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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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Post Thai: An Update On My PTSD Symptoms

Last week, I had Thai Massage and I worked on a new memory in that session. Prior to the session, this new memory that had surfaced in yoga about 10 days before was consuming me. I couldn’t be still without the memory coming up and dissociating. Even after working the memory twice in therapy and having a neurofeedback session, the memory still won. I began getting frustrated and felt like I needed to cut in order to make the dissociation stop. I chose not to hurt myself though. Instead, I went into my Thai Session with an intention of addressing that memory. I wrote the memory in my journal at the beginning of the session, and when it came up during the massage, I successfully talked about the memory (with some prompting) in my dissociated state.

It is now 5 days since my Thai Massage and the memory has only surfaced once. That is incredible! Just a week ago, I really thought this would be a memory that I couldn’t overcome. I was terrified that it would haunt me forever. But thanks to the amazing partnership I have with my instructor, and the work that happens in our Thai Sessions, I am ok. I don’t have to be afraid to go to sleep, or afraid to sit still, or rest in savasana. I can get through my day without dissociating and losing chunks of time. I know that this memory may cycle back around at some point, but for now, I can live my life without having significant disruptions due to my ptsd symptoms. It feels as though a part of me has healed from that traumatic day.

Safe, Protected, And Loved: September 12th Thai Massage

I have spent the last 10 days needing Thai Massage. I had a new memory surface in yoga about a week and a half ago and, as a result, I have had an increase in flashbacks, dissociation, nightmares, etc. I am only sleeping about 4-5 consecutive hours a night, even with yoga nidra/guided meditations. A few nights ago, I played 8 different meditations before finally falling asleep for just  a little while.

Some of my readers may remember that a couple of weeks ago, my instructor and I came up with a plan to help me communicate my dissociations/trauma memories as they come up in Thai sessions. If you want to read more about this, you can find it here.

After more than a week of anxiety, urges to cut, and frequent dissociations, I finally had my Thai session today. I was anxious about the communication part – talking to my instructor about my trauma memories as they come up. I also wasn’t entirely sure if it would be possible. In addition, I was really worried about the new memory surfacing. I had already written about it once, and worked on talking about it twice in therapy. I also had a neurofeedback session. None of that seemed to help. My therapist recommended I write the memory down at the beginning of my Thai session today, with my instructor present, so that I would not hurt myself after writing it or become “stuck” in the memory.

When I walked in, I was eager to write the memory down – partially because I knew my nature would be to procrastinate doing it or find an excuse not to write it. When I scribbled the memory down, I instantly began to feel the room shift and my surroundings become muffled. My instructor started talking to me. I struggled to find my way back to the present, my mind continued to drift back to the memory. I took a deep breath and focused all of my effort on her words. I cannot be stuck in the past right now. 

My massage started with my feet. Reflecting back, it is difficult to remember much from this section. I am pretty sure my instructor and I discussed some everyday things. I don’t recall it being very stressful. She worked the lines on my left leg, and at first, I felt ok. When she pressed all of her weight on upper thighs, I felt like I was little again. It wasn’t like I was little in a trauma memory though. I was little and being taken care of. I felt safe and secure. Like nothing bad was ever going to happen to me. I asked her to press there again. The weight was heavy, but it was everything I needed in that moment.

Things began to shift when my instructor worked the lines on my inner thighs. I cannot remember if she pressed with her hands or her feet. I cannot remember if I felt her or not. What I remember is being little. We’re in the bathtub. No one is there with us and we are playing with the army men and army tanks. I am five years old. As he tries to hurt me, I slide back. I am so afraid, and panicking so much that when I slide back away from him, I slip, and my head hits the wall of the bathtub really hard. 

This memory is different, because when it comes up, I am IN it. I am not just watching it like my other ones. This one HAPPENS to me as I relive it in the flashbacks. I can feel the water on my arms, splash onto my face, cover my belly and legs. I feel the army tank on the floor of the bathtub hitting against my leg as I slip. My head aches as it smashes against the shower wall.

When it comes up (both in Thai today and previously), the dissociation is instant. It comes on so fast that I don’t have time to try to prevent it. That’s how this was today. One minute, I was fine. The next minute, I was too far gone to even pull myself back. My instructor asked me questions today when I dissociated. The goal was to help me verbalize the memory as it was happening. I have never successfully been able to do this before. I always talk about the memory after the dissociation. This is problematic because I leave things out, I often dissociate a second time, and I don’t ever really feel like I receive support during the memory.

I don’t remember most of the questions that my instructor asked… and actually, I’m assuming she asked questions because that’s what we had discussed prior to this session. She asked me who was present during the traumatic event, but I don’t remember what else she asked. I remember telling her I was five years old, so it is possible she asked my age. I remember having a dialog with her, but I do not remember what was said, on her end or mine.

At some point, I must have felt complete or finished with it because I rolled over onto my side. My instructor rubbed my back and eventually I made my way into a child’s pose, where she pressed along my spine and then laid across my back. This was incredibly helpful. I felt instantly safe. I could feel her breathing and it prompted me to take cleansing breaths. When I was present again, I sat up and hugged her. I didn’t know what else I could possibly need in that moment other than a hug. I needed to feel safe, protected, and loved – all of the things that my Thai instructor shows me during our sessions. And as I hugged her, I cried.

I wasn’t sure where the tears were stemming from. However, now I realize that it was a combination of relief and gratitude. After 10 days of being consumed by this memory, I finally felt some peace and closure surrounding it. It happened. It happened to ME. But during my Thai Session, I was safe, protected, and loved. I was ok.

There were several times throughout the remainder of the session where I was little again, but this time I was little and being cared for through the massage. It was like all of the care I should’ve received as a small child was being absorbed into my body in this massage.

Miraculous. There isn’t another word for it.

I did have one other trauma memory surface – dinosaurs. I was too exhausted from the first memory to attempt to tackle it. It will be there another day, and I can work on it then. For today, I am proud of the exceptionally challenging work that I accomplished. My entire body feels it. I am tired, but it was so worth it. I am looking forward to hopefully sleeping tonight and making it through tomorrow without a flashback. As always, I have nothing but gratitude for Thai, my instructor, and the impact that our work has on my life.

A Better Week

I am having a better week this week.

My weekend was short. I got a part time job working on Sundays so that I can move out on my own. My daughter and I are supposed to move into our own apartment in a couple weeks.

Last night, I went to a women’s circle. I was anticipating it to be more like meditation. It ended up being much more intense. We had to have a dialog with our inner critic. My inner critic is a fucking cunt. She tells me that I am fat and worthless, and that I don’t deserve to be loved. I think that stems from fear: fear of rejection, fear of getting hurt, etc. The reality is: I don’t need my inner critic to protect me. I protect myself now. I take care of who I am today. I keep myself safe. I am strong enough to not need my inner critic to tell me those things.

Tonight