In this episode, I am speaking with Dr. Keesha Ewers – who is an integrative medicine expert, a doctor of sexology, family practice ARNP, certified trauma-informed therapist, a certified death doula. After conducting the HURT (Healing Unresolved Trauma) Study in 2013, she developed the Hurt model for understanding how past childhood trauma impacts adult health which is what we will discuss more in-depth.
Table of Contents
In this podcast Dr. Ewers and I will discuss:
- The link between childhood trauma and gut microbiome
- The link between PTSD and the gut microbiome
- How childhood experiences can affect us in adult life
- Assessing your beliefs to overcome your trauma
- Connecting the dots and start your healing process
- Three steps to heal your HURT
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Ari Whitten: Hey there, everyone, and welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. Today I have my good friend Dr. Keesha Ewers. Who is an integrative medicine expert, a doctor of sexology, family practice ARNP, certified trauma-informed therapist, a certified death doula. Just super cool. I know she’s doing some amazing work with that out in the San Juan Islands with these death doula, or sort of death process ceremonies. We might not have enough time to get into that. But fascinating work, I highly recommend you check out the work that she’s doing around that.
She’s also board certified in functional medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine. And is the founder and medical director of the Academy for Integrative Medicine Health Coach Certification Program.
Dr. Keesha the mother of functional sexology has been in the medical field for over 30 years. After conducting the HURT Study in 2013, which is about healing unresolved trauma, that’s what HURT stands for. She developed the Hurt model for understanding how past childhood trauma impacts adult health. This led to the creation of the You Unbroken online program for patients to health their own trauma and the mystic medicine deep emersion healing retreats that she leads at her home on San Juan Island.
Dr. Keesha is a popular speaker, including at Harvard and from the TEDx stage, and the bestselling author of Solving the Autoimmune Puzzle, The Woman’s Guide to Reclaiming Emotional Freedom and Vibrant Health, The Quick and Easy Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook, and Your Libido Story: A Workbook for Women Who Want Find, Fix, and Free Their Sexual Desire.
You can listen to her Mystic Medicine radio show and find her programs at drkeesha.com. And I know today, you have an awesome presentation lined for us on, I know that HURT study that I just mentioned is a big part of it. We’re going to talk about trauma. We’re going to talk about the link with gut health and how those things relate to energy levels and mood. So, I know she has some amazing stuff for you guys, so let’s get into it. Welcome, Dr. Keesha, such a pleasure to have.
How trauma affects the gut microbiome
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Thank you, Dr. Ari. So, I’m really excited to talk about superhuman energy, and how the intersection of your own personal genetics, and your own life lived in terms of the joys and also past traumas. And then, how that intersects with your microbial ecosystem to create energy and mood, and how your experience of how you live your life in general in terms of perception. There’s a big connection between all of these and I’m going to get a little bit into the science, and I’m also going to describe the HURT model and the HURT study. And then get into some, what I call the ABCs and 123s of really having that superhuman energy that we’re looking for.
Ari Whitten: Awesome.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: So, the science is interesting. There was a particular study looking at childhood trauma and microbial balance that was done on 115 kids that were in an institution. This is prior to adoption before they were two years of age. And they looked at them and their microbial balance next to 229 kids that were raised by their biological parents.
And what they found is, and it would kind of make sense, institutional care kids had less microbial diversity. But then the interesting thing that this study is they weren’t just measuring microbial diversity, but they were also doing PET scans on the brains to see what the brain changes were in these kids in relationship to their trauma and their microbial diversity. And what they found was that there was less prefrontal cortex volume and development in the kids that came from an institutional background. Which means lower emotional processing.
Now, our prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until we’re 26 years of age anyway. But the coming online and the developmental process was actually hampered because of this trauma. Whereas the kids that came out of a biological family unit had an increase, you know, in the biodynamic microbiome diversity as well as better prefrontal cortex brain development. Which means better emotional regulation.
The emotional regulation piece, I want you to kind of put a pin in and remember, because that part is going to become very important as we talk about some new science that’s recently come out that bridges why this actually matters in terms of adult human energy and health.
So, some other research, I mean, I could bury people with research in this, but a couple of high points; history of trauma is reported in half of adults with any kind of IBS, irritable bowel syndrome. And then, gastrointestinal symptoms in young kids have now been started to be thought of as red flags for future emotional health problems.
