ONCE UPON A BODY: Creating Meaning, Peace, and Joy after Early Trauma

An ACEs Recovery Narrative by Jane Buchan

Early trauma, sometimes called Developmental Trauma, sometimes called Complex-PTSD, presents challenges to learning, trusting, bonding, and feeling comfortable within one’s own skin. For decades, I didn’t give much importance to a seven-month quarantine when I was two in an institution that by today’s standards belongs in a terrifying orphan tale by Charles Dickens.  It was only when I reached a level of maturity and self-knowledge that I could admit how this event had skewed my life in very specific ways.

My healing process has included both intuitive, self-directed healing sources and expert intervention.  Most important of these, personal journal work, combined with these intuitive and expert healing sources, anchored and anchors my experiences in time and space, giving me a launch pad from which to meet the world, a launch pad that stabilized and grew over time and continues to support my healing to this day.  More than ‘I’m telling,’ that reactive shout that comes from an in-the-moment indignity, and more than Exposure Therapy’s formal and our informal verbal repetitions of the trauma stories we live with that often retraumatize us in the retelling, writing creates and strengthens a link between the injured baby/toddler/child and the mature, resourced self/Self holding the pen.  Because of this vital, ever-evolving link, writing has been my most profound healing tool over time, assuring me that I am more than my wound; assuring me, too, that I am immersed in a field of energy that shapes and changes my experiences for the better when I am an aware and willing participant in my healing.

This is the lived experience of agency.

Because I was caged during much of my time in quarantine, my story has double relevance for these times. First, we are living through a period of quarantine that has disrupted our lives and made us feel vulnerable, isolated, and hopeless. Second, we have been traumatized, some of us consciously, everyone unconsciously, by the recent government practice of separating children from their families and caging them at the US-Mexican border. Quarantine and caging have consequences easily denied in our determination to believe in the resilience of children and adults. We do have the capacity for resilience, but we need to feel safe for it to blossom.  Because much of what I discovered about my personal sources of  safety surprised me with their constancy and their ordinariness, I believe readers will resonate with these ever-present sources of safety and discover many similar sources in their own lives.

I also believe that educators, medical professionals, and mental health workers will find insights into the needs of their populations in the pages of my narrative and that my story will increase trauma-sensitivity in all professions. Many contemporary trauma-recovery narratives offer support to families with children whose sense of safety has been compromised by violence; such stories of trauma and healing are also invaluable to people like me, people who’ve been knocked off our legs yet are determined to stand upright once again. I feel privileged to make my contribution to this growing body of healing, trauma-aware narratives.

What Advanced Readers say about Once Upon a Body:

What makes the book so special is not only the inspirational message it offers for individuals whose lives began, through no fault of their own, on a precarious foundation. Or that it provides those who care for them and care about them reason for hope. It is in Buchan’s ability to lucidly articulate the inner experience of the healing process that this book’s contribution shines. It does not sugar-coat Buchan’s long and complex healing journey. Instead, it realistically and vividly, often poignantly, maps the stages that unfolded. It is rare, in my experience, that self-reflection is so cogently expressed and packed with penetrating insight. The author’s background as a successful novelist combined with her later-in-life work in the grand tradition of the “wounded healer”–helping others similarly afflicted in her counselling practice–are important contributors to the power of this book. Apt literary allusions join summaries of pertinent findings from the medical and psychological literature, feminist thinkers, and spiritual leaders, in making it a richer and more informative read. From the Foreword to Once Upon a Body by David Feinstein, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist

Once Upon a Body is a personal story of early developmental trauma and the life-long process of return to wholeness. It is a multi-layered, evolving story, guided by the author’s natural curiosity and an instinctual intelligence, informed by a vast trove of literature that helps us to understand the human condition, and grounded in theories of trauma and attachment rooted in developmental principles, relational processes, and somatic practices. . . . I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone: anyone who struggles with the crippling effects of developmental trauma, and anyone who works professionally with people who are engaged in a healing journey, but beyond that, anyone who is interested in the human story as told by a fine storyteller. Maggie McGuire, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist

What emerges in these pages is the strength and resilience of the human spirit. Jane provides the reader with a sense of hope we all so desperately need and crave during these times and beyond. She also gives us a reminder to be an active participant in our healing even when and as we don’t know where it will lead. It is in those moments we grow and learn the most. Damon Silas, PsyD. Clinical Psychologist 

Part of Jane’s eloquently written memoir shares her journey with treatments and interventions as she discovers and processes different events throughout her life. While Once Upon a Body is a personal recollection and process, it is also a glimpse into strategies that can heal and turn trauma into triumph. The body may keep the score, but it also has to ability to recover and thrive. Sometimes it just needs the right tools. Jane outlines techniques that served her perfectly – from energy medicine and psychology approaches, to acupoint stimulation and dance. All approaches had something in common: they were true mind-body approaches in that they included direct interventions at the level of the body; they all had the ability to change brain activity very rapidly; and they were all able to shift emotional learning. Peta Stapleton, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist