Me & Trauma - Trauma & I

  • By: Prabhat, Dr. med. Dietrich Sternberg

World war II and the Holocaust was over.

We loved to play and climb in the many ruins which was strictly forbidden for us post-war kids. I was born in 1950 and spent my first ten years in the coal mining and steel production district of Germany (“Ruhrpott”). I remember the emaciated devastated pallid withdrawn P.O.W.`s repatriated from Russia and Siberia. Some of them hardly ever talked again and shut down emotionally and socially like one of my uncles who had been accused of war crimes in Poland but had a narrow escape from being hanged because his slave workers stood up for him. Another irascible uncle threatened his family by his sudden unexpected hyper aggressive outbreaks of choleric attacks and excessive anger. He imposed mayor psychological burdens on his terrified spouse and son.

25 years later psychiatrists started to call these conditions post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

My dear father was a private for the whole 5 years of war. He suffered from what we call today anxiety disorder and overprotective worries concerning his offspring. His family got banished from Poland (Pomerania) and my grandfather died during the escape. My beloved mother was Jewish but survived the Nazi regime in Munich studying medicine. This was a miracle. I never discovered how she managed. We were raised in an atmosphere of silencing the past with many people suffering from the aftermath of combat trauma and exile. Shock, terror, panic, suppression, despair and numbing crawling through their bodies, souls and minds. A torn map of themselves and the world.

I can still feel the freeze in my system looking at old pictures from that time.

Living in the house of my mother having opened her medical practice and my father being a protestant priest I got to know a privileged lifestyle and a lot of sanctimony and hypocrisy of the upper class society. From age 10 until about 22 I suffered from heavy chronic inflammation deep in my guts with painful colics and blood-stained diarrhoea (ulceric colitis). Being in pediatric hospitals my parents were allowed to visit me 1 hour per week.

In those days modern medicine had a medieval understanding of the needs of the patients. I almost died. In my own trauma therapy 45 years later I still could smell the stench of the ward.

Studying medicine and psychology I absorbed the new ideas of the late sixties – the word “psychosomatic” emerged together with the Beatles and Rolling Stones and the antibaby pill. I moved to Berlin – the incarnation of sex & drugs & rock`n roll. My chronic disease got better and later on disappeared. New shocks were waiting for me: 3 friends died from overdosing heroin, one in my arms.

After graduating from university I decided to work in a Palestinian refugee camp in Southern Lebanon and saw wounded teenage fighters every day. (35 years from then I felt the same buzzy hyper arousal combined with freezing contraction in my body on the other side in a Kibbutz in the war zone of Israel during the last Lebanon war). Later I worked in Mother Theresa’s Home for Destitutes in Calcutta where people of the streets could die taken care of by nuns. The Amazonian jungle in Bolivia with resettled indios from the high mountain areas was next on my list and the post civil war Uganda where I had a major car accident with 2 severely wounded nurses. I had been the driver. Then I worked in an Eritrean refugee camp in the Sudanese desert where my colleague collapsed with tropical malaria.

Working in Malaysia in a concentration camp of 40.000 boat people from the Vietnam War I felt the despair of not being able to do more than listening to the raped women or old people whose teeth got extracted by Thai pirates. They had been going through the hell of war and the escape from communist concentration camps over the Southern Chinese Sea.

Looking back I wish having had some skills in trauma therapy.

Back in Berlin I worked in the intensive care unit for premature babies. The pain of the parents was extremely difficult to deal with. There was no guidance or training how to do more than the technical doctor’s job.

I had heard about Grada Rajneesh (later on called The Humaniversity) and Veeresh being a master in therapy and spirituality.

He was.

Training and working with him over the next 15 years I learned to deal with my feelings and got the foundation for my successful working as a physician and psychotherapist. Years later after another serious car accident I got the chance to learn from Peter Levine (he developed his method named “Somatic Experiencing”) and others. I discovered new additional ways to heal my uncompleted bodily businesses – to regulate stuck shock energy in my nervous system. I learned to own more of my emotional brain with its heartbreaking and gut-wrenching sensations that register misery and humiliation. I extended my skills to help myself and others to surf through the ups and downs of life and enjoy our enlarged capacity for pleasure and love.

Facing traumatic energies and dealing with them feels like the way of the hero. Our capacity to hurt or destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal and love one another. This motto supports my work as a traumatherapist and teacher and my involvement working with the nowadays refugees in Berlin.