July 27, 2022

E374: Stephanie M. Hutchins, Ph.D. - The power of nature in healing trauma | Trauma Healing Coach

In this episode, I am joined by my guest is Stephanie M. Hutchins, Ph.D., the author of transformation after trauma and incredible book that you guys are gonna need to read.

See show notes at: https://www.thinkunbrokenpodcast.com/e374-stephanie-m-hutchins-phd-the-power-of-nature-in-healing-trauma-trauma-healing-coach/#show-notes

In this episode, I am joined by my guest is Stephanie M. Hutchins, Ph.D., the author of transformation after trauma and incredible book that you guys are gonna need to read.

We talk about how to understand working through trauma, what are the most important things you need to understand about healing, and why mindset is the tool that creates change.

Stephanie M. Hutchins, Ph.D is a certified life coach, stress management, neurolinguistic programming practitioner say that three times fast yoga instructor and she also owns Serotinous Life, a company that helps individuals overcome stressful and traumatic events.

How do you rebuild yourself after traumatic events?

Learn More About Stephanie M. Hutchins, Ph.D. at: https://www.serotinouslife.com/

Learn more about Think Unbroken and Pre-Order my new book: Unbroken Man. Plus, learn more about the free coaching and other mental health programs. Click here: https://linktr.ee/michaelunbroken

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Michael: Hey! What's up, Unbroken Nation. Hope that you're doing well wherever you are in the world. Super excited to be here with you today, my guest is Stephanie M. Hutchins, Ph.D., the author of transformation after trauma and incredible book that you guys are gonna need to read. She's a certified life coach, stress management, neuro linguistic programming practitioner say that three times fast yoga instructor and she also owns Serotinous Life, a company that helps individuals overcome stressful and traumatic events. Stephanie, my friend, I have been looking forward to talking to you for quite a while. How are you?

Stephanie: Oh, I'm doing really well. It's really a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Michael: Yeah, absolutely. So, before we dive in, I'm like looking at a mirror here, I'm like, she's doing this thing and that thing and this thing and that thing. What's this journey been like for you? How do you end up like really just in all of these different areas and arenas of life and trying to create impact and change in the world?

Stephanie: Oh, wow. So yes, I have sort of an eclectic background in many ways. So, a lot of it has just been my way to try to figure out how to make sense of this world and my experiences that I've had in it, you know, unfortunately from a child in all, through my teenage years, I experienced a lot of trauma. And so, I was just trying to figure out how to make meaning from my life and my existence. And so, I'm an avid learner, I like to take in information in all kinds of ways. So, so as I took in information that I thought could be helpful, you know, for me to heal or learn from, I learned ways to also use that to help other people and as I got stronger, I helped other people get stronger. And the stronger I got, the more people I could take with me on that journey. And so, it's really been beautiful actually and I'm excited for what's to come in the future.

Michael: Yeah, that is really beautiful. I resonate with that so deeply because I look at so much of what my experience has been very much a mirror of what you just said. And in that though, I think that, and you mentioned having some traumatic experiences, so much of it is about trying to tap into understanding our innate ability to create change in our life. What was happening, like what was the catalyst, what was going on in your life where you're like, you know, I gotta do something about this?

Stephanie: So, even though my traumas, they span for many years, the hardest thing for me was when at 25 I found the love of my life, and everything spiraled out of control. He was the first person, the first man, I should say that ever showed me that I was worth anything and deserving of love and then I lost him and I just spiraled out of control my weight. Got out of control. I was becoming morbidly obese. I had high cholesterol and sleep apnea before the age of 30 and I couldn't work, I was so depressed and my mother was financially supporting me. I couldn't take care of myself. She first got to the point where it was like, you've gotta get help and that was really hard for me where she was like, I cannot continue to help you unless you get help. And at first, I was resentful over that but after a few days of processing it, I looked at my life, I looked at I wasn't even taking care of myself in basic ways, I wasn't bathing or brushing my teeth or just cleaning my home. And I looked at just where I was and I guess I reached a level of disgust with where I was at in my life.