And then post-traumatic stress disorder; when that’s been diagnosed what has been done in studies when looking at microbial diversity once again – it shows that the total of three really important organisms are not there with people that are diagnosed with PTSD. Now, we know that post-traumatic stress disorder is not just about your microbial balance. It also has to do with living conditions, hence, the study on the kids that were institutionalized. Has to do with childhood experiences.
There’s a very famous study that I’ll briefly talk about that you’ll hear about the adverse childhood experiences study. And also, genetics. And so, the gut bacteria piece is the part that influences the brain. You know that gut-brain axis that we hear a lot about. And this is the brain function that is all about producing those neurotransmitters that make us feel good, help us focus, help us concentrate, help us remember. I mean, how many of my patients come in, they’re fatigued. They don’t have superhuman energy. They can’t remember anything, they’re worried, because they think they have Alzheimer’s. Because they can’t like why they walked into the kitchen, and they’re getting really concerned about how often that’s showing up. They have inflammation. And, you know, they are depressed and anxious and not sleeping very well.
A lot of those folks, because I see a lot of people with autoimmune disease also have immune issues with, you know, undiagnosed autoimmune issues. Turns out all of these are very much interrelated.
So, there was a study that was done on, in Europe, of over 1,000 Belgians and a 1,000 Dutch people. And again, a couple of really important organisms missing from people that self-recorded and were diagnosed as depressed subjects. And what those two organisms actually are in large part responsible for is butyrate. Which is an anti-inflammatory and dopamine, which is the piece that I was just mentioning around mood and memory. As well as motivation, energy, and libido level, in women particularly.
So, we’re seeing this crosstalk a lot between the gut and the brain. But then also, you know, I do a lot of speaking from stages as I call myself Mother Focker, like Mrs. Focker from Meet the Parents. I’m very much like her. And she was a sexologist and I talk a lot from stage, you know, talking to clinicians trying to help them understand the importance of asking the right questions about libido. It’s not just sexual, but also lifeforce vitality. You know, passion for the things that you’re excited about. The ability and willingness to be intimate and vulnerable and to really like have the energy to seek out your life mission purpose and dreams.
Well, one of the things that you can say about that is that if there’s not enough dopamine, then none of those things are present. And, you know, I’m trying to help people understand that libido level is actually another vital sign, right? And it’s a little bit of a sideways window of looking at dopamine. And what do we reach for in our culture if we have dopamine issues? You know, we reach for our short-chain carbohydrates, energy drinks, caffeine. All of the things, I know you, Ari, are all about helping people come off of so that they can really discover their root source of energy instead of these chemicals, right?
Ari Whitten: 100 percent.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: So, yeah. I do genetic testing on all of my patients now, and I see that a lot of these folks actually have genetic SNPs that make it difficult for dopamine to be synapsed properly. So, you know, and I’m going to talk about one of the synapse pruners in the brain that get overreactive. They’re called microglia. When you are not emotionally regulating well.
So, all of these things come together, right? It’s not one system behaving by itself. It’s not about mitochondria all by itself. It’s not by a genetic SNP all by itself, you know? They all work together and pulling some of this science together is fascinating, because you can see – like people are starting to make these connections.
And this history of childhood trauma, right? Is — I call it in my book Solving the Autoimmune Puzzle, the missing piece of the puzzle. Because, you know, we’re finding there is a really interesting study that was looking at people with lowered microbial diversity, right? History of childhood trauma, and then people with the exact same digestive issues that those folks had no early life trauma. And then people that didn’t have digestive issues or trauma and all of those bugs were so different.
And what they found is the ones with childhood trauma, they had a harder time getting them to – like they would do fecal transplants, you know? You know they would do different things that are – a big dose of probiotics, right? And it wasn’t working. And so, the outcome of this that was in Microbiome in 2017, said – there’s a quote that I just kind of shook my head. “The changes in the gut microbiome made in response to trauma could potentially last a lifetime based on the stressed gut-brain connection.”
No this is why it is said that the higher your score of adverse childhood experiences the higher your risk for autoimmune issues in adulthood, and cancer, and heart disease. But the thing of it is what this sentence doesn’t actually remind us of is that all of this can be changed. You feel your trauma, and actually, research shows us that we change the biodiversity of our gut.
So, what they were doing is they were just focusing on the microbiome, they weren’t focusing on the emotional regulatory cycle that was happening up in the other brain.
