Oct. 21, 2022

Ilene Smith - The Truth About Healing Trauma in the Body | Trauma Healing Podcast

Today, Unbroken Nation, I'm very excited to bring with you to the show Ilene Smith, the author of Moving Beyond Trauma, the Roadmap to Healing Your Past and Living with ease and vitality.
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One of the greatest things we can do in healing trauma is to heal the trauma in our body.

Today, Unbroken Nation, I'm very excited to bring with you to the show Ilene Smith, the author of Moving Beyond Trauma, the Roadmap to Healing Your Past and Living with ease and vitality. Ilene is a somatic trauma healer and someone who has helped thousands of people around the world to get back into their bodies, reclaim the power of their bodies, remove dissociation, regulate the nervous system, and ultimately to be able to move through life on a day-to-day basis in a way that is healthy and fulfilling and thriving.

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Michael: Hey! What's up, Unbroken Nation! Hope that you're doing well wherever you are in the world today. I'm very excited to be back with you with another episode with my guest, Ilene Smith, who is a somatic trauma healer. Ilene my friend, how are you today? What is happening in your world?

Ilene: I am well, and what's happening is I'm happy to be here today and to share this information with you and your audience.

Michael: Yeah, I'm very excited. We had a conversation a few months back and I've been looking forward to having this conversation today. Before we jump in, tell everybody a little bit about your background, your story, your journey, and how you got to where you are today?

Ilene: Oh, such a good question. Okay. Where do I start? So, for to let people know I am a somatic experience practitioner and what does that mean? So, I worked basically with the body to help heal trauma and how I got to this work has a lot to do with my own personal journey. I had spent many, many, many years in talk therapy and while I understood all my issues and everything made sense to me as to how my childhood had gotten me to where I was, and as an adult dealing with eating disorders, feeling like I had a dysregulated nervous system, having trouble sleeping, where my nervous system was just completely undone, and I'd done a million things to try to find a way to manage my nervous system and everything always became a management issue. So, in my early forties, I had felt like I had done quite a bit of my own healing and I would say, somewhere on my way to eating disorder recovery. And I went back to school in my early forties to be a mental health counselor, and while I was finishing up my internship, I was introduced to Somatic Experiencing developed by Dr. Peter Levine. And Somatic Experiencing is really about working with the nervous system to create regulation and to build your body as a safe container so that you can move through your emotional experiences differently and move through the world differently ‘cuz when we've had a lot of trauma, which I had in my childhood, grew up in a very chaotic home, had early surgeries, what happens are is that our nervous system doesn't see the world in a safe way. And so, we're always sensing danger when danger may not be present.

So, I was navigating the world this way, and when I got introduced to somatic experiencing, it was almost like a light bulb went off. And I was like, oh, this feels like the missing link. So fast forward, I decided to immerse myself in three years of training with the Trauma Healing Institute and get certified as a somatic experiencing practitioner. And as a patient, as a student of the work, you also become a patient. So, I was pretty immersed in my own personal healing journey and in the midst of getting certified and doing all this somatic work, which is really bringing that the body into that healing process, my husband passed away. And thank God for the somatic work because even though I was devastated and this was the most horrific thing I had ever gone through, and it was a very sudden death, we did not expect. For the first time in my life, stay connected, I didn't get into all my maladaptive eating disorder behaviors and I allowed people to support me and I really contribute that to the work I had done and being able to stay more connected to myself, because the more connected we are to ourselves the more capacity we have to stay engaged and connected with other people. And that connection really is our journey and our path to healing.

So, I'd gotten certified, I'd finished my master some years before that and I just decided that there's not a lot of good information out there for the lay person about why trauma is not gonna get resolved through a cognitive process and why we have to bring the body into the healing process. Hence, I wound up writing a book called Moving Beyond Trauma and getting this information out there to the average person who maybe has been in talk therapy and feels like they're stuck like myself. I always felt like even though I knew everything and all my issues, it was almost like there was these tectonic plates in my body that they were constantly shifting and I was constantly trying to manage. And I just felt like I needed to get this information out there to everyone.

