Before the first day of All Points North’s (APN) Rise Immersive Workshop for trauma counseling, I had every emotion about therapy I’d be encountering in the week ahead. I struggle with generalized anxiety disorder, so digging into all that stuff that’s rumbling around inside me is intimidating.
However, intimidating work can open doors to freedom. That’s why APN Rise exists.
As a disclaimer, I am grateful for so much blessing in my life – the people that love me, the work I get to do, the people I get to serve, my faith, where I live – so much.
But even amid brilliant light, it can feel dark. Whether your darkness looks like ghosts of the past, childhood trauma, mental health disorders, failure to launch, a rocky marriage, losing yourself, or anything else that feels stressful and hard, the darkness can hold you back. Have you been there?
Tonight I met the four other people here for trauma counseling. After some brief mingling and a tour of the insanely beautiful Vail Valley estate that will be our home for the next week, we shared a meal together, courtesy of our private chef. Not only did I marvel at the most amazing Brussels sprouts I’ve ever had (I kid you not), but I also took in the beginnings of each person’s story.
Here’s the lowdown. I’m very different from the people here. Moreover, they’re very different from each other. But the stress of our very different lives has brought each of us here to look for the way forward. I’m utterly impressed with the accomplishments and influence of the people in this room. They are high-functioning and successful. But everyone could use a little help. We’re all ready for a breakthrough, to confront the past and reclaim the future. That seems to tie us magically together.
Quickly let me say this. There are points in life you can seek trauma counseling– after a crisis or before it.
We’ve got both types of people. The ones that feel stuck at the bottom of a well with no light at the top and the ones that are walking fairly happily above ground but still plagued by fear of falling down another well. Do you see what I’m saying? According to Ryan and Lana, trauma counseling can help at either point.
Lest you think I’m sugarcoating this blog for marketing purposes, let me be straight with you. There’s something profoundly intimidating about waking up and saying, “Okay. All of the pain, hurt, fear, and past that I try pretty hard to keep on lockdown so I can operate as a functional human – I’m going to face that today.”
Facing my emotional wounds does not make me bound out of bed with a smile on my face. Thankfully the mountain peaks just outside my window and the stocked Nespresso in the living room help a bit with that.
Today started with a yoga flow. Our teacher hailed from the Vail Valley and transformed the size-able downstairs den into a momentary yoga studio.
After “Namaste,” I headed upstairs to eat the breakfast of champions – which as it turns out, is any breakfast cooked by Chef John. He does not mess around.
I carried my coffee outside to gaze at the Rocky Mountains, listen to the nearby elk, get refreshed by the morning breeze, and try to de-grump myself before trauma counseling. It was half successful, so I came into our opening trauma counseling group as a half-grump. Slowly, we went around the couch and read aloud our homework from the night before – a guided letter to ourselves.
As we let Ryan, Lana, and the other group members into both the darkest and lightest parts of ourselves, the vulnerability felt overwhelming. As much as I’m an open book, it’s not my favorite thing to talk to strangers about the parts of myself I try to forget.
Despite my desire to run home and not speak my hurt out loud, I stayed on that couch, uncomfortable but willing to try. Lana explained the brain is moldable, not like a stone as we formerly thought. Research has shown that we can change the shape and functioning of our brains through training. That’s what this trauma counseling hinges on – the hope that though I can’t change the past, I can change how I understand it, relate to it, feel about it, and function because of it.
After morning group and lunch, we had some free time which I used to walk across my heated bathroom tiles to take a spa-like shower in my luxury suite’s connected bathroom. Then we reconvened in the living room for psycho-education.
Family Roles and Trauma
This is when I started to feel a little breakthrough. I don’t want to spoil everything for you, because I desperately want you to come. However, here’s a quick overview.
Ryan and Lana walked us intellectually into a better understanding of trauma, especially related to our childhood. As kids, we learned and shaped our understanding of the world and our place in it. So the trauma we experienced in that particular age range majorly impacts our beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors.
Trauma itself is just a psychological injury or emotional wound, regardless of severity. So the question isn’t, “Do I have trauma?” It’s, “What is my trauma?” We must see trauma as an injury because that reminds us, that we can heal from it. Ryan said, “When we process our trauma, we can let go. Letting go of it doesn’t mean it goes away. It means that it no longer has a grip on me, and I no longer have a grip on it.” If that doesn’t sound like hope, I don’t know what does.