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Isn’t that fascinating?
Ari Whitten: It is absolutely amazingly fascinating. I have a question for you.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Yeah?
Ari Whitten: Which is; do you think that one direction here is dominant? Meaning, I know that this is bidirectional – the gut influences the brain, the brain influences the gut. There’s crosstalk. And that’s really the right word to describe this. As you said on the previous slide, GI symptoms in young children are a red flag for future emotional health problems. And then, there’s also this research that you’ve talked about talking about past trauma and adverse childhood events that are sort of associated with alternations in the gut. My question is do you know what could possibly be the mechanism of how a psychology trauma could cause certain species of bacteria to grow or not grow? What’s going on there as far as the biochemical forces that are affecting the growth of different species of bacteria?
Dr. Keesha Ewers: It does it – I primed you with that question. That’s what the HURT study actually explained. And so, what I always say is the HURT study, and the HURT model takes up where the ACE’s study left off in explaining why the outcome was what it was.
How the brain remembers trauma
But there are a couple of different things that are embedded in that question that are really important to tease out, and I appreciate you asking it. And that is some of the study outcomes what you’ll see is we’re not sure if the lower microbial diversity primes someone to have PTSD. Or someone has PTSD and then they have lower microbial diversity. And actually what many of the studies that I’ve pulled show is that it’s both. And that one of those missing links is actually genetics. Which is why I started doing genetics testing on every single person.
Was because we know in developmental models of childhood that now we’ve really started to understand that actually stress in utero, right, changes mom’s microbial, right, balance. And so, who’s giving the microbial balance to the infant on the way out is mom. And so, we know that actually that inside fetal development brain changes from these microglia are actually starting to do their pruning mechanism and sometimes it can go hypervigilant. And prune away things we don’t want pruned away. And then, that can lead us into an open space of, “Oh, I don’t even have those synapsis available for emotional regulation.” Like I was saying earlier, that prefrontal cortex is really important for that. And other parts of the brain are too.
So, how we store memories in our hippocampus. You know the microglia goes after that, then starts pruning that away, right? The way that we ruminate about those experiences, this is what the HURT model shows. So, we’ll get into that because that’s a really, really important point.
That I actually look at it as more than bidirectional. When I do trauma retreats and I’m writing a book on trauma right now, and I’m actually introducing this. Is that physics, quantum physics tells us that the past, present, and future are encapsulated in one space-time continuum, right? They’re not aligned. And so, the more that we can actually go – the way that I talk about this is the girl is the mother of the woman, and the boy is the father of the man. And so, the more that you go, and you spend time with the child that went through any of these events. And I’m going to talk about what I mean, these events. The more that we heal that, the less reactivity we have of those microglia cells that like to go through and prune away things, right, in our synaptic neuron.
So, it’s important that we understand that not only is the brain being affected the heart is affected, and the gut is being affected. These are our three brains, right? And by just doing this one thing, going and giving the healing to the small child part of ourselves, we’re actually creating – and I call it knitting – wiser stronger more superhuman, older wiser version of our self. Does that make sense?
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Beautiful.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Isn’t it?
Ari Whitten: Yes. Yeah. I think you should coin a term, you know, with what you are saying there it’s more than bidirectional. Maybe you should like coin a term that it’s omnidirectional, or pan-directional, or something like that.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Well, what I’m calling it – and this is just between you and me now – because I have no idea if the publisher will go for this —
Ari Whitten: You, me, and tens of thousands of listeners.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Yes.
Ari Whitten: Don’t mind them it’s a totally private conversation.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: I’m calling it fractal healing.
Ari Whitten: Nice.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Yeah. Because it really is more than even omnidirectional. We’re talking about this time-space continuum, right? And it goes everywhere. And we now know that this enteric nervous system in our gut, the brain of the gut, and the cardiovascular nervous system of our heart, and our nervous system of our brain are all fractals. And so, the more that you can actually move into one part of that, a fractal of the self-repeating process, then you’re actually fixing that future self, yeah?
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Beautiful.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Yeah. Yeah. As you can tell it’s very exciting to me.
Overcoming HURT with the ABC and the 123
Ari Whitten: Yes. Yes. I love that. So, where do we go from here? How do we sort of make sense of the big picture of —
Dr. Keesha Ewers: So, the ABCs, right, I said this. We come down to this – you can go off into this place of theoretical constructs and abstracts the way I just did. And then, you can come back into it, and say, so, how is this relevant? And how do we make this work for ourselves in this moment? And the ABCs are — the first thing I always say is really learn what your adverse childhood events are. You know, start there. You want to get to know your little kid self, and what the meanings and beliefs are that they created as a result of different experiences that they had no way of understanding.
