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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

 

Featured post

I Need To Feel Freedom

The anxiety consumes me today. 

It started last night. My husband kept asking me what was wrong, but I didn’t know. The only answer I could give was “I miss yoga.” I haven’t been to a class since Monday, and I haven’t been to my home studio in 4 days. I know that isn’t the reason that I am anxious though. 

My youngest sister has been in town this week and we have had a really good time together. Today she was supposed to come to yoga with me. She’s started a new medication this week because she has some sort of heart issue where her heart could just spontaneously stop working. The medication is making her not feel well. She decided it would be better to just go home. I support her decision, but it’s still tough. Both of my sisters now have pretty serious health issues. I think the reality of that is sinking in this week. 

I think I’m also anxious because I have marriage counseling and trauma therapy tomorrow. My husband is still doing a super shitty job managing money. We still fight all the time. And I still don’t know if I want to stay or leave. 

I know that I need to work through some stuff with my trauma therapist. I need to talk about this anger piece – or my lack of anger. I need to figure out how to handle sex without dissociating. I need to feel freedom

I am hopeful that spending my morning in yoga helps me feel better. I need to feel better. Being anxious for the last 17 hours has been difficult. My wrist is burning, begging me to cut it. Here’s to day 565 without cutting 😏

 

 

I would love to give credit to the artist of this image, but I couldn’t find a link for it in my google search 😕 This picture is amazing though 💜

My Bolster Is My Lifeline

Today I drove several hours from home to visit a yoga studio. This isn’t just any yoga studio. The teacher I took class from this morning makes the bolsters that I use! For me, it was like meeting a celebrity. 

The class that I took this morning was good; challenging but good. It was a Ropes Wall Yoga Class, which I had never done before. My favorite part was hanging upside down from the ropes. Being inverted is the best thing ever in my opinion. Why? Because you can’t think about killing yourself when you’re doing cool yoga shit. When’s the last time you’ve made a plan to kill yourself while hanging upside down? Yeah. That’s what I thought. 

What I wanted to tell this yoga teacher was that her bolsters literally save my life. I have one at home and then I typically use the same one at the studio I attend. When things become emotionally stressful for me, I curl up onto my bolster in a restorative child’s pose and cry. It is really the only time I feel 100% safe when I cry. I know that my bolster is there to support me. People are unreliable. My bolster is not. When I am suicidal, I often find relief and comfort in my bolster. It allows me to process through all of the yuck that clouds my mind. My bolster is my lifeline.

Today has been a long and exhausting day, but worth it. I have one more yoga class before I head home. 💜

A Question For Other Survivors

Sometimes it is hard to distinguish what is real and what isn’t. I am afraid that my mind is making things up to prevent me from being angry at my abuser. In these moments, I feel completely insane. I don’t know what to trust and what not to trust. 

I know that I should be angry at my abuser. I should have resentment towards him the way that I have resentment towards my mom and dad for not keeping me safe. But I can’t. It’s so complicated. He was like my big brother. He was like my best friend. I don’t want to hate him. And part of me is so afraid of the anger that I could potentially feel. I don’t do well with anger. Being angry makes me want to hurt myself. 

How do you allow yourself to feel the anger that you have towards your abuser?

Fuck You, Father’s Day

My husband has, historically, always worked on Father’s Day (and Mother’s Day). This is the first year he is home for Father’s Day. I asked him a few days ago what he wanted to do, and he said nothing. He quickly followed up with “No you can’t go to yoga!” I was crushed. I wanted to at least make one class. 

Yesterday I told him if I could just go to one class, he could do whatever he wanted for the day. He said I could go to my 9:30 gentle class this morning if he could spend the afternoon at Hooters watching the race 🙄 Fine. Whatever. I know that I’ll never look like those girls. 

I think it’s shit that I do the majority of care taking for our daughter, yet because it’s Father’s Day, he gets to do whatever he wants. For Mother’s Day, he spent 3 hours doing what he wanted to do and I ended up making French Toast for my daughter and I for dinner because he wasn’t around to eat with us, let alone cook. 