And like my mother said, she enough is enough. I finally reached that point in me where, I said enough is enough and I recently listened to one of your podcasts where you talked about rock bottom and essentially, wouldn't it be great if we could prevent people from reaching that rock bottom to have that catalyst for change. But I was one of those that had to reach a really hard rock bottom before I could start moving forward.

Michael: Yeah. I mean, I resonate clearly. And I feel that in a really deep way, and is there a solution to mitigate the risk of rock bottom because I haven't found it yet.

Stephanie: Yeah. See, that's the hard thing, you know, knowing me that I did have to hit that it, and I know many people have had to hit that point. It's hard. You know, I would love to think that we don't have to hit that point. But I think the only way that we could potentially not hit it, but be able to like move forward is if we start seeing what kind of maladaptive coping mechanisms have, we acquired? So, like, you know, you're probably familiar with NLP, the neurolinguistic programming. We believe that everybody's working perfectly that no habit or behavior that anyone has, they have that habit or behavior is because it served them in some way and it's helped them survive in some way. And so, unfortunately, coping mechanisms that we may acquire to survive can result in us hitting rock bottom. So, the only way that those negative coping mechanisms can't bring us down is if we can identify them as being negative before we reach an extremely low and be able to recognize when those negative habits are playing themselves out, so we have to have an awareness. And then we have to have something to replace that negative habit with, because what are we gonna do if you know, we use drugs or alcohol or food or whatever else to get through a difficult time, what do we do when we remove it? We have to have some way to cope. And so, that's what I got for you.

Michael: Yeah. Well, you know, I think you're on the right track, but the thing that I often get caught up with in trying to figure out cuz to me, I look at this as a mathematical equation. If I can find the variable, being the catalyst for how we create that change, then boom, I got the magic pill and I believe that the variable is self-awareness. However, in consideration of that, the one thing that I know to be true is that self-awareness often is not harnessed while you are in this, for lack of better term, this constant sympathetic nervous system space. How do you be self-aware if you can't even get in the shower, if you can't brush your teeth, if you can't take care of yourself? And being in this position where myself being 350 pounds, smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, it was literally, I kicked myself in the fucking ass one day. I was like, dude, get your shit together, but I'd already destroyed everything around me. And so, here's the question then, because you did use the word awareness and that's why I'm stepping into this conversation this way. How does one start to tap into awareness when the only thing that we've ever known or understood is that following our intuition leads to ramifications, thus, as a defensive mechanism, we've learned to stop listening to ourselves?

Stephanie: One thing that has helped me immensely, and I still do it today is because the thoughts in my head were very self-destructive for a long time, I needed to start putting different words into my head, different voices into my head than my own. And so, what I did in that, like the, when I did reach that tipping point and I decided to pivot and become healthy or become healthier is I had to start having a voice in my head that was again different than my own. So, that's where listening to personal development audio, whether it used to be CDs, whether now its podcast and YouTube and audiobooks. But that having that different person in my ear that was infusing positive energy, positive thoughts, and reminded me that I was worth taking care of, that is what helped me to start making incremental changes. And some of those in the earliest changes I made to start taking care of myself were some of the hardest, like starting to brush my teeth and bathe regularly were really hard for me because I didn't feel I deserved even like deserving of that basic self-care. So, because my inner voice was telling me I wasn't deserving, I needed somebody else to interject in that. I guess just story I had going through my head and I needed them to input a different story. And so, that's why, and even today I'm constantly listening to podcasts and audiobooks because they help remind me of where I'm heading and where I wanna be and make sure that I'm on the right path. And so, I encourage anyone that's, you know, in those very low moments and it's really hard to even figure out how to get through the day is to work on, on interjecting new energy and new input.

Michael: Yeah. I respect that and I believe that's totally practical. Right. And, from the outside looking in, if someone's in the beginning of this journey, and they're not sure about this, and even myself, I used to look at guys like Tony Rams, I'm like this guy's full of shit. Right. And that's because what I was afraid of was recognizing the potential that I had within myself to create the life that I wanted to have. And in that process, I came to the understanding that self-talk is everything in this game. There are people right now saying things, and I said things to myself that you would get arrested for, or you get punched in the face and it's incredible to me to think about the power of reframing that talk in my own personal life. And I've come to the understanding and belief that what you think is what you speak, what you speak becomes your action, your action become your reality. Talk to me about the pivot and the journey and more so the way you used to talk to yourself versus the way you talk to yourself now.