So, we come into this world, we’re a little tiny human in a world governed by big humans trying to figure out how to be a human, right? And in that time period of our growth and development as we’re making up our meanings and our belief systems that will carry into adulthood, we are traumatized in a million different ways.
And so, in the adverse childhood experiences study that was done between 1995 and 1997 by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente, they ask about ten, what we call capital “T” trauma events. And over 17,500 participants in the study.
They’re asking about the things you think about when you hear trauma. Sexual abuse, physical, emotional, psychological, a parent being on a substance, or mentally ill, or dead, or incarcerated, or divorced. So, different kinds of neglect and abuse.
And they said, you know, okay, so the study finding showed that the higher your ACE’s score, one of those one, two is two, the higher your risk for all of the adult illness we see in our time period. As well as many behavioral things like an increased risk for suicide, drug use, alcoholism, missed work, sexual promiscuity, other addiction. And also, genetic expression is altered.
So, this is a really interesting, I think, an important piece around energy. So, when you think about that the higher ACE score the lower your number of years lived on this planet is the outcome that was shown. That actually doesn’t need to be that way. Once you know your ACE score, right, and you understand, “Oh, everybody’s had hurt,” you know, unresolved trauma. And we can think of it as like in lowercase “h” hurt, or lowercase “t” trauma. Where it’s maybe you had three friends on the playground one day, and then the next day they’re laughing at you and making fun of you and they’ve cast you out of the little girl tribe or the little boy team. Or you failed your first test, or you couldn’t make it to the top of a rope in a presidential challenge or you missed a word in the spelling bee in front of everybody, you know?
I’ve done therapy on an engineer for one of the big companies here in Seattle who had to get up in front of a group of people to present his work. And he would get hyperhidrosis, which is just sweating everywhere. He’d gone to see doctor after doctor, taken drug after drug that supposed to help and nothing had helped him.
And as I started talking about his little boy experiences with him, and what it meant to get up in front of groups of people – all of the sudden the light turned on for him, and he went, “Ohhh. When I was in middle school, I tripped in front of all the cute girls. One of which I had a crush on, and I spilled my tray. Oh, my gosh!” And he turned around and he started sweating.
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: And he said everyone in the cafeteria was laughing at him, and from that moment he never ate again in a cafeteria.
Ari Whitten: Oh, wow.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: For all of his school career until university, you know? And the meaning he made up about himself was he was clumsy; he couldn’t be trusted in front of people. So, now his job requires him to get up in front of people and what’s he going to do? He goes to go into a fight or flight response, right?
And so, once we did some work on unhinging that and healing that little kid, then he was able to start regulating himself. Well, you can imagine what his little pruners in his brain are doing, what his biodiversity, his microbes are, every time he goes into a stress response, right? And so, he also had an autoimmune illness when he came to see me that he didn’t even know about. So, we were able to help him reverse that and get him in front of groups of people without sweating, and it was really going back and healing this little boy, and helping him change his beliefs and meanings about himself.
So, we know that this microbiome is the second brain, and the gut harbors evidence of difficult life experiences many years after they’ve already occurred. And that the brain and the adrenal glands, and your hormone system, and your genetic expression follows suit. And so, all of these connections need to be, I think, honored and respected and revered.
And what we’ve done in western medicine, not because we’re hapless stupid people, But we’re much reductionist science thinkers. And so, we have now, all of these specialized people, right? We have a pulmonologist, you go there if you can’t breathe. We have a cardiologist, you go there. You know and so a lot of time the fingers on the same hand don’t even know how to work together.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. To that point, I mean, someone who’s dealing with these kinds of issues, whether trauma, and mental illness, or, you know, PTSD, and things of that nature, and gut symptoms would see two different specialists.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Yes.
Ari Whitten: You know, a gastro-intestinal specialist, and a psychiatrist or a psychologist, and probably —
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Those two would talk to each other.
Ari Whitten: They wouldn’t talk to each other, nor would they in most cases for most of those specialties, specialists, would they put the pieces together that —
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Right.
Ari Whitten: These psychological issues that they’re dealing with might have origins in the gut and vice versa.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Right. You know, so this fellow I was talking about, I looked for autoimmune markers, inflammatory markers, because I know if the inflammatory markers like a high sensitivity to a reactive protein, a sedimentation rate – if they’re high, I know that the brain is busy carving itself up. I looked at who’s living in the gut. I looked at his genetics, right? I wanted to see what SNPs with what neurotransmitters that could potentially be causing expressive problems for him, right?
We found those and started looking under the rocks around those. So, you know, it wasn’t just going and talking about and to this little boy that had actually spilled his lunch, right? We actually had to get to what happened throughout his physical system as a result of this event. And then, his continued belief system that surrounded it as he went forward.
So, you know, of course, he had leaky gut. You don’t have a good intestinal barrier if you’ve had cortisol racing out into your system that you’re not going to survive every time you get up in front of a group of people, especially if you have to do that for a living.
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: So, it’s just so interesting, right, that we have to take a look at all of this at the same time in order to really get these parts to start going back to their homes, doing their own job, settling down, you know. And living the way that we want to live. Which is that our life is not threatened, right? That we don’t have that messaging going out all of the time.
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: And I’ve found that a lot of people with autoimmune disease have that messaging happening in the body, but their mind’s not aware of it. They’ve learned ways to cope and strategize. And yet their bodies are still behaving in those old ways.
And so, I have a lot of people that come in with autoimmunity that say, “I’m not stressed out,” and yet I’m looking at all of their mile markers, and they’re bodies are saying, “Yes, we are.” You know?
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: So, this integration process is important, and I think that information around microglial activation is really – this is newer knowledge. I know Dale Bredesen’s work with Alzheimer’s is one of the outcomes from it. But it’s really looking at these little surveillance cells in the brain. It never used to be thought until 2012 that the immune system had any kind of connection to the brain.
So, when this fight or flight reactivity would go on, all scientists and medical people thought that the brain was immune from it. And it turns out it’s not at all. That through the lymphatic system there’s a connection. And that these little microglials are kind of like our white blood cells in our immune system in the body. That they respond. They go around surveying and touching everything to find out how it’s doing. And if they find that there’s something that’s causing inflammation, they’ll just start pruning it away.
So, this is where a lot of our brain fog comes in. And it starts to demyelizine the nervous system, which is that protective sheath, you know, that surrounds our nerves that’s so important. And if we don’t have it we can wind up with multiple sclerosis.
Now, the great news about all of this, again, I never talk about anything that can’t be reversed, is that we can reverse it, right? And it’s really learning how to come from that hypervigilant mindset so that the body believes you, and the brain believes you, right? And so that all of these activation processes that you have taught and patterns from childhood can have some new ways of behaving.
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: I call it being in a collaborative relationship between all of your systems instead of a combative one.
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Yeah.
Ari Whitten: So, we have this gut-brain connection, we know that the gut can influence the brain, vice versa. Early life trauma can rewire the gut and the brain together in that gut-brain axis in such a way that people lose their emotional resiliency.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Right.
Ari Whitten: And for, I think in my experience at least a subset of people I would estimate it’s probably at least 25 percent of people with chronic fatigue – I think fall into this category. Where that is actually their primary issue is trauma and stress has rewired their brain into this kind of chronic stress and fatigue.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: And I want you to think in terms of a different visual about rewiring, but actually these little cells going in and cutting away a part. They’re the bridges, the synaptic processes, right, that allow you to go from child limbic system patterns of, “Ohhh,” right? To prefrontal cortex adult, “Oh, I’ve got this. I have a history of resourcing. I remember I was successful at doing this here. I can actually access that part. Okay. Breathe into that. Okay.” You know?
Those processes we’ve been calling rewiring that we can do, create new pathways that – but if you actually have lost the bridges, you know, and there’s a mudslide over the road and you can’t reach from one to the other. Then these people have very low emotional resilience. And so, again, like I said we can build that backup, but it means having to address all aspects of this. Your microbiome, you know, your inflammatory markers, so your food, your lifestyle decisions, how you spend your time. Is it self-care or overwork? Are you sleeping or are you saying, “Nah, I don’t sleep. Now that everybody’s in bed I can work until 2:00 in the morning,” you know? Get up at 5:00 and start again.