We wrapped up our evening of trauma counseling with breathwork – a type of regulated breathing (with background music) that somehow pulls up anything unprocessed from the day to allow you to feel through it and think through it. I have no idea how it works, but it does. Tonight, during breathwork, I felt overwhelmingly hopeful that the hurt in my story might not hold me down forever.
As I stumbled my emotionally and physically fatigued self to 7:00 am yoga today, I noticed how different I felt compared to yesterday. One of my biggest fears about participating in trauma counseling was that it would stir up old pain and leave me sitting in it–worse off than I was before.
If we’re honest, I think that fear holds a lot of us back from getting help. Kind of the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” sort of feeling with a twist toward, “If I’m doing kind of okay, let’s not risk it.” I felt a lot of that yesterday. Today, I felt hope – like the risk might be worth it.
I actually enjoyed yoga this morning. Maybe it was the mood I was in or the familiarity of the movements from the day before, but I relaxed into comfort instead of resistance.
Check-Ins – Body and Emotions
As they do many times during each session, Ryan and Lana checked in with each of us about what we were experiencing. Today, that meant an unexpected anxiety spiral played out for me in real-time in front of my peers. Talk about vulnerability. However, as I talked through the sensations in my body and the spirals running rampant in my brain, the therapists led me through it – asking me questions, slowing me down, and re-positioning my thoughts.
I didn’t snap out of it, but I learned. If you’re at all familiar with anxiety episodes, you know that even logical thinking in the midst of them is quite the task. If the best place to get sick is a hospital, I’m convinced that the best place to experience an anxiety attack is this trauma workshop.
For morning meditation, we practiced Yoga Nidra, a sleep-based form of meditation designed to deeply relax your body and focus your thoughts. We ate lunch on the sunshine-bathed porch and chatted about lighter things for a bit.
With chicken salad and tomato-bisque-filled stomachs, we grabbed afternoon Nespresso’s and headed to the couch to present our previous night’s homework. Following a template, each of us had depicted our lives in words and pictures on a big sheet of white paper. When it was my turn to present, Ryan slowed me down, invited me to feel my nerves for a moment, and then encouraged me as I presented.
In attentive silence, the room listened as I listed characteristics of my family members, the rules and roles of our household, and the memories of trauma that I could recall. When I finished, the group pointed out patterns, looked for links, and reacted to my experiences. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt more seen than in those moments. Ryan and Lana tied a bow of understanding on my trauma paper as they worked to explore the ways that watching my mom fight four years of cancer had shaped my behaviors and beliefs.
I breathed a sigh of relief and sat down to switch roles. As a new friend presented, I experienced a wave of reactions in myself. As I encouraged and related to him, I noticed my patterns popping up, working to take mental note of it all while keeping the focus on him. I guess this is why group therapy is useful. Ryan noted that our best work in trauma counseling is often done as we listen to others.
Proud of my group and amazed at self-discoveries continuing to come, I floated down the stairs for breathwork processing. It’s funny how time and breath dedicated to letting out what’s still stuck can bring up so much. Last night – gratefulness. Today – self-compassion, grief for all that was lost, and an overwhelming visual of the connections between my childhood and how I relate to the world.
Afterward, we sat up to discuss our experiences, and I overflowed with amazement – that somehow in just two days, I am starting to move forward in places I hadn’t known I was stuck.
I rolled out of bed today about two minutes before yoga and sleepwalked down the stairs. As our small group began the yoga flow, the instructor asked us each to set an intention for today’s practice. Other days, my intention had been progress. This time it was just to wake up. That kind of worked. A strong cup of coffee made by one of our house concierges helped pull me through.
After yoga and breakfast, we got to work. Three of the five of us still had to walk us through our trauma graphics, and we knew it might take all day. So I nestled into the couch corner and prepared to take everything in.
We all have blind spots. Even well-intentioned, we can’t do all the work on our own. We’re always living it. That’s where the group comes in to help. As each person offered feedback to the presenter, the presenter was instructed not to clarify, comment, or question – just to take it all in.
I’m going, to be honest; this process was exhausting, akin to the exhaustion after a long day of hard work – fulfilling and worth it. We spent hours working through each other’s lives and connecting on things I would never have guessed we’d have in common. Our trauma processing work ran up to lunch, which came with professional in-home massages customized to each of us. With all the tension we had built up over the past few days, the term “massage therapy” had never been so true.