Perhaps I have negative feelings towards this “holiday” because of my own issues with my father. Because for my entire childhood, I was sexually abused at my dad’s house while he worked or drank. I’ve seen my dad beat the absolute shit out of women. I’ve seen him lose everything he owns due to a drug addiction. I don’t like this holiday because it’s another day where I am reminded of the shitty situation of my childhood. It’s another day where I’m supposed to buy some generic “You’re the best dad ever” card, put a smile on my face, and act like I give a shit. But in reality, I’m just waiting for this day to be over. 

I will say that I love my stepdad more than any parental figure in my life. He is always there for me. And, he chose to be my dad and treat me like I’m his biological child. I don’t need a holiday to tell him that though. I regularly tell him how grateful I am to have him as my dad. 

In my opinion, Father’s Day is just one of those days that makes me feel bad about myself for wanting to do what I want to do. It’s another day where we bow down to men who really don’t deserve it. And it’s a reminder that no matter how big of a fake smile I put on, the pain is still very much present.

Fuck you, Father’s Day. 

Savoring The Positives

I went to a positive psychology workshop today at my favorite yoga studio. While I don’t know that I got as much out of this as I had hoped, there is one thing that really stuck. 

Savor

I have been working on staying with the positives for longer periods of time. It feels like my life is a constant roller coaster of extremes: extremely bad and extremely good. I never really see the in-between. Today we talked briefly about the word “savor.” People who are happy savor each moment, even the little things. 

I have followed through on my goals for 2017 so far and am making good progress on all of them. After today’s workshop, I have decided to add one more to the list. I want to work on savoring the positives, not just sticking with them. I want to truly acknowledge and appreciate them. I want to savor the positives.

What A Day

Today went like this:

  • Restorative yoga class: cried
  • Marriage counseling: cried and wanted to kill myself
  • Restorative yoga at home: cried and slept
  • Conversation with husband: cried and wanted to kill myself

I see a pattern…. 

Despite all of the tears and suicide ideation today, there were some good things:

  1. For starters, I communicated in marriage counseling that I needed a break. I went to the bathroom and took several cleansing breaths and then focused on my three part breath. I calmed myself down enough to return to the session and even explained why I had to leave. 
  2. I also communicated with my marriage counselor that I wanted to kill myself. That was also huge because I don’t exactly trust her in that department yet and in general, I don’t always do a good job of telling people when I feel that way.
  3. I did restorative yoga in class and at home
  4. I fell asleep in savasana at home and ended up sleeping for 30 minutes
  5. My nap was interrupted by a phone call where I learned that I was approved for a debt consolidating loan that I had applied for
  6. My husband replaced the brakes on my car, so my car isn’t making weird noises anymore.

In this present moment, I am mostly ok. Still slightly suicidal, but not like I was earlier. I’m feeling slightly better about the world right this minute.

A Retreat For My Mind

Well today I paid $500 of the $3600 that I have agreed to pay for my husband’s bankruptcy. I also took the initiative to go through all of the bills and write out who he owes money to, their address, and how much he owes. Necessary paperwork that my husband didn’t take the time to do.

I worked for most of today. I also met with the bank about a loan to consolidate my own debt. I gave a cranky three year old a shower. I did the dishes. And I attempted to have a rational conversation with my husband about money. Of course that last part didn’t go so well. I offered to give him $40 a week in cash and the only thing he would use our joint account for would be gas for his car. He argued that $40 a week wasn’t enough and he would only agree if I gave him $60 a week. Right now, it’s all I can do to come up with $40 a week to give him, let alone $60! The evening ended with my inlaws arriving for a two-day visit. Ugh – words cannot express my displeasure.