Well, we know, you know, research tells us that that’s not going to work. Well, that’s because we have these little carving cells in our brain that are busy undoing, right, anything that is supposed to help bridge. And so, when we get there – I find in my practice, anyway, that it’s people that have reached that point where they’re really seriously worried about their cognitive function that come to see me. And, like I said, the good news is you actually can reverse that, but it takes work. And you can’t do it with a cup of coffee in your hand and no sleep.
Ari Whitten: So, you’ve talked about – you’ve alluded to the ABCs and the 123s.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Yeah.
Ari Whitten: So, let’s say someone’s listening that they’re resonating with everything that you’ve described in their thinking, you know, this sounds like me, and given my personal history of adverse childhood events, traumas, this may be a big factor for me. What would be your sort of top three’ish tips for, you know, practical tips that someone can get started healing these issues?
Dr. Keesha Ewers: So, what I’m going to do is I’m going to add one more little element into this, and then I’ll go right there.
Ari Whitten: Please.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: And that is that when I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis when I was 30, I started working on like the research and diving deep, and how can I figure this out outside of methotrexate and nonsteroidal inflammatory drugs? I’m about to turn 55, so this was 25 years ago. And what I discovered was Ayurvedic Medicine was one of the things I landed on in my research.
And something that they said in that science of 10,000 years ago, the sister science of yoga, was that autoimmune disease is undigested anger. And when I think about chronic fatigue, and I think about the lack of superhuman strength and energy and optimal energy – what I found from this ancient framework of medicine is that if you’re not properly digesting your emotions, and your feelings, and your memories, and your experiences then you’re going to have some trouble.
And so, when we come into this ABC/123 component, it’s the acknowledgment – I use something I call the freedom framework where I talk about the four corners of solving your puzzle are really looking at your environmental toxins. And those can include not just the physical ones we’ve talked about a little bit, but also Epstein–Barr virus and Lyme, but also your thoughts and beliefs, right, and those meanings. And also, your genetic SNPs. And also, leaky gut. And also, past trauma.
And so, working with all of those comes into this ABC/123 component, okay? So, I always say that A is knowing your adverse childhood experiences. That means that you spent some time to really look at this little kid part of you, and say, “Oh, what did you make up about that experience with an undeveloped brain?” You know, that we can go back and look and say, “Hmpf.” And I use myself to track because it’s easy. I had some sexual abuse at the hands of a vice principal when I was ten. And if I go back to that, and I think about the meaning I made up in that experience without a fully developed brain, right, it made sense to the ten-year-old version of myself. But it was definitely linked to my later Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Which by the way I was able to reverse within six months by doing this very thing. I went back and I said, “Oh, my gosh. I made up a meaning that said, the adults in this world that are in charge of children can’t be trusted.” Which was accurate for that little tiny space, right? And that the belief that I created from that was that I have to be perfect to even survive. Because he was telling me it was my fault I was a bad kid. So, I became the behavior that you will put to that belief is your adaptive behavior response, I became a perfect perfectionist. Like I was really good at being perfect. And would drive myself to perfection, right?
Because it was based on survival. And so, it’s unhooking that very intense feeling of I have to do this to survive over, “Oh, nobody really wants a medical provider that isn’t a perfectionist,” by the way, right? And so, it’s like, “Oh, I can turn this on when I want it, and turn it off when I’m parenting or when I’m with my spouse. And it’s not a driving force for survival. There’s a real difference there in energy.
And so, when I was able to land on that and go in and really heal that trauma, it made all of the difference. So, it’s really knowing your adverse childhood experiences doesn’t end with that part of it, it’s also, well, what did you believe about yourself in that moment, and is it still true? Because usually, it’s not, right?
So, what the B is is those beliefs. What are they? What did you associate with that particular time period of your life? We know that if parents get divorced then kids usually blame themselves. So, your parents got divorced, what did you believe about yourself in that moment that you can now look back and say, “Oh, I see,” you know, “I see where you came up with that. And that’s not true anymore.” And then, you reparent that part of you. Give her or him what she needed, right?
And so, that takes you from leaky gut to disease because what you’re doing is you’re powering down the hypervigilant, non-emotional resilient component so that you’re also making your little microglial feel safe, and you’re helping your genetics actually express themselves in a way that is an environment that your system feels it’s safe. So, you don’t have to go into genetic expressions that have to do with famine time period, right?
