Monday, June 8, 2015

Your Trauma Pilgrimage: How a brisk daily walk will change your life

I'm a strong believer in the value of telling our story. Not only do we gain a sense of solidarity from this community of other betrayed wives but telling our story is a crucial part of our healing. Thanks to all the brain science research of the past couple of decades, experts now understand that telling our story helps heal trauma.
And though I love the support and compassion I see on this site when we rally around a woman brave enough to share the deep pain of her story, it's also really valuable to write your story down on paper. If you haven't already done so, buy yourself a pad of paper and sit down each morning and write three pages – long-hand – without thinking. Nobody but you is ever going to read this so don't censor yourself. Don't worry about spelling or neatness or proper grammar. You can burn the pages later. Just let your troubled brain spill your thoughts. Three pages. Every. Single. Morning. (You can do this at other times, but morning tends to be best because our brains are still a bit fuzzy. You don't want carefully thought analyses. You want raw emotion unguarded by ego.)
It doesn't even have to be about betrayal. Maybe you want to write about how hungry you are. How bored you are. How much you love getting on the scale now that you've lost 10 pounds on the Infidelity Diet. Whatever it is, just let it flow out of your brain and onto the page.
But I want you to do something else too. There's been so many stories lately on this site (which is wonderful! Keep 'em coming!!) that reveal the depth of trauma you're feeling.
And there's a surprisingly straightforward thing you can do to begin to process that trauma besides sharing your story (and Morning Pages).
Take a walk. Let's call it your Trauma Pilgrimage.
Not a meandering stroll but a brisk walk. Walking help our brains process trauma – it is bilateral stimulation, which forms the backbone of EMDR trauma therapy. Neuroscience and its discovery of neuroplasticity shows our brains are capable of healing from trauma...but only if those affected parts of our brains are active.
Telling our story activates the parts of our brain where trauma is stored. And a brisk walk, with our  eyes frequently scanning side to side as we scan the sidewalk or path, stimulates the connections between the hippocampus and the cortex as we experience the changing environment. We are essentially exercising the memory muscles of our brain, making them stronger and better able to "solve the problem" of trauma.
It's no coincidence that I experienced my first glimpse of healing when I was walking my days just weeks after D-Day #1. It was a sunny winter day with fresh snowfall on the lawns. I don't know where I got the energy to get outside and walk but there I was, squinting against the blinding sunlight making the snow sparkle.
And in that moment, my darkness parted ever so slightly. But I'd had a glimpse. And in that glimpse I somehow recognized that I could get through this.
My story is hardly rare. We are walking creatures. It is in our nature. Across cultures, we often undertake pilgrimages to transform within as we transition without. We move physically, which shifts us emotionally and spiritually.

Your homework:
I want each of you to take a brisk 20-minute "trauma pilgrimage" today and every day for the next 10 days. We can all commit to anything for 10 days. Put on sunglasses if your eyes are puffy from crying. Put on comfortable clothes and solid shoes. No iPod, though you can use headphones if you want to send a "Do Not Disturb" message to those around you. Find a safe and, if possible, quiet place to walk. Twenty minutes. To change your life.
And then come back and share the story of your pilgrimage.


  1. Elle my friend that's exactly how me healing has been ;) it truly works im living proof ,) love you girls - Ann from Texas

  2. I'm in. Looking forward to it. Maybe I can walk off some rage.

  3. I've been doing that "rage walk run" it's a healthy way to let go of all the anger and frustration. The added benefit it your vitals like blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar improve ,) I'm turning back into a true "cutie" again with no "patootie" at all ,) that's Texas humor.... I'm gonna say I've had many a tear filled run.... I wonder if I may have struck a chord in the people I'd passed when they saw me. I've ran into women like me running and I let them just spill their guts to me. I remember all the hugs each and every one from all those beautiful people. I'm always willing to hold a broken heart and try to help. It's all I can do to help myself. Sometimes I look back and think to myself what I never knew did hurt me before... Truth is so much better. You girls stay strong I'd love to hear your progress ,) I like to play "Fight Song" on my iPhone while I run.
    - Ann from Texas

  4. Hi ladies, thankyou fir the challenge Elle, like ann from Texas I like to run my cares away. I put in my earphones music blaring and run for my life, I do think of many things whilst in
    My run but it's almost like I block the world out and I kinda like that. In the early days of post betrayal I would run many early mornings with rage and sprained my groin so please be careful ladies to warm up before and after exercise and don't over exert yourself. I agree Elle exercise and keeping your brain busy is the key to making it through each day. 18 months past d day and I'm still running less than before but it's something I want to continue with I do get some enjoyment from it along with the achy legs the following day. Lots of love to you all thankyou for sharing your stories xx

  5. Fragments of HopeJune 9, 2015 at 8:28 AM

    I'm in for this too and started out today. I was wound up after an affair related conversation with my husband that didn't go smoothly. I could feel the tension coming out in sighs. Do any of you find that new family pressures or difficulties can reignite the bad feelings surrounding the affair? We've had a difficult time with our ASD son & school refusal in the last few months & I've found the stress of that on top of the residue effect of the affair (DDay 2 9 months) has knocked me that I can only do the basics & feel overwhelmed & confused. This call to walk once more is hopefully going to help pick me up from the slump.