Michael: Yeah, I love that. And I had a very similar experience and journey, obviously, as you know, and so do the listeners of this show. And I actually just did a podcast just the other day talking about the power and the impact of physical movement and just understanding how to reassociate into your physical body, knowing that dissociation is such a huge part of traumatic experiences and I think it's a conversation not had enough in this space. And I agree with you, I found myself at various points in this journey, like being in my therapist chair and being like, why the fuck am I here right now? And I had this really interesting thought one day, I was like, wait a second. If I've been in therapy for fucking 10 years, maybe it's not working. And that kind of like flipped this switch for me in this really powerful way. And that's not to be dismissive of therapy, that's not what we're saying, obviously, it's just like, wait, there might be more. I think it'd be really beneficial if we kind of start the meet of this conversation around, if you can really break down what somatic experience therapy and coaching and that whole ideology is, ‘cuz I have a feeling that a lot of people probably don't know.

Ilene: Okay. And I think it's a great place to start. What I wanna do is explain how I see trauma and how the somatic experiencing world sees trauma. So, we think of trauma as an event, but trauma is really the energy that gets locked in our body when we've had real or perceived threat. So, if that energy gets locked in our body, why do we think we're gonna use our neocortex to try to resolve it? Because the language of trauma is not verbal it's all sensation because trauma, energy gets locked in the areas of our brain that are more primitive. So, let's just break the brain down into three parts. We have the neocortex, which is where we have executive functioning. We have the limbic system where we have our emotional brain, and then we have the brain stem, what we call the reptilian brain, and that language of the reptile is sensation.

And so, we have to work with our body's sensations to be able to release that trauma energy from the body. So, trauma has no sense of space or time either, and so we have to basically, work to reintegrate those trauma memories into the body and to be able to file the memories where they belong. So, if you think about animals in the wild, they don't get traumatized and this is where Peter Levine's work started. He was trying to understand why animals in the wild don't get traumatized and human beings do. And the big reason that he figured this out, it's like, oh, you know, human beings have this neocortex, which has given us these higher level, more complex ways of resolving trauma and threats. But what it has taken us away from is our innate abilities, like the animals to shake off the trauma integrated into the body, reset the nervous system, and move on. So, the work in somatic experiencing is to help someone get back into their bodies in a safe way because that trauma, energy that locks in our body makes us not feel safe, right? We've been under threat, so even though the experience might be over, that trauma energy is stuck in our body. And so, our flight, basically our fight flight and freeze mechanisms gets stuck in the on position and we're constantly sensing danger when danger may not be there because we actually believe that we're back in the traumatic experience that we experienced in the past.

So, it's like why you often see, I mean, I like to use this example. The easy one is always the war vet that came home. He hears something loud on the street and he freaks out. But in our day to day, how many times have you experienced this yourself or been on the other side of it where you say something to someone or someone has said something to you and you have this over under reaction to it and you're just kind of like, what just happened? And that's that I'm sensing danger now, even though there's no danger here because my body actually believes I'm back in that threatening situation that happened behind me.

Michael: What are some safe ways that we can start to get back into our body?

Ilene: Well, I think the first thing and one of the very first things that I teach my clients is we have to get out of the story because we get stuck in the story and we need to start becoming our own observer. So, we know what happens when we get stuck in that story, right? There's a spinning out, right? So, we're either what I call future tripping or we're ruminating about the past, so you're not present. And so, what does that do? That creates that actually the nervous system and the body starts feeling like it's under threat.

So, what I teach my clients is we have to become our own observer. Meaning, rather than being in this story, it sounds something more like this, the dialogue that you're having with yourself. I notice that I can't stop thinking about what happened yesterday. I notice that I'm ruminating about what I'm gonna do tomorrow. I notice that I'm feeling this intense energy running through my body. So, it's being able to observe yourself and then being able to observe your body sensations. And so, by doing that, what we do is we start slowing down the nervous system, we start bringing ourselves back into the present because observation is how we become more present, so, that's to me is step A.

And then of course is there's all sorts of basic things that I will teach clients, like something as simple as let's say you know that your tendency is to dissociate. And so, if we can name it, we can work with it. So, even though you may go into a dissociative state, what if you are able to observe it and then you start noticing what happens before you go into that state. I notice that I'm starting to feel my system being flooded. I notice that I feel my heart rate going really fast. I noticed that I can't catch my breath. Okay, you may go in there, but this is at least a step to start working with those body sensations, because every experience that we're having and every emotion that we have has a sensation.