So, we also know that perceived stress, overwhelm, and chronically feeling like you don’t have enough time or resources. And I don’t have a patient that comes to see me that doesn’t have this going on. Will cause shrinkage in your prefrontal cortex as an adult. So, you just sort of perpetuate this, right? Hurt causes brain damage. And that too can be reversed. You just have to understand that you’ve got to intentionally do it. And it takes practice.
So, it’s one of those things, I think with psychological stuff, people want to have it be one and done. I’ve had so many people come in and say, “Oh, I’ve done so much work around that.” And yet, they have three autoimmune diseases, you know. I say, “Yeah. That’s great. So, maybe we’re at the next layer, right?”
So, it’s really understanding that there’s not a destination called done. You know that life keeps handing you challenges, and then it’s time to go into that next level. You can think of it as a giant video game, right?
The C part of the ABCs is learning how to connect the dots. Connecting the dots between what the data is showing you, you know, what is my energy level? What is my quality of sleep? Can I fall asleep without using something? Do I stay asleep during the night? And do I wakeup refreshed? What’s my libido level? What’s my weight? All of these pieces of data, you know, that we ought to be paying attention to as feedback from our bodies connect the dots between, well, what are you eating; what are you going to sleep; you know, what’s the quality of your relationships; and what should I work on to improve all of that?
So, the 123 then is – people always say, “Well, what’s your protocol, Dr.
Keesha?” And I always say, “Well, I don’t have one because we’re all different.” My protocol is, “While we’re waiting for your data to come back, let’s start with food.” And, you know, it’s the stuff that I’m sure everyone on your event here is already been talking about in terms of foods that promote inflammation, and foods that don’t that are on paper. But then, I usually look at also sometimes everyone’s a little individual with that and I’ve seen people really respond badly to blueberries, you know. Like how hypervigilant are you? And how hypervigilant is your immune system with your food?
And so, I always say – the number 2 in that – we start with food as number 1, number 2 is test don’t guess. Like I said, I really like to do things like genetic testing and looking at adrenals and hormones, and how well you’re breaking down your food and absorbing it. I think that in our society we have a lot of very smart people and they are quite data-driven and it helps to motivate people, I think to look at that and say, “Okay, let’s get on this.”
And then the number 3 is to heal hurt. And that’s what I always call the missing piece of the puzzle, you know. And so, you said easy things, healing your hurt to me, I think it’s as important as brushing your teeth in the morning. As far as like how reflexive I want it to be for people in their lives that if they find themselves getting angry or frustrated or annoyed about anything that they can instantly start tracking that. And start to expand and get more resilient with it.
And the expansion part comes from Buddhist Psychology. Buddhists, many, many thousands of years just sitting around and watching the mind – and have a very elegant and beautiful way of understanding perception. In fact, they’ve labeled 17 levels of perception for anything. Like you look at a brown table in front of me, that registering brown, I went through 17 different processes to get there in my mind. And what they say is that the way you perceive is based on how you’ve always perceived. And so, you create patterns and they just keep repeating themselves like fractals.
And so, they talk about halfway through those 17 steps there’s this place they call the karmic gateway, it’s like I call it the gap. Where you can open it up a little bit if you have some intention and will to do it. And you can look at how you’ve always done it, and do it differently this time. And then, that will create, if you keep practicing it, a new karmic pattern for yourself. So, that then you’ll start perceiving that way.
So, if you’re someone that has always thought the world is out to get you or people can’t be trusted, then you can actually look at that. Like, you should have seen me when I first – before I started doing this work. Going into the airport at TSA, I would get really anxious. And I couldn’t figure it out. Or I know no one likes getting pulled over, but when I was a teenager getting pulled over I would immediately start crying and I was hyperventilating, you know? And it was like, it was because someone in authority, I didn’t trust because of my early patterning. So, when I was able to start working with that, now I can go to the airport with TSA and I’m totally fine. And if I ever get pulled over, I’m totally fine, you know.
And so, I opened that gap a little bit and created a new way of processing that, that wasn’t based on a traumatized ten-year-old kid. And then, it created a new trajectory, for now, I can process it that way all of the time. So, that’s what created. You mentioned it in the bio, the You Unbroken program. And that’s what it is, it’s helping people develop emotional resilience, and also some autogenic training to help them really get in touch with the nervous system and the brain function of stress. So, they can retrain. It’s one of the things – why I started studying Buddhist Psychology is because they are so good at training the brain.
