About this Episode
Whether we know it or not, each of us is carrying trauma inside of our bodies. Even with a charmed childhood, there are moments in your life when you experienced a feeling of overwhelm. Each time we don’t work through those feelings, they add to our unresolved trauma. We carry all of that trauma into our adulthood—and into motherhood.
Dr. Amy Moore and Teri Miller sat down with Dr. Aimie Apigian, who is the creator of the Biology of Trauma Methodology. Dr. Aimie explains to Dr. Amy and Teri how therapy is actually not the first step in healing our trauma, despite what we have been taught—and what many of us have tried. In fact, the first step is to understand our body’s response to trauma, and then to learn how to regulate our body’s response to trauma. Dr. Aimie even shares some helpful first steps we can take to get started on this process of healing.
About Dr. Aimie
Dr. Aimie Apigian, MD, MS, MPH, is a Board-Certified Preventive Medicine physician with a Masters in Biochemistry and a Masters in Public Health. She is an author, speaker and founder of Trauma Healing Accelerated, LLC and Family Challenge Camps.
After a few years in a general surgery residency in Portland, OR, Dr. Aimie decided to forge her career path as a Trauma, Attachment and Addiction Medicine Physician. She believes the healing journey can be accelerated through evidence-based tools and approaches to rewire the nervous system and the effects of chronic stress and trauma on the mind and body. Having both parented children with effects from attachment and trauma issues and then having her own health challenges from chronic stress and traumas, she is intensely invested on finding what actually works practically and how to restore the body to its highest potential for health optimizing the biology.
In addition to her medical training, she is also a Functional Medicine physician and has training and certifications specifically in neuro-autoimmunity, nutrition and genetics for addictions, mental health, and mood and behavioral disorders.
She has a number of certifications in various trauma therapies including Instinctual Trauma Response Model (an art trauma therapy), Somatic Experiencing (developed by Dr. Peter Levine), and NeuroAffective Touch (Dr. Aline LaPierre). Dr. Aimie enjoys bridging the gap between what she sees happening in these trauma therapies and a person’s biology and nervous system.
She is the Founder and Director for Family Challenge Camps, a non-profit organization founded in 2011 providing an experiential transformative intensive for families with children with trauma and attachment issues. She now has founded Trauma Healing Accelerated to bring information and personal empowerment through online courses. She hosts summits on how to optimize the biology in those who want the next level to their health and performance. She has an active medical practice in California in Addiction Medicine and Concierge Functional Medicine.
Connect with Dr. Aimie
Mentioned in this Episode
Link to Dr. Aimie’s e-guide, Steps to Identify and Heal Trauma: A Roadmap For Healing
Link to learn more about Dr. Aimie’s trauma recovery program, 21-Day Journey to Calm Aliveness
Link to Dr. Aimie’s weekend retreat called, The Starting Place
LearningRx is a worldwide network of brain training centers offering cognitive, reading, and math remediation and enhancement for all ages. LearningRx has worked with more than 106,000 clients who have learning struggles and disabilities, ADHD, traumatic brain injury, autism, and age-related cognitive decline. Visit www.LearningRx.com or call 1-866-BRAIN-01 to learn more.
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Read the transcript for this episode:
Dr. Amy Moore: Hi, and welcome to this episode of Brainy Moms. I’m your host, Dr. Amy Moore here with my co-host Teri Miller coming to you today from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Our guest today is Dr. Aimie Apigian. Dr. Aimie is the leading medical expert on how life experiences get stored in the body and how to restore the body to its best state of health through her signature model and methodology, the biology of trauma. She’s a double board-certified medical physician in preventative medicine and addiction medicine, and she has a master’s in Biochemistry and a master’s in Public Health. And in addition to her medical training, she is also a Functional Medicine physician and has training and certifications in neuro-autoimmunity, nutrition, genetics, art trauma therapy, somatic experiencing, and NeuroAffective touch. Dr. Aimie is here today to talk to us about the biology of trauma and her work in reversing the chronic effects of trauma on the body.
Teri Miller: Welcome Dr. Aimie!
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Thank you so much. I’m really excited to be here and to have this conversation today.
Teri Miller: Good. I’m glad you’re here too. And it’s so funny. We have two Dr. Amys, so we’ll just have to sort it out, listeners. You’ll just have to be able to tell the difference in their voices.
Dr. Amy: I’m gonna put on my best Southern accent today.
Teri MIller: There you go.
Dr. Aimie Apigian: And I do not have any kind of a Southern accent. If anything, I was told, uh, that I have more of a Canadian accent and I actually was born just a few miles from the Canadian border. So maybe that will help, uh, your listeners tell the difference between our voices.
Dr. Amy Moore: okay. We’re gonna work it out.
Teri Miller: Okay. Well, this is a topic that I’m really passionate about. I personally care a lot about. So I’m excited to hear from you and, um, it’s important. Um, we’re needing more attention on this topic and especially in recent years. So before we dig into it all, I want you to give our listeners a little bit of your background and how you ended up doing what you’re doing today.
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Oh, my goodness. Uh, my background, I never expected to be doing this. Never expected to, um, be enjoying talking about trauma and get excited about talking about trauma.
Like I, I am excited about this conversation. So I actually was one of those probably science, nerdy people. I was always reading a book growing up and I went into medical school also with the understanding that I was going to be getting a PhD. And so very science, like very heavy into the science, very much into my head, very much into understanding things, which is important to know because I was so disconnected from my body and didn’t even know that I was disconnected from my body. And when I went into medical school, I did medical school at Loma Linda University. And the way they did it was they split up some of the medical school training from the PhD training. And so I actually finished with a master’s in biochemistry, and as I was finishing that up, I had some space in my life and I decided to do something that I had always kind of felt a calling to do, which is to become a foster parent. And so I jumped through all of the hoops that many parents know about for becoming a foster parent an Miguel, at four years old, landed in my house. And I still remember the very first moment that I met him, that I, that I saw him. And it wasn’t until eight months later that I would actually adopt him and my goodness, what a difference he made in my life. Um, I wanna, I, I wanna say it disrupted my life in a very good way, right? We had a lot of challenges to go through because his life had been so traumatic. And it was easy for me to see his trauma, Teri. It was easy for me to see my goodness, all of the moves that he had had by the time he got to my home, he had had over 20 moves, over 20 different placements.