So, in the somatic work, we're working with sensation, we're working with imagery, we're working with behaviors, affect and meaning we call it basics of somatic experiencing is what we call SIBA, the acronym for all those things. And so, the first step to all of this is bringing us into that awareness of what's actually going on and also to be able to piece together our nervous system.

So, in my book, I worked with a researcher for almost a year to develop a series of assessments for the reader to start piecing together how their nervous system is functioning. So, at least if we can start laying it, and we can start seeing it, we start bringing that, bringing ourselves into that awareness, and then we start building our bodies as that safe container, as we start recognizing what's even happening.

Michael: And that awareness is everything, right? And I think about the role that trauma plays in kind of our day-to-day life. And in my journey, in my experience, it was like I didn't even recognize that many of my behavioral patterns were based on coping mechanisms for survival in consideration of the stimulus of my environment and my day-to-day life. Work stress, relationship stress, ideation stress being, you know, thinking about 15 years down the road, being stuck in yesterday and it was like this continuation every day. I was like, Holy shit, I'm just like fucking trapped in this all the time. And it wasn't until like really, I made meaning of it and I was like, wait a second, this can't be normal. Right. And understanding as someone that has an ACE score of 10, there's a lot of shit about my experience that's not normal, but we think about it and you get trapped in it and I think that if you can get trapped in it, you can also get out of it. And one of the things that I found to be incredibly beneficial in this process is pointing back to what you said, just sitting with it, making meaning of it. But initially Ilene where I was, and this is, you know, a decade removes, but I know that there are people where I was now, I was so stuck in the shame and guilt of like, fuck, shouldn't I be over this? I'm 26, like, what is happening? Everybody else doesn't have this problem, why is it just me? So on and so forth.

And so, for those who are like, yes, they're like, yeah, I want to acknowledge this, but at the same time, when I do, I beat myself up. And so, they don't even get the space to be able to enter their body. How can they be able to manage their day-to-day life?

Ilene: It's a great question and I think, I mean, let's break this down. The first thing is right, you don't even understand that what's going on is a result of trauma. So, in my process with clients, a lot of the work that I do initially to build that safe container is really to help people understand that it's not their fault that they wound up here. So, we have to take away all that charge that happens with that shame, right? Because that shame cycle really keeps you stuck. So, like a lot of what I do is, that's why even though in my work, it's not like we're going, we don't go head on into the traumas because all that does is create more dysregulation. But if I can educate and help people to process through and understand what their experience, what they had experienced was not their fault, and that they didn't have the capacity to defend themselves. Then sometimes what we do is we may work through a traumatic experience to allow them in the present moment to be able to defend themselves. And I can give you a really good example.

So, I had a client, we'll just call him Ben. And Ben came to me and he was in his twenties, and he came to me because he's like, I'm having all sorts of interpersonal problems at work. I'm constantly thinking everyone's gonna gang up, everyone's ganging up on me. He's like, I kind of feel paranoid, he's like, I know I'm not paranoid, but I feel really paranoid. So, at some point we got into some of the nuances of what happened in Ben's life. He was an only child, he didn't really have a lot of capacity as a kid to connect with other kids, he was always hanging out with adults, he started getting bullied, he talks about an experience that he had going to camp, and he was 14 years old and he remember all of these three boys, they pinned him down and they tickled him until they like they wouldn't stop. And he was crying, then he was hyperventilating and he had no capacity to defend himself. Right? So, let's go back to the definition of trauma is energy that gets locked in your body around real or perceived threat also too much, too soon, too fast without any way to defend yourself. So, I said to Ben, I said, Ben, did you have a best friend? And he said, no, I can never get connected or close enough with anyone. I said, Okay, fine. Okay. I now have to pull out another resource. So, I said, Okay, Ben, if you had a best friend, describe to me what it would've been like to have a best friend and let's give him a name. So, he said, Okay, my best friend would've been John, John would've lived down the block for me, and he would've, you know, he gave me a little description, he got into the imagery, right? So, we talked about this siba thing. So, we get into the imagery of what it would be like and what it might feel like to have a best friend. And I said, Okay, let's invite, let's go back to the situation where you were bullied by these three boys, and let's invite John in. I said, now what would've happened if John was there? He's like, John would've been pulling them off of me. I said, and what would you have done, Ben? And he's like, I would've been punching and kicking and punching and kicking, and he's punching and kicking and punching and kicking and I said, keep punching and kicking because this is the biological completion, I was mentioning earlier with animals in the wild that humans have the same innate need to do this. And for the next 15 minutes, he cried, he punched and kicked and cried, and punched and kicked, and he actually got to safely defend himself in this experience and all of that energy discharge from the body. And so, we released trauma through heat, shaking tears and that movement. And so, Ben finished that session and all of a sudden, like all of that charged energy that was locked in the body started dissipating and then the next several weeks, Ben integrated all this and he started moving through things very differently in his work situation so there's an integration period afterwards, but that's what needs to happen in that process.

