Here is something very important we have to understand: Our past is not what keeps us hostage. We do that to ourselves.
The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.
Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.
How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?
In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sandra Cooze.
Sandra Cooze is an Intuitive Trauma Release & Self-Empowerment Coach, Reiki Master/Teacher, Certified Traumatic Incident Reduction Facilitator, and Published Author.
Her book ‘Journey to Your Self — How to Heal from Trauma: Written by Someone Who Did’ is a teaching memoir that walks readers not only through her own story of abuse and healing, but offers strategies, exercises, and insights to support them on their healing journey. (https://amzn.to/2Mx16Wi)
Sandra primarily works with trauma survivors who yearn for a deeper meaning and purpose in life by helping them release unresolved trauma, take back control of their lives, and confidently share their stories.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in Germany. My parents were both working full time, so my younger sister and I spent many afternoons with our grandparents. My grandmother was my rock. She gave the best hugs and made the most amazing hamburgers for Christmas Eve dinner. One of the fondest memories I have of my grandparents is that whenever their favorite waltz came on the radio, they dropped whatever they were doing and danced in their small kitchen. It did not matter if my grandma was cooking, or they had guests over for afternoon tea. They would just get up and dance.
As loving, caring, and protective as my family was, they could not have prevented any of what happened. Within the span of a decade, starting at age twelve, I was molested, sexually harassed, bullied, sexually assaulted, and raped. My life had been turned upside down. Gone was my childhood and my carefree, loving nature. Whenever I thought that it couldn’t get any worse — it did. It took me a long time to find my way back to myself. But once I began to heal, I discovered a strength and resilience I never knew I had. My past trauma instilled a darkness within me that helped me discover my light. And I began to realize that I could thrive not despite what happened, but because of it. I took my power back and turned my past into a force for good.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One neat custom that my mother passed on to me was the poetry book. A small journal-like book in which family and friends would leave a poem that was meant to guide me through life. The poetry book is an old tradition that has been passed on from mother to daughter for generations. To this day I cherish mine and the fond memories it holds. The first line of the poem my mother chose for me became my Life Lesson Quote. Never say: “I can’t do it.” This line helped me overcome and push through so many perceived obstacles, try out new things and outgrow myself time and time again. It helped me overcome fears and doubts and showed me what I am truly capable of. I made it a point to try everything at least once or twice before admitting that I was incapable of doing it and to be honest, there hasn’t been much that I was not able to accomplish as long as my heart was in it. And that in itself was a lesson that taught me that I can achieve anything I truly want to achieve.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
I would say that the first of my top three qualities is probably perseverance. A few years back, before I discovered my passion for trauma healing, I had an Etsy shop where I sold handcrafted bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. Even though it was more of a hobby than an actual business, I dreamed of having my jewelry featured on TV and in magazines someday. I worked hard, made the right connections and within two years, my jewelry was used in two hit TV shows and featured in the gift guide of two online magazines. I had my heart set on it, and I pushed forward. But my true passion lay somewhere else, and so my Etsy shop slowly died down. The moment I realized that I could use my story and life experience to help others, I knew that I had found my purpose. It just felt right. No other career option even came close to making me feel as alive as this one did. Of course I then had to push through many obstacles, perceived limitations, and gut-wrenching doubts. I studied coaching and TIR and kept on pushing forward to break through to the next level. And just three years later, here I am — a heart centered entrepreneur and a published author, ready to push through to the next level in my journey.
The second of my top three qualities is empathy. I can relate to each and every woman I work with. I know how it feels to be stuck in deep trauma. I know of the struggles, the doubts, the fears, the defeat, and the pain. I have been there. I have lived it for so many years. But I also know how it feels to have risen above my story. I know how it feels to be free. Understanding where my clients are coming from is the best gift I can give them as their coach. Being able to relate to their stories allows me to create a safe and judgment free space where they feel truly heard and understood, while at the same time providing actionable guidance to overcome their struggles.
The third of my top three qualities would be passion. I love what I do. Being able to help trauma survivors release their past and transform their lives is an incredible feeling. Witnessing my clients’ transformations is such a gift. It makes my heart sing and my soul dance. Not only does it give my own traumatic past meaning, but it turned it into a force for good.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.