Teri: How old?
Dr. Aimie Apigian: four.
Teri Miller: Oh my goodness. Okay.
Dr. Aimie Apigian: I know, right? Like, I can look at that and be like, oh my good—and, and I can even remember like how my heart so wanted to erase all of that for him. And I went into it just being like, how can I love this boy so much? Ah, and even as I say that, I feel the tears coming behind my eyes, right? Like, how can I love this boy so much that he can rise above his past. That that is not something that holds him back, but something that he’s able to use for his good, because he had all the love afterwards to make up for that. Yeah. And I had a very hard lesson to learn, which is that when it comes to trauma, love is not enough. And there’s actually a very specific process that each one of us has to go through. And I think that every person has had some degree of trauma and there’s a specific process in which trauma gets stored in our body. And so there’s a specific process by which it gets released from our body. And we haven’t been taught these tools. We haven’t been taught this knowledge. And so that’s where I feel that my, my place is or has become in the world, uh, in large part, motivated by Miguel and his experience in having to figure out what it was that he did need. When I figured out that my love would never be enough to help him overcome his past.
Teri Miller: Oh, my goodness. I, I am with you. I am. So with you, how old is he now?
Dr. Aimie Apigian: So, part of our story is that he is no longer with me. So he was with me for six years. And that that’s a whole ‘nother story. That’s a whole story, Teri. Uh, it was a very rough six years because I did not know what I know now. And I, I had to figure it all out. And so he just turned 18 a few months ago, but he, he is with another family now. And, um, that’s, that’s part of, part of our story.
Teri Miller: Right. Ugh. It is that I can’t know, know his story and your story, but in a similar way, my youngest daughter joined our family when she was four, after four really rough years of neglect. And we don’t know what all abuse, but some pretty profound neglect. And, um, it’s, it is really hard. She’s 10 now and it’s hard and you’re right. All the love doesn’t heal. I mean, it does a lot, but it doesn’t heal.
Dr. Aimie Apigian: They can’t heal without the love, right?
Teri Miller: Right.
Dr. Aimie Apigian: But, but the love by itself is not enough, which is what I had thought.
Teri Miller: Right. Yeah. Same here. very similar. Yeah.
Dr. Amy Moore: So, I’m gonna…give us a break on the emotion for just a second. and, um, let’s talk about some basics because a lot of times when we think about trauma, right, we say it’s the experience that is the trauma, rather than our reaction to the experience. And then sometimes when we think about trauma, we think that it has to be something huge, right? Like a natural disaster or a murder, right? And so, talk to us a little bit about what trauma actually means. Like what, what are some examples? How do you define it? What’s the difference between trauma and just stress?
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And I get those questions a lot. Dr. Amy. So I actually sat down and wrote out as steps to identify and then heal trauma because that’s where I realized that most people don’t have that education, and I didn’t have it, right? And I was a medical physician so, so if I didn’t really understand what trauma is, how can we expect other people to know? So I have this all written out in my roadmap to help people identify trauma. Because again, whether it’s, you know, Miguel or it’s Teri’s daughter, those are easy traumas to identify for the rest of us. For me, right? When I started to have my health issues that I knew from my medical studies, that this was all related to childhood. I had no idea why, because I—my childhood was nothing like my son’s, nothing. So why would I have chronic fatigue, autoimmune markers high. Becoming overweight. All of these things that I knew were associated with those adverse childhood experiences. So what is trauma? And this is where we get to become really simple with understanding “what is trauma” to help us identify it. And trauma is anything that, for any reason, at that time in our life, overwhelmed us. Anything. And it’s, and it’s not, it takes the focus away from what was that thing. And it allows us to put the focus on, “I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t know if I was gonna be okay. There was a moment in time when I didn’t know if I would be okay.” That is the moment. That our physiology—our biology—actually switches from either parasympathetic or stress to trauma, and many people have heard of the terms fight, fight, or freeze. And when we do that, we actually are lumping stress and trauma response all in the same thing. And that has allowed a lot of the misunderstanding to happen around trauma, because a stress response is a very high energy response. You are actively fighting. And whether that means running away, whether that means running towards, whether that means fighting, whether whatever, it’s a very high energy process. Whereas overwhelm, and even when I just say that word, right? Overwhelm—people listening are likely feeling heaviness just with that word. And that’s what trauma is. Trauma is that moment where our physiology. Our biology turns to what is the third state of the nervous system, which is overwhelm state. There’s some other names for that state. People may know the dorsal vagal response, for example, polyvagal theory, the freeze response. Those are other words for this trauma state, this trauma response, but it is anything that, for any reason, at that time in our life, overwhelmed us and put us into that place even for a moment in time of feeling overwhelmed: “oh my goodness. I think I’m, I think I’m drowning.”
Teri Miller: Yeah. I mean, I think, good heavens, what pops into my mind is every single new mother.
Dr. Aimie Apigian: every single new mother, Teri.
Teri Miller: Every single—with every newish, every child that’s added to the family. Because I think there’s so much, I don’t care if it’s, you’re getting that newborn or you’re bringing in a foster or adoptive child. There’s that exhaustion. Yes. Um, there is that, that’s the word, the feeling of overwhelm. Am I messing this up? Am I doing this right? Am I okay? Am I, you know, juggling everything and it is, it is so overwhelming.
