Releasing Trauma at the Cellular Level

Recovery Unscripted banner image for episode 40

Episode #40 | October 18, 2017

Featured Guest: Kat Cross

My guest is Kat Cross, who serves as creator of possibilities for Spirit 2 Spirit Healing and The Guest House Ocala with Judy Crane. She joined me at the Moments of Change conference in Florida to discuss how trauma becomes unintentionally stored at the cellular level and how those embedded experiences can be shaken loose and processed.

Podcast Transcript

David Condos: Hello and welcome to this episode of Recovery Unscripted, a podcast powered by Foundations Recovery Network. I’m David Condos, and my guest is Kat Cross who serves as creator of possibilities for Spirit 2 Spirit. She joined me at the Moments of Change conference to discuss how trauma becomes unintentionally stored at the cellular level and how those imbedded experiences can be shaken loose. Also, stay til the end for more trivia from this week in recovery history. Today’s question highlights the American Medical Association’s first recognition of alcoholism, published in which year: 1956, 1966 or 1976? Find out after the interview.

I’m here with Kat Cross. Thanks for taking the time to be with us.

Kat Cross: Thanks for having me. It’s great.

Condos: All right, let’s start by having you tell us a bit about your personal story and the journey you took to be here today.

Cross: That’s a long story. I, actually unlike a lot of people in this field, just fell into it. I answered an ad in a paper. I was depressed, living with my mother and not feeling really good about that, because I was well into my adulthood. I answered an ad in the paper and found out within two weeks that I was meant to do this work, felt super great grateful and blessed.

Condos: What was the ad for? Where did you start?

Cross: I started at a place called San Cristobal Academy. Then a gentleman turned it into more of an addiction treatment program, which was called San Cristobal treatment center. I started out as a tech, the position was called teacher mentor. I loved working with clients. They were young adult men. It was a long program, step down in the classroom, life skills. I learned a lot. I was system program director for a little bit and then I was asked to be the director of admissions. I did that and I learned that, then I was the director of admissions in marketing.

Condos: We were talking earlier about some of your own personal experience with trauma in your own life. Could you share a little bit about how trauma’s affected you?

Cross: Sure, I met Judy Crane pretty early in my career. It was after she had given one of her amazing presentations, I just really got a chance to have some time with her, connected with her. I was blessed after she had founded The Refuge, ran it for about 10 years, after she saw that, her and I had a conversation. I was at a place where I had just had my first child, the first and only child. I had talked to her personally about starting my own company, different things over the years, she said, “I’d really love it, if you could help me and really brand Spirit 2 Spirit as its own entity, when you start that company you talk about.”

I did that, Spirit 2 Spirit became my client and about seven months into it, I was spending some time up until that point learning about Spirit 2 Spirit, going to the intensives, going to the trainings, reading about trauma. I had done some trauma work, personally, but I had not really gotten as deep as I needed to go. I found myself not okay, crying a lot is being a new mom, a very afraid of all kinds of stuff that new moms generally feel-

Condos: That’s an overwhelming thing.

Cross: -overwhelming – not sleeping, trying to negotiate, navigate being a new mom. I called Judy, just started bawling, telling her, I’m not okay, she asked me, what was going on. I was telling her about some of the things that were coming up for me. I wasn’t even sure if that was the thing, and she said, “Well let’s talk a little bit more about my personal story, history, childhood trauma.” I guess I had really done a great job at you know keeping the facade up and not really letting everybody know fully what was going on, because I presented really well.

She said, “That is actually a trauma response.” So, trauma lives on the cellular level on your body, the physical act of being pregnant, giving birth shook it all loose. I actually went, did a five-day trauma intensive with her and it changed my life. I was able to process a plethora of trauma, and no longer minimize it, no longer invalidate it. I was able to validate and really give myself permission to feel what has happened, not be afraid of what happened or be afraid of what people might think or that I was somehow a fraud in this field because I hadn’t fully been self-actualized completely.

Condos: Like you’re saying that trauma is stored on a cellular level, that physical changes they were going on with you shook it loose. Could you unpack that a little bit more, that’s something I don’t know much about?

