey. Learn, grow, evolve, become” -Creig Crippen

“Maturity is working through your trauma and not using it as a never ending excuse for poor behavior” - unknown

“The reality is that you don’t know what goes on in someone else’s life no matter how long you’ve known them. There are things people hide because they are afraid to say what they’re going through out loud. So be kind, it’s as simple as that, just be kind, to anyone & to everyone” -unknown

“I’ve been going to a psychiatrist since 2004, I think I've had more than 500 hours of therapy. I have suffered mentally and still do. Getting help is a way of overcoming my problems and it has helped me to access untapped potential. I’ve never had any problems with the stigma. Some of the most successful people are very, very sensitive and very, very sensitive means very, very vulnerable” - Toto Wolff (Mercedes-AMG F1 Team Principal & CEO)

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