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How Somatic Healing Helped Me Navigate CPTSD to Find True Happiness

“At first, the body-based techniques seemed too woo-woo for me to explore and yet I was also drawn to them. Thankfully I could hold the conflict and let myself learn anyway. Somatic work helped me reclaim my body and I finally believed my body was my own instead of an object for others.”

Hello! Who are you?

Hi there! My name is Cami and I live in Flagstaff, Arizona, with my adventurous husband and sometimes even more adventurous kids. We have 6 of them, 3 boys and 3 girls, ages 21, 18, 17, 15, and 12-year-old twins.

They are a wild and crazy bunch keeping me busy with all their sporting events, outdoor activities, and friend hangouts. Most weekends are filled with our kids’ activities but when we have a “free” weekend you will find some, or all, of us in a canyon, rappelling off cliffs or rafting on a river, (sometimes both in one trip). Often with a friend or two in tow who may or may not be aware of what they have signed up for. 

I am a much happier person if I can spend a little bit of time each day in nature. I love an early morning run by myself, something with my family, or connecting with friends for any and all trail adventures.

Our ladies’ group loves to chat. We also like to mountain bike, hike, ski, and snowshoe, but most importantly, we talk. You’ll hear us before you see us. 

I am a life coach and started my trauma-informed embodiment coaching shortly after suppressed and repressed trauma came up in my body. At the start of my healing, I couldn’t find a coach who offered the body-based healing I was seeking to release my trauma, so I decided to become what I needed.

Since then I have found a number of healers, realizing that I just didn’t know where to look. These coaches, therapists, and healers have helped me and I am now fortunate to join with them in offering embodied trauma healing.

As for happiness, I always considered myself happy. However, now that I see happiness as an embodied experience, where I can feel a range of amazing and hard emotions, I see the happy person from my past differently.

I see she was doing the best she could, but in reality, she was in trauma most of her life, and that manifested with fawning behaviors of people pleasing, pretending, hiding from her true self, and darn good at being the happy person she was supposed to be.

Today, I know how to feel happy while being in my body, and that is so different than just acting happy. 

Cami Birdno

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

I thought my struggle started in 2019, but my trauma would tell me a different story. In 2019 I was a 42-year-old woman, taking a course on reclaiming my desire when I was blindsided by memories of a sexual assault from 26 years earlier that refused to be repressed any longer.

Like a beach ball being held underwater ready at any moment to explode to the surface, they chose that moment to burst out of hiding and come forth with a vengeance into my memory and body.

Repression is a coping technique for the freeze response. It’s a way to dissociate from the pain and overwhelm of a traumatic event so there is zero memory of the event or anything connected with it. I now view repression and dissociation as a very kind response because knowledge of my assault rocked my world at 42.

I can’t imagine what my 16-year-old self would have done if the full weight of what I was experiencing came crashing down on me. I had zero resources and no one to believe me if I shared my truth. Few from my past believed me when I shared at 42.

Once the door of repression was opened, I couldn’t stop the floodgate of memories and body responses that came pouring out of me. In fact, many of these traumatic moments were memories of times over the course of those 26 years, when a smell, phrase, place, or mention of my perpetrator’s name would cause a reaction that was out of my control.

Those moments were surprising, startling, and confusing (because, I didn’t remember the assault, I felt my body was acting crazy). Then as victims often do, I would gaslight myself by saying what I was remembering wasn’t real or could never have happened to me.

Then I would promptly shove that memory or body response back down inside me, back to wherever it came from. This reaction is called suppression, meaning something coming up is too overwhelming and so a victim’s survival nervous system will tuck it away and store it for their body to try to offer again at a later date.

Suppression and repression are coping tools common in those with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and when traumas are no longer suppressed or repressed, the past trauma is brought into the present as if it’s happening in the current moment.

In 2019 my past trauma became a constant part of my everyday life and I was diagnosed at my first therapy session that year. 

Over the next couple of years, as more and more trauma surfaced, I found that I also had cPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) another name for developmental trauma.

Unlike PTSD which usually comes from a big T trauma, an event most people agree would be traumatic, cPTSD comes from many small events. The C stands for how complex and interwoven the events can be but to me, it stood for Craziness.

I felt crazy trying to make sense of it all. I knew what I was remembering really happened and yet I doubted and questioned my trauma and my experiences far more in this space due to how subtle it was.

I had 42 years filled with some good times but I wanted to minimize the larger amounts of betrayal from family, church, and friends. Plus there was more sexual abuse that filled up those complex memories. I had normalized the unhealthy in order to survive. 

Now, after 4 years of processing trauma, it continues to be mind-blowing that I had no memory of any of it until 2019. And that same mind-blown response that early in my journey led me into loathing and judgment of my younger self, now leads me into compassion, able to see those younger versions and why I needed my survival nervous system to be online keeping me safe and somewhat functioning.