Cross: Well, Judy talks about it a lot. It’s actually her book came out in June and she talks about a lot of different aspects of neural plasticity. I think one of the illustrations I’ve heard that she’s given that’s pretty easy to understand and grasp, is I believe it was her son actually when he was a little boy a dog jumped up, and started like licking his face, but he didn’t really have any frame of reference. It looked like the dog was trying to eat him.

What happens to us when we have something that feels life-threatening to us is that we go, [gasp]. And all of that fear, all of that frenetic energy gets stored in ourselves on that cellular level, until we’re able to release that within us, that happens over again in our lives in many ways, whether it’s betrayals, neglect, abandonment.

It’s interesting because it doesn’t actually have to happen, they can just be perceived, but you end up with these layers of trauma.

We live in a society that really teaches us to push it all down, not feel. All of that information, personal experience and catharsis, really was a rightful moment for me because working in this field as somebody who was not in recovery for substances, initially I felt different, I felt “not one of them.” That I didn’t totally belong. The more that I learned about it, continue to learn about trauma, the more I realize to me it’s the great equalizer and I see it everywhere.

Judy often talks about how we’re all just little boys and girls. We have these layers of trauma, I see through what I call the trauma lens. So I don’t judge myself as harshly, it’s not that I’m not enough or I’m not worthy.

Condos: You mentioned earlier about the trauma that you store, it has to be released and it’s there in layers, could you talk us through kind of how that process looks, how do you go about doing that?

Cross: Well, I mentioned experiential therapy. Judy has nearly 38 years of experience working with people, has her own personal experience as well of her personal trauma, her story. She’s learned different tools, whether there is something that somebody else created, the trauma trigger.

Peter Levine’s work with wild animals, really he was the one that talked a lot about how animals in the wild, non-domesticated animals, they immediately after surviving an attack shake or howl or run around or scream. They get rid of that frenetic energy innately. We don’t do that, we go, “[gasp].” It’s not just here, your brain, you can’t just analyze, think it out. Like you have to get in your body and really find alternatives, I guess it’s a way to say it. To really help people do that, just get out of their brain– out of their thinking part of their brain.

Condos: As you mentioned, you put a lot of yourself into Spirit 2 Spirit lately. Could you tell us a little bit about what the overall mission is with that specifically?

Cross: Sure, I work with Spirit 2 Spirit and The Guest House Ocala with Judy Crane. Spirit 2 Spirit is kind of two-fold, we do five-day-long trauma intensives, which is what I personally did, that help people really process that. They’re all very experiential therapies, so we’re able to use a lot of somatic experience and different modalities.

Just help people really get what I got you know and everybody’s different everybody has their own experience but they really able to get a clean plate. Then the other side of Spirit 2 Spirit is that the training aspect and that is we offer a certified trauma therapist credential. The really great part about it is it’s all experiential. The professional gets to do their own work, well also learning how to treat trauma in the clients.

Judy was seeing that there were so many professionals that were coming to personal intensive work, and they were seeing that there were many therapists and professionals out there who were not doing their own work, not intentionally. The philosophy is that once you’re unravel the term story the behavior makes sense always. Doesn’t excuse the behavior, but it explains that we all cope in one way or another.

So, if you’re coping mechanisms is to help people, it’s pretty subconscious that you’re very likely to think that you’re fine-

Condos: Yes, it’s distracting from your own stuff just like any other coping mechanism, yes.

Cross: Correct. So, it’s another coping mechanism — to help people really purge their own stuff and really see it and understand that. And have that release, have that converses have that resolution, they’re able to better serve their clients.

Condos: Yes. So, at Spirit 2 Spirit your job title is creator of possibilities. Can you tell us a little bit about what that entails?

Cross: It started out with Judy and I joking, saying, “What do you want your title to be?” And I’m not real big on titles, or those kind of things, and I said, ‘I just really want to create possibilities for people,’ because what I realized is that in all the work that I’ve done throughout my life in this field, as well as like I was in the Army for 10 years and just lots of different things. If somebody can just see slivers of hope, slivers of possibility, anything can happen, change is possible.