Dr. Aimie Apigian: And I love how you are starting to put some language and some thoughts around that, because in that exhausted state, we do things. We think things, we feel things, and that’s actually how we can help identify that we have trauma patterns. Because again, otherwise, a new mom, or a whatever—in whatever situation, you’re not thinking, “oh, this is a trauma pattern.” Like, you’re just in the middle of it. And you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Teri Miller: Right.
Dr. Aimie Apigian: And being able to, in that moment be like, “oh, isn’t this interesting? Well, that’s an interesting thought. Why would I be having a thought of, am I gonna be okay? Am I gonna keep things together? Can I hold all of this up?” And that’s how we can start to identify that we even have trauma patterns is noticing where our thoughts go.
Dr. Amy Moore: So then where… how do you classify the trauma that you experience in the moment, right? Because you do have that response. You have that reaction: “oh, am I gonna be okay?” Because this is overwhelming, but then you do get through it: “oh, I’m all right. It’s fine. I got a good night’s sleep last night, moving on.” And the trauma that holds on and then manifests itself in physical biological ways. What, how… how do you draw the line between those two?
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Ooh, I love talking about this because what I would want people to understand is the difference between completing a trauma response and not completing a trauma response, but kind of like packing it up in a box, stuffing it somewhere and being like, “I can’t deal with that right now. So I’m gonna put it over there. I’m gonna distract myself. I’m gonna numb myself because that’s too big for me to deal with right now.” But when we’re able to complete a trauma response, we come out of that and we come through it and that is a very healthy process. And that is actually part of—a huge part of resilience—is being able to complete a response. And so, in my roadmap that I have, that I’m hoping that we can share with your audience, there’s a picture in there of exactly how trauma gets stored into the body. And it shows that we start with a trigger. We go up into the stress. If it is a trauma, it’s going to go into that exhaustion, fatigue, overwhelm. “I’m feeling like I’m being crushed by the weight of everything.” And then our way out of that is the same way back out. Like, we actually come out of that freeze response up into the stress and back into the “oh, everything is going to be okay because I’ve dealt with the problem.” It’s when we don’t deal with the problem, and try to kinda like ignore that it’s there, and just hope that it goes away? That’s when we’re not gonna be completing any responses. And that gets stored. And what ends up happening is that ever since early childhood we’ve started accumulating experiences that were too big for us to manage at that time, and then it starts building up, and building up, and we can start to talk about how the body bears the burden. There is a burden that continues to increase as we go through life, because the more times, and the earlier that this started to happen, that we didn’t complete those responses—the more that that’s the same pattern as we move into adulthood. Cause it literally becomes kinda like a freeway system. And the more that you drive down that road, the more it’s gonna be the streamlined default response every time. And what ends up happening is that, now, even with a little bit of stress, your system immediately goes into overwhelm. It almost doesn’t matter what the stress is, how big, how small it could be that you spilled your coffee. But now all of a sudden, right? Like , you’re overwhelmed, you’re angry, you’re upset. You’re snapping at everybody. You need to go isolate. You need to go play your music and put your earbuds in and you know, like blast the music or you wanna just go to bed and, you know, like go back to bed and not even start the day. Like those are all trauma responses. And it was just because you spilled the coffee, right? But it’s not the spilling of the coffee. It’s all of the years of the other responses to overwhelm that you accumulated, rather than being able to complete those responses, and they’ve built up. And so now you constantly are like right underneath the edge of overwhelm all the time. And what happens to a lot of people is that they spend more time in stress, and so they feel anxious. And then towards the evening, right? Like the end of their day, they can start to go into that exhaustion. And they wanna put their feet up. They wanna turn on the TV, they wanna get it on their phone. They just wanna zone out, right? They just, maybe they grab a glass of wine. Like they just, they just want to zone out. And then in the morning when they wake up, they start to notice that, oh, is it morning already? I don’t wanna get up. Ooh, like, Ooh, like we’re actually already starting the day in that trauma response state, that third state of our nervous system, we’re starting our day in overwhelm. And if we continue life in this way, without working with the stored trauma. We spend more and more and more time in that overwhelm state. And now we’re needing to reach for coffee earlier in the day. Now we’re needing to wait until a deadline, until we’re gonna be late for our meeting and then we leave because now we’ve got the adrenaline that makes us feel alive and awake, and we’re actually having to use what would be stimulants in order to just feel awake and alive and get things done, because without those we feel dead, we feel numb. We feel exhausted.
Teri MIller: Goodness gracious. Okay. So if. Let’s just say theoretically, that 99.9% of our listeners right now are waving their arms…
Dr. Aimie Apigian: I was gonna say that tends to describe a lot of people.
Teri Miller: Yeah. So, so we’re, we’re all waving our arms in the air saying, oh my goodness, that’s where I’m finding myself. And even if, okay, so just our audience, we’re, we’re gonna talk about moms. We’re gonna say moms. And I know this is important for all ages, all genders, all situations, but thinking about moms, we have been overwhelmed by bringing a life and becoming a mom, maybe having another child and another, whatever the story is, and then changes in work and then financial struggles and then marital problems and all the myriad of things that, that go along with life. Um, so we’re there. And, and so I’m saying “help!” Now, what would, what would you say ?
