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. 



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2020 Update

It’s been such a long time since I have written. So much in my life has changed, and yet, some things have remained a constant.

I am getting married later this year. I am marrying someone who is my best friend; someone who loves me unconditionally and always tries to be understanding and supportive in my times of need. He is truly amazing and I cannot wait to be his wife. He still lives 6 hours away, and we are about 3 months from him transferring to a job where I live. It has been a lengthy process and I am ready for him to be here.

I am working a lot. I am working so much that I often feel overwhelmed and frustrated. There is rarely time for yoga, let alone anything else. However, I am in the process of building a house and moving – which I couldn’t do without the income I’m bringing in from working so much.

I still go to therapy every other week. I also see my nutritionist every other week. And, amidst the chaos, I have been able to maintain a Thai Massage schedule and go every 3 weeks. These things have really helped me cope with the work load, single mom life, etc.

2020 has been busy and, truthfully, a bit lonely. However, there are good things happening this year and I am looking forward to all the possibilities.

One Day, Maybe The Chimes Will Quit Playing So Loudly: September 18th Thai Massage

It’s been weeks since I’ve written. More than 6 weeks, actually. I have had a couple of Thai Massage sessions since my last blog post, but I have not felt the need to write about them. I had Thai today, and I thought I didn’t have a want or need to write about this session either. However, as I lay in bed tonight trying to prepare for sleep, I realize that I do actually want to write about this session.

The session started out great. I was in a good mood. I was excited for the grounding effects of Thai Massage, and looking forward to catching up with my instructor. I have not been going to yoga as much as I would like lately, and Thai Massage is another place where I can feel grounded and connected. I also was a little amped up when I walked into my session today – most likely from the large cup of coffee I had a couple hours prior.

My hamstrings were sore today from a yoga class I had taken on Monday night. Because of this sensation, I did not have flashbacks in my “typical” stretches in my Thai Session. I did have a brief flashback as my instructor walked her hands up and down my thighs. I am 9 years old. It is night time for the Indians and I am laying in a bed of leaves. My jeans are off. “This is what the Indians do,” he tells me. My hands grip the leaves as I feel all of his weight on top of me. The sky is so blue today… 

I was stuck in the woods for a little bit of time, but was able to talk about it and come back to the present moment. My instructor worked on my legs and all of the places that typically trigger trauma memories did not. But then, as we were mid-conversation and she was pressing on my outer legs, I was no longer in the yoga studio. I had dissociated. I could not feel my instructor. Her voice sounded so far away. I normally can hear her breathing, but in this moment, I could not. I heard the laughter of two children: one boy and one girl. They sounded like they were having fun. I could see them. I was lying under the bunkbed watching the girl and boy play.

We play dinosaurs. He has the stegosaurus. 

I watched as the memory unfolded. My body filled with fear. What if she’s not ok? I can’t save her. I can’t keep her safe. He’s hurting her and I can’t make it stop. Please stop. Please, please stop hurting the little girl – she isn’t ok. 

My mind raced with pleading thoughts to make the abuse end. I can’t save her. I can’t keep her safe. The words echoed over and over in my head. I don’t understand why he is hurting her and why he won’t stop. Then I heard the wind chimes. They were playing so loudly that I couldn’t hear my thoughts anymore. I tired to listen for my breath but I couldn’t find it.

I think it is the worst episode of dissociation I have had in a while. Normally, I can tell that it isn’t really happening. But today was different. Today, the boy and girl seemed so real, so close to me, that I thought I could reach out and touch them. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the memory. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t help the girl, or why the boy wouldn’t stop hurting her. I begged him to, but he wouldn’t stop.

I talked through the memory with my instructor. I am not sure if I verbalized all of it, but I tried. It took me a few minutes to become present again. She pressed on my back for a while. I got up and went to the bathroom. One, two, three, four, five, six… I counted until I found my breath again.

The rest of the session felt ok. We talked about a variety of things, including my urges to self-harm, my work with  a sexual abuse survivors support group, and my relationship with my boyfriend. When the Thai Massage ended, I felt more grounded and present. I was no longer feeling the anxiety that had been lingering for the past week. The world seemed ok, and so did I.