Condos: Yes, you mentioned your military experience, does that inform what you’re doing now at all, is there a connection there?

Cross: I believe that the universe has put me in exactly the place that I’m supposed to be, that we’re all a collection of our experiences. So every experience that I’ve ever had good or bad, not that it felt that way at the time, but obviously—in retrospect has led me exactly to this place, so when I worked in the military, in the Army as a soldier. When I worked as a civilian for the Navy and ran a recreation program, I used to consistently have the sailors coming into my office and closing the door and talking to me. Telling me what was going on, and so when I was a waitress– I can look at it from not just the military perspective but everywhere exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Condos: Back to some of the trauma work now. What are some different types of trauma that you see patients present with?

Cross: People come in with sexual abuse. I personally went through sexual abuse. Neglect and abandonment are just the deepest wounds. I really struggled and I’ve seen a lot of other people struggle with minimizing their trauma and everybody is different, but people evoke, “What is trauma?” Trauma is war, trauma is sexual abuse, trauma is rape, trauma is physical violence, but one of the things that I’ve learned from Judy is the range, the scope of trauma and so natural disasters are trauma. Bullying is trauma. There are so many things-

Condos: Neglect like you said-

Cross: Neglect. Again, doesn’t have to be actual, can just be the perception. Parents that are working really hard and not there to play catch in the backyard or dress up how it’s taken in, can just be really traumatic and really sad, a child up for feeling not enough.

Condos: Yes, another part of what Spirit 2 Spirit does is training new therapists. What role does that play in your work with Spirit 2 Spirit?

Cross: Well, Judy and– I can certainly speak for myself. I’m very, very passionate about people understanding, and learning, and seeing that trauma piece and not missing that trauma piece, because it’s big. We all cope in one way or another. Some people it’s drugs and alcohol, some people it’s sex or love addiction, so if you understand that nobody does anything for no reason and we all have a way to cope and if you’re only addressing that addiction piece, then you are not necessarily getting to the root of why they picked up to begin with.

Not that anybody is questioning the disease model, they’re saying like maybe that person would have never picked up, if they weren’t bullied in elementary school or they weren’t sexually abused or they weren’t feeling neglected and abandoned or whatever the situation is. To be able to do that and have many professionals that really have that thinking and are trained and understand the different modalities and the different styles of sematic experiencing. Utilizing breath work, and art therapy, and all these different ways to individualize, and work with somebody to help them get that release and get that resolution, that we’re going to do a better job in this field of really helping people live their best lives and feel the best about themselves, and truly be able to love and trust themselves.

Condos: You mentioned a couple of things, you mentioned breath work. Is that something that they would be interested in explaining, like what that looks like?

Cross: I’m happy to try. It’s difficult to explain, the first time I did it was it felt like an out of body experience. Trauma survivors don’t breathe, we have shallow breaths we hold our breath a lot and don’t breathe all the way in and so we don’t oxygenate ourselves. Being able to do that, get that oxygen all the way into our body, into our cells allows a purging process is how it felt to me, to be able to just emote and to release and to feel relief.

It was awkward and strange for me, I didn’t trust it necessarily. It felt a little “wow and weird.” I trusted Judy, but I was like, “Okay, I’m breathing and its rapid breathing and it’s consistent, it’s rhythmic and it felt strange,” and I felt stupid. I didn’t realize that I didn’t breathe in right. [laughs] Breathing is the most natural thing in the world, so why I’m I struggling with this and I learned more about the whys. But the physical act of being in it and breathing then hot.

Then trusting and continuing to do what the facilitator which for me was Judy was telling me to do and listening to the music. I felt all emotion from hysterical laughing and just joy and bliss to just ugly crying, snotty like insecure, what do I look like? Some people feel nauseous, some people actually have thrown up, there’s all kind of things, but afterwards it felt like a different person. I fell so much lighter and just clearer and kinder to myself.