Dr. Aimie Apigian: I mean, my first response there is that yes, like life… like we’ve gotta start understanding that just life has become overwhelming. Everyone has trauma, so I wouldn’t want them to feel that they were different, that they were a failure, that they’ve done something wrong. Like, this is just our life now. Yes, we can look at all of the social changes that have happened that have set us up for this. Cuz I don’t think that this is what it used to always be, right? But, but it is what it is. We’re here now. Our parents probably didn’t give us all of the experiences that we needed to not have overwhelm in our childhood. So we’re coming into parenting with our own trauma patterns and not even knowing that we have trauma patterns. And yet, that’s also what we start to notice that we pass on to our kids, and we start to notice even, even starting with post-partum depression and post-partum anxiety, like this is real stuff. So where would a mom specifically start? Yeah. Like we’ve got to start actually working with that overwhelm. And there is a very specific sequence in which we need to work with trauma, and I’m gonna share something with your audience that is probably not something that they’re hearing in other places. And one would be, the first thing that we are often told to do, I was told to do this and I did it all wrong. If you ever need an example of what not to do, you can just look at me and what I’ve done. I have, I have made all the mistakes so that I could teach you what not to do. And, like everybody else, and what I used to tell people as a medical physician—cuz that’s what they trained me to tell—is, oh, you know what? You need to go to therapy. You know, that’s, you need to process. So there’s actually two arms to releasing and changing trauma patterns, which can totally be done at any age. Like I still work with 90-year-olds who are changing their trauma patterns. So as long as you’re breathing, we’ve, we’ve got lots of hope. And there are two arms to releasing and changing trauma patterns. And the one would be processing, we’ve got process. But the other arm is called regulation. And regulation is a, is a term, is a word for our ability to keep things manageable internally, in our physiology, in our biology. In, in the medical world, we call that homeostasis. And our ability to stay in our window of feeling like things are manageable. And the difficult thing, Teri, is that the longer that we’ve gone living this way, the smaller our window has become, right? And moms can notice this, right? Like as long as their kids are behaving perfectly, as long as the house is clean, as long as this happens, then I’m okay, right? But if anything is off, woo, like I’m losing my cool. And so our window, our window of feeling manageable has become really small. That’s our regulation. And whatever size your window is, like, that’s actually the capacity for your ability to process trauma. So, we’ve got to first increase your capacity for regulation, or increase that capacity of your window for feeling like, “okay. Yeah, I’ve got some flexibility here. I can, I can go a little bit into something that’s uncomfortable, but still have it stay manageable.” What I see happening so often is that moms especially are jumping off the cliffs of emotional chaos with therapy and they’re going in and they’re thinking that I just need to process all this. I need to talk about my own childhood, or I need to talk about my marriage, or I need to talk about my kids. And they’re trying to do processing, without having any skills or being taught skills, for regulation, which is what I do in my courses. I teach skills on how to regulate yourself. So then you can go and do the processing. So they’re doing this processing and going into these, like—opening up Pandora’s box. That’s like jumping off an emotional cliff without a parachute. And it’s like, Ooh, that’s gonna be a hard landing, right? And they do, they come back, and they feel, they may feel exhausted. They may feel like “I just became a puddle, and I can’t stop crying. And I don’t want to my family to see that. I don’t want my kids to see this.” And so again, what happens? I’m gonna wrap it up in a box. Gonna put a bow and duct tape and whatever else around that box to not let things fall out and I’m gonna put it in the closet. I’m gonna put it up on that shelf. And that’s one more time, one more example, of we’re not completing a trauma response, we’re not completing that response. And it, and the therapy, the therapy itself, and our attempts to process have become a trauma. We have put ourselves back into a trauma place. So, I cannot stress how important it is to realize that there is this whole other piece to rewiring and releasing stored trauma, which is regulation. And that has to happen before we process. It’s interesting; for those people who come into my 21-day journey where we, we do exactly this, learn how to regulate ourselves—I’m very much into empowering moms and not having to rely on, on therapists for things that I feel like they can and, and should be able to do for themselves.
And that is one of the most common comments that I get in that first week is: “I had no idea that I could do so much, and experience so much internal transformation without going into my story.” Because, in my 21-day journey, we don’t go into story at all. Like that’s one of our five agreements, in fact. Like, we don’t go into the story. We don’t go into the past. We are just gonna work with our internal body sensations in the present moment, so that I can teach you how to regulate yourself. And we start with creating a felt sense of safety in their body. The whole first week is working around this overwhelm. And overwhelm needs safety to be able to come out of overwhelm. Then, when we are coming out of overwhelm and we’re coming into this stress response, the stress response needs something else. And I’ll go into that in a second, but that freeze response, that overwhelm, has to have safety. And then with time and energy, it comes out of the overwhelm. But without a felt sense of safety, we’re gonna, we’re gonna get stuck in that place of overwhelm. And that’s what I see happening though, is that people are processing to try to achieve that felt sense of safety. And it’s always elusive. They never quite reach that: “I feel safe in my own body, by myself, in the quiet, in the silence. I feel safe with myself in my body.” And that’s because they’re trying they’re, they’re doing good things just in the wrong order. They’re trying to process before they actually have these regulation skills. One of which is, I need you, mom, to be able to provide a felt sense of safety for yourself. And then just as a side note, if you’re not able to do that for yourself, you’re actually not able to do that for your children.
Teri Miller: Oh, yeah.
Dr. Aimie Apigian: And we think, we think that we can fake it with our children. We think that, “oh, if I just put a smile on my face, if I just watch my tone of voice, they won’t know how insecure I feel, or they won’t know how upset I really feel.” That, I mean, that’s BS. So they are especially able to read nonverbal cues that we don’t even realize we are giving off. Because we’re so focused on trying to fake it. That we don’t realize that just the faking it is coming across. And, and so if we’re not able to provide and create a felt sense of safety for ourselves, we’re not able to pass that on to our children. So, the whole first week, we have to build our regulation skills around safety. The second week—and so the second step in this essential sequence—is creating a felt sense of support for yourself. And my goodness, almost any mom that I talk to, right? You ask her and we’re like, “hey, do you feel supported?” And she’s like, “what support? Was I supposed to have support? Just the fact that you asked me about support…Now I wanna cry cuz I don’t have support.” Right?