I no longer have the scary trauma overtake me. When things come up, layer by layer as trauma does, I am no longer afraid. I trust my body and we heal together. We are no longer at war.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

The worst moments came between 2020-2022. I had contempt and hatred for my body’s choice to freeze as its survival coping. I felt weak and was disgusted that my survival kept my trauma at bay, yet bubbling in my unconscious mind and body for 26 years.

I hated the patterns of behavior I could see stem from a frozen me in my current life and I felt hopeless to change them. I felt controlled by my trauma and even though I wanted to do things differently, I couldn’t. Instead, I would freeze and dissociate.

And then when I realized I also had cPTSD, that meant I had been struggling with developmental trauma for 42 years. I had lost myself, never even knowing there was a self to find because I always went into fawning behaviors that managed everyone else at my expense and again, I couldn’t stop doing it. I was a victim and a martyr to my trauma responses and all the people around me. 

When all the flashbacks, memories, and sensations came out of their suppressed and repressed places in my body for both my assault and my complex little t traumas, I was physically exhausted and overwhelmed.

It seemed as if every cell of my body was releasing a memory, a sensation and thought pattern connected with it that felt true and terrifyingly unsettling all at the same time.

I found myself reliving moments of my past over and over again multiple times a day, through memories or body visceral responses that would cause so much terror, disgust, and physical pain, that I thought it would overtake me.

I thought I had to suffer alone and pretended I was fine. I was definitely not happy but thanks to my fawn response, I had always been good at pretending. But my husband was not fooled and neither were my kids.

They knew something was up and looking back, I can see how distracted I was. I had a hard time being present with my kids, husband, and friends because I was so busy trying not to let the memory that was currently playing on repeat have my full attention. I felt I was always divided between 2 worlds.

One I wanted to be fully present in but unable to because of all that was going on inside and one I was trying to avoid but never could. I felt crazy. And I started acting crazy in my attempts to pretend I was fine. I wanted so desperately to be fine.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

There are 2 moments that got me out of the crazy feeling pretend loop I was repeating day after day. One came in 2019 when I was still in denial of how much my PTSD was affecting my life. The other came when I realized that trauma is not mental and so it needs a body-based healing approach.

In 2019, the memories were coming but I was still trying to hold them at bay. I didn’t want what happened to be true and I was resisting, trying so hard to hold back the floodgates. My body would shake without me being aware. I remember my daughter asking me why my hand was shaking. As I looked down at my hand, I saw nothing but a hand at rest.

It felt disconnected from me but I couldn’t see what my daughter could. She put my hand in between her 2 small hands and said, “Mom, they are shaking so much.” I couldn’t feel or see my own hands shake until they were in between hers.

I was terrified that not only could she see something I couldn’t but I couldn’t see or feel myself shaking without her help. My body felt out of control and I wondered what else I was doing that I wasn’t aware of? It was time to get help. 

This was 30% of my change for the better. It was the push I needed to let others support me in my healing from trauma. I saw a therapist, did EMDR, and became a frequent attendee at any trauma summit I could find.

Life coaching, mindset, trauma education, and mindfulness really helped me start to get out of my trauma narratives and have hope that I could heal neuro pathways.

The next 60% came when I realized that trauma is not mental. Even though I had new narratives, I was still constantly triggered and pulled back into trauma responses.

My body, especially my survival system, did not believe the new reframes and new pathways I was creating. The shift came when I took my first body-based trauma release class during COVID. It was somatic experiencing (SE) from Peter Levine.

During that class, I learned tools to let trauma energy cycle through and leave my body. For the first time, I had space to believe my mindset reframes, I didn’t just think them.

Through this class, I no longer hated the experience of my body and I finally believed my body was my own. This shift into embodied healing started me on a path to learn more and is what has made all the difference in releasing my body’s stored trauma.

The last 10% comes each day that I let those traumas show me what I’m still holding that is now ready to be set free. 

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

I’d like to offer that healing is not linear. Some people start with body-based trauma releases and then move to the mindset work. Some do a little bit of both at the same time. Others need mindset, compassion, and mindfulness before they can get into their body.

Trauma is stored in the body and needs to be released from the body and that releasing doesn’t come from hating the body but rather from a turning towards the body.

Which is so hard to do when trauma is in control. And yet, getting into my body helped me to come home to the safety it always wanted to offer me but couldn’t due to the trauma it was holding.

I will share my path and invite you to see what speaks to you and then invite you to follow that and find the next thing that speaks to you.

Life coaching resonated and I was able to give myself options through mindset work and letting wisdom come from within my own mind.