Condos: Yes, it sounds like it’s getting back to the cellular level thing we’re talking about earlier, as a way of triggering the release.

Cross: Yes.

Condos: Then you brought up Judy Crane’s book The Trauma Heart. Could you tell us a bit about that?

Cross: It’s been a long time in the making. It is a collection of stories of people who have given Judy permission to share their stories. People she’s worked with over the years, she does a beautiful job of illustrating. The questions you’re asking me as far as the different types of traumas that you see and people’s just really sharing their authentic stories and their pain and their triumphs. It’s a workout tool, she has exercises and suggestions. There’s a lot of knowledge and information in there, but it’s a collection of these stories and it took her about six years to write it. She’s also shared that it was cathartic for her. It’s not afternoon escape reading. It’s-


Like let’s look at this — when you do, there’s an exercise that she often does called “all of my friends.” It’s a game. If you will, where you ask one person stands in the center and says, “All of my friends who,” and the rest of the people who have the same experience join you in the center, and you get to see how many people have the same experience.

Well, it sometimes starts out lighter, they got deep pretty quick so might be all of my friends who have been divorced please join me in the center. You get to see that you’re not alone and how more similar we are than different and even if we have different traumatic experiences or different lives or different socioeconomic or racial or whatever that we’re just humans and we share a lot of stuff. I think trauma is a great equalizer.

Condos: Yes. Are there any other exercises that you could talk about?

Cross: They’re so many, breath workout is definitely something we do, the trauma egg is pretty-

Condos: What’s that one?

Cross: Trauma egg is like a timeline and you basically, draw a big circle and it’s utilizing different parts of your brains so on writing everything down which is really linear thinking and rational thought you are using pictorials. You’re drawing a little scallop and inside of each scallop is a trauma prior to doing the actual egg you’re looking at your inner generational trauma. You’re looking at some archetypes and then you present it to the group and you share your story.

So, it’s basically a way to tell your trauma story through pictorials which helps your brain not to keep your defense mechanisms going. Or keep telling yourself the same thing to keep you stuck, it’s able to free you in ways that you haven’t been able to do before.

Condos: All right, well, to wrap up. You’ve dedicated a lot of yourself and your time to this mission over the past decade plus right. So to close could you sum up why helping others find recovery and specifically from trauma is so important to you?

Cross: It sounds silly maybe or simple, because that is how we actually have a better world. As if I can see you as another human who just is living that human experience that has pain and suffering and so many similar things instead of trying to pick you apart and see you as different from me. Separate from me and able to provide space for you to heal and to be authentic and not have to impress or whatever, then I just see that as a solution to so many elements in my world.

Condos: Yes, doing it one person at a time.

Cross: Yes.

Condos: Well, thank you for your time today, Kat.

Cross: Thank you.

Condos: Thanks again to Kat for sharing that with us. And thank you for sticking around for another installment of our trivia segment called This Week In Recovery History. Each time I share a question that features a different pivotal event from this week in history that has helped shape our current world related to addiction and mental health recovery.

Today’s question highlights the concept of alcoholism as a medical illness, which was first officially recognized by the American Medical Association on this week in the year 1956. The declaration was part of a report and resolution approved by the AMA board and released on October 20th of that year.

In the resulting statement, the authors outlined many key ideas that would come to support the disease theory of alcoholism, such as the fact that it’s a chronic medical condition and that it’s not merely excessive drinking, but it is also accompanied by behavioral and personality disorder symptoms.

And because the statement came from the AMA its intended audience was the country’s hospital directors and medical professionals. So it also outlines a clear stance about how individuals present with alcohol addiction should be approached. It also specifically points out the need for well-rounded staff training and adequate facilities for treating alcoholism patients well.

So that’s the AMA’s first recognition of alcoholism as a medical condition published this week in the year 1956. Stay tuned for more trivia from recovery history in future episodes.

This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today we’ve heard from Kat Cross of Spirit 2 Spirit. To learn more about their work visit and thank you for listening today. If you have a second please give us a rating on your favorite podcast app and subscribe so you won’t miss out on any of our new episodes. See you next time.

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