Before I left for a three-month stint on a BMW S1000RR, the fastest production bike on the planet, I defined myself by the words on my business card. My working life defined me. Completely. My whole identity—my purpose, my reason for being, my value to the world—was inextricably tied to my job.
On the inside, I felt like a fraud, but on the outside, my business card told a different story. My title was my validation. It opened doors, gave me credibility, enabled me to be measured and to be recognised. It told a powerful story of success and achievement—of who I desperately needed the world to see me as. I was my business card, and without it, I was nothing. It didn't take many days of being alone on the road for that identity to start unravelling.
By day four, I was heading home from an early morning run when I passed two RVs parked in a pullout, where their owners had enjoyed a spectacular view of the lake overnight. By the time I arrived, they were sitting peacefully in fold-out chairs, breathing in the view and the morning, their hands wrapped around huge steaming mugs of coffee. Sucker that I am for coffee first thing in the morning, I slowed down to a trot on the off chance they had a fresh pot brewing.
The plan worked. Within minutes, they'd pulled up a chair, and I was sitting—coffee in hand—sharing the world with three beautiful fellow gypsies.
For nearly two hours, we sat in the sun together—trading stories, trading lives, trading dreams. I was stunned by their openness and their willingness to let a complete stranger into their world. They didn't know anything about me. We didn't talk about my “history." I wasn't my achievements, I was just me—at that point in time, a wild, smelly Aussie out running on the banks of Kootenay Lake who happened to drop in for coffee and a chat. I didn't need to be anything or anyone else. Just me. And it was perfect.
Some Stories Are Harder to Let Go of Than Others
The beauty of being on a bike for hours is that it gives you time to reflect. To work things through. But when there's just you inside your helmet, it's easy to play the same tape over and over in your head—a conversation that you've had or you wished you'd had, a cutting remark that keeps biting you, a smack you wish you'd given. That thought or emotion keeps looping back again and again and again.
The trouble with looping is that it keeps pulling you backwards. On day twenty-five, that's where I was—continually kicking myself for dropping my emotional bundle so spectacularly the day before, when I had almost made the decision at Mt Baker to give up and go home.
My internal dialogue was relentless. The only thing that stopped it was taking a corner. Loop, loop, loop—oh, tight right-hander—loop, loop—hold on, sharp left. Man, how did you let yourself spiral so completely out of control? What the hell is wrong with you?
But it served no purpose.
I remembered an untested technique one of my teachers, Ross, had taught me to short-circuit looping: stop, disengage, remove the emotional commitment. Brilliant! I gave it a shot. Every time I found myself looping, I physically put my hand up to say “stop" (I had to be careful it wasn't in the middle of a corner at the time), and then I mentally saw myself pulling a plug out of the wall so that I was physically disengaging myself from the thought and emotion.
As I did so, I made a conscious decision to let go of the story. It took a while—OK, nearly three hours—but every time it resurfaced, I went back to stop, disengage, remove the emotional commitment. Slowly, slowly, I emerged out of the rabbit hole. And I remembered, in stopping the story, to be kind to myself. I'd gotten myself into a black place, and sure I was still a little battered and bruised, but continually beating myself up wasn't going to help.
So I chose to let it go. And somewhere between Snohomish and Skykomish (yep, they're real places!), I felt the weight of judgement fall off my shoulders and bounce onto the road behind me.
Letting Judgement Go
Naturally, I didn't completely learn to let go of judgement—of myself or others—in one day. On day forty-six, as I loaded my bike, Voodoo, a young guy in his late thirties packed his Harley beside us. Not your typical Harley rider for once—a cool, sharply dressed guy with a buzz cut and not an ounce of leather, tattoos, or bandannas in sight. It's funny (or it's sad) how we (OK, I) jump to make quick judgements. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him and instantly thought, “Yep, accountant pretending
to be a wild boy, riding his Harley to escape actuarial boredom."
When am I ever going to learn?
We shared stories as we loaded, and within ten minutes, we'd stopped talking and had moved to hugging as he cried. Six months ago, his best friend had contracted cancer, and my new friend had nursed him until he'd died in his arms. Just a few weeks ago. He was out riding his Harley, trying to clear his head and to pull himself together.
I wept with him. There was nothing I could say or do to take the pain away. All I could do was hold space for him in his anguish. As if to reinforce the power of time on a bike to change our stories, a few days later I met Dennis—an older guy from the UK who'd shipped his bike out from England and had been riding for seven months. There I was, all smug from having ridden from British Columbia, while he'd ridden in from Alaska and had camped the whole way.
He had a courageous story. His only son had been killed in Afghanistan five years ago, and he was riding to reconcile with his loss. Despite this, Dennis radiated such excitement and exhilaration, continually looking for the next adventure in life. His bike was painted in camouflage and was completely covered with photos and small mementoes from his son's life. It was a celebration of the beautiful son he'd lost, and of life—a constant reminder that life was precious and he needed to live it.
Dennis was such a powerful example of consciously changing your story. I'm not sure how I could you ever turn the raw loss of a child into something positive and empowering. But Dennis did. After spending years in grief and in blackness, he'd decided to change his story into something meaningful and compelling.
You Are Not Your Story
Ultimately, the connections I made with people as I rode reminded me again and again that there was so much more to me than my professional identity. None of the people I'd met on the road had known my history. None of them were aware of what I'd achieved or accumulated. None of them cared about my business card, my title, my role.
On the road, that meant nothing. The only thing that mattered was who I was—right then and there, in that moment of time.
What mattered was how I engaged with the world—how I connected with these inspiring, captivating people. How I chose to show up. People who didn't know the warrior or the superhero in me liked me anyway. How's that for a surprise? They liked me for just being me. It was one of the most profound lessons I received from my epic journey on Voodoo; that I could be comfortable in my own skin, show up as I was, and still be appreciated for who I am..and that I am perfect—just as I am.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."