Michael: Yeah, I love that. And I found a very similar experience when I was in third grade, I was walking down the street with my brothers and we got jumped by like a group of fifth graders and like they could shit out of us, like for real, like bloody nose busted lips, whole nine. And from third grade until 31 years old, I walked around with keys in my knuckles, in my hand, in my pocket. Right. And it wasn't until having a very similar experience going through, realizing and understanding like, wait a second, I'm trapped in the emotion of this experience that I was able to break myself free of it and now that's not a part of my day-to-day life. And that really only comes from being able to go and take this energy and put it somewhere. And for me, in the same way, like, you know, you'll hear people say, well, hit a pillow with a plastic whiffle ball bat, or, you know, whatever, it was martial arts for me and stepping really deeply into that and being able to express that energy in a powerful, practical, and safe capacity. You know, you said something that I want to circle back to you, because I think it's incredibly important. You said going head on with trauma can often create more trauma. What did you mean by that? Because I think that deep dive into it is like this Pandora's box thing and I'm wondering if you'll dissect that a little bit more for us.

Ilene: Yeah, so in traditional talk therapy, we often, you go into the therapist's office and it's often something to the effect of like, okay, basically gimme your history. Okay. And what happens when you go into the history and you have to go, you basically are walking back into the trauma memories. Okay. And I'm not saying that we don't get to the trauma, but before we can go into the trauma, we have to make sure there's enough resilience and resourcing in the nervous system so that we don't get totally activated by talking about the experience.

Michael: And what does activated look like, if you can create some context there?

Ilene: Okay. So, activated means, our nerve, our autonomic nervous system has two branches, sympathetic and parasympathetic. And in the sympathetic, it's where a body goes into fight or flight, when fight or flight doesn't work, we go into a freeze. So, the activation is, when I'm talking about a traumatic memory, my system is gonna get flooded and go into overwhelm, and that might be the fight or flight like that mechanism of defensive orienting and stress physiology is gonna come up. So, you're talking about your dissociation earlier, so fight or flight doesn't work or we get flooded. Okay. I'm overwhelmed, my system's overwhelmed. Oh my God, I can't handle it. I'm gonna shut down. I'm gonna go into that dissociation because our bodies need a way to survive. And it's like, if you think about animals, if fight or flight doesn't work and they think they're gonna get killed, they dissociate and disconnect from their bodies so, they don't feel the pain of being killed or being mold. And so, we as human beings do the same thing. So, in the process of going into and talking about those traumas, our body's gonna go deep into that stress physiology or fight flight, or freeze. And so, in the somatic work, we're going to get to the traumas, I'm not gonna say, hey, what happened when you were five, tell me about your abuse? Because if the person's nervous system and body is not ready for it, that stress physiology of fight, flight or freeze is gonna come up and I'm not gonna get any work done. So, everything we have to build safety, okay, and that's why I was saying earlier that when education and really giving context and meaning and understanding of how you wound up here is going to take the nervous system down of it. So, that's always the first step, so somebody will come in, what I like to say to my clients is that we're gonna talk in this process, but we're doing is we're getting to the real story of what's in the body. So, somebody might share a little bit of information with me, and I'm going to slow them down, I'm not gonna let them get all activated in the story and I'm gonna start working with sensation if I see that they're going offline and dissociating, I might then ask them to orient themselves to the room to notice where they are, because that dissociation tells me that they're back in the trauma and they can't tolerate it. And so, I need to ground them and bring them back into the room where to help them feel safe. So, I'm constantly working in this process to build safety, not to bring someone into activation before their system's ready for it.