Teri Miller: Right. Yeah. We especially, I think, you know, even since COVID kind of changed—
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Especially since COVID.
Teri Miller: —isolation, and then social media puts such pressure on us that, “no, I’m—everyone else is, is doing great and succeeding. I’m all alone in my, my overwhelm misery.”
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Yes. And that all alone is a trigger for the trauma response, right? So, when a person is feeling all alone, they can know that they, in that moment, are in a trauma response state of their biology. That’s one of the ways that they can recognize that they have stored trauma. So, it’s so interesting Teri, because as we look at creating a felt sense of support in our bodies, we’re actually tapping into our own attachment issues. And this is, I, I don’t normally tell people this, because if I tell them that, “oh, like this, you know, these creative felt sense of support “is actually tapping into your attachment stuff.” They’re like, “oh, I don’t have any attachment issues.” I’m like, “I know. We’re just gonna…we’re just gonna…”
Teri Miller: that’s what you think!
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Exactly. I’m not gonna let that derail the conversation. Just do the work, just do the work.
Teri Miller: That’s working for you, okay!
Dr. Aimie Apigian: That’s that’s what I thought at the time, right? And so it there’s absolutely no judgment on me, like, or, or from me, it’s just one of those like, “yep. You and I are twin sisters. And that you also don’t think that you had any attachment issues.” And being able to provide a felt sense of someone having your back. Mmm, right? Like that’s actually what we would have had coming out of our childhood if we had a secure attachment. And so, if there are many times in our life where we don’t feel like anybody has our back? Ooh, like, that is actually one sign that we actually have an insecure attachment or what would’ve actually been attachment trauma. And those patterns got wired into our system. When we think of an, a parent holding their baby, right? Like, all of their hands—baby’s back is resting on their arms. Their hands are holding up their head so that they have this full contact on the whole backside of their body. That is how we actually start to have that felt sense of, “someone’s got my back.” And to the degree that I can lay here, totally held up above the ground. That if they dropped me, I would have some serious damage and I can perfectly relax into this relationship. And I can smile, and I can coo. And I can do all the stuff that babies do. Perfectly relaxed, being held up several feet above the ground, because someone has my back. And if moms had a felt sense that someone had their back, and if they had a felt sense of being safe, totally safe, completely safe, and that someone had your back, how would their life look different? What would they be doing differently in their life? If they had those felt senses? It’s huge. It’s huge. And so, this, this is where we start, like, this is regulation. Regulation is feeling safe in your body and feeling like someone has your back, that you have support. And I can teach people how to create those felt sensations for themselves, which is the, where people, especially , need to start with healing themselves and rewiring their trauma. I feel like I’ve thrown a lot at you.
Dr. Amy Moore: No, it’s fantastic! So, um, let’s talk about what happens if we don’t go through this process? So, you talked about, yes, you can go to therapy, and you know, it’s like throwing darts at Jell-O, because if you don’t work on the regulation piece, then you can’t get through the processing piece. But let’s talk about people who aren’t doing anything. Talk about what that does to the body.
Dr. Aimie Apigian: So when we look at the body, we can ask the question: what has my body been through? Looking back over my life, what has my body lived through? And we start to, even with that, like, just get a little different perspective on, I don’t know, for some reason when, when we ask the question, what has my body lived through versus what have I lived through? It’s a different question. And we start to even have a, an appreciation for, “oh, my body has been through a lot. It’s been through a couple pregnancies maybe, or maybe a couple miscarriages.” Or it’s been through, uh, difficult relationships, or it’s like—the body—the body has been through, and lived through, a lot. And we can appreciate it, while at the same time, starting to understand, “oh, I haven’t provided it the support that it needs. No wonder it’s not starting to treat me well. No wonder—no wonder it doesn’t have much to give me. I used to be able to do this. I used to be able to run this amount. I used to be able to stay up late. I used to be able to, I used to be able to,” right? Like how many times do we hear that? And it’s like, well, why not? Why, why can’t you do that anymore? “Well, it’s just, I’m not, I’m not doing enough. I’m not exercising enough now. I’m not eating well enough.” Really? Like, okay, those may be playing a factor, but what about just looking at all of the life experiences that your body has lived through? And when we don’t do anything, Dr. Amy, we continue to accumulate more and more experiences that our body is having to live through without the right support. And it’s, it’s like taking money out of the bank account. At some point you’re gonna go into to the red, and there’s gonna be nothing left for your body to give you. And I see that a lot. In fact, I start to see that even after pregnancies. And so, this is a common time that I see moms’ bodies start to betray them. And they’re not understanding how much it takes from their body to give life to a whole new creature, right? And all of the, even the—just the nutritional deficiencies that can result from pregnancy, where until then you were managing okay, with maybe low levels of magnesium, low levels of zinc, low levels of B6. But when baby came along, and baby had to have those for its development, and it—it’s gonna take it from you, however it can get it from you. It’s going to take it from you. That’s the design of nature. And it’s gonna leave you with deficiencies. And of course you’re not gonna bounce back, and of course you’re gonna start having fatigue. And of course, you’re gonna start losing your hair maybe, or feeling anxious or some of these things, and they’re gonna escalate. And I, what I have seen is it’s almost like that snowball effect where at first, maybe the snowball is, is slow, is just starting out. But as it goes down that hill and it picks up speed and it gets bigger and bigger and faster and faster, all of a sudden you’re feeling like you’re on a runaway train with your health and your body and your mental health, and you can’t seem to stop it. And that is the end result of what happens in our bodies if we don’t address these things that are truly driving our health and are at, at the true root of most symptoms and conditions that we experience. It’s our nervous system.