Stephanie: Oh. Yeah. So, in NLP reframing is a very important technique with us and I've used reframing through much of my healing journey. So, when I reach that pivot that tipping point and decide to pivot, I had to figure out like I was immensely overweight. And so, I had to figure out like, how was I gonna start taking care of myself? And I had to start getting out of my home that was part of my issue was I was staying in my home all the time. And so, I decided to start being around other people, and I started getting together with meetup groups and in walking groups and hiking groups and with being morbidly obese, anytime we walked up, even just a little hill, I felt like I was climbing Mount Everest, I was so outta shape. But something interesting started to happen as I started hiking, I started to see that I got stronger with each hike, like physically I was stronger and something else started to happen because I was so overweight and each hike was hard. I had to mentally work through that difficulty to keep going during the hike and not give up.

And so, after each hike, even if it was a short hike, I would have to look at it and I would say I would look at it and be like, I didn't think I could do that, I didn't think I could finish, but I did. And so, what it started showing me is I was actually stronger than I gave myself credit for. I didn't think that I was strong enough to make it through my traumas, I didn't think I was strong enough to get through everything on my own, especially after my ex died. I didn't think I could go on. But as I started to progressed through higher mountains and longer climbs, I started to prove to myself that I was strong and that is where I could start reframing the story that I was telling about myself, the belief I had about myself is that instead of looking at all that I had lost from my traumas. I started to look at what I had gained from them.

You know, I started to look at the strength and resiliency, it took for me to stay standing with each progressive, you know, stronger blow that life threw at me. And that was really important for me and still today, reframing is very significant that I look at any setback I still have today and I look, I shifted and I looked at what is the positive in it. It's really been transformative for me.

Michael: Yeah, that that's beautiful. There's so much power in that because when you control the way that you talk to yourself, but also understand that you have to develop resilience in that and resiliency in that, to be able to step into it time and time again, and understand the power of that. And while you're in this position of like being in nature and seeing the world and seeing trees and mountains and things like that. Like you must have absorbed that environment and saw something powerful in it. Did you feel like being in nature was a part of this journey for you?

Stephanie: Oh, absolutely. So, part of my background is that, I was a biology professor for 12 years. And so, I love everything science and so being in nature, what was really interesting for me is I started to notice examples of resilience in nature. I started to pay attention to how trees would navigate, navigate around rocks like obstacles like rocks and how their root systems would allow them to stay anchored even though they were trying to get over this rock and how they would bend to reach the sunlight and how they would just make it work and no matter what they would bend and turn. And I started to see, like, because I know that all living organisms’ certain things in common if trees and other plant life and animals can exhibit resilience in nature. I start to see and remind myself that that same resiliency is possible in me. So, if something that can't get up and move around, like a tree can figure out how to get around an obstacle and still not only survive but thrive in an environment I could do that as well. So, seeing that resiliency in nature was very therapeutic for me, but it was also, I think, therapeutic in that, just getting outta my home, but also like,it just being in nature, opens up possibilities in your mind. And I can't say enough and even today I still hike at least once a week because being in nature is just so helpful to me and it's part of my spiritual practice.

