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Courageous Yoga Chick

Overcoming PTSD and Self-Injury Through Yoga

Life Before Yoga – Read This First

“My name is Jennifer, and I’m an alcoholic.” The words rolled off my tongue so smoothly, you would’ve thought I had been sitting in AA meetings for years. The truth was, it was my very first meeting, and I was so scared that I was literally shaking. It was August 1, 2012. It is a date that will forever be engrained into my mind.

I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to be “sober” at that moment, but I also knew that I had to do something to escape the hell that was in my head. I had spent the previous year trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, fighting with my husband, and drinking. Now drinking wasn’t anything new in my life. I drank for the first time at the ripe old age of 12 and that phenomena of craving that they talk about in AA meetings was instant. Sitting in the Virgin Islands with my parents, waiting for them to walk away so I could have “just one more sip” of my mom’s daiquiri. Ha! If you have ever spent time with an alcoholic, you know that there is no such thing as “just one more sip.”

As I sat in that very first AA meeting (12 years after taking my first sip of alcohol), I reflected on my drinking. I had spent most of my teenage years drinking and drugging, but once I went to college, I tried to keep things mostly together and only drank occasionally. Of course every time I drank, it was always excessive. Gradually I drank more and more frequently and by 24, I was sitting in the rooms of AA wondering if I really needed to be sitting in this circle of crazy women. But I ended up having a lot more in common with those crazy women than I originally thought, and they told me to keep coming back….so I did.

Unfortunately, drinking wasn’t my only addiction. Believe it or not, most people in AA don’t fall into that “pure alcoholic” category – many of us have other addictions. Mine just happens to be one of the most taboo topics out there, even in 2016! Self-injury. Yep. That’s right. I’m a “cutter.” Ugh – “cutter” – a word that makes me cringe. It isn’t who I am, it’s what I do (or did) to cope with the emotions that I don’t want to feel. In all honesty, I’ve been self-injuring since I was just a kid, maybe 7 or 8 years old. It started with wrist-banging and hitting myself, and by the time I was 14 I had started cutting when life became too overwhelming. 14 years later, it’s still an addiction that I struggle with. But every day I go without it gets a little bit easier. Today is day 217 by the way…but who’s counting?

There are a number of reasons that people self-injure or drink or use drugs. For me, it is about numbing. It has always been about numbing. The things that I have been through in my life were truly tragic. I am a survivor of severe sexual abuse that lasted from the time I was about 5 years old until I was 11; sexual abuse that I never really disclosed to anyone until I was 27. In addition to that, I witnessed some pretty intense domestic violence growing up. Alcoholism runs in my family. I also grew up in a household with minimal to no emotional support. I am not writing this to get your sympathy. I am writing this because all of these circumstances and experiences factor into why I have “Complex” PTSD. This blog will hopefully help other people who have had similar experiences.

I have spent the last 15 years of my life in and out of therapy (and done some pretty intensive dialectical behavior therapy); I’ve been on various medications for depression and anxiety;  and I’ve used a variety of coping skills, healthy and unhealthy. In 2015, I started seeing a therapist whom I would disclose all of the details of my traumatic experiences to. In order to help me through the process, she suggested we incorporate yoga into our work (she was going through yoga teacher training at the time). Through yoga, I have learned to thrive. I have learned what it means to truly find inner-peace, love myself, and show compassion. I am different today because of yoga. I want this blog to showcase my experiences and help others who struggle with PTSD. 

 

 

Image from Quotesgram.com

 

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Reflecting On The Last Year

TimeHop reminded me that one year ago, I celebrated 320 days without cutting. The longest I had ever been since starting at 14. Here’s the post that I wrote on day 320. I celebrated day 320 with restorative yoga, cheesecake, and my first and only pair of lululemon leggings. 

Today is day 685. My life is very different today than it was a year ago. For starters, I am now legally separated from my husband. I live with my cousin. My trauma work is mostly finished. My PTSD Symptoms do not feel as dibilitating. I don’t go to therapy twice a week anymore. I’m a certified yoga teacher. I value my life and know that, even on the days when I really do want to cut, I am worth more. 