In all of this stress and chaos today, when I found myself getting anxious, I brought myself back to the moments of release that I felt in my Thai Massage yesterday. I closed my eyes and thought of how at ease my entire body felt in those moments. It helped so much to have that feeling to go back to. It’s like a miniature retreat for my mind in periods of stress and anxiety. I can envision myself, laying on the floor, having the stress gently and carefully pressed out of my body. And when I close my eyes and pretend that I’m there, in that moment, I can feel the tension dissipate. I am courageous; I am safe; I am love; I am ok

The Residual Effects Of Thai Yoga Therapy

I was on Cloud 9 yesterday following my Thai Massage. My entire body felt so tranquil – a huge change from my norm. I was worried that today would feel the way that it always feels: stressful and chaotic. However, that is not the case.

Some of my regular readers may remember back in October when I wrote a lengthy letter to my dad addressing his role in the occurrence of my traumatic childhood. If not, here’s the post. In that letter, I gave a chunk of the blame to him for the sexual abuse that I endured. In the days following, I literally “felt lighter.” There was a knot that had disappeared from my stomach that had always been there.

I have that same feeling today. It is like Thai Massage literally removed knots of anxiety that were stuck inside of my body. I feel it in my stomach. I literally feel “thinner” or “lighter.” I know this is because the body holds traumatic experiences inside. This lighter feeling is an indication to me that the massage I received yesterday did exactly what I was hoping it would do.

I am so looking forward to another one in the near future. I’ve just got to come up with the money to make it happen. Ugh money is stressful 😦

Actively Unstuck

On April 20th, I decided that I was going to try Thai Massage. The decision came about after talking to a friend about the anxiety that I feel rushing through my body for no apparent reason other than “I’m just anxious.” I told her that I understand where the anxiety comes from when I am actively doing trauma work, or when things at home are really stressful, or work is really stressful. However, in that moment, none of those things were going on. Yet I couldn’t get my body to quit being anxious. It had gotten to the point of feeling like I needed to cut in order to make the anxiety go away. She recommended I set up an appointment for a Thai Massage with one of my yoga instructors. I started looking into it and decided that yes, perhaps this could be beneficial.

Well, seven and a half weeks later, I finally went through with my very first Thai Massage!

The process leading up to it looked like a lot of conversations with my therapist and my yoga instructor. My therapist thought it would be good for me to tell my yoga instructor some basics about my trauma and my history. While as awkward as it was for me to share even the basics, I also felt it necessary. I think anytime there is potential for someone to play a huge role in my healing process, I think it’s important for them to know what I am healing from. While they may not necessarily have to know, I think it is courteous to let them know. If the roles were reversed, I would want to know.

My day started with anxiety as I was abruptly awaken by a dream that turned into a nightmare. Trauma stuff is on the surface again. The anxiety consumed me this morning as I tried to get my paperwork together for the bankruptcy attorney. And then it was time to go.

As I drove to the studio, my heart raced. I recounted several traumatic experiences. Nothing that happens today will be worse than that, I reminded myself. It’s going to be ok. I’m going to be ok. I am safe. She will not torment me. It’s ok. 

I arrived a few minutes early, because I am early to everything. I got out one of my journals and opened it up to a random page. Deep breaths. It was the letter I had written to my younger self last Fall. The letter where I tell that little girl that what happened is not her fault; that she is so very brave; and even though she doesn’t feel it, she is loved. I am courageous; I am safe; I am loved. I repeated the words several times, closed the journal, and got out of the car. My yoga instructor was walking over to greet me.

When we got into the studio, I tried not to have that “wounded puppy look” that my shrink says I get when I’m anxious. The yoga instructor and I talked briefly about the process of Thai Massage, my intention for the process, and (ironically) how nothing that happens today will be worse than what I’ve already been through. Ok. I’m ready.

She started with my feet. She massaged them gently and I could tell that each touch had an intention, and each movement was made with so much care. And then it started….the PTSD symptoms. The feet that she’s touching… those feet are the same feet that run through the woods, trying not to be caught. Those feet that she is so graciously taking care of right now have been fueled by so much fear in the past. I could see the girl, running through the woods; breathing is heavy; fear overtakes; leaves beneath her hands. Make it stop. The tears came. The way that my body was treated on that day is so very different than the way that my body is being treated in this moment, I thought.