Tonight, I was talking to my boyfriend about the Thai session. He asked if I wanted to talk about the memory, but I told him no. I didn’t want to tell him the details of the memory over the phone. I also was afraid I would become stuck in it again. I have worked this memory so many times. It still feels hard. My instructor said today that I changed between the pronouns “I” and “her.” I have worked at length on being able to identify myself as the little girl in the memory, but today it did not feel that way. The memory came up so spontaneously that it felt almost as if I had never seen it before. I was fearful of the outcome of the memory for the first time in a long time. What if the little girl isn’t safe? 

I had to remind myself that the incident has already passed. It has been more than 20 years since it occurred. The little girl is safe now. I take care of her every single day. My hope is that one day the chimes quit playing so loudly.

Old Patterns Popping Up

These past couple of weeks have been a blur of anxiety, tears, and heartache. With the horrendous murder of my cousin, my emotional state has been way out of wack. My boyfriend and I have had more conflict than normal. We have had major discussions over everything from him moving (he currently lives 6 hours away) to my anxiety and it’s negative impacts on our relationship. I will say, at least we discuss things instead of screaming at each other. However, I can see the typical patterns that I fall into starting.

I have not been going to yoga because of travel and spending time with my boyfriend. I have had a tough time with my body image the last couple of weeks… probably a result of not going to yoga. I miss my boyfriend when we aren’t together – being with him is calming and makes me feel whole.

The problem with all of the statements above is that I am responsible for MY mental wellbeing. My boyfriend is not responsible for my happiness or calmness or yoga practice or anything else. I AM. As I reflect on the last few weeks, I realize that while my time with him is precious and I feel complete when we are together, neglecting my own mental health and taking it out on him is not ok. I feel like I am inadvertently sabotaging my relationship and that is not what I want to do. I want my relationship with him to be healthy and secure. And these past 2 weeks, I have pushed it in the other direction. I want to get back to where we were before my world came crashing down with the death of my cousin. I want to get my relationship back to that point and myself back to that point.

Starting today, I am making a greater effort to take a step back before I respond. I am working on sitting with my feelings. It is important that I do things for me, independent of my relationship with him. I am going to spend the next couple of weeks working on being the best version of myself.

…. side note… I’m currently at Planned Parenthood because I haven’t had a period in almost 3 months. Perhaps that’s part of my problem… hormones 🙄

Homicide and Heartache

I haven’t written in weeks. There are many reasons for that, but the primary reason is that I have been doing mostly ok. It feels like, to some degree, my blog is complete and it has served its purpose. However, I care about my readers and I know that several of my readers care about me. I am returning to my blog today because I need it. I need to write. I need the support of my readers. I need to find healing.

Last Wednesday, I had Thai Massage. I chose not to blog about that experience because I felt it would be better left in the space of Thai. I didn’t want to bring the details home with me. The massage was both grounding and healing. I had a few trauma memories surface throughout the session. I honestly cannot remember right now which ones they were. I know that I talked about them. I know that I worked through them and came out feeling safer than I did when the massage started. I did not have any nightmares on Wednesday night.

On Thursday morning, at 5:30am, I was awoken by a text message from a family member. My cousin, my beautiful, smart, sweet, free-spirited cousin, had been murdered in another country. She had been on a road trip with her boyfriend when their van broke down. Sometime between 4pm Sunday afternoon and 7am Monday morning, someone shot them, killing them both and leaving their bodies to rot.

The news was (and still is) devastating. 

In the past six days, the media has picked up the story and it has become a national headliner. This means that the media is releasing information before we are getting it as a family. This means that we cannot open social media without feeling bombarded by new discoveries, inaccurate claims, and pictures and videos of my precious cousin and her boyfriend. My heart breaks over and over again each day.

I am trying to use healthy coping skills and grieve in the ways that I know how. I am reaching out to my friends. My yoga mat is catching all of my tears. And I am eating. However, I am genuinely struggling. My trauma nightmares and flashbacks have amped up – perhaps worse than they have been in years. I lose chunks of time due to dissociations. The original report was that they were murdered while camping. This original report was not entirely accurate, however, it was enough to send my trauma memories into a tailspin. The woods are not safe. Only bad things happen to you in the woods. 