In the past year, I have discovered that I deserve self-care. When I utilize my skills, reach out to my support system, and take time to rest and restore, I can be ok. In the last 365 days, I’ve gotten through yoga teacher training, crazy work stuff, trauma memories, my sister almost dying, my husband’s bankruptcy, and separating from my husband without cutting. I am strong and courageous. And today, I believe that. Even on my worst days, I know that I don’t ever need to cut again if I don’t want to. 

I have so much gratitude this morning. I am grateful for my therapist. She has worked so hard to help me get to this point, and without her, I probably would not have ever done the work I needed to do. I am grateful for my yoga teachers. Most will never know that their classes, wisdom, and love kept me from cutting myself. I am grateful for my friends. The people who reach out to me because they haven’t heard from me in a while or read a blog post and want to make sure I’m ok: those friends keep my thoughts from spiraling. I also have so much gratitude for Thai Massage and the partnership I have with that instructor. She is one of the few people who have seen me in such a vulnerable state. Her compassion in those moments makes it possible for me to continue to do the hard work on my trauma stuff, and continue to grow and heal. I am grateful for my readers. While I don’t know most of you personally, your love and comments are always so supportive and uplifting. You all bring so much light into my life. 

365 days ago, I still struggled on a regular basis. At 685, I have so many more good days than bad. People tell me all the time that I look so much happier. And this time I feel it, all the way down to my core; I am ok. 

Not Ok Today

I’ve spent the past two nights with my ex trying to get his mess in the garage cleaned up so that we can list the house for sale. I turn into a totally different person when I am there. Being with him sucks all of the life out of me. Today I feel hollow and numb. A razor blade looks good today. 

And this is how I know I made the right choice. 

There is a lack of respect for boundaries when I’m with him. It makes all of my trauma stuff so much worse. I’m having flashbacks and nightmares again, just after two days of being in the house with him. The first night, he instigated sex. I said I didn’t think we should, but what I have to say never matters. It was awful. I don’t think I stayed present for any of it.

There is a lack of connection between us. We have nothing in common. We don’t talk about anything. Being in a house together is like being with a total stranger who doesn’t even speak the same language as you. 

I know that the solution is to just not stay there anymore. That is ideal. But if I don’t stay there some, the house will never be clean enough to put on the market. I feel trapped. For the first time in several weeks, I am not ok today.

 

 

Image from https://m.imgur.com/gallery/QOqeZ

Do You Want To Stay There?: Thai Massage Number 8

After last week’s Thai Massage, where I dissociated for hours and couldn’t pull myself back, I decided that I really needed to have a second chance with chimes. So, just over a week since my last session and I’m back on the mat. 

Last week I spoke with my therapist about Thai Massage Number 7. I told her about all of the dissociation and how I couldn’t bring myself back, and how I couldn’t find the words to tell my instructor that I was struggling. My therapist suggested that my instructor and I work together so that I verbalize what I’m feeling or what’s coming up for me in the moment. This is suppose to help prevent the Broca’s Area from shutting down. Prior to today’s Thai session, I spoke to my instructor about this and she agreed that it would be a good idea.

Our session began with a brief discussion about what the session would look like, the talking and mindfulness approach that we would be adding in this time, and chimes. I was anxious for the session. I was anxious for chimes. 

My instructor started on my feet. A few snapshots of trauma memories surfaced, but nothing intense. I practiced verbalizing what I was feeling: tingling in my toes, pressure in my ankle, etc. She worked up my legs. The opening sensation started. She must have noticed because she asked me what I was feeling. “The opening sensation that I’m not supposed to feel.” She replied by telling me that maybe it isn’t that I’m “not supposed to feel it,” maybe it’s more of “I don’t want to feel it.” I pondered that for a minute. Is this a normal thing, I thought. Do most women feel that sensation when they’re in these types of poses?



As my instructor worked on my legs and into my thighs and hips, I could feel the pressure. I always get nervous during this part. I could feel the anxiety like a tornado in my stomach. She pressed on my thighs and instantly I’m in the woods. We’re outside playing capture the flag. He runs after me and pins me down. I won’t tell him where my flag is. I dissociate. I watch as he tortures her with a stick. She never tells him where the flag is. I hear my instructor’s voice. It is distant. She asked what was coming up for me, but I couldn’t tell her; I couldn’t verbalize the details. I did find a few words to give a vague description. It was enough to keep me from staying stuck in the past. 

As she moved to the other side, another memory came up. Army men. I can’t give the details; not in a blog, not in a Thai session, not to anyone other than my therapist. Again though, my instructor did a really good job of cuing me to practice mindfulness and stay in the present moment.

Next it was time for chimes. I felt better about it this time. I was in a better place when we started. I laid on my stomach as she worked my feet and backs of my legs. When she got to my back, the chimes started. I instantly started to drift away. Her hands pressed firmly into my back as she cued my breathing. I tried so hard to cling to that feeling. My instructor worked equally as hard to cue my breathing, ground me, and help keep me present. It definitely worked better than the time before, but it was still tough. I felt little again. I could hear my instructor talking, trying to anchor me to the present moment. I’m on the porch and all I feel is him hurting me. My body is numb. I’m shaking. Please stop; please don’t hurt me. My brain was 6 years old again. Suddenly I was taken over by this huge sense of guilt: it’s my fault; I asked for this; I deserved this. He hurt me because I’m bad. I try to focus on her hands pressing on my back. My body melts into the floor. I fade in and out of the present moment.

It was time for a break. In child’s pose, my instructor grounded me by pressing on my back. I didn’t cry. I didn’t dissociate. I took several cleansing breaths instead. I’m safe.

Then it was time for arms. I found it really difficult to stay focused on the present moment. I couldn’t feel my instructor pressing on my arms. I was still numb. I never really thought about how difficult it is to feel things in or on your body when you’re in this dissociative, flashback state. But today, as my instructor walked her fingers up and down my arms and asked me to describe what I was feeling, I couldn’t. I couldn’t feel anything. I tried to watch her press on my arm, hoping that would help me make the connection. It didn’t. Finally she started describing what parts of her hands were touching my arm. This was what I needed to come back, even if it was just for a moment.

We moved to the other arm. Somehow in the process of changing from one side to another, my body filled with fear. I’m so little and scared, and he hurts me so much. I try to stay present, but I drift again. As soon as my instructor places her hands on my arm, a piece of me feels safe. It felt as if half of me were stuck in the past, but the other half was indeed remaining present. I know that I didn’t stay present for the entire time she worked on my right arm. She asked me what I felt or where I was. I am little. Her next question caught me off guard, but it didn’t really register with me until tonight: 

Do you want to stay there?

My first thought was: it’s not a choice. 

However, that didn’t answer the question. The answer is no, I don’t want to stay little. When I’m little, the whole world is loud and scary. When I’m little, my insides hurt and burn. When I’m little, I’m alone. I would much rather be in the present moment, where I am safe and have choices. In the present moment, I have support; more specifically, in that moment I had the support of my yoga instructor. When I was little, I had no one. The world is a scary place when you are on your own at six years old, living with the disgust, shame, and pain of sexual abuse. No one cared. But as an adult, I am not alone anymore. And while the disgust, shame, and pain still exists, it lessens more and more throughout my trauma work. 
Our session ended with some shoulder and neck work, followed by savasana. When it was time to leave, I felt like I had accomplished something today. I know I need a lot more work on chimes. However, being able to talk about things as they came up, being able to talk about my five senses in the moment, was huge for me. Tonight I have so much gratitude for my yoga instructor and her willingness to work with me. Her attunement and excellent cuing created a safe place for me to explore the trauma, but not get stuck there for hours or days. 

Tonight, I am exhausted. I skipped yoga and took a 3 hour nap instead. My body needed the rest. It still surprises me how draining all trauma work can be, even when it’s in the form of a massage.

Free From His Grips

I’ve been a little slack on my writing lately. This is partially because I am waiting until all documents are signed for my separation before sharing much about it. I would hate for my blog to be used against me.

I also haven’t been writing as much because I am doing really, really well. It has been four weeks since I officially moved out and it is amazing how much less stressed I feel. My anxiety numbers are low almost all the time. My trauma stuff has leveled out again and is manageable. Financially, I am not stressed out at all. Overall, I’m doing great! 

My therapist told me this week that it sounds like I am ready to shed the identity of a trauma victim. I am doing so well. I don’t want or need to be seen as this girl who struggles. That’s such a big step! It is like I can see all of my work these past two years paying off. I feel free from the grips of my abuser for the first time in 23 years. 

I Don’t Want To Be Six Anymore: Thai Massage Number 7

Today’s Thai Massage had a very specific purpose: wind chimes.

I talked to my instructor earlier in the week to ask if she could play music that included chimes so that I could work specifically on pairing that sound with positive touch. My sexual abuse memories are split into three categories (touching, objects, rape), spanning from age 4 or 5 until age 11.  The very first time objects were used, I was 6 – kindergarten. This memory is “monumental;” it begins the “second category” of traumatic experiences, where that type of abuse lasted until I was about 9. When I think about the memory, I see it. I see my younger self on the veranda with my abuser. It is spring or summer. There are these big wind chimes. As the abuse begins, the whole world fades away, and all I hear are the wind chimes. 

I didn’t really have a plan for today’s massage, other than to address the wind chimes. Thankfully, my instructor is pretty on top of things, and she recommended we play our normal music during the parts of the massage that are typically triggering for me, and then play the chimes when things are usually more settled, like when she works on my back. This sounded like a really fantastic plan. In theory, it should have worked.

She started massaging my feet. The sessions always begin this way. Today, something new came up for me. My brain was stuck in a loop of memories with my stepmom. Positive memories. I could see her making my lunch, brushing my hair, reading to me, hugging me…. I filled with anger. Why wasn’t I worth protecting? Your son tortured me for so many years and you were just so oblivious. Why didn’t you see it? Why didn’t you care? As the massage continued, that anger towards my stepmom evolved to anger towards myself. Why didn’t I tell? Why didn’t I take care of myself? 

My instructor worked her way up my legs, targeting some of the sensations we have worked on before. I felt myself slip. As my worst memories came up, the pain radiated throughout my body. This isn’t real, I thought. I am not little anymore. The pain, the opening sensation, it’s not real today. I am safe. My instructor is safe. She’s not going to hurt me. I tried so hard to cling to that script in my head. But every time, the memories took over. I’m in the woods; the leaves crunch under my palms. I’m little; we’re playing with dinosaurs. I’m in the garage on top of the box; I’m afraid I’m going to fall. Over and over the memories consumed me. I couldn’t stay present.

In my last Thai Massage, my entire purpose was self care. I successfully pushed down all of the trauma memories that came up in that session. Either that, or I talked nonstop to prevent the memories from surfacing at all. This session was so incredibly different because even if I had wanted to, I would not have been able to keep them at bay. At one point, my instructor and I were talking about camping and surfing, and I wanted so much to hear what she had to say, but before I could prevent it, I dissociated. Her words became muffled as the entire room faded away. I am little again. I can’t even find the words to tell her that I can’t listen to her right now. 

After what was a very intense first half for me, it was time to work on pairing touch with chimes. I rolled onto my stomach so that she could massage my calf muscles, work up my legs, and into my back. As soon as the chimes started, I felt it. There is a point of dissociation for me that is almost “deeper” than normal. I only get there occasionally, maybe once every few months or so. When the chimes started today, I was there. I could only stay present for a few seconds at a time. During those seconds, I noticed that my arms and hands were shaking uncontrollably. I could smell the trees and the flowers outside of my dad’s house. The room was now the veranda. Despite laying on my stomach, it felt as if I were on my back again. I could feel my feet pressing into the wicker couch, as my knees were bent up. I tried so hard to stay in the present moment. I tried desperately to grasp ahold of every mindfulness strategy I had ever learned. What is touching what? My instructor is touching the back of my calf. One leg touches the floor, one leg touches her leg. I dissociated again. I am not sure how much time went by before I returned to the present. I remember my instructor talking to me, but I cannot tell you what she said. I remember trying to find my tip tap fingers. I remember trying to find my breath. I remember gasping for air after what was probably several seconds of not breathing. What is happening to me? Why can’t I do this? Why can’t I stay present.

As quickly as it began, this part of the massage ended. I still am not sure if it actually went quickly, or if I just dissociated so much that I lost enough time to make it feel faster than it really was. It was time for a break. I got into child’s pose; I knew that I was not ok. I am six years old. I was so little. That’s too little for bad things like this to happen. It’s not ok. I’m not ok. My instructor came over and pressed on my back. I wanted to cry, and I did a little, but not enough. I couldn’t find the feelings. I was numb. This is the level of dissociation that is scary for me. I get to a place that is so deep, I become so far removed, I literally feel nothing. Once I’m there, I cannot pull myself back… not without self-injuring.

It was time for my instructor to work on my shoulders. I could barely make out her words. The entire room was so distant. I couldn’t pull myself back. I am six. He hurts me so much. No one cares enough to stop it, not even me. I was stuck. I didn’t make it very long upright before finding myself in a ball on the floor. And then the tears came. The real ones. The tears that I couldn’t make end. I am important. I didn’t deserve to be hurt like that. It’s not my fault. I tried to stop crying, but I couldn’t. Instead I made my way into a child’s pose and just cried. I sat up and my instructor came over and sat with me. She asked me what I needed. I didn’t know the answer; I didn’t know how she could possibly help me find my way back to the present moment. I am six and all I really need is for someone to hug me and tell me that it’s not my fault. Essentially, that is what I asked for. I asked my instructor to please just hug me. As she wrapped her arms around me, I felt every bit of six years old. The tears fell as my whole body felt loved.

When I finally felt ready to continue, we returned to shoulders. I still found myself in this dissociated state. I couldn’t get grounded. It seemed like we went right into savasana, and that was it. I vaguely recall her massaging my scalp, but mostly, I just remember the exhaustion that I felt. It consumed me.

After savasana, I sat up and said namaste like always. I still wasn’t present though. I couldn’t get myself back to 29 year old me. I was stuck in age six, with all of the things that are scary. My instructor and I walked out together. When the sunlight and fresh air hit me, it was overwhelming. I could feel the shaking start again as my five senses tried to process the world. I got into my car and there was a train passing by a few streets down. It was so loud that I covered my ears. I can’t take the noise. Why is everything so loud? The hot tears stung my eyes again as I felt the dissociation looming.

I don’t want to be six anymore, it’s too scary. 

 

 

 

Breathe Into The Sticky Parts

Last night I went to my first yoga class in 11 days. Normally I have my daughter on Friday nights and can’t go. I asked my ex to watch her and he agreed, but only if I paid him 🙄 She must have been good for him for that hour and a half because he ended up not asking for money, and I didn’t offer it when I picked her up. 

I walked into yoga class feeling relatively positive. My favorite yoga instructor was teaching. I was eager for this class. I needed it. 

Physically, class was challenging for me. I found myself having a difficult time figuring out how to engage some of my muscle groups again. Apparently this is a common thing for trauma survivors. For example, in triangle, I couldn’t figure out how to engage anything. It wasn’t until the very end of the pose on the second side that I finally figured out how to engage my core. I never did figure it out in side plank, even after four of them. I tried not to get frustrated with myself, but it was hard. As a 200-hour yoga teacher, I “should” be able to engage my damn muscles in a side plank! 