Michael: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I learned that lesson the hard way going through in the beginning of this journey, finding a therapist of like, here's my whole everything and then just being like, what the fuck just happened? Right? And I'm right with you. I think that in my personal experience and in the coaching, I've done with my clients, it's never about really going into the moment it's just trying to get back to this moment, the presence of the human experience today, right now and where we are, and that feels like an insurmountable battle at first, right? Because the human brain, for whatever reason, just loves to live in the chaos. And I have this interesting thought, you hear trauma survivors all the time say, I thrive in chaos. And I think to myself, that is the dumbest thing you could ever say, because that's not where you want to thrive. You want to thrive in peace and happiness and love and empathy and companionship and grace and all of those things and yet for some reason we're like, when our backs against the wall, I'm just unstoppable. And I think to myself like that can't actually be good for you. Right?

Ilene: It's not but it makes sense because what is the chaos? Remember I was just talking about this idea of these two branches of the nervous system. And when you've only been able to experience chaos, your nervous system feels uncomfortable when there's no chaos, it actually thinks it's gonna die. So, remember sympathetic is fight or flight, which is also chaos. And so, the system only knows how to function in the chaos, and it actually believes that if it doesn't have that chaotic experience, it can't mobilize. And so, there's healthy mobilization, there's mobilization without threat, and there's mobilization with threat. And so, nervous system that's lived in that survival physiology is stuck on only knows how to mobilize in the chaos. There's no balance in the nervous system, so it needs that adrenaline rush that's what it's used to, it needs that to think that it's safe, believe it or not.

Michael: Yeah. No, that makes perfect sense. And I think a lot of it is, you know, I think about this quite often when I look at the massive shifts of my life or in the clients I coach, or the people who reach out to me from consuming the show's content. You know, stepping into the discomfort of peace is often more difficult than living in the chaos of our life. And one of the things I'm always pushing for towards is this idea of, well, how do we mitigate the rock bottom moment to alleviate that place in which it becomes so bad that you must force yourself into the other aspect? Right.

Ilene: It's a really good question. And so, one of the things that we do in this work is something called pendulation. So, think about a pendant, right? That pens back and forth. And so, this is how we build more capacity in the nervous system, you know, pendulation or titrating back and forth. So, let's say somebody orients their whole existence is, they feel like you said, they can thrive in the chaos so I can't push them to come, I can pendulate them out of the chaos to a calmer place. And so, it's almost like microdosing. And so, I say this to my clients all the time if we've moved the dial 0.5%, if it's that much in a session, we've done a lot of work because if I've moved you 10% in a session, that's too much ‘cuz what's gonna happen is we go if we go think about like a pendulum, right? If we swing it this way, it's gonna have to swing back that way. So, if we pendulate this way, eventually the basin and the capacity it gets bigger. And so, that to me is how we get it done.

And so, I like to think of this process and every process as it's really about creating a healing lifestyle, right? So, there's no quick fix and we have to take, we have to do micro experiences to create greater healing.

Michael: Yeah, and I agree. And I think the other thing also, we have to come to this place where we realize this is a rest of your life journey. And, you know, Bishop TD Jake said something that stuck with me for years and years and years now. He goes, new levels, new devils. And it's like the more that you get into this, the more that you discover and like it's the nuance like at first, I think it's this really big gigantic thing in front of your face, and then you narrow it down over the years of doing and it becomes smaller, smaller, smaller, and eventually it's nuanced. And it's like these little tiny things where you go, okay, how did I actually get to the place where that's the behavior when I'm impacted by that stimulus? Then that's when it really starts to get interesting. You know, you said it's about those micro things, what are some things that people, if they're just at home, can start doing maybe if they don't have access to someone like you to start to get inside of their body, is it tapping? Is it like what are the kind of somatic experiences someone can step into on their own?

Ilene: So, I'm gonna give you two exercises that I think are great do anywhere, get yourself oriented towards your body. And the first one is what we call the self-hug exercise. And the reason that this exercise is so powerful and you're basically just hugging yourself. Okay. And I actually like to feel a little bit of the body, and there's a couple of reasons why this works. So, touch; healthy safe touch produces more oxytocin in your system, and oxytocin is a feel good hormone. So, it's like opposite to what adrenaline and cortisol is. And so, it's like, what happens with moms when they breastfeed babies, it's what happens when we're touched safely. And so, this idea that you can just feel the outer edges of your body and touch yourself is gonna produce more oxytocin.

