My trauma was triggered by a call saying — prepare to evacuate
Living in Hawaii is life in paradise most of the time. I dreamt of moving here for 14 years. In my dreams, there was no trauma. Every day was beautiful and the adventures were amazing.
However, there is a dark side to everything. After six years of living on the Islands, I’ve experienced two hurricanes. One was a direct hit to my neighborhood taking out electricity for weeks and downing over twenty trees on our property. The wind was clocked at 90 mph and sounded like a high pitched scream that lasted for hours.
The second hurricane dumped 50 inches of rain on us in just 48 hours. I’ll never forget the sound of that much rain on our metal roof.
I lived through two lava flows that impacted my life. The most traumatic was the 2018 Lalani Estates Flow. I’d been a Yoga Therapy teacher in the community for three years and many of my students and friends were forced to evacuate and lost their homes. Homes that I celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas and everyday connections — gone.
I lost my favorite swim spot where I had relationships with the sea creatures. They are gone and their homes destroyed. My grief is still deep and intense.
The community lived under the glow of the spewing lava for four months. A nightly reminder that we are not in control of anything on this precious earth.
I’d experienced many, many earthquakes in my time on the Big Island — the most intense was 6.9 on the Richter scale. What a wild experience. I was bending down to pick up a stick and the stick went away from me and back toward me and away from me again. My brain couldn’t comprehend what was going on. Until I heard screams, I looked up to see the painter who was working on my house hanging off the roof as his ladder went away from him and back toward him.
Ballistic missile threat
To add to the wild ride — we had a ballistic missile threat. Yup, Everyone in Hawaii received messages by phone and TV to prepare for a direct hit. The Emergency Broadcast on the TV said we had 30-minutes until impact. My 80-year-old dad was visiting from Minnesota. I went to his room and sat with him. We decided together it was a false warning. It soothed our pounding hearts a bit. About thirty minutes later it was verified that the warning had been a false alarm.
But the trauma damage had been done. The flood of adrenaline, the thought of dying from a nuclear explosion, and the cries and screams from the neighbors during the episode and for days after. One of my friends who lost her home in the lava flow stated that the ballistic missile warning was more traumatic for her than the lava tragedy.
As of yesterday, a wildfire has made the list. We’ve had no rain for two months and the winds were gusting up to 30 mph. A call came from our neighbor who told us about the fire and to prepare to evacuate.
We received several other phone calls from neighbors, the emergency evacuation route was opened as we live on a dead-end street. I began to smell the smoke and I knew we were in danger.
The upside to living through so many disasters and potential disasters is that my partner and I snap into gear like champs. I dropped what I was working on, packed my computer and work essentials. Gathered my yoga tools, my Vitamix, and of course, Lola, my sweet dog’s necessities.
I grabbed some clothes, cosmetics, jewels I inherited from my mom. I remembered the essential papers and an extra pair of shoes. My partner was working on gathering his things right beside me.
Everything went into the car as the smoke thickened and I turned on the police and fire scanner listening to the firefighters fighting the fire.
As things grew a bit smokier we filled trash cans and jugs with water in case we needed to douse fiery ashes and small fires. Then we waited. And waited. A phone call came in saying the firefighters seemed to have the fire contained. We waited and waited. The smoke began to clear. We waited and waited and we finally received the “fire’s out” message.
What a relief
Now it was time to deal with the adrenaline dump to my system. I put a ball in my butt, my iliopsoas (fear muscle), and a noodle ball in my heart. The entire time I breathed out haaaa to release the fear. I ended up falling asleep with the noodle in my heart.
When I got up from my mat I felt a LOT better and could focus on unpacking. With gratitude, I put away all my things.
Long term recovery from trauma
The accumulation of traumatic events caused little rips and tears in my ability to hold everything together. I ended up having a breakdown during the most recent earthquake. It was a 5.7 on the Richter Scale. I felt extra panicky during the roller coaster ride. When it was over I involuntarily ran around in a circle for five minutes and threw up.
That got me to stop and accept that I was suffering from PTSD and needed to face my trauma and move through it. I’d written a book on Yoga and Trauma about 15 years earlier with a psychotherapist so I was familiar with what to do.
Six Essentials for Your Trauma Toolkit
Acceptance – I give myself a hug. Fully embracing that I am suffering from the effects of trauma.
Breath – When I get triggered my first response is to focus on lengthening my exhalation. I do this by counting my inhalations and my exhalations. On each out-breath, I lengthen my exhalation until it is at least to the count of six. Once I achieve a longer exhale, I began to hold the pause at the bottom of my out-breath to the mantra of let go.
Ball rolling – I take a softball-sized ball into my iliopsoas muscle that holds onto fear. This is key to releasing held trauma. I lie on my belly and place a ball to the inside of my right hip bone and push in toward my pubic bone and back to my hip bone and slowly roll down to the top of my quads. I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth saying, “haaaaaa.” Visualizing fear leaving my body.
Try it —
Free movement – To release trauma it is essential to have a free movement practice. Here’s how I do it. I lie on my yoga mat with the intention to allow my body to lead me into and out of movements.
To begin I focus on my breath without a thought of how or when to move. I soften my body by allowing it to let go into the earth and I wait, patiently. And my body, 100% of the time begins to move on its own. It takes me for a ride, always a beautiful ride. BTW — I’ve discovered countless new poses doing a free movement practice. My body teaches me.
Sounding – To the free movement practice I allow my voice to vibrate and make whatever sound it needs to make. This is a very organic process that I allow to happen.
Relaxation – After a breath, ball rolling, free movement, and sounding session I allow my body to drop to the earth in whatever way it wants to rest. And I let it rest for as long as it needs.
Check out this week’s Ageless Movement Trauma Release practice to begin to use the tools in your trauma toolkit. You never know when you’re going to need them.
There is no paradise and having a trauma toolkit will allow you to move through all that you encounter on this incredible and intense life journey.
Let me know in the comments below how you are surviving your personal traumas and dramas.