The first thing we need in order to heal after a dramatic loss or life change is to understand that we are not broken. There is no trauma too intense or a point of no return. For many, trauma seems like a life sentence. It happened and now they have to learn to live with it. But that is not true at all. Trauma is more like a heavy blanket that keeps us stuck until we are ready to lift the cover and step out from underneath. Trauma does not define who we are. We can let it go, we can brush it off and put our lives back together. We can always heal. But we also have to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to trauma healing, which is why counseling, therapy, and EMDR work for some, but not for others. There are many wonderful healing practices and modalities out there. All we have to do is figure out what’s right for us.
Here is a list of a variety of different modalities, therapies and holistic approaches that can all be helpful in releasing trauma and reclaim your life: Traumatic Incident Reduction, Recreational Therapy, Hypnotherapy, Acupuncture, Coaching, Reiki, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, Breathwork, Aromatherapy, EFT, Emotion Code, and Body Code, just to name a few.
The key is to find what resonates with you. Pick a modality from that list and research it. See if you feel drawn to its methodology and teachings. As I have said before: there is no one-size-fits-all approach to trauma healing. We are all different with different stories, different interests, different likes, and different needs. Don’t give up on yourself. The right modality for you is out there.
The second thing we need in order to heal after a dramatic loss or life change, is to actually allow our body to heal. We know that our body is self-healing. But we generally only focus on the physical aspect of wound healing. We don’t realize that the body is healing on all levels. However, it can only do its job if we let it — and when it comes to emotional trauma, we don’t. Here is why:
A paper cut is probably the most annoying wound any of us ever had. And yet, we don’t think twice about it. We would never replay that moment we cut our finger on paper over and over in a constant loop. We would never be afraid of ever touching paper or opening an envelope again. But why don’t we? After all, the moment the paper cut into our finger, our skin was traumatized — literally. Here is the thing: a paper cut is predictable. We know how it happened and why and we know that the wound will heal — because it always does.
When it comes to emotional trauma after sexual assault, sudden loss, or any other form of a traumatic event, we desperately try to make sense of it. We keep replaying the story over and over to figure out how this could have happened. But when it comes to an assault on us, there is no rhyme or reason because it was out of our control. There was nothing we could have done — nothing we could have predicted. All those ‘what if’s’ don’t solve anything. On the contrary, they tend to make it worse. And that’s why we essentially can’t release trauma.
The body is self-healing not just on the physical, but also on the mental and emotional level. Our body does not care if it is a paper cut, a broken bone, a new kidney, or emotional trauma. The body only knows that healing is required. But by focusing on what happened, and reliving the story over and over, we hinder our body from doing its job. It would essentially be the same as ripping off the scab of the paper cut and forcing it to bleed continuously. So, in order to heal after a dramatic loss or life change, we have to shift our focus away from the story so that our body can do its job — heal.
The third thing we need in order to heal after a dramatic loss or life change is to understand that however we feel at any given time is ok. All too often we resent, fear, or suppress our negative emotions because we don’t like how they make us feel, and understandably so. However, as difficult as it may be to allow our emotions to be what they are and lean into them, it is important that we do because every negative emotion holds a clue toward what needs healing within us. We just have to understand its message. Let me give you an example from my own healing journey:
When my husband and I got married in 2004, I had my little cousins as bridesmaids. They were, I believe four and six years old at that time. Since then I had moved to Canada and hadn’t seen them for years until a good ten years later, when I flew home to a family reunion. My little cousins had grown into beautiful young women. I took one look at them and felt so much resentment and anger toward them. It hit me out of the blue. I had no idea why I had suddenly felt this way. I knew that I had experienced similar emotions before when I passed other women, but I never gave my reaction much thought until that day. There was just no reason why I should feel this way toward people that I loved. I felt ashamed and guilt ridden for feeling like this. My cousins had done nothing to deserve this emotional attack.