It is as if my brain is stuck in this loop. My trauma memories that occur in the woods feel so intense right now, and they are coming up constantly. The wind chimes ring loudly in my ears and I cannot always tell if they are real or imagined.

Grief is a process and I am trying to work through it. I am overwhelmed with sadness, heartache, anger, and PTSD symptoms. My boyfriend was in town for the last five days, but he returned home this morning. The upcoming weeks will be difficult, both for my family and for me, as we try to process everything that has happened. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

You Matter, Even If Others Don’t See It: June 26th Thai Massage

I had a much-needed Thai Massage today. It has been a few weeks since my last one, and it has been several sessions since I’ve worked trauma memories in Thai. My trauma stuff has been on the surface lately. A combination of domestic violence memories, neglect, and sexual abuse trauma have been haunting my dreams and invading my mind during the day. I knew that today’s Thai session needed to address whatever surfaced.

There is one particular stretch that triggers trauma memories for me every single time: when my instructor presses her feet along my inner thighs with my leg opened out towards the side. I requested she do that stretch today because I wanted to address the trauma memories so that I could find some relief. The memories surfaced almost instantly on the left side. It was a hodgepodge of memories at first. I’m on my back in the woods and the leaves crunch under my palms. We’re playing dinosaurs and I’m on my back in the bedroom. We’re in the bathtub and my head hits the side of the tub as I try to get away from him. 

The images continued. There wasn’t one specific memory that stood out. I just watched as the little girl was tortured over and over again. When we got to the right side, my brain stopped on one particular memory. It’s my worst memory. The one with the nightlight. I am eight years old. I have just-longer-than-shoulder-length brown hair and glasses. I’m wearing my mom’s pink oversized Disney t-shirt and my basketball shorts. We’re not asleep, even though it is late. We sit on the floor next to the nightlight. 

What happens next is awful. It is truly the worst memory I have. It is also the memory that comes up the most often. Every time I feel that “opening sensation” that I hate in yoga or Thai, this memory is the one that surfaces. It is why I cannot sit in bound angle. It is the most painful memory. 23 years later, my insides still hurt when this memory surfaces. I am not sure if I have ever verbalized this entire memory to my Thai instructor before today. It is difficult to get through. I usually stop before I get to the abuse. The memory is too much to face. In therapy, I have read the memory to my therapist a handful of times, and once to my marriage counselor. Even reading it, I struggle to get through the memory. Today was no different.

The memory surfaced and my Thai instructor asked me about it. I am eight. And I was. I felt eight years old. Every ounce of me felt eight. And the pain from that night radiated through my entire body that it took away my breath. He hurts me so much. He hurts me so much and no one cares. I don’t matter. 

I rolled onto my side. After several moments, I realized my instructor had her hand on my back. I felt the wetness of tears rolling down my cheeks. I was starting to become present again. I realized that I hadn’t finished the memory. I hadn’t verbalized it. I need to be stronger than the hell that he put me through. I sat up, and in what I think was a mostly dissociated state, verbalized the memory. I don’t remember what questions my instructor asked. And I am not sure I said every little detail. But I definitely know that I finished the memory. Then, a wave of sadness engulfed me. Where is my mom? Why doesn’t she care? Why can’t I tell her what happened to me? Please mommy make him stop hurting me. Please hold me and make the pain go away. But she doesn’t. I can’t tell her. 

Where were the adults in my life? I get so angry when I think about it. My instructor and I talked about this today. I often feel as if I don’t matter. The adults in my life who were supposed to keep me safe didn’t because I didn’t matter. When I brought these feelings up in Thai today, my instructor reframed it. Just like I was gifted a body, whether I think I deserved it or not, I matter, regardless of whether anyone else sees it. I matter. It is a phrase that I use as my mantra often, and it is written on an index card on my bathroom mirror so that I can see it every day.