Michael: Yeah. I love that; that's really powerful. And there's so much to be said about like get disconnected from the Wi-Fi and get off of your phone and like, recognize those are also defensive mechanisms and those are coping mechanisms. And like, oh my gosh, I would just bury myself in video games, I would just get stoned and play video games and eat chocolate cake and it would be like, it was more difficult for me to eat a salad than it was to anything else in my life. And in that process, one of the things that I understood about myself was in order to really create shift in your life, you have to have this dogged determination. You have to just look at life and go know what I am not gonna quit on myself, I'm not gonna give up, I'm not going to go back because if you've hit rock bottom, like you can't fucking go any lower like the next level is probably death. And I knew, and you probably have this experience too, but I don't wanna put words in your mouth that I knew that if I went back there was no coming back. I remember vividly just sitting and looking at myself in the mirror and painting this picture of the reality that my life would be if I didn't start showing up for myself. But determination felt not only daunting, but damn near impossible, cuz I never saw anything through before. I never like put myself in a position until I have this life changing moment to go, you know what? You gotta show up no matter what, on the good days, on the bad days on the in between days. And it's so easy to quit, it's so easy to give up because one of the things I think people don't understand and I ask any of my clients, they will all tell you; they know what my favorite word is and that PATIENCE because this process is that it is a process. But having determination feels like such an important part of the threshold in creating the reality of the life that you want to have. How do you go from this place of just no self-care, being mortally obese, starting to do the work and I know you hit bumps in the roads on the way there, cuz like everyone does. How do you stay determined to see it through?

Stephanie: Well, I'm gonna have to give most of that credit to the mountains. It's why I'm so passionate about hiking and climbing because I really, I truly feel today that hiking and being in the mountains reminded me every single time I was out there of what I needed to keep going in life. You know, there were so many days I wanted to give up and I even feel it made sense to even exist on earth anymore. And whenever I thought about where I was and going back, like I knew what going back meant for me, it meant likely death because I didn't wanna be here, I didn't know how I could exist anymore. So, anytime I felt like I was slipping back, I had to remain focused that on this like, I couldn't go back, but I had to have a goal to aim for. And what was interesting is that, so what the mountains provided me was a goal to look towards. So, I didn't go to the mountains saying I'm going to the mountains to heal. No, I went to the mountains with a pure goal of reaching that one summit, that was the goal I had. But what happened is because I said, I'm going to reach this mountain no matter what, no matter if it takes me all day to get there, I'm gonna stop as many times as I have to, I'm gonna get there. And I just kept going and what was interesting is that as I kept going towards this one goal on every single progressive climb, it reminded me that I could keep going in other aspects of my life. So, even though I didn't necessarily know how to make it out of the depths of my despair and I was just trying to figure it out, I knew I couldn't go back. So, every time I stepped onto the mountains and I reached towards the summit, it reminded me that no matter how long of a journey it is, no matter how hard it is, just focus on this one goal. And in this case, in the mountain, it was my summit but as far as my life, it was not going back, that was my goal to start as I just couldn't go back.

Michael: Yeah. I love that, and goals are so important. I harp on this; I know my audience is so tired of me saying it but you have got to get clear on your goals. You have to know where you're go, I look at it as a GPS. If I told you right now, why don't you drive Stephanie from New York city to San Francisco? And you have no markers, you would never make it. And sometimes you have to understand, like micro wins are incredibly important. Like you have to be able to celebrate the little things along the way. People are like, I wanna climb fucking Mount Everest, I'm like, dude, you didn't even buy shoes yet, right? Can you talk about like, twofold (a) first and foremost, talk about the power of goals, but talk about micro wins along the journey?

Stephanie: Oh, absolutely. So, I love goal setting. Like some people don't understand, like here I focus on working with people with trauma and they don't understand why I focus so much on goals, but if I was to pick like one thing that changed everything for me, it was setting goals and working on achieving those goals, and it changed everything. So, the mountains were again, one initial set of goals that I worked towards, but I couldn't work on, like I couldn't focus on the summit, I couldn't focus on how far away it was and how long it was gonna take me to get there, because that would discourage me instead, I focused on one step at a time incremental steps. And so, I would just focus on putting one foot in front of the other and chunk down the journey. And so, whether it is literally climbing a mountain and chunking it down mile by mile, or, you know, one step at a time, it's the same way if you're pursuing any goal in life. So, I've completed my Ph.D., it took me 12 years to finish my education, I changed my major a number of times, but I kept on going and it was really hard. And so, instead of focusing on how many years it was gonna take to reach to get my PhD, I focused on one class at a time. And if that one class was hard, I focused on one week at a time of the course. Many people give up on their goals because they become overwhelmed at it. So, chunking any goal down again, whether it's a mountain or it's a college degree, or it's just learning to take care of yourself again, it's about breaking it down bit by bit into manageable pieces so you can be successful. And as you start being successfully incrementally, it starts compounding and it becomes that snowball effect and you get momentum and you build belief in yourself that you can achieve the bigger ultimate goal.