Dr. Amy Moore: So let’s rephrase that or phrase that again or say that again, just to clarify. Are you saying that the chronic health conditions that we are feeling are the direct result of unresolved trauma?
Dr. Aimie Apigian: I am saying that. And the reason why I say that is not only from the studies that we have around the adverse childhood experiences, which show the chronic diseases that show up, that often show up in adults. I will say, Dr. Amy, it’s been very, I wanna use the word scary, uh, to see how many of these chronic conditions are starting to show up in people younger and younger. They’re starting to show up in adolescents. So, there are societal changes that are happening, that are creating greater amounts of trauma in our body at younger and younger ages. So that needs to be addressed, but that’s also a different conversation. And at the root of everything, like, our nervous system drives our health. It drives everything about our health. And so, when we are in either a stress response or the overwhelm state—and most people, again, are in one of those all throughout the day. They’re either stressed or they’re overwhelmed—like, they just go back and forth between those two states and they’re exhausted. Exhausted and wired, exhausted, wired, right? They are accumulating oxidative stress at high rates. That oxidative stress is actually the reason for epigenetic triggers for chronic conditions. Even things like bipolar, even things like cancer, even things like PTSD. So, so many of these chronic conditions are being triggered by the result, by the downstream results, that happen in our biology, what I call the biology of trauma. But even before that oxidative stress may build up to that degree. Just the fact that your nervous system is stressed, chronically stressed, or chronically in overwhelm, or the combination of both of them, that is driving your symptoms and your diseases. Even if a person has a condition that is entirely 100% genetic, their nervous system will still be contributing and making their symptoms worse than what would normally happen if they were healthy, and in that parasympathetic, grounded, “I’m okay. I feel safe. I feel supported. All is well, even though there’s stress that happens in life. I know, I know that I know that I’m gonna be okay.” That produces a very different downstream effect on our health than the stress and overwhelm.
Dr. Amy Moore. Wow.
Teri Miller: Wow. Yeah. We both said, wow.
Dr. Amy Moore. We could just sit here and say wow a few more times.
Teri Miller: I know. Cause it’s I think, I think that we’re all saying we’re there. We’re feeling this. Yeah. Ugh.
Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah. And I think that if—well, let me ask you, Dr. Aimie—if you are saying to yourself right now, “well, I feel like I process through trauma just fine every time. So, am I in denial by thinking that?”
Teri Miller: She nodded.
Dr. Amy Moore: “And if I am, convince me otherwise.”
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Yeah. And I, thankfully I don’t have to be the one to convince you. Because we’re just gonna let your body speak for itself, right? And so, people do come and ask me that, Dr. Amy. Like, they, come and ask me. And they’re like, “I think that I process that. How do I know?” Your body knows? So let’s ask your body. “How would your body tell us?” is really the question that we’re asking then, and there’s two ways that your body can tell us. One would be your physical health. So, if you have active health conditions, ahhhh! Like, that’s your body telling us that something is still going on. And either there’s other stuff that we haven’t processed yet, or the stuff that you did process, wasn’t actually down to the cellular level, like what we need it to be. So, people will come and they’re like, “well, I feel like I processed everything, but I have, you know, I have lupus or I have this autoimmune, or I have hypothyroidism, or I’m overweight, or whatever it is.” And the physiology like the biology, that physiology is one of dysregulation. And, and so you can’t separate a biology of dysregulation and trauma patterns because it’s all the same, it’s all the same. And so, when we still have active health issues, it’s a sign that there are still some things that are unresolved, down to the level that need to be resolved, or that could be resolved I should say. Could be resolved. the other way that we can have your body speak to us is in coping mechanisms. So, when you are in situations, whether this would be a situation with yourself, when you’re all alone, when you’re feeling lonely, do you, do you feel lonely? Or maybe it’s when you’re in relationship with someone else and there’s this conflict, there’s a confrontation or there’s, you know, something. Do you ever reach for coping mechanisms? Do you ever reach for something to help you manage an emotional response? “Ooh, I didn’t like that feeling.” And whether that feeling is anger—there’s a lot of people, a lot of people, who that is part of their trauma is, “it’s not safe for me to feel angry.” And so, they will do things to not feel angry. But then there’s also the other aspects of it that they will, they will do things to not feel shame. They will do things to not feel lonely. They will do things to not feel rejected. And if we’re still reaching for any coping mechanisms to not have us feel, then that’s also our body telling us that, “Ooh, this, this is too big for us to manage still,” which means that there’s stored trauma there.
Dr. Amy Moore: Yeah. And for our listeners, can you just give some examples of what those things that we might reach for are?
Dr. Aimie Apigian: oh, that’s a long list. I mean, let me just read you my list that I used to use, right? I used to over-exercise. So, exercise was something that I reached for immediately when I did not want to feel angry, cuz I could go pound it out on my bike. I could go get it all out. And then when I would come back, I would be so exhausted that I didn’t have the energy to be angry anymore. Ooh, right? So, over-exercising, overworking, do you keep yourself so busy, so that you never have that moment of stillness, because what comes up in the stillness is so uncomfortable for you? Do you use caffeine? Do you use wine? Do you use food? Do you use relationships? Do you—busyness? Do you, I mean, it’s a long list of anything that we can use to not feel certain things.
Teri Miller: sleeping, binge watching—
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Sleeping. Exactly. And some of these things, some of these things can look healthy, right? Like, “oh, wow. Look, Amy’s out riding in her bike and she’s doing a hundred miles this week!” Like to everybody else that looks like, “oh, she’s she’s at the top of her game. She’s feeling good. She’s healthy.” Whereas internally I’m like, “I’m pounding out these mouths cuz I, I don’t wanna feel something.” Right? So, we can’t look at just the behavior itself. We need to look at: what’s the reason behind the behavior? And oftentimes we don’t even understand the reason behind our behaviors. And if we don’t understand the reason behind our behaviors, that’s a sign that it’s a trauma response. That’s driving that behavior. That it is so subconscious that we’re not even aware of the true motivation of that.