Michael: I pause you real quick, please. I'm sorry. Cause I have to ask this question and I know people are thinking this. How do you do that if one of the things that you experience is this massive dissociation and discomfort from touch?

Ilene: It's a great, great, great question. So, it may be that you simply start that exercise with just seeing what it feels like, seeing if you can tolerate touching your hands just a little bit. Okay. And if that feels like it's too uncomfortable, I'm gonna give another exercise too. But this generally is a way for people to actually feel a little bit more contained. I rarely see it activate anyone, but if it does, move away from it. Right? ‘Cuz what I'm inviting you to do is experiments any sort of experiments to get into your body. The other reason why I like this exercise is if you had some abuse, and a lot of times we don't really know where we begin and somebody else ends. So, this is a way for you to feel the boundaries of your body in a safe way, but if that feels too uncomfortable and too activating or you feel like you're dissociating. The other exercise that I like is what we call the boo exercise and the boo exercises again, sitting in a comfortable seated position, make sure that you can feel your feet on the ground or if you're sitting cross-legged, and make sure you can feel your body being supported by whatever you're sitting in. And then what you're gonna do is you're gonna take a deep breath and you're gonna boo, so deep breath in, and then it's boo… And so, you do that and you boo out for as long as you need to take a minute and then you're gonna do it again. And I invite you to do it three times and what it does is it works to help regulate the nervous system, it works on the vagus nerve, which is our 10th cranial nerve, which works with our autonomic nervous system to help those autonomic things like our heart rate and our breath. So, the boo exercise is another great way and a great entry point to getting into the body a little bit differently to be able to connect. But if connecting to the body feels too threatening, then I really just invite you to orient to your environment. Right. You know, animals do this all the time, they do defensive and exploratory orienting. And so, let's say an animal hears a loud noise just as we, as a human being does, an animal's gonna look around, they're gonna smell, make sure they don't smell another animal, they're gonna look, they're gonna smell, they're gonna use all their senses to make sure they're safe. So, we as human beings can do the same thing you orient to your room. I like to pick a color in the room and just notice things that are that color. So that's another way to bring you back.

Michael: So, one of the things that came to mind in you saying that, and rewinding in my experience, was a lot of what I would label as embarrassment about touching my own body because of the shame instilled in me in childhood and having to like actually recognize that it was embarrassment that would keep me from being able to open up, right. The body dysmorphia, shame, going through obesity as a kid and then again in my twenties and finding this place where, for lack of a better term, it required a bit of courage and a willingness to like jump off the fucking diving board and just be like, I need to give myself this. How important do you think it is that people like literally like force themselves into giving themselves the thing that they need? I don't know if that works for everybody, but I know it worked for me, so I'm really curious about your thoughts.

Ilene: So, I think, again, it's micro steps. So, I like to think of it as the slower we go, the faster we're gonna get there. But you have to take a step if you want it to be different, you can't change what happened in your past the only thing you can do is take charge of what you choose to do now. So, it can be something so small, it can be something like getting outside for a walk. It can be something as simple as eating, making a better food choice. It can be something as simple as this observation piece I'm talking about so, you have to start somewhere. Okay. And I think the big thing is that we have to learn this one thing. We're gonna be uncomfortable as we move into a healing journey. And so, the piece is really learning to be able to tolerate the discomfort rather than moving away from it and using maladaptive behaviors to try to cope with what feels intolerable.

Michael: What came to mind was how do you give yourself the space to tolerate it though, right? Maybe that's the question I should have asked because I feel so frequently, like for me it was, I had to force myself into the little things, right? It was like, it was a decision that I was making on a daily basis that no matter what, I'm gonna do this thing even though it's uncomfortable. For me, it felt like a non-negotiable, ‘cuz I had hit rock bottom, I was definitely gonna die, like if I could not change a lot of my lifestyle. And I don't wish that on anybody because for me like 26 to 30 years old was the hardest fucking four years of my life. Right? And so, how can we help people step into that maybe in a more gentle way than I did while also recognizing that they literally have to make themselves do this stuff.

