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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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Finding Relief: June 17th Thai Massage

I had emergency Thai tonight. It’s been a while since the last time I had an emergency Thai session. But today, it was warranted.

On Sunday, I had a flashback during sex – a new memory. I haven’t had a new memory surface in such a long time, probably close to two years. I chose not to work the last new memory that surfaced. Instead, I pushed it back down and pretended like it didn’t exist. I could not do that with this memory though, it was too jarring to forget.

My intention for Thai today was to work through and process the memory. Prior to Thai, I sat in a child’s pose and wrote the bits and pieces of the memory that I could recall. I was nervous for Thai – worried that I would not be able to stay present. I didn’t want to remain stuck in the memory.

In the session, my instructor did a great job of telling me each stretch before it happened. She checked in with me to gauge how present I was. And when she was working the right side of my body, and it was safe for the memory to surface, she allowed me to dissociate and just be with it.

I am little. Swallowed by a sea of green grass. His hands are on my arms. I can feel him press into me. Everything feels hot. My body is burning from the inside out.

There are only two memories of my abuser having intercourse with me. This would make a third. I didn’t understand where I was in the memory, or what was happening before or after the abuse. My veins were shaking with anxiety as the realization of this memory’s existence overwhelmed my thoughts. I could feel the tears falling down my face, dampening my mask. Everything felt muted.

“How old are you?” I heard my instructor ask from what felt like another room. The present moment seemed so far away. More tears fell as I responded: “I think I’m only 8.” I felt so little. Younger than the other memories of my abuser having sex with me. I don’t understand what’s happening; everything burns.

I shared what I could remember from the memory through the wall of tears that seemed to separate me from the present. My instructor and I talked about the feelings that the little girl had: before, during, and after. The girl in the memory shifted from happy to scared to numb. Everything felt hot on and inside of my body. I wanted to light the little girl on fire; I wanted to burn the memory away. I needed to hurt myself. But as my instructor continued to press on my body, the feeling that I felt was relief. I saw my present day self grabbing the hand of the little girl and pulling her away to somewhere safe. The pain, fear, and numbness dissipated.

Relief is feeling like a weight has been lifted; like the world isn’t so heavy. It is the feeling I get when I work through a memory that has been tormenting me. I am still worried about this memory – not knowing what will trigger it or how it will come up. I also worry that there are many more like this one that I haven’t yet recalled. My instructor encouraged me to spend a few minutes each day sitting with the feeling of relief. That way, when the memory comes up, I can remind myself that relief does exist.

As the massage continued, I felt more grounded and able to remain in the present moment. Thai ended with my instructor pressing firmly on my back prior to savasana, another tactic we use to help me stay present. When the massage was over, and I sat up to say “namaste,” I could feel the tears stinging my eyes again. It was a mixture of feelings: sadness for not being able to hug my instructor (thanks, Coronavirus 🙄), gratitude for Thai and my instructor’s willingness to work with me, and relief. The memory no longer consumed me.

Masked Massage: May 25th Thai Massage

I had my first Thai Massage today since March 15th… 10 weeks ago. I typically go every 2-3 weeks to help manage my anxiety and PTSD symptoms. Unfortunately, COVID halted that.

In order to have Thai Massage, there was a “new rule.” I have to wear a mask. I was anxious about these new rules. I was anxious about wearing a mask for two hours. The longest I have worn was is for ~40 minutes. Many people with sexual abuse trauma report feeling anxious and having increased flashbacks while wearing masks. My abuser never placed his hand or anything else over my mouth (from what I remember), but there is always the potential for new things to surface or triggers to occur.

Thai started off in the typical fashion: feet. About 6 weeks ago, I broke a toe in a couple of places, and I was anxious about how Thai would impact that. I couldn’t feel my instructor pressing on my feet though; I only felt my younger self running through the woods as my abuser chased me. Capture the flag. The familiar memory surfaced, taunting me to follow it. I declined. It was too early in the massage for me to venture down that path. Instead, I talked about my fiancé moving in with me, the new house that we’re building, and our new COVID life.