Ari Whitten: And so, I know you have the You Unbroken program for everybody who is listening, who’s thinking, who’s resonating with everything that Dr. Keesha described here about past trauma, and if you think that might be an issue for you, I strongly encourage you to go explore this. Obviously, there’s more to healing trauma than can possibly be done in a 35minute interview.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Yes.
Ari Whitten: But having said that, if you could leave people with one practical tip that they can do on a daily basis? Maybe some little piece of your You Unbroken program that you can teach in a few minutes right now. What would that be?
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Yeah. I alluded to it a second ago — of I’ll usually say, “Watch your language for about 24 hours.” And, you know, really, your language of how you speak inside your mind. Not necessarily what’s coming out and I’m not talking about, “Shit, damn, and Hell.” I’m really talking about how you phrase a perception for yourself. Like, I can look at the table that I’m sitting at right now, and there’s a big dent in it from a move that we had. And I can see the beauty of the table, or I can actually look at that and go, “Oh, man, that move, what a pain. I can’t even believe it. This table that I love and it got dented,” you know?
And so, it’s a way of really tracking how are you perceiving? Because actually everything I talked about really hinges on how you perceive, because the neurochemicals that are released from your brain in response to your perception are what set everything up, right? Whether or not you’re going to have cortisol released from your adrenals, or whether you’re going to be warm yummy, mmm, let’s rest and connect, and rest and digest, you know? And let’s just swim in the yummy hot tub of love that this world offers, you know?
If you’re not in that space, quite often during the day then you’re making yourself sick. And so, the very first piece of this is you really need to track your language and how you perceive. And like I said, there’s those 17 steps, there’s a little gap right around number eight, and if you can just take one moment and take a deep breath. Breathe into your belly, get that vagus nerve going, right? Right there and just stop, and then try it again. “Oh, this brown table, ah, so many family events that we’ve had sitting around this. Oh, children growing up and beautiful holiday meals and love that’s been shared,” right?
When I can think about that in my body and feel it as opposed to, “Oh, this dent, I can’t believe it.” You know? It’s so different.
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: And so, what you’re doing is you’re training yourself and we think about – and the way that I describe this is that we think about ourselves as being passive observers of our nervous system. And the way that I talk about it is like if you’re in a grocery store with a small child and you’re kid goes – takes their arm and is just like whacking all of the cans off of the aisle, having a great time. Running down and tearing everything off the shelves, right? And you look at your kid and you go, “Oh, stop that, okay,” you know? And they just keep on going, they’re actually training themselves to not be able to be in a social environment in a way that’s going to give them a positive reward.
So, instead, you would take your child and you would say, “This is not how we would behave in a grocery store. This is how we behave in a grocery store.” You know, and you want to actually interfere with the pattern. And have to do that with ourselves. We can’t just look at ourselves being anxious and say, “Oh, you need to stop that, okay?” You know, you’ve got to go in and go, “Okay. So, here’s where this started.” This is actually how we do this, and we can do it better. I get it that when you were five that was the really smart way to do it. You were so smart, and man, you helped us survive because of the way that you did that.
But we’ve got a new that we can do this now. Let me train you, let me teach you how to do it. I’ve got your back. I love you. This is not bad anymore. You’re not in danger, you know? So, you’re taking that gap and you’re opening it and you’re creating this new perceptual way of being. And you – the only way you can do it is just by observing yourself. And that means like really tracking your language, tracking your thought processes, how often are you coming up with a victim stance? A can’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t, how come they won’t, how come this always happens to me, right? Into something that resembles more appreciation and gratitude and resources of love that you can drop into and feel them in your body and where they exist. And you actually can go there as often as you want, once you’ve really noticed it.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Beautifully said. Dr. Keesha, this was awesome. I love that last little tip you gave. So, simple, it’s like it seems like such a simple thing, but if you apply it on a daily basis, so, so powerful.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Right.
Ari Whitten: Thank you so much for this awesome presentation.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Thank you.
Ari Whitten: I loved it. It’s really been a pleasure. For everybody listening who is interested in learning more about your work and maybe doing your program to help unresolved trauma where should they go to learn more about that?
Dr. Keesha Ewers: drkeesha.com.
Ari Whitten: Perfect, awesome. Thank you so much for your time.
Dr. Keesha Ewers: Thank you.
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How the brain remembers trauma (12:42)
Overcoming HURT with the ABC and the 123 (17:10)