Ilene: So, he said something really important especially when we've had trauma, we're so comfortable beating ourselves. And so, what I really invite people to do is take one tiny step, even if you don't wanna do something, one tiny step. Okay? Take a walk for five minutes. Okay? Because I really encourage your listeners to do this. Don't do something that's going to overwhelm your system. Yes, you're gonna be uncomfortable putting your shoes on and getting out the door, but I promise you, you're not gonna feel worse for five minutes of getting some fresh air. So, it's really forcing yourself, and I think you're right, it's forcing yourself, but not pushing yourself to a place that's so intolerable that you're gonna have that swing back the other way. This is the part of the healing journey is learning how to be gentler with yourself. It's not gonna, you're not gonna flip a switch. So, one tiny baby step at a time if you could just give yourself that, the rest will start to follow. Okay? ‘Cuz eventually they'll be a 10-minute walk, eventually they'll be a better, a better food choice. So, there's different things that we can do. Okay? Let do the boo exercise before you put your shoes on. See if that helps. So, everything, I like to think of this as getting curious and doing experiments. And yes, it's gonna be uncomfortable because if you're used to using maladaptive behaviors that are the quick fix to regulate your nervous system, again, you have to pendulate yourself out of those. So, that's the piece is exactly what you said. Yes, uncomfortable. But let's try to be gentle with ourselves, very hard when you've had a lot of trauma.

Michael: It is very hard, and especially if you've had trauma in which you know you were ignored or if you were neglected, because the very thing that you do is the very thing that they did to you. And that's a really difficult thing that you have to sit in, right? And it becomes this very odd self-torture and it's not until you start to give yourself what you know you need, that you actually start to rip the bonds of that self-narrative that actually wasn't instilled in you to begin with. I think, and I fear so often though, that people will look at these experiences of their life and say, this is who I am. And I will argue the most dangerous thing that you can say in the human language is, this is just who I am. And my hope is that people will understand the truth that, you know, and I wrote about this in the first book. I said, though, “trauma may be your foundation it is not your future”, and there's this chasm, right? There's this space between where you are today and where you want to go, and that space is the willingness to step into all these different modalities, these ideations, these things. And like, look, and I'm sure you know this, like some things work really well and some things do not work really well, and we get stuck in this dogmatic space of that has to be this, which, you know, I want to loop back to something that we started with talking about you know, talk therapy isn't necessarily enough. And so, if it's not just talk therapy, if it's not just somatic experiences, is it a parlay? Do you need both? Or there's other modalities that you think are really helpful for people in these situations? What are your thoughts about kind of tapping your toes into different worlds?

Ilene: So, I think that anything that's going to help you get more connected with your body is going to be effective. So, it's not one or the other like for example, before I ever got to the somatic work, you know, yoga, I've done been practicing yoga for twenty something years and you know, I'm sure without that I would've been even more dysregulated. So anything like the tapping that you're talking about or meditation or any of these things, and this is what I'm talking about when I say creating a healing lifestyle, it's about creating a lifestyle that's gonna allow you to be able to feel some sense of embodiment. And so, that's why we have to go slow and I believe this, if you can start creating more safety within yourself, you're gonna be drawn towards more things that are going to give you that embodiment where you feel safe. But you have to go slowly and you have to be gentle with yourself. So, I just wanna make this one point, it's okay to take care of yourself it doesn't make you selfish.

Michael: Yes, totally agree. One of the things I'm curious about in building a healthy lifestyle, if you were to framework that with, let's call it four pillars, what would the four pillars of a healthy lifestyle look like?

Ilene: Yeah, so I call it more of a healing lifestyle. So, it's emotional, physical, physical, spiritual and mental. Those to me are the pillars and so it's working within all of those pillars to find places that'll allow you to feel more connected with yourself and with your body.

Michael: If someone doesn't necessarily have a starting point in those four pillars, could you just give us one thing in each of those that will help them step into that healing lifestyle?

Ilene: So let's say the physical, everybody can put their shoes on most of us can, unless we have some sort of issue, you can put, you can get yourself out the door to walk for five minutes. Okay? So, let's say that's the physical. You can put music on and dance in your house. Okay. Nobody even has to see you. So, it's creating some embodiment to be able to feel some sense of joy, it may be just lying on the floor and breathing so, that's the emotional.

Spiritual as we know everyone that's a very personal thing, right? Like, so I'm not a religious person, but I know like, what's my belief with something bigger than me? How do I get connected to that? So, it's finding that, that part, that spiritual piece, right? And that's very individualized and very different for everyone.