Thankfully, this class was everything I needed mentally and emotionally. Due to the stress these past three weeks, I’ve been having more flashbacks, dissociations, and nightmares. I’ve been disconnected with my body (probably the cause for that last paragraph). My favorite yoga teacher does such an amazing job making class “trauma sensitive.” She started by telling us that we may hear some people come in late and if we hear the door, that’s what it is. I heard the door open and I felt myself become very alert, but I was able to quickly settle back into my child’s pose. Class began with her setting an intention for us to be “breath-centered.” Throughout the practice, she brought us back to our breath. Linking my breath with movement was what I needed. 

During class, as we were holding a pose, and I was trying to figure out how to engage my muscles, the teacher told us to breathe deep. She said that if we breathe deep, we get down all the way to the “sticky parts,” the parts that are difficult – those are the parts that need our breath the most. In yoga today, I felt my breath reach all of those “sticky” places. In my first downward facing dog, I felt the tears fill up my eyes as my breath stretched from the tip of my fingers, up my back, down my legs, and through my toes. Yoga has never felt so good. 

Despite my frustration with engaging my muscles, yoga was exactly what I needed. I was able to really connect with my breath. For the first time in almost two weeks, I felt “normal.” And last night, I had no nightmares or trauma sensations. Yoga helped me be back in my body, instead of stuck in the past. I have so much gratitude for my yoga practice and my teachers. I’m looking forward to a really great weekend!

Happy Friday, Friends

So I was anxious about therapy today, but it ended up being all ok. Turns out, despite being stressed right now, I’m doing pretty great. I have a plan in place for self-care these next few days. I’ve accepted that it is normal to be stressed right now. And I am really looking forward to my weekend.

My therapist validated that I am doing well right now, and that my decisions these past few weeks were good decisions. I think I smiled more in this therapy session that any other. I even got to play around with a restorative shoulder stand, which was pretty cool (but not very restorative). 

My daughter and I are spending the weekend together, and I’m excited about that. I am looking forward to another week of separation, time with friends, work, growth, healing, yoga, and Thai Massage. 

Happy Friday, Friends! 

>Stress = >Trauma

Therapy today. 

I know it will be a difficult session. It will mostly all revolve around trauma stuff. I’m anxious. I know we need to address it. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to get stuck in the past. 

I think all of the stress that comes from moving out, separating from my husband, trying to figure out if I want to make things work… it’s all hitting me hard. And that stress manifests in the form of trauma memories. 

Fortunately, my ex is watching my daughter tonight for a little bit so I can go to yoga. I’ve not had a yoga class in 12 days. I need to go. I need to feel that mind-body-breath connection; I need to help myself stay in the present moment. 

I Am Not A Trauma Victim

My therapist recently participated in a podcast for yoga teachers where she talks about the benefits of yoga for people with PTSD and how to effectively teach yoga to that population. She did another podcast back in March that was similar. This one was a little different, or maybe I received it differently…. it talked more about the symptoms of PTSD and what that might look like in a yoga class. 

As always, she did a fantastic job of describing what it is like to live with PTSD. When I listened to the first podcast, I cried because I felt like she 100% understood what it is like for me as a trauma survivor. This second podcast was different though. I found myself getting angry. I wasn’t angry at her or her content; I was angry that I am grouped into that PTSD category. 

I don’t want to be seen as this person who can’t regulate their emotions or get out of their sympathetic nervous system. I don’t want to be identified by my PTSD symptoms. I want to be normal. I don’t want to be in a yoga class and have a teacher recognize when I have a flashback or when I come in dysregulated. I don’t want “special treatment” or to be known as that girl. I am a person. A really awesome person. I am all for educating people about PTSD. However, today I realized that educating others about PTSD means that I am now at risk for being judged, or for being seen as a “trauma victim.” The reality is that I am so much more than a trauma victim. What I need from yoga teachers is to see me for who I am, not for what I have been through. 

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