The little girl that I used to be matters. If she didn’t, I wouldn’t work so hard to make her feel loved. It is part of why I go to Thai. In Thai, that little girl can absorb the love that she didn’t get growing up. I work hard to keep her safe. While my PTSD symptoms can be frustrating and obnoxious, my body is trying to protect that little girl. Every time it pulls away from someone who touches it without permission or warning, every time it jumps in response loud noises or rapid movements that come too close…. it is protecting Little Jen. That little girl matters, even though my mom, my dad, my dad’s girlfriend, my teachers, etc…. all of the adults who were supposed to protect her… couldn’t keep her safe. She is important. 

The majority of my Thai session was “easy.” Once I got to the other side of the memory, my body and mind were exhausted. I soaked in the positive touch and love from my instructor. I stayed present. I felt the tension melt away. And at the end, I was complete again. The little girl felt safe and the memories dissolved. I know they will surface again, but in the meantime, I am clinging to the feeling of peace that I gained from this session.

Spain Retreat – Day 6: Finding Closure

Today was my last day of my yoga retreat in Spain. It was exactly how I wanted it to be. Today was partner Thai Massage day in yoga. I made a new friend on this retreat whom I have connected with very well. She was my partner for Thai.

I was nervous about arms – I don’t like having my scars touched. Turns out, I didn’t need to be nervous about arms because we didn’t do them. The sequence primarily focused on hips and back. Legs and hips are big triggers for me, and I have worked exceptionally hard the last two years on being able to tolerate touch on my upper thighs without having a flashback. I’ve also worked on being able to participate in hip opening and hip flexor stretches without dissociating.

I massaged my partner first. This is always my preference in Partner Thai because it allows me the opportunity to know what the session will be like and what is coming in the sequence. I really enjoy being on the giving end of Thai. It is like transmitting loving and caring energy through touch and movement, and it makes me feel like I can make someone else’s life better.

When it was my turn to be massaged, I nervously laid down on my back. I made sure to spread my feet wide apart so that my partner wouldn’t need to open up my legs. I covered my top half with my blanket and pressed my hands into my belly, calming my anxiety.

My partner worked on my feet first. The images of the little girl running through the woods flashed through my mind. I breathed and tapped my fingers together trying to prevent the memory. As her hands moved up my legs, I felt the tension building. The leaves crunch under her hands. We’re playing Indians. I glanced over at my instructor. She gave me a reassuring smile, and I took a cleansing breath. I’m ok. The massage moved into a hip stretch. I tried to focus my mind on where I should be feeling the stretch. I continued to look towards my instructor, focusing on her words. I closed my eyes and imagined the things that bring me joy: my daughter, my dog, my boyfriend. My Thai Partner was great about checking in with me, and I communicated my needs in terms of pressure and angles. She continued on to my back, neck, a child’s pose assist, and savasana, during which I was able to remain present and calmly receive the loving kindness she was giving me. When the Massage ended, I felt proud of my growth in being able to receive positive touch in vulnerable positions without dissociating. I have more power over my abuser than he has over me.

I spent most of the afternoon at the pool. It was an ideal place to just be, in the presence of my yogi friends, and enjoy the peacefulness of life.

The last practice of the retreat was a guided meditation led by my instructor. I went into it with no expectations, but was hoping to find closure around the hodgepodge of emotions this week. It did not take long for me to find my meditative state. I am not sure how much time passed, but I jolted back into the present moment without warning. Oh my god… I get it. I finally get it!

The epiphany was crystal clear.

I don’t need to keep my younger self safe – she’s already safe. This whole trip, I have had image after image of Little Jen lying on her back. In many of those images, the abuser wasn’t present; she was just on her back in the scene where the trauma occurred. All of the fear was still present, but she wasn’t actively being hurt in most of the trauma scenes that came up this week. She is safe.

I always feel like I am working so hard to keep that little girl safe. The reality though is that the abuse happened more than 20 years ago. She is safe now. The fear might always be present, and the body may hold onto the physical sensations that I endured, but that little girl isn’t suffering anymore. All of the work I am doing now is to maintain that safety for her. I can’t change the past. I can, however, spend my life focusing on savoring the present moment and creating a safe environment within myself that allows me to experience growth, love, joy, and care.

My trip to Spain was not all positive. I was really sick the first three days. I struggled with eating new things and not having control over my food. And, I didn’t feel as connected as I did on my Tulum yoga retreat. However, about halfway through I decided to spend more time with my intention. I took time for myself. I enjoyed moments with my friends. And I was more open to listening to the messages I needed to hear. At this point, I’m not sure if I want to go on another yoga retreat. However, I do think that this retreat served a purpose in my life. I have made new connections and deepened existing ones, and I have made profound leaps in my trauma work. For now, I am content with being exactly where I am.

Spain Retreat – Day 5: Sitting With Purpose

The fifth day started with a vinyasa yoga class that used Kapalabhati, or breath of fire. My instructor read a quote about a man who remained in prisons even though the bars were wide enough apart to walk through. The quote was powerful, but at the same time, I could feel myself getting angry during the practice.

It is not as simple as just walking out of the PTSD Prison Hell that I have lived in for most of my life. I wish it were. I want it to be that simple. And sometimes I can pretend it didn’t happen; I can shove it back down and walk through the bars and taste the freedom. But at some point, I always find myself enclosed again.

The heat I was creating in my body burned, and I imagined the memories of the little girl being hurt catching fire too. Burn them all.

I caught myself about halfway down that rabbit hole, and I shifted my focus so that I only thought about my practice – not on the fire, not on the quote, not on killing the little girl – just move and breathe.

When practice ended, I felt a little unsettled. I made a decision to spend my afternoon writing. I wrote down a trauma memory and did some journaling. The thing that kept coming to mind was “remember your intention.”

Why am I here? What is my purpose?

Afternoon yoga was a yin class. I spent time in the class sitting with the emotions from the trauma memory that I had written about. I see you, Little Jen, and you are safe.

Later in the evening, the entire group went into the city of Ronda to see a Flamenco show. It was phenomenal. There aren’t words to adequately describe the intense emotions in the singing and dancing. I sat, mesmerized by the passion and soul of the performers. It left me with a desire to truly pour my soul into the things that I am most passionate about: connection, family, and helping others.

The day felt a little all over the place in terms of emotions, trauma memories, and positive experiences with my fellow yogis. I went to bed feeling like I had truly embraced each moment. I took time to sit with my purpose, not just my life’s purpose, but my purpose for everything that I do.

Spain Retreat – Day 4: Thai Massage

Last night was rough. A mixture of hunger, homesickness, and trauma memories made me emotional. This morning, I woke up eager for yoga and Thai Massage. In yoga, we worked on backbends – my favorite. I thought about being more open to the week, and to being out of my routine, and to not having control over my food. I also thought about Alice, and how my younger self is safe now, and how courageous she was.

Immediately after yoga, I had a Thai Massage with my instructor. We had planned this when I booked the trip last September. I believe that things happen when and how they are supposed to. I do not think it is a coincidence that her and I planned a Thai session for today. The Universe knew I would need it. As I laid on the mat, still and safe for the first time in weeks, I could feel the anxious energy racing through my veins. I need Thai.

We strategically planned for the Massage to be grounding – I wouldn’t be on my back for much of it, and there would be no opening sensations. We also skipped my feet, a common trigger.

She worked up and down my legs as I laid on my side. The image of the little girl laying on her back in the woods came up. I see you, Little Jen, with your messy brown hair and body full of pain and fear. You are so courageous. I couldn’t feel the boy who hurt me this time; I could only see the little girl, lying on the ground. It reminded me of something one of my favorite yoga teachers once said: we can all be warriors even when we’re on the ground. A courageous warrior is exactly what Little Jen was.

Today, I don’t really feel like much of a courageous warrior. Instead, I feel like I lack the confidence to face the things that I need to face. In yoga class, this shows up as “I can’t,” and getting out of poses early. In life, this shows up as just not doing the thing that is scary, or doing the thing, but only after lots of worrying.

When we were finished with legs, my instructor massaged my belly. I’m not sure exactly what happened today during this part of the Massage. Normally, this is not a trauma trigger. However, the sky here is exceptionally blue and cloudless. In a split second I was transported to the veranda, my ears filling with the sound of wind chimes. No, no, no. Please be safe. Please don’t hurt her. I watched as the boy hurt the girl with brown hair. My instructor interrupted the scene, reminding me to breathe. I didn’t feel ok, but I listened to her words and tried to match my breath to hers. She reached a spot on my belly that felt grounding, and I asked her to press on it again. It felt as if the memory of the blue sky and the wind chimes was trickling out of my fingers and toes, no longer trapped inside of me.