As my instructor worked my left leg, more memories surfaced. It was hard to make out all of the details. Instead, I felt overwhelming chaos. It was difficult to describe. I’m playing video games with the boy. We’re in the big bedroom so I’m really little – no older than 7. Now we play race cars. He tries to fit the track inside of me. He hits me on my arm because it doesn’t fit. My glasses break… I’m cryingchaos.

It was several different memories surfacing all at once, blurring together. I couldn’t figure out where I was or how old I was. My instructor asked me to describe what it felt like as she pressed on my left leg. Chaos. But then, I could feel her. And the memories flattened and faded away.

It was time to move to the right leg now. I got anxious. The right leg always seems to hold more challenging memories than the left. I tried to stay present, but the dissociation occurred almost instantly. The sounds of the memories were deafening this time. The wooden bunk bed smells like real trees. It creaks as my feet press into it. He has an army man toy on my belly… sliding down, down, down. I look over and the girl is on the floor playing dinosaurs. Wait! Stop! I plea. Don’t let him hurt you! It’s a trick! It isn’t safe! My cries are useless. She lets him hurt her anyway.

My instructor did all of the things I needed her to do. She asked me to focus on where she was pressing and focus on my breath. I couldn’t. She felt so far away as I lay trapped in another universe. I rolled onto my side. She said her hand was on her back, but I couldn’t feel it. I could only feel my body shaking from the fear and helplessness. I can’t save her.

Eventually, I sat up, but I still wasn’t fully present. My instructor pressed up and down my right leg, helping to close off the energy. The memory became flat, no longer 3-dimensional. I found my breath and could feel my instructor pressing on my leg. It’s ok. We’re safe.

The remainder of the session was spent on things that are grounding to me. She massaged my belly, my arms, and my back. I felt the chaos dissipate. The room came into focus and I was able to remain present.

Today’s Thai session was everything I needed. It had been so long. Despite the new rule, I am so grateful to have Thai Massage back in my life. I’ve missed my instructor and I’ve missed having the anxiety smushed out of me. I didn’t get anxious in the session because of the mask. The anxiety I had in the session would have come up regardless. Next time, I will try to have a clearer focus for trauma work to prevent a myriad of memories from arising. Overall, it was a good session and I am happy to have one of my mental health services back to “normal.”

Masked Normalcy

It’s been almost two months since my last post. We’ve now been “sheltering in place” for roughly 9 weeks. My boss told me last week to expect to keep working from home for the next 12-24 months. I have been seeing my therapist via Telehealth weekly. Last week, I was allowed to see my nutritionist face-to-face and it was so nice to have some normalcy back in my life, and to see part of my support system in person.

Next week, I will have my first Thai Massage since March 15th. It is the longest stretch I have been without Thai since I started three years ago. I need Thai. My joints hurt all the time. There is this anxious energy just sitting in my veins. And my trauma memories are just sitting on the surface. I need Thai so that all of the things can be smushed out. My instructor said she’ll be implementing a mask protocol. I’ve worn a mask any time I have had to go into stores, but those were just short trips. I haven’t had to wear one for two straight hours, and I’m not sure how triggering that will be for me. I feel anxious when I put my mask on. I’m not sure if that’s because it feels restricting or if that’s because it is a reminder of the chaos and unpredictability of our current world. I am hoping that wearing a mask in Thai won’t influence the way my body and mind are able to process the session.

In other news, my fiancé and I have been living together for about a month now. There had definitely been some adjusting and growing pains. However, I love getting to see him every day and him being here makes my life exponentially better. He starts his new job here next week, so I know we’ll have yet another change. I am looking forward to finding our groove though in what will become our new normal life.

Go Away, COVID.

My city has been in “shelter in place” for a little while now, and it is expected to last until the end of April. I’m having such a hard time. With everything. My boss had me lay off 9 people. Then, a week later, cut my pay by about 60%. I am devastated and terrified. I am trying to maybe get another job, but it’s not an ideal time to try to get hired anywhere. I’ve had multiple anxiety attacks in the last 5 days. I have found myself isolating… not just social distancing. I know that everyone is in the same boat; and my problems are not a big deal when compared to what’s going on in the world. I’m keeping things to myself.

I did have emergency therapy via telehealth with my shrink. And I had a FaceTime call with my thai massage instructor. I also reached out to my nutritionist. I haven’t been eating this week. Not really. I had a major dissociative episode tonight. It’s the first one in a really long time. Capture the flag. I don’t tell him where my flag is hidden. He pushes the little girl down. The world turns green. I see the green grass, the pond, and the leaves on the trees. He hurts her. He hurts her so much – it hurts. I couldn’t get out of the memory. I can’t save her.

I dissociated to a place that was dark and scary. I was numb, but not in the good way. My fiancé tried to talk me through it. He suggested yoga or calling my therapist. The choice I wanted to make wasn’t a safe choice. Instead, I chose to stay busy. I ordered new shoes for my daughter who desperately needed them. I ate cheese and crackers – one of the few foods I’ve been able to stomach. And I watched I’m Sorry – one of my new favorite shows.

These past two weeks have been really hard. I need these next few to be much better. Stay safe out there. Wash your hands and stay home. Sending love to my readers. 💜

Vacuumed Out Like Jumanji: March 15 Thai Massage

I haven’t written about Thai in such a long time – at least not on my blog. But since I’m spontaneously blogging again, I figured I would give it a shot.

I was worried Thai would be cancelled because…. Corona. I don’t have it, but lots of people would frown upon Thai in this time of panic in our country. I needed Thai. It’s been four weeks since my last session, which is way too long. I usually never go more than 3 weeks.

Today’s session was about grounding and self-care. There was lots of talk about the coronavirus and how it is impacting our lives. My goal was not to have trauma stuff come up. Of course, I rarely go through a Thai session with no trauma stuff surfacing. When I was on my back and my instructor pressed on my legs with her foot, I could feel myself drifting. I tried to tap my fingers to stay present, but the memory with the race car track was taking over. My instructor quickly noticed and brought me back. Look at her foot. It’s pressing on my leg. Press. Release. Press. Release. … I’m ok.

It was harder to come back from the second memory that surfaced. I was on my belly and my instructor was pressing on my back. It was so relaxing. But then, it shifted. It felt like I was running through the woods. Capture the flag. He’s chasing me. I feel his hands push against my back, knocking me to the ground. I try to get away but I can’t. Everything is green. I see the pond as he rips my shorts down. If I don’t tell him where my flag is, he will torture me. And he does.

I didn’t tell him where my flag was hidden on that day. I remember the pain between my legs, but also the satisfaction of knowing that I won the game of capture the flag that day. I am brave.

As my instructor pressed on my back, I could feel the memory being sucked out of my brain. It was almost like in the movie Jumanji, where the kid get sucked into the game board. Only for me, the memory was being vacuumed out of my mind. Goodbye, Little Jen; you’re safe; it’s ok.

I became excessively present after that, but also felt strangely disconnected. I couldn’t understand the words that my instructor was speaking, but I could hear her every breath. My mind was hyper-focused on the noises outside of the room. The music filled my ears. Everything was so loud – everything except my instructor’s voice.

When Thai ended, I felt more present, more relaxed, and ready to face the world again. I am not sure what these next few weeks will hold, but I am hoping there will always be Thai to help me through it. As I prepare to celebrate my birthday on Tuesday, I am grateful for my aliveness today.

The March Hare (2020)

It’s March. I always seem to have a hard time in March. This month seems to be no different. We’re 11 days in and I have had suicidal thoughts for almost all 11 days.

My fiancé and I seem to be having more and more conflict. My boss fucked up my pay for the last two pay checks, and gave less than 48 hours notice – paying me several days later than he was supposed to both times. My family doesn’t help – with money, with my daughter, with anything. I feel so incredibly alone all the time. I am overwhelmed and drowning in work, in life, and in my thoughts. I am stressed out over the house that I am supposed to be buying (but who knows if that’s going to work out because of my job and money). My fiancé was supposed to get an official offer letter to transfer jobs here, but that hasn’t happened yet. My last Thai Massage was cancelled and not rescheduled for several weeks, putting more than 4 weeks between sessions. I feel like I’m constantly failing at everything. I can’t maintain relationships. I can’t find time to practice self-care. I can’t have an employer who values me. I don’t matter. Not to anyone. My birthday is in 6 days and no one gives a shit. Why even have a birthday…. what’s the point.

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 🙄

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