This whole time during the reunion, my emotions were in a constant turmoil. I felt uncomfortable, out of place and just not like myself. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, and I didn’t want to be seen by anyone. It bothered me that I had this severe reaction. On the way home I pondered over it. It just didn’t make any sense. Then I began to follow the feeling. I asked myself why I felt like this. And by doing that, I began to understand what I had actually felt. I was jealous. I was so jealous because my cousins could dress up beautifully with perfect makeup, were thin and simply happy. The more I followed that thought, the clearer an image formed in my mind — and then it all started to make sense. After I was raped, I forced myself to become invisible. I stopped using makeup, wore only frumpy clothes, and gained a good 60 pounds. All in an effort to become undesirable to the opposite sex. But over time, I began to feel as ugly as the image I wanted the world to see. So seeing my cousins stirred that feeling of not being able to be free to express myself and being beautiful without fear, because my experience had taught me that being beautiful would always lead to abuse. And so I resented women who I perceived as beautiful for what I wanted so badly but couldn’t have. This incident and the following realization showed me what I needed to heal within myself to be able to become that person I yearned so deeply to be. So, in order to heal after a dramatic loss or life change, we have to embrace and understand our negative emotions.
The fourth thing we need in order to heal after a dramatic loss or life change is to understand that any traumatic event causes us to lose our sense of being in control. We had the rug pulled out from underneath us. We feel powerless and that feeling of powerlessness can haunt us for many years. The effects of feeling powerless in any situation can present themselves as anxiety, perfectionism, the need to control, and even OCD; all of which are aspects of unresolved past trauma. The good thing is that once we heal from trauma, we regain our innate sense of control and the effects I mentioned above will all gradually fade away. To do that, we have to stop reacting to whatever life throws at us, start taking our control back and live life on our terms. So, in order to heal after a dramatic loss or life change, we have to re-instill our natural sense of being in control.
The fifth thing we need in order to heal after a dramatic loss or life change is to release our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Keeping everything bottled up, or even suppressing it, doesn’t work in the long run. Whatever we suppress will come back up time and time again. Even worse, we can’t suppress the bad without suppressing the good. So many trauma survivors become emotionally numb because we can’t feel genuinely happy when we are suppressing our emotions. The only way to get rid of negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions is by releasing them. Here is an approach I suggest to my clients when we first start to work together:
Imagine your thoughts, feelings, and emotions to be a yarn ball that sits in your head. It could be red, or green, or blue, or even rainbow-colored. Now take a pen and a stack of paper or a notebook and write down whatever pops into your mind. Even if it is silly, or something you forgot to put on your grocery list — write it down. And then just continue writing. As you write, imagine how the end of the yarn ball starts to move out of your head, through your neck, over your shoulder, into your arm, through your fingers, into the pen and out onto the paper. As you write what pops into your mind, the yarn ball in your head gradually untangles and flows out of your body.
At some point you may not even realize what you are writing anymore. You will just write. When this happens, go with it, because this is the time when you are releasing a blockage. Writing this way can bring great comfort and peace because you are releasing on a deeper level. So, in order to heal after a dramatic loss or life change, we have to release our pent-up thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Let’s discuss this in more specific terms. After the dust settles, what coping mechanisms would you suggest to deal with the pain of the loss or change?
Shift your focus away from what happened to give your body, mind, and spirit time to heal. Find something you can focus on that makes you happy, something that brings you peace and a feeling of accomplishment. When we are dealing with trauma and loss, happiness is hard to come by. In order to cope with it and begin to heal we have to shift our mindset. And when we can’t just force ourselves to think happy thoughts and genuinely feel happy, we have to focus on something that can instill this feeling within us. On my healing journey I focused on many different things like needle point, cooking and baking challenging recipes, stenciling, crafting jewelry, and refurbishing old furniture. For me, it was the challenge of trying new things that pushed me forward. (Never say: “I can’t do it.”) Find out what that is for you. What are you feeling drawn to? Sports? Art? Writing? Music? Whatever it is, focus on that. It may be hard in the beginning, but after a while, you will find peace and joy in what you do. And that can help you immensely in your healing journey.
How can one learn to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
Here is something very important we have to understand: Our past is not what keeps us hostage. We do that to ourselves. By focusing on what happened, desperately wishing we could go back in time and fix it, by replaying it over and over in our mind, or by trying to suppress it all, we keep ourselves imprisoned by the memory of that incident. What happened in our lives will always be a part of our story. Just like any other experience or life lesson. We can’t go back in time and make what happened ‘unhappen’. But we can take one step after another every day to walk away from our past and toward our future.