It was time for arms next. I talked about how my scars feel really visible right now. She assured me they were not. She’s one of the few people I allow to touch them. I wish they would go away, but I know they are a part of me, and I should embrace the stories they tell.

We moved on to my back. I needed this grounding pressure. As she walked her hands up and down my back, it felt as if the tension and anxiety were literally being smushed out of me. All of the stress from the last few weeks, all of the trauma triggers, dissipated. I am safe. I am loved. I am ok.

My instructor had me sit up and began working on my shoulders. I instantly felt all of the emotions from the session – the fear, the sadness, the courage – filling my eyes with tears. I didn’t try to stop them. It’s ok, Little Jen. You’re safe now. And you’re so courageous; you can do anything if you just trust yourself.

The purpose of today’s session was just self-care. I was just supposed to leave feeling better than I felt when I walked in. I needed that. It could not have come at a better time. Today has been a good day. I feel at peace with where I am. Even though I miss home and my routine and my daughter, I am happy to be right here in the present moment.

Spain Retreat – Day 3: Hard Days and Isolation

Day 3 was a rough one. Spain is gorgeous. And if isolation is your thing, this retreat is definitely for you. I, however, have a really tough time when I’m isolated. Almost everyone on the retreat went to tour a winery on Day 3. A few of us stayed back, me included. It didn’t make a lot of sense to tour a winery since I’m sober.

Some positives about staying behind are that I was able to have a day where I wasn’t rushing around, and I got to really connect with one of the girls on the retreat. On the other hand though, too much time without activity puts me in my head in a bad way.

I had trauma stuff surface in the morning yoga class. My instructor told a story about an 8-year-old girl she works with who feels courageous when she does crow pose. Crow has always been a pose that I practice when I’m having a hard day because it makes me feel strong and courageous. During class, I could see my younger self laying in the grass. I could see her courageously endure the horrendous abuse. Little Jen, you’re so courageous. I don’t feel courageous today, though. I was so brave when I was little, but now the words “I don’t think I can,” regularly leave my mouth. I become afraid of almost everything. I have very little confidence that I will be able to complete challenging tasks.

In the evening class, my trauma stuff felt particularly bad. I had several flashbacks, and my ability to stay in the present quickly dwindled. I felt stuck. In savasana, I laid on my back. Before I realized it, the room filled with the sound of chimes. I’m still not sure if it was something in the song that triggered it or if it was just how I was laying. I’m so little – six. We play doctor on the porch.

After yoga, I couldn’t quite get myself to come back to the present. It was time for dinner. All 16 of us eat in the same room. I sat down in my usual seat. They served us pumpkin soup that reminded me so much of the baby food that I used to make my daughter. I couldn’t eat it. The smell alone made my stomach churn. Then, they served us a “burger” made out of lentils. I can do this, I thought to myself. I took one bite, and then a few more. Then, without warning, the dense “burger” covered the inside of my mouth. My gag reflex kicked in and I was pretty sure I was going to lose it. That, coupled with the conversation topic of “how would your mom describe you as a child,” was enough to send me into a panic. I haven’t eaten much since I’ve been on this retreat – primarily because I hate the food. There hasn’t been much that I’ve actually liked, and I’ve triggered my gag reflex at more than one meal due to the textures. I left the table abruptly and went to sit outside in isolation.

Fight or flight. When things become overwhelming, I usually leave. As I sat alone, I took in the scenery and relished in the quiet. I took deep breaths. I texted my best friend from home. I reached out to my boyfriend. I did the things I needed to do to regroup. Aside from the friend I had connected with earlier, no one from the retreat seemed concerned about my absence. In fact, I doubt anyone even noticed.

I rejoined the group after several minutes of isolation. My evening was spent in good spirits. It is sometimes easy and necessary to put on the charade that everything is fine. On the inside though, my hungry stomach, ptsd symptoms, and urges to hurt myself were swarming. My hope is that Day 4 feels better than Day 3.

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