“I became what I am today, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975…That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past…. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.”

— Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

I first read this quote in the beginning of Chapter One: Lessons from Vietnam Veterans, in the book The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk.

I have a confession to make. I read three chapters of this book and it sat on my towel shelf in my bathroom for the better part of two years, during the pandemic, when I had plenty of time to read it. It made me feel stupid. I had to reread many parts of it and talk to myself to figure out some of the concepts within.

And, I’ll be honest, I distinctly remember referring to it at first as “a dirt sandwich of a book.”

DO NOT let this deter you. Take small bites of it and pretend it’s chocolate.

My Journey

I have had psoriasis for about 17 years. I got it at a time in my life when I was working overtime often and was not in good place in my recovery. I clearly remember that I would feel the stress and frustration build up inside me like a pot of water about to boil over.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a position where we never have enough time, money, love, rest, or freedom, and we need to stop and take care of ourselves, but we don’t. 

It started with patches on my elbows, and then large patches all over my body. I saw a dermatologist who offered me creams that burned my skin. I slept in the warm water of my bathtub so I could get some rest. No matter what I tried, I could not heal. I switched doctors, tried new meds. At best I was clear of it for six months before the meds stopped working. I have tried every homeopathic remedy, including making my own (stinky) lotion, and drinking a cup of uncultured goat’s milk twice a day. I feel like I have left no stone unturned on my wellness journey. It really couldn’t be as simple as releasing my trauma and rewiring my brain. But you know what, that is the one thing I haven’t tried.

It took me a long time to get through the book, but I finally did. And let me tell you: I thought I had tried everything.

But this book? It’s a new way of thinking. Perhaps it’s time to suspend our disbelief for a while and see what’s possible before saying nothing is.

Trauma: The Body Keeps the Score

The first chapter focuses on the origin story of that dark passenger turned inward, trauma. While many of us couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment in time when we developed a trauma response, we most definitely can remember parts of the trauma itself. The reactions we have when triggered make those memories very vivid. The physiological response to trauma is Van Der Kolk’s focus of study. He provides evidence that anxiety, depression, PTSD, lower the immune response and make us susceptible to an overactive immune response or illness.

How can we retrain our brains so that our fight or flight response is less reactive?

Dr. Van Der Kolk tells us the story of when he worked with the VA as a staff psychiatrist. He began speaking with Vietnam combat veterans at a time when the mental health community was in the beginning stages of understanding P.T.S.D.

During his time with the VA, he witnessed firsthand how many of the veterans he met with were stuck in their trauma, and full of rage. One veteran he made note of was, despite being a functional, successful lawyer with a family, stuck in a cycle of escapism. He would leave to ride his motorcycle instead of being with friends and family. He regularly struggled with anxiety, leading him to sleep on the couch after drinking himself to sleep.

A Workbook to Apply the Lessons

Along with the book itself, a resource I’ve gotten a lot of use out of is the accompanying workbook published by Robin Reads and available on Amazon. I like the way the workbook breaks the book down so it’s easier to get through. I’m loving it so far; it changes a heavy, academic text into an easily digestible tool. Reads successfully manages to condense the information while maintaining the integrity and information in each chapter.

This is also an important tool in my daily life as I work with peers.

When I prepare the material for working with peers, I know how important it is to know my audience. This was one of the main challenges; I had to know my guests, as well as their triggers. I would recommend reading through the material well before presenting it, and err on the side of caution with potentially triggering material. Don’t forget: our utmost concern should be maintaining a safe space for our peers so they can get the most out the interaction as possible.

Whole-Body Wellness

As we do with our peers, I made a wellness plan for myself for my skin. I focused on one small change at a time, starting with replacing my negative self-talk with more positive affirmations about my breath. I plan to care less about wearing long sleeves through the summer heat. I’ve starting reminding myself that many people have differences in their skin that can’t be fixed in five minutes, which helps me be resilient and feel less wounded when someone mentions my skin. I’m also practicing setting boundaries with people when they mention my skin in a derogatory manner.

One of the questions I ask my guests when we are going through this material is “has your physician ever suggested wellness tools to try to combat your physical illness?” I’m always struck at how commonplace it is for the peers I work with to seek medical assistance, but have never been given wellness tools for their chronic physical illnesses.

Coincidence or not, I’ve noticed recently that my skin is flaring less and feels healthier. It’s so freeing to stop hating something about myself, rather, as my younger friends would say, “embracing the suckiness of the situation”.

Tiffany Anderson is the Manager of Life Connections Peer Recovery Center in Dewitt, Iowa. She has been managing the center Since January 2021. Tiffany enjoys writing poetry, blogging, and short stories. She also has performed stand-up comedy. She is passionate about providing Peer Support to her guests and increasing awareness of Peer Support and how it can benefit everyone! She lives in Maquoketa with her two Chihuahuas, Poncho and Susie. 


  • Jean Stone
    Posted June 20, 2023 1:14 pm 0Likes

    Thank you for this, I just ordered my copy of both the book and workbook. Love and Light to you forever and always!!!

  • Sara Knox
    Posted June 20, 2023 9:48 am 0Likes

    I am so grateful you wrote this, Tiffany! Your story is really powerful, and I’m glad you get to share it with all the people you serve!

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