One of my trauma narratives was that I was not very smart and I couldn’t think for myself but needed to instead look to outside sources to tell me what to do. Life coaching taught me how to think for myself.

Next, EMDR gave me the ability to not only learn more about the trauma narratives I was living my life from, but it also gave me a framework for getting into my body in a way to recognize and quantify on a scale of 0-10 how much I believed or didn’t believe something or how triggering something was.

Then after moving my eyes back and forth (bilateral stimulation), my body could regulate and decrease the triggers while also believing more healthy narratives. And bonus, I came up with the narratives from within me and learned my body knows how to heal me.

This is what then led me to look for more ways to let my body speak so I could understand how to release more traumas that kept resurfacing. At first, the body-based techniques seemed too woo-woo for me to explore and yet I was also drawn to them. Thankfully I could hold the conflict and let myself learn anyway.

Somatic work helped me reclaim my body and I finally believed my body was my own instead of an object for others.

Chakras, energy, and subtle body work taught me how to energetically process and move trauma through my body and let it go in a compassionate way, offering understanding for my experience. 

Polyvagal work helped me learn more about the internal landscape within my body and how the vagus nerve can help regulate my internal world, especially when I was in a trauma state. I learned how to move in and out of different trauma states safely.

When my body was a safe place and I could trust myself to listen because of all the body work I had done. Then I went into inner child work. This can be ego, shadow, or parts work.

But the one that spoke to me was inner child and I was able to learn how to let my little Cami have a voice. She never had that. I learned that I often went on autopilot doing what she wanted me to do based on narratives she’d picked up over her years of conditioning.

I noticed that her guidance often came from fear and I was reactive, unconscious, and unloving in that fear. I learned to listen to little Cami but not believe everything she said was true.

My inner child therapist helped me tap into my inner wisdom, and I learned to let her speak and offer my inner child guidance that was teaching her love as a way of goodness instead of reward. I am teaching little Cami how to act from that place instead of trauma conditioning.

This has been my journey. I invite you to find healing from trauma through body-based modalities that offer safety and teach you how to complete energy cycles. Alongside trauma education, mindset, and mindfulness, in whatever order your body, mind, and heart seek.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

We heal together what we cannot do alone. I had a hard time getting support at first. Another strong trauma survival narrative for me was that I had to do everything alone.

I couldn’t trust others because I couldn’t trust myself, so it was actually super helpful to invite others into my trauma and bask in their trust in me to teach me what I didn’t yet believe or see in myself.

My husband and my friends are the first ones I shared those first terrifying memories with. They held me, supported me, and gave me space to express through words (often rants), many tears, and a variety of emotions. All of me was seen and welcomed.

My husband, friends, coaches, and therapists became the resources my 16-year-old and younger self didn’t have. Their support was huge in me being ready to heal. 

In trauma healing, we need to surround ourselves with people who can see us, especially when we are first healing. I find it can be the most loving thing, and what can offer the most goodness, is to give ourselves a choice in who we share our journey with.

It is okay to not share or no longer see family, friends, and acquaintances who pull for us to go back into trauma coping because they are most comfortable when we act in old trauma patterns.

We build up the capacity to be able to hold on to our sense of self around those who most harmed us. It takes practice and it’s ok to choose not to practice and take a rest from the crazy.

Sometimes we need to step away to see clearly. I have family members I no longer speak to and others I have created boundaries around how I interact. It comes with a vast array of feelings to do this and it’s been a journey to let myself feel the grief and loss of these connections. 

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

You are not alone. And you have a choice. Others have been where you are and they are no longer there. The triggers can disappear. You don’t need to stay stuck. You can heal. 

And, you matter, your healing matters, you are worth it, even if you don’t feel like any of that is true. I know I couldn’t believe I mattered when I first started this journey. The only part of that statement that would have seemed true was “even if you don’t”. 

But to know healing and believing I mattered was possible; to meet someone who could really see me; to know it was possible to find safety in my body, even if it terrified me; to be offered that I could have a choice and I’m not left by myself to figure this out would have been so empowering to know earlier.

In trauma choice is taken away, so knowing that I can create my own possibilities and that I have choice around what I create, that would have given me power I didn’t know I had and offered me hope and freedom I didn’t know I could even want.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

Where can we go to learn more about you?

As a trauma-informed embodiment coach, I guide women on their trauma-healing journeys. With a compassionate and holistic approach, I empower clients to reconnect with their bodies, release themselves from trauma’s grip, and cultivate resilience.

Drawing upon my own experiences, I offer 1:1 sessions, workshops, and practices that promote self-awareness, healing, and transformation. You can sign up for free weekly tips via my newsletter page.

You can learn more about me via my website, Instagram, Facebook LinkedIn, and on my podcast.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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