We wrapped up trauma processing around dinner time before reluctantly walking down to breathwork – knowing that the emotions and thoughts that could surface might be unpredictable or uncomfortable.
As we sat up after breathwork, I prepared to share what I was feeling in my body and experiencing in my mind. This had become our standard practice. To our surprise, Ryan shifted our direction. He challenged us to silence for the next 12 hours as we processed all we had experienced so far and completed our individually assigned trauma processing tasks.
Silence and Individual Assignments
I hugged a friend, walked upstairs, and sat down to scribble out my thoughts. My notebook filled with new understandings of myself. I began my assignment – writing a letter to my scared, childhood self, offering all the words that fearful childhood I had needed to hear.
I cried as I wrote, mourning for this little girl and trying to figure out what comfort she needed. Exhausted, I put down my pen and fell asleep, unsure what to expect for the next day but proud I had navigated challenging silence on my own.
Mindful Movement – Qigong
Today was the final full day of the workshop. Still in silence, we headed downstairs to find an instructor for Qigong who introduced us to the basic movements and principles of the old Chinese martial art. An interesting change from yoga, this Tai chi-like practice required more strength and focus than I expected.
After breakfast, we piled into one of APN’s shiny black Escalades and drove a few minutes down the mountain to a picturesque ranch.
We embarked on a two-hour horseback trail ride through the vibrant yellow Aspens. This trauma counseling workshop is nothing short of intensive, and that’s precisely why it’s worth the investment. However, after all the hard work we’ve been doing, a quick break to enjoy nature was a welcome relief.
We returned home to eat lunch and headed downstairs with our individual assignments. I gathered my letter. I knew this would be the culmination of our work so far, but I didn’t know what that would mean. As you and I both know, progress isn’t always painless.
One-by-one, we began the most intense therapy yet. In a fascinating mix of psychodrama, experiential inner child work, somatic experiencing, mindfulness, and eastern yogic influences I’d never heard of before, Ryan guided me in imagining my childhood self in front of me, describing her in vivid detail until the picture became clear, and then reading her my letter.
In a whirlwind of emotion, I told this childhood self everything I wished I had known as a kid – why her brain felt out of control, that she would always be loved, to feel her emotions, to rest in not being able to fix everything and to ask adults for help when she was scared.
Just moments after, when I thought back on those times I was scared of losing my mom and unsure why I felt so anxious, I felt noticeably less pain. I looked back and remembered, but I felt comfort rather than chaos. The process was mind-blowing.
Each of my group members then walked through their own unique therapy experience, customized to treat their personal patterns and hang-ups. It was one of the most powerful days I’ve lived. We championed each other and cheered as we fought through pain and the past to make real, tangible progress. These people I had just met, I was now a part of their team.
We finished the night in the hot tub under the stars, reminiscing on how far we had come since the start.
With significant weights lifted, Ryan and Lana spent the morning explaining a range of proactive and reactive tools and strategies for coping with trauma, riding emotional waves, and switching the body out of fight or flight and back toward rest. I’ve been asking professionals for mental health tools for quite some time, so this session was a long time coming. For this alone, the workshop was worth it for me.
We made vision boards, reflected on the week, and finished with a mini breathwork ceremony – each of us armed with personal 90-day plans made for us by our therapists. I noted how much younger and lighter people looked – filled with rest, resolve, direction, and hope.
I’m back in California now – back home. I’m propped up at work in front of my double-desktop, reminiscing on that crazy week in Colorado.
The transition back to real life wasn’t seamless. I suppose I didn’t expect it to be. Real-life is the place that holds our stressors and struggles, not the mountainside lodge that equips us with tools to handle them.
What real-life has been is more hopeful.
My anxiety isn’t “cured”, but I’m armed with so many more strategies to fight through it. I still encounter circumstances that shake my trust and move me toward fear.
The chaos is smaller – not because situations or people have changed but because I have.
Before my week of trauma counseling, I was a mental health marathon runner who only knew how to run a 10k. Now, I’m a marathon runner who knows how to run. I still have to try, feel the struggle, and fight my way forward. But this time, I know I can do it, because I’ve learned how.
That’s more than I could have even known to ask for. The progress I found is more than I dared to hope. Now, it’s what I hope for you too.
All the best,
Anna – APN Content Writer