Dr. Amy Moore: So if you can identify, “hey, this behavior, I’m choosing this as a form of self-care.” Right? Like, it’s intentional, you’re saying, “this makes me feel good. And so I’m going to do this.”
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Yeah. So here’s the difference, Dr. Amy. And I love this, because people can be like, “well, I’m going into the spa today for self-care.” I’m like, “maybe. Maybe…” right?
Dr. Amy Moore: I go to the Starbucks drive through for self-care.
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Yeah. Okay. Okay. So here’s the difference. If it’s, self-care, you’re going to feel open while you’re doing it. You’re gonna feel this openness. You’re gonna feel this expansion. And if something happens along the way, that you show up to Starbucks and it’s closed that day, Dr. Amy, you’re not gonna lose your—mmm—cause it’s closed. If you arrive and you go into this tirade or you shut down because they’re closed and you can’t get your self-care, oh then maybe that actually wasn’t about self-care. So when we are using something to not feel, when we’re not able to do that, we feel like we’re gonna lose control.
Dr. Amy Moore: Okay.
Teri Miller: That’s insightful.
Dr. Amy Moore: That’s a good distinction. Absolutely. Because I can just go to a different drive through if that one’s closed.
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Right. And you can stay flexible, right? Like for someone, for someone who’s using it as a, “no, like, I need this right now. Because I’m gonna fall apart if I don’t get this right now.” If they arrive to Starbucks and it’s closed, like they’re not gonna have that flexibility of, “oh, it’s it’s okay. There’s a Starbucks just over there. It’s gonna take five extra minutes of my day, but that’s okay.” For someone who’s like, “no, I needed that right now. Like right, right now. I needed that right now. I don’t have five extra minutes. I’m gonna fall apart.”
Teri Miller: Yeah. I think I can. I recognize in myself, um, that I do that with relationships. That I, I have this, you know, this trauma of, I guess, not being loved. You know, not being enough. Fear of being alone, that kind of thing. And so then it’s when I’m hurting, it’s, “I need to call someone,” you know. “I need to talk to someone, I need to be with a friend,” and there are times, you know, I work on it. I work on it, you know. But like, “okay, no, no, I’m gonna pray. I’m gonna have—I’m gonna go feel it.” But so often I absolutely recognize that, that I’ll call a friend and leave a message. And then, and I start, my heart starts racing more. And then I call another friend and my heart starts racing more. And then I think about who can I go sit with? And like, I’m so desperate to get that fix of, “I matter, someone loves me. It’s okay.” That is not healthy. That is not me being a friend, that is me desperately trying to get fixed from bad feelings, right?
Dr. Aimie Apigian: I mean, to put it in a positive spin, right? Like that, that is your system trying to find a way for you to regulate, to be okay. And until you have other skills to regulate, it’s going to continue to go back to what it knows, that helps. And that’s true for everything. Until we have different tools, we’re gonna continue to use the tools that we have. And my goal is to help people give tools, to help them live from their “healing self,” rather than to use the same tools that their “trauma self” is very well familiar with using.
Teri Miller: oh man, I need this!
Dr. Amy Moore: right. Well, we need to take a break. Uh, let Teri read a word from our sponsor. And when we come back, Dr. Aimie, we want you to tell our listeners and us how we can get these tools from you.
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Awesome. Okay.
Dr. Amy Moore: When we come back.
Teri Miller (Reading sponsor ad from LearningRx):
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Dr. Amy Moore: And we’re back talking to Dr. Aimie Apigian about trauma and its effects on the body, and how unresolved trauma, or unprocessed trauma, can continue to just haunt us, right? So, Dr. Amy, share with us how our listeners can get the tools that you’ve been telling us about that we need in order to work through trauma.
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Yeah. And the first thing that I would love for them to do is to just take a little assessment, maybe a little quiz that I have a quiz in my roadmap, for example, that they could use that and really be able to see: do you have trauma patterns? Do you feel safe? Like, get a baseline, get a baseline, and please don’t go into a judgment place, right? Like, go into a curiosity place of, “wow. Isn’t that interesting? I actually am not feeling safe in my body. I don’t remember the last time. Isn’t that interesting?” Please go to a curiosity place because otherwise, right? We go back into that trauma place, but when we’re able to stay curious, then that allows us to start the work. And the work, for me, starts with that regulation that I spoke of. We need to be able to have tools for regulation, and build our capacity for regulation, so that we can then build our capacity for processing. Because that regulation, and then that processing get to happen side by side and together. And so, the first place really then is to connect with our body in a safe way. Right? We don’t wanna connect with our body in a way that would be too much too fast, because again, even good things can be retraumatizing. And so, the purpose of connecting with our body is to be able to start to strengthen that connection between our mind and what we think, and our internal processings for our body. So not just like, “oh, what does my body feel?” But like, actually, “what is happening inside my body?” Teri mentioned it earlier, where she was aware of her heart rate, starting to speed up as she was not able to find someone that she can talk to when she was feeling alone, or not loved. That that is awesome. And we want to be able to start to make those connections, and that awareness of our heart rate, of our breath, even when we’re not in that moment of, “I need something right now because I’m feeling like I’m losing control.” And so even just as people are, sitting around, even with their kids, with their family, being able to just do a quick check in with your breath. I don’t want you to change your breath, please don’t go do breathwork. That is almost—that is a form of processing trauma that you’re not ready for yet. We’ve got to build regulation in, but I would want you to just notice your breath. How shallow is it, just breathing normally? How deep does your breath go? Does your breath even seem to go into your chest? From some people who take the 21 day journey they come in and their breath only goes down into their throat. For some people it’s, “well, it feels like it goes a little bit into my chest.” Our breath is naturally designed to actually go all the way down into our pelvis. That would be the natural breath when we have truly processed all of our life’s traumas. Hmm. And so again, don’t go make your breath deeper because you will tap into those traumas before you’re ready to. But I want you to just be aware of, is my breath even telling me that I’ve got some work to do, because then that’s where we start the work. We start with teaching, creating that felt sense of safety for ourselves, creating that felt sense of support after we’ve had safety, and then we can move into expansion and growth and joy. But we actually can’t experience more joy, and more expansion, more awareness, more presence until we have laid this foundation of, “I have tools that in any moment, within two minutes, I can create a felt sense of safety in my body for myself, and a felt sense of support.” So as, as cheesy as it might sound, because people may have been getting this message from other places, awareness of just: where is your baseline? But it’s a different kind of awareness. It’s a different kind of awareness. And it’s something that I wouldn’t want them to start trying to change, because again, it’s, we need to change it in such a way that keeps it manageable. And that’s where I’m happy to guide people through this journey, into their nervous system. I do that in my 21-day journey. If they feel that they have other guides, that would be the safer thing to do, rather than trying to go into their body and into their nervous system specifically, without knowing what to do and how far to go in order to keep things safe.