As she worked her way up to my calves, I felt more memories surfacing. We’re pretending to be Indians. This is what the Indians do. The leaves crunch. His hands on my thighs. Please make him stop. 

And then it was gone. As her fingers danced along my legs, I felt the memories surface and drift away. It would be several minutes before another memory would surface, and just like the one before it, after a few moments, it would vanish. The tears came with the relief of not feeling stuck in the memories. There was a time when this wasn’t possible, I thought; When I would be stuck in the memory for minutes, hours, or days. I have grown so much since then. 

In my preparation for this session, I realized that the instructor would be spending a decent amount of time massaging my arms at close range. Depending on the lighting, you can see a lot of my scars on my left arm from the 14 years that I spent cutting myself. I gave her a heads up about this earlier in the week and tried to remind myself that it was ok if she touched them. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may remember when my scars were touched during savasana in a yoga class. If not, here’s the post.  The same teacher who touched them that day would be touching them again today.

When she moved to my left arm, I felt the tension radiating through my body. She held my hand… I’m pretty sure this is just some Thai Massage thing, but in that moment, all I could think was I’m ok. She’s supporting me. I’m safe. I’m not alone. With my arm exposed and her hands pressing gently into my scars, I saw the images of a razor blade pressing into my arm. I saw the 17-year-old me, laying on my bedroom floor with more than 50 crimson lines zigzagging across my pale skin. And the tears came. I am so sorry. The shame wins every time here. I am so, so sorry. I know I should have handled it differently. As she continued to work on my left arm, I felt the shame release. And with that release came so many more tears. My scars are a symbol of the pain that I have endured. Sharing that pain with someone else is scary; it is vulnerable, shameful, and scary. Today, I trusted someone else to take on that pain with me. That is huge. As she worked her way to my right arm, I felt the tension subside. I am ok; I am safe; I am loved. 

One of my favorite parts about Thai Massage today was all of the work she did on my back and neck. I forget just how much day-to-day tension gets stored there. I forget that lugging around a 37lb three year old who “can’t walk because her knees hurt” does a number on your back (side note: her knees hurt because she rolls around on the carpet and gets rug burn). There is so much stress in my day-to-day life with my threenager, my marriage, my job, money issues….I feel all of that stress and tension trapped in my back, shoulders, and neck. Feeling that release today was truly a phenomenal sensation.

When everything was over, the instructor and I talked briefly. Of course I cried…because well that seems to be the theme in this. I had no idea I would cry this much. I know that unless you are in my body and feeling what I am feeling on a daily basis, there is no way to adequately comprehend how amazing Thai Massage was for me. As someone who has had so much anxiety and trauma trapped inside for so many years, I can tell you that even the smallest releases during Thai Massage were monumental for me. My goal was to find 5% more healing and growth in this process. Based on the physical and emotional releases that I had during this first session, I would say I vastly exceeded that number.

I know that the world does not stop being fucked up because I did one Thai Massage. I know that my trauma memories and sensations, my PTSD symptoms, won’t just magically go away and never return. And I am very much aware that my marriage is still rough and raising a threenager is still the hardest job ever. However, what I have gained is a sense of contentment, “santosha.” In those moments of release, there was a physical sense of peace that I don’t think I have ever felt before. I have learned that my body deserves to be treated the way that my yoga instructor treated it today: with compassion and kindness, and an intent for healing. I have learned that I can open up and share a little bit of my pain; I don’t have to keep it all stuck inside of me forever. And, I have learned that my body can tolerate, accept, and enjoy two hours of positive touch. All good things.

Yoga has played such a key role in my healing from severe childhood sexual abuse. Adding Thai Massage to that gives me another outlet. This afternoon, I am filled with so much gratitude for the people who have helped me through this process; gratitude for their compassion, kindness, and acceptance. I don’t want to be seen just as “the girl with PTSD.” There is so much more to who am than that. Today, I truly believed that my yoga instructor saw the PTSD, but knew that those symptoms do not fully encompass who I am. That is compassion.

I am courageous. And today, I am actively unstuck.

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