Michael: I love, I literally have goosebumps. Momentum is one of my favorite words. I think it's one of the most important things, I wish I had a better word than things to use right now, but I'm drawing a blank.

Momentum's everything because without momentum, you do not progress, without momentum the car stops, without momentum you don't proceed into whatever's next in your life. And like leveraging those micro wins and exactly like what you said, momentum gets you there but I will say this, how do you start? Because so much of this is like, I'm looking at it, there's the mountain. Holy shit. I can never do this. How do you start to climb the mountain?

Stephanie: You've gotta figure out what is the very basic thing you can do. So earlier you said you can't have a goal of climbing Mount Everest, and you don't even have the shoes, you know, like you've gotta start with buying the shoes like if you have a goal, you have to break it down into its basic components. And so, if it is that like for me, I need to start working again. So, I didn't have to depend on my mother's financially supporting me, but it wasn't as easy of just going and applying for jobs, I need to make sure I could get out of the house to actually go to work. So, that's why I needed to start on basic self-care. I had this goal of getting a job but in order to do that, there were other things that needed to happen first, I needed to actually be able to get out of my house. So, I needed to be able to brush my teeth and I needed to be able to bathe myself. And I had to break it down in those basic steps. And so, regardless of the goal that you're trying to achieve, it's that, what is that one thing that you can do?

I was talking with a client the other night and she was talking about how difficult she has of a time of cleaning her home and about all of the different parts of her home that need to be worked on. And I asked her how she usually tackles it and she will usually go around each room and pick up like a few things in one room and then she gets overwhelmed and then she'll go into another room and she gets overwhelmed and she never sees progress. And so, what I encourage her to do instead is pick one room but not just one room, but one part of the room so she could see progress. So, like, if that's you, think of your theoretical room you have, what is one part of it that you could start with? What is one thing that would make you feel that you had progress? And once you start seeing that making progress that builds again, that belief, and it can start building the momentum, you'll start feeling better about yourself, and you'll be more likely to take the next step and move on to the next section of the room and or the next section of the mountain, just whatever it is, it'll just build that. So just the very smallest part that you can start with.

Michael: Yeah. I agree, actually emphatically. And the reason why is because that's how I looked at it. I used to think to myself, okay, can I not eat McDonald's today? And like, a lot of people will go with the things I can do, but I had to reverse it, I had to what can I not do that's destroying my life and then celebrate that, acknowledge that. Like one of the things, I need people to understand there is so much power just in even the micro celebration, man, I did something good today. Congratulations me. Good job me. I made that goal. I did that thing. I said I was going to do, because like at the end of the day, there's nothing more important than personal responsibility. But in that, and you know, I think one of the journeys I struggled with the most, especially early on was blaming the world, blaming everyone else looking at my environment, looking at my parents, looking at my schools, my community, and just going, this is your fault, this is not my fault, this is your fault. But what I understood, and especially now that I understand after all the education is recognizing that there are so much growth that is required as you're moving into this post traumatic phase. Talk to me about how do you embrace that coming to the title of the book the subtitle, how do you embrace post traumatic growth in the healing journey and what does that mean more importantly?

Stephanie: So, I'm very passionate about post traumatic growth, you know, a lot of people and even including myself, felt so hopeless for so many years after my trauma thinking and I fell into the same trap of blaming, but what was critical for me was to realize that by blaming, you know, the people who hurt me or blaming everyone and everything that was out of my control, that was keeping me stuck, that I had to start focusing on what was actually within my control. I could not change my past, I could not change these people in my life that were bringing me down even further, but I could change how I thought about my past, I could change the people I chose to be around, I could change how I thought about the way people responded to me. And that was so empowering to me to know that I was in control of something. You know, the blaming means you're out of control, but by doing that shift of like seeing what you're in control was really important to me and what I will see, I wanna tie something back to something we're bringing up earlier about the small wins is journaling was really important to me.

So, in my journal, I wrote my goals for self-care.

So, I made a commitment to myself of, you know, brushing my teeth and bathing and I in my journal would keep myself accountable by checking off each day when I had these small wins, and that was really important to me. And so as far as post traumatic growth is, it's what the name implies that after trauma, you can experience immense growth and I have experienced that in my own life and I've been able to do it by taking control of what I actually have control of in trying my best to let go of everyone and everything that is not within my control. And just hanging on to everyone and everything that empowered me.

Michael: I love that. And letting go is so important. I wish, that I could help people understand the power of letting go in a way that will help them understand that when you do things will transform for you. And my secret power, my superpower, I just don't give a fuck anymore and I don't mean that in like, this crass way where it's about, I don't value my people and their opinions and this podcast and the unbroken nation and everyone who is an important part of my mission to end generational trauma. I just don't care about the stuff that doesn't matter. You can't control everything in such a normative response to traumatic experiences control. And I would control everything, I used to even use the words. I am a control freak, right? What you think becomes ultimately your reality. And as I removed myself from that nomenclature, this really beautiful thing started to happen where I noticed this immense, for lack of a better term, sense of freedom and in that freedom, what was able to happen in my life, I was able to step into potential. And then within that potential, I was able to start to create myself. And I love what you just said about letting go of control, it's so important, it's so special, but in that is freedom. What are your thoughts on that?

Stephanie: Oh, isn't that such a beautiful word – freedom. You know, here in the United States, we recently had Independence Day and I've been reflecting on the concept of freedom and really what I've needed to be free from the most is, you know, what's anchoring me in the past and what's anchoring me is me cycling through everything that I have no control over changing. And so, the more that I can start breaking those chains from an unchangeable past, the more free I feel and the more unburdened I feel and it’s beautiful, I mean, I think freedom. Freedom is a beautiful, beautiful word. And I think it's important that people understand that even though we can never make it, so our traumas disappear, like they're never gonna affect us again. But we don't have to be saddled by our past, and we do have control over our future and that's beautiful to know. And I think it's a huge part of post traumatic growth.

Michael: Yeah. I agree entirely. Like I'm sitting here like, oh, this is a mirror, I could talk to you about this all day long. Before I ask you my last question though, Stephanie, can you tell everyone where they can find you?

Stephanie: Oh, of course. So, mostly, I use Facebook the most, so you can find me by either looking me up through my name, Stephanie M Hutchins, PhD. It's gonna be harder to type in serotinous life. You can also find me at my website, www.serotinouslife.com.

Michael: Yeah. We'll put the links in the show notes and in the newsletter and all of those things. Amazing conversation, I'm super happy that we're having this. I feel like I'm talking to myself, which is incredible because that's just further proof, I need people to understand something. It's further proof that if anyone can do it, then anyone can do it. Stephanie, my last question for you, my friend. What does it mean to you to be unbroken?

Stephanie: To be free, that's what it means. You know, as we were just talking about, I used to use that word all the time that I was broken and that was disempowering and it made me feel trapped, I felt trapped in an invisible cage and by changing my mindset and realizing I wasn't actually broken. I became free, it was very empowering the moment I realized I was not broken anymore.

Michael: That's so beautiful. Thank you so much, my friend.

I appreciate you being here.

Unbroken Nation, thank you guys so much for being here with us as well. Please like, subscribe, comment, tell a friend, share with a friend.

And Until Next Time.

My friends, Be Unbroken.

I'll see you.

Michael UnbrokenProfile Photo

Michael Unbroken


Michael is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma.

Stephanie M. Hutchins, PhDProfile Photo

Stephanie M. Hutchins, PhD


Stephanie M. Hutchins, Ph.D., author of Transformation After Trauma: Embracing Post-Traumatic Growth, helps individuals overcome trauma and cope with stress. She is a Certified Life Coach, Stress Management Coach, Neuro-Linguistic Programming Practitioner, and Yoga Instructor. She also owns Serotinous Life, a company that helps individuals overcome stressful and traumatic events.