Emotional, the emotional piece I really love this practice of observation. So, I notice that I'm feeling like I can't manage my emotions, I notice and so, the observation is gonna be step one. I notice that I feel like I'm crawling outta my skin. I notice that I feel like I just wanna be, I just wanna scream. So, that observation piece is gonna connect us to our emotional experiences and allow us to put words to our experiences ‘cuz a lot of times with emotional discomfort and trauma, we don't even have an articulation for it.

Mental health is if you are struggling, okay? If you have anxiety, if you have depression, okay, I really invite you to go get some help. And I'm not a big fan of medicating people, but if you're stuck somewhere and you need help and it's temporary, I think it can be temporary or is there really an issue, a chemical imbalance that can't be fix. Go find someone who can help because the mental health piece is, that's one piece of managing it, but also our mental wellbeing is about connection. We all have the capacity to connect and we all need it even for those of you who believe, who say, I don't like people, that's a trauma response. Connection is our lifeline without connection we don't have anything. So, if you are somebody who isolates, go to the store, speak to the person at the checkout counter, okay? Make a commitment to speak to three people at wherever you are in a day. Start creating connections so that again remember these micro doses so that you can titrate yourself out of that isolation and start learning about what safe connection feels.

Michael: Yeah, beautifully said. I love those pillars and I think that they're so profoundly important and easily executionable and I love how simple it is just to step into those things. And as you were saying that, I remember, I used to always be like, I fucking hate people. And then, the thing that I discovered was like, wait a second, nobody great has ever done anything. You can't find them. They don't exist. We are a communal species by nature, you know, and I don't think even connecting on the internet is like enough like you need go find a support group, go to meetup.com and join a board game club like do something that's out of isolation. And you'll be amazed at how supportive people actually are and wanna see you thrive and succeed. I think that idea that the world is against us slowly dissipates as you step deeper into this journey.

Ilene, this conversation's been absolutely incredible before I ask you my last question, my friend, please tell everyone where they can find you.

Ilene: So, you can find me on Instagram, it's @ilenesmithhealing, you can find me at ilenesmith.com, and you can find my book Moving Beyond Trauma on Amazon, and it's available in digital and audible.

Michael: Brilliant. And of course, we'll put links in the show notes for the Unbroken Nation. My last question for you, my friend, what does it mean to you to be unbroken?

Ilene: To be unbroken means that you are working towards a healing journey.

Michael: Brilliantly said. Thank you so much for being here.

Unbroken Nation. Thank you so much for listening.

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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.

Ilene SmithProfile Photo

Ilene Smith

Moving Beyond Trauma

Ilene holds a Master's degree in Mental Health Counseling and a Masters degree in Exercise Physiology. In addition to licensure as a Mental Health Counselor in Arizona, she is a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) through the GROW Training Institute, Inc. and a Somatic Experiencing Professional (SEP) who completed a 3-year training with the Somatic Experiencing Institute founded by Peter Levine.

After years of seeing clients with failed attempts at resolving mental health issues including addiction, eating disorders, depression, anxiety and chronic pain, Ilene was determined to find solutions to bring about real change for her clients. Ilene’s extensive experience, trainings and observation allowed her to cultivate Somastasis Theory for healing trauma. Ilene believes psychological, emotional, physical and spiritual discomfort can only be resolved when we incorporate the body into the process of healing. Through teaching the body to trust its language of sensation one gains greater capacity for resilience. “When we are safe in our bodies we have the foundation for developing a synergy between the body and mind and no longer sense danger when danger is not present”. Ilene Smith

Ilene’s work is rooted in the principles of Somatic Experiencing (SE), Attachment Theory, and Polyvagal Theory By working with the body tissue, muscle memory and nervous system she safely brings traumatized individuals back into a new and empowered body. Her work supports clients in developing a deeper and more meaningful relationship within and ultimately greater capacity for resilience and joy. Clients move from states of fixity and fragmentation to a life of fluidity, ease and vitality. The result of this process is freedom and expansion which allowing clients to experience autonomy and self-respect.

Ilene is passionate about assisting clients in healing and living a life with exuberance and curiosity. Ilene has lived in Arizona for 20 years. She loves to travel, collect art, cycle, and practice yoga in her spare time.