    1. Hope,
      Yes, I definitely found that life's more "normal" stresses could sometimes just put me over the edge, on top of all the affair stress. It all just seems like too much. But, that's where a brisk walk can really help you regain perspective. As one woman put it, I walk out the door with a problem and I walk back in with a solution. Even if you don't come up with solutions, the exercise and bilateral stimulation helps you sort things.
      Give the walking a try and see what you think after ten days.

  6. Fragments of Hope we have way more in common than you would think.... My son has a lighter form of ASD and I completely know the stress factor from this. Please stay strong and believe that all things are possible. My son just graduated from high school with a GPA over 4.0 ,) no matter what people say we must believe in ourselves. We must know to have hope and yes we must have strength. Don't give up!!! I had a trying weekend with the typical family pressures and our first family function since our return back from my relocation of healing. I won't lie.... I clenched my jaw, held my tongue, but halfway through politely exploded in the master bedroom. My husband insisted all things were my fault, but I flat out yelled with a house full of people, that until he began to take responsibility for his own part and actions we would always have problems. I then said I was done with the "s--t" and wouldn't accept it anymore. He tried to get cocky but I think he realized I meant business. By the end of the weekend we were on the same page and learned from this. Sometimes for me the scary part is putting my foot down. But to be honest it's when I finally do we become the most liberated. Please don't follow my lead in the fowl language if it's not necessary.... I was at my breaking point. I was shaking, and trembling. I had enough of the nonsense. Guests shouldn't be allowed to visit and cause so much desention. I told him people weren't allowed to come into my house and complain about me without speaking to me politely and letting me know themselves how they may feel offended. It turns out the rules my husband made for the new furniture was what put them off.... Well isn't that irony....
    Stress gets all of us. Sometimes at the worst times. ;) it attacks so I run it out. Love you girls - Ann from Texas

  7. Fragments of HopeJune 10, 2015 at 6:21 AM

    Thanks Ann, it's helpful to know that others have seen light at the end of the tunnel. The uncertainty for my son's future (also lighter version of ASD but many issues) and of course the infidelity and the future of the relationship has made me feel like I've no handholds in the world and no clear path. As Anne Lamott says there's sometimes relief in just letting go and realising you can't do any more to sort out others. You do right to have a good rant every so often, that anger is a powerful energy that can eat away from the inside if it doesn't come out. Best wishes to all.

  8. This is interesting. Because I've been going to the mall more since my I found my husband was cheating. At first it was to get new clothes because I lost like 30 lbs (not eating) and none of my clothes fit.
    But I fast-walk at the mall. I alway have. It's where I feel "in the zone". So, I guess my frequent mall trips aren't just retail therapy in the traditional sense of the term. I guess there's some actual science behind the walking part! (It did make me feel better!)


    1. Becky,
      I think many of us do stumble on walking as therapy by accident. We feel better but don't necessarily know why. Fresh air, we think. Exercise. But yes, science does back up the bilateral stimulation behind it, which helps us process trauma and fear. Researchers looked at prey animals to see how it was that they were so quickly able to recover after being chased by a predator and the working theory is that the walking they do helps them recover.

  9. Elle you are so knowledgable, thank you for enlightening us with your true wisdom.

  10. Fragments of HopeJune 22, 2015 at 5:05 PM

    Dear Elle, I wanted to come back as you suggested to say how the daily walk had gone. Firstly, it's somehow easier when someone else issues you a challenge to stick to it and that is one of the things I have gained from this activity - persistence and tenacity. The routine is also fantastic as it takes away head decisions and you just 'do'. This is important for us all, having spent so much time in our heads trying to figure out what has been going on. In doing the daily walk, which i have kept up beyond the ten days, I felt stronger, not just physcially, but in a 'ready for anything' kind of way. The act of striding made me feel confident and strong. I was also able to enjoy the (luckily) lovely sunshine, the sensation of fresh air, light breeze. There was also the delight of just observing and noticing very carefully all the elements along the walk, natural such as flowers, houses and people and gardens. It was paying attention, again outside myself, the focus was external and wider than my own confusion. Of course there is the bonus of fitness. I teamed up the walking with the morning pages you also mentioned, the writing by hand and the walking both bringing a welcome physicality. It must be helping the rewiring inside but I've certainly begun to feel more and more positive and have bounced back much quicker from triggers and worried thoughts. All in all a very positive and worthwhile exercise!



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