Dr. Amy Moore: So is your 21-day journey? Is it a group program or a one-on-one program? Is it live? Is it…
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Yeah, good question. So, it is a live group program, which is another reason why we do not go into stories at all, because we keep it a very safe space for everybody. And so, there is a component of it where every day, they have a recording from me where I lead them through what’s called a somatic exercise, a body-based exercise, that teaches them a new tool to use for regulation. So that by the end of the 21 days, they have 21 different exercises. Many of them write it down on post-it notes or, you know, the ring binders. So that in the moment they’re like, “okay, I need, I need an exercise.” Right? “I don’t wanna reach for food. I don’t wanna, I don’t want to do that anymore. I’ve got these new tools.” And they have them very handy so that they’re doing that instead of these other things. And it’s just been amazing to see the transformations that happen at 21 days when they have these new tools. And so they have an exercise that they do on their own time. Uh, whenever they want to fit that in, in their day, it’s about 10 minutes long. And then we meet every day as a group and do the same exercise as a group.
Teri MIller: Wow.
Dr. Aimie Apigian: And that way you can see everybody else who’s on their journey as well. Cuz even though this is a group program, each person is on their own journey. They do just also get to, you know, hike in a group so that they’re not all alone and they can hear what other people’s experiences are and actually learn from other people’s experiences, not just what they’re experiencing in their body.
Dr. Amy Moore: And so then, how long would those daily meetings be with you?
Dr. Aimie Apigian: The daily group meetings, they should plan out about 30 to 35 minutes for those. And this is where a lot of people are surprised. They’re like, “I thought we were gonna sit here and like, you know, tell our stories and process this out for hours and cry.” And I’m like, “nope. Nope. That’s actually not helpful.” And we have been taught that that’s kind of how we’re supposed to do things and that’s been what has kept us stuck. And so, this truly is a way that honors how the trauma got wired into our body and into our nervous system, and what I call the essential sequence for just walking ourselves out.
Teri Miller: Okay. And you’ve got a free resource for our listeners to, you know, to tap into like just a first step. You mentioned like a little screener. Tell us where do they find that e-guide?
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Yeah. I’ve written a 23-page eBook on steps to identify and heal trauma. So, it covers some aspects of what we went over today; has some more details; has a quiz in there for people to see if they can identify that they have some trauma patterns, and then more context around where do you start? What do you do? Why would creating a felt sense of safety be the first thing that I need to do? Why do I need to create that felt sense of support? It helps give them that context and understanding of that.
Dr. Amy Moore: So Dr. Aimie, is there anything you haven’t gotten to say?
Dr. Aimie Apigian: a lot! How much time do you have?
Dr. Amy Moore: (laughing) how would you like to wrap up?
Teri Miller: Yeah, cause we’re so over time we need to have, we need to do this in a two, or three-part…
Dr. Aimie Apigian: Yeah. I would just like to come back to hope. There is so much hope and that’s what I see. So, when I see somebody, when they come into my program and I see where they are right now, what I actually start to see is where they could be, and what they would be doing in their life, if they felt safe and had that felt sense that someone had their back. And I start to see the potential that they have, and put the intention for them becoming that, and living into that. And then being able to watch that happen over time is, for me, the most meaningful thing ever. It makes all of the years of hard work and mistakes and doing everything wrong for me and Miguel worth it to see the change that other people can experience now, in such a short amount of time, that they are even surprised. And so, no matter where a person is on their journey, how much work they have done, how much work they haven’t done, wherever it is. Start with these regulation skills and the change is gonna be profound and it’s gonna stick, which is probably for me, one of the most important things. Is that this is gonna be lasting change, cuz we really are changing the wiring in your tissues, in your nervous system, that are driving your behaviors, your life, your health, everything, and that transformation is possible.
Dr. Amy Moore: Well, this has been an amazing conversation, with Dr. Aimie Apigian today. Thank you so much for taking an hour out of your busy schedule to share this with our listeners and with us, um, listeners, if you would like more information about Dr. Aimie’s work, her website is traumahealingaccelerated.com. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram @DrAimie. And that is D-R-A-I-M-I-E. We’ll put those links and all of her handles in the show notes for you. Thank you so much for listening today. If you liked our show, we would love it if you would give us a five star rating and review on whatever platform you have found our show. If you would rather watch us, you can see our faces on YouTube, and please follow us on social media. We’re on every social media channel @thebrainymoms. So, look, until next time we know that you’re busy moms and we’re busy moms. So we’re out.
Teri Miller: See ya!