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Trauma in the Trees

Nature is my safe space. That’s what led me to horses as a child and eventually through many twists and turns to the conception of The Wild Hope. I’m fortunate to live next to the Greenbelt here in Austin and can revel in its beauty anytime I like (unless it's 100 degrees in which case I enjoy views from the pool!). God has taught me so much through both horses and nature.

We recently received some much-needed spring rain after being in a drought here in Central Texas. The greenbelt has been dry, stagnant and although still beautiful, missing a piece of its lifeforce. The rain has begun replenishing the creeks and little ponds along the trail which is where a friend and I discovered this beautiful oasis! Ahhhhh (long exhale)! I was immediately home.

You know, the feeling of being completely comfortable within yourself? The coping mechanisms, performance, and inner critic take a vacation so all you’re left with is your true self – the self God powerfully, lovingly, and intentionally created you to be? The self that never left but is buried underneath hurts, trauma, and an imperfect humanity?

When I rest in nature the noise goes away just long enough to remind me that the true Vanessa is still in there. I'm able to connect with my goofiness, compassion, my adventurous side, deep love for others, the long lost athlete, and even the little girl that used to do gymnastics routines in the front yard convinced a "recruiter" would just happen to drive by with Mary Lou Retton and select me to train for the Olympics! I'm reminded that who I am is not my past or all that I've been through. These are just parts of my story and doesn't change that I'm both lovable and loved. Oh, the power of nature!

The rain is bringing the life force back to the aquifer and the rushing runoff of water from the neighborhoods creates a tremendous amount of energy that continues to cut out paths throughout the trail. But also notice in the image below the trees clinging by their roots to the edge of the carved earth. Do these roots remind you of a journey of strength in holding on in the hardest of times? Hanging on tight for another day or a minute or second?

They do for me! These roots and the trees provide a sense of comfort, a sense that having survived the past, I can surely overcome obstacles in the future. They represent a story and vision for hope in my life. Not to mention a certain badassery I often forget is within me!

But, on this day, the trees and roots struck me differently. What if the tree represented our trauma instead of strength and survival? What if the large roots closest to the trunk were the deep, persistent neuropathways that were created as a result of things that happened to us during our development as children? And what if the smaller roots lower in the earth that are clearly fighting for a place at the top are the new pathways we are so desperately trying to create?

Can you see it? Roots fighting one another for the best anchor position for survival? The big, older sturdy roots that grew (depression, dissociation, eating disorders, addictions, perfectionism, rage, hopelessness, performance, workaholism, etc.) to preserve our lives through hard, even unspeakable experiences? And the newer, smaller roots (hope, courage, self-compassion, confidence, humility, authenticity, freedom, etc.), bringing fresh new life to the tree?

I used to believe that I had to yank, chop- to-pieces, and obliterate the old, established roots (neuropathways and behaviors). But at that moment as I gazed over the landscape running alongside the creek, I realized that I likely wouldn’t be alive without those roots I’d come to despise. Maybe I could shift away from the hate, frustration, and madness I felt about them and begin to accept and allow them to rest knowing their job was done. Seeing them not as the enemy, but as a crucial and necessary part of my story. I needed to teach them that the danger I'd experienced as a child was no longer present now, as an adult.

If I refocused my attention on growing, watering, and fertilizing the new, younger, healthier roots could the entire root system begin to peacefully co-exist instead of raging war against one another? Could the old begin a well-deserved rest and allow the new to take the lead? Could this battlefield in our brains be transformed into a community of pathways all with the same end goal in mind – the survival and flourishing of you and me!?

And just like that! A new pathway peaks out above the old and begins its difficult journey to relieve the old from the hard work of survival and ignite the true self toward the path of healing, hope, and peace. A path that will take them to the places they've always meant to be and light a path for others to follow.

This is the very work The Wild Hope seeks to make accessible to the Austin community. As we work alongside our very special and beloved horse partners, they are helping us start the process of strengthening the roots of our true selves so the roots that have protected us so well for so long can finally rest. The old begin to feel safe enough to release their grip on the earth to make space for the new. The old find peace and the new begin building a future of thriving after surviving.

My hope for each of you is that you are filled with courage, a gentle strength, and grace for yourself as you ebb and flow along your own healing journeys or as you walk alongside someone you love who is fighting to heal. It can be difficult to notice the small glimmers of change that are happening much less pair that with an acceptance, and even appreciation for the old neuropathways that once kept us safe but are now creating havoc and disconnection in our lives.

I’m still learning how to allow and dare I say encourage the old pathways to rest while also tending to and cultivating the new. It is VERY hard work! It takes more time than we’d like. It’s a path we weren’t given the option to choose.

So be kind and gentle with yourself and your loved ones. Instead of self-hatred, criticism, and destruction, consider allowing a tiny bit of space for a new root to grow. Test it out. See what happens.

And always remember, NONE of us is alone in this fight! We ARE enough just as we are and good grief, after all we've been through, take some credit for the resilient, unique, and courageous people we truly are, right now, at this very moment.

We see you and continue to cheer you on every step (and new root!) of the way!!

With Wild Hope,

Vanessa Schmidt

Keep Learning!

Resources on trauma, its effects on the brain, and the hope of neuroplasticity.


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