By understanding that our past is not holding us hostage, we can release ourselves from that perceived prison. Once we understand that every trigger we experience is a guiding light toward what needs healing within us and we begin to work with it, rather than against it, we are healing ourselves and are releasing the past.
Aside from letting go, what can one do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
To create an internal, emotional shift we have to work with our emotions and not against them. Understanding what our emotions are trying to tell us is key in releasing the trigger, and with that, the trauma. A good way to do that is with a Thought Journal. A Thought Journal is a wonderful way to track negative thoughts and their origin. In essence, it is a tool to reflect on our thoughts and to determine why we feel the way we do. Every emotion is trying to show us something and in order to understand and release it, we have to find out what that is.
To use this approach get a blank journal. Each page is for one thought or negative/disruptive feeling. Separate each page into four sections.
Here are the questions for your Thought Journal:
What am I thinking/feeling right now?
Why am I feeling like this? (trigger of/by a person, place, song, smell, etc.)
What is this feeling/thought trying to tell me? (follow the feeling and write down what you see)
Now write down the negative thought or feeling you just had. The key here is to observe the feeling rather than being overpowered by it. Mentally take a step back and look at it as a movie. See where it leads you. This will take some practice, but with time you will become comfortable with observing yourself. Self-reflection is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal. It is essential though to not be afraid of what may come up but observe it without judgment. Whatever comes up is meant to be there because it is ready to be released.
If you consider keeping a Thought Journal, be diligent because your negative thoughts will reveal a lot to you about yourself, such as what you lack and what changes need to be made.
How can one eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation?
Healing from trauma is a journey back to ourselves. We are not broken, just temporarily misaligned. With every challenge we face and every obstacle we overcome we will find our way back. I like to challenge my clients to step out of their comfort zone and do what scares them most — may it be reaching out to their boss and ask for a raise, or implement much needed changes at work, speaking at an event, telling someone their honest opinion, or simply saying ‘no’. Only by challenging ourselves to do the things we fear will we see that we can do it and how amazing it actually feels to push through that perceived ceiling. With every obstacle we overcome, our confidence grows, and we begin to challenge ourselves with even higher goals. And in doing so, we rise above who we thought we were limited to be and discover a whole new person. We begin to love and respect ourselves again. It is in those small wins that we rediscover our true value and strength and with that eventually reframe the consequences and turn them into a positive situation. The greatest sense of success lies within the realization that we pushed through obstacles we used to perceive as impossible to overcome.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, I would focus on overhauling the sexual assault curriculum in schools. Our kids need to know already in their formative years when a touch or action is wrong and that it is ok to seek help. They need to know where to go and who to talk to. Parents need to be educated and encouraged to have this discussion with their kids as well. Statistics show that one in four girls, and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before they turn sixteen. Those numbers only reflect the cases of victims who came forward. This does not include the many children who never spoke up. By educating our children, we empower them. By educating them, we give them valuable tools that will support them for the rest of their lives.
Another reason to overhaul the sexual assault curriculum in schools is to teach boys and girls already at a very young age to respect their bodies and the bodies of the opposite sex. A young man who was taught to respect a woman’s body would never assault her, but rather come to her aid. The same is true for women. All too often that respect is lacking in family dynamics and our children learn from our behavior. So, by properly educating our children we can prevent rape, sexual assault, and other forms of abuse.
Trauma is caused by trauma. Almost all people who abuse others have been abused themselves. If we educate, support, and help our children, we can prevent so much.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Reese Witherspoon. She is a true inspiration with her passion for empowering women and the amazing opportunities she provides for them. Having been at the receiving end of male entitlement and dominance time and time again, I am a firm believer and emerging advocate in empowering women myself. My second book in the Journey to Your Self Trilogy ‘How to Unbecome Who you were Taught to Be’ is about unbecoming everything we are not by releasing trauma and triggers, limiting beliefs and self-sabotaging behavior, so we can become who we have always meant to be. I would love to have the opportunity to ask Reese to consider writing the foreword for it.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
People can follow my work at www.riseaboveyourstory.com, as well as on Facebook @riseaboveyourstory, and Instagram, LinkedIn, and Clubhouse @sandracooze.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!