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Crawling out from the tsunami of pandemic effects—the layers of what we have been through and what is yet to come—I found myself gravitating to activities that were healing.
Most of this is personal, myself working on me and mine. On occasion, though, something will slip through that makes me want to shout to everyone: “Have you tried this?”
Now, maybe the title of this article drew you in, and you’re ready to scan. I won’t make you wait. I know how disappointing it can be to scroll and scroll as your mind looks for the answer to the question. So here it is, italicized for ease: metabolizing.
My therapist used this word a few times in a single session, and it stuck with me. We were not talking about food, but rather significant trauma throughout my life.
In a simplified view, the metabolizing process is about breaking something down into smaller components and then utilizing these for building, repairing, nourishing, and energizing.
To make sense of the world and our own lives, reframing significant events through this concept of metabolism can help. Like with food, metabolizing takes time and not everything is used. But ignoring, compartmentalizing, or simplifying means we will not take on the benefits that we can gain through the process of metabolism.
Like our bodies, each person’s process of mental, emotional, and spiritual metabolism will be unique. Many of the factors will overlap.
Here are some of the processes, using an example from my life and the breakdown of my relationship:
1. Biting and chewing. In my case, this was like looking at a full plate of unappetizing food that a friend has just put in front of you. You do not know how you are going to clear the plate, but you already agreed to eat. Couples counselling provided the opportunity to bite and chew at the most unappealing parts. In fact, there are still bits that haven’t quite been swallowed yet, but that too is part of the process.
2. Mixing and component breakdown. Eventually the plate clears. The issues have been broken up through mastication and saliva and are ready to be swallowed. They make their way down and mix with the other components of the meal of life. It is here in the breakdown that things start to make sense. Oh, look! These ingredients made up that dish. This was when I stepped into the realization that I had been clinging to fantasy bonds about my partner and provided the clarity needed to stop looking back.
3. Distribution. Whatever our needs—recovery, healing, or the need to make sense—this is the time to move the components into place. Some will be needed across all parts of us. For example, co-parenting after a breakup includes incorporating that loss into your parenting. Some will only be used in specific areas, like red and green flags when you are ready to date.
4. The slow passage of waste. Over time, those aspects that are useful but not necessary work their way through. In my case, I am learning how to separate my stuff from their stuff, the cultural from the ancestral, and so forth. I do this with the hope that I can continue to let go and be a much better person for my children and my next partner, for everyone’s sake.
In many ways, our bodies are miraculous, taking care of so much without any effort on our part. But metabolizing trauma doesn’t work like that. We can give some to prayer, nature, powers, and so on. But ultimately, we are responsible for the required movement.
To do this effectively, it is best to understand and mimic our own embodied examples. Don’t poison yourself with processed shortcuts. Find and use the best tools you have access to. Make a slow and determined commitment to healing through learning, therapy, somatic practice, and spirituality. Use whole food tools that sit comfortably in your heart.
If, like me, you feel a bit overwhelmed at this prospect but it still feels right, take a go-slow approach as you learn to let things settle. This type of processing takes time, and you will not be hungry for the next meal right after.
Start with something fresh, something that stills bothers you on the daily, and work your way through it at your own pace.
Metabolizing properly means we are giving our traumas the attention and time they need. If we snarf, or purge, or ignore our deficiencies, we do so at a cost to ourselves and those we love.
So chew on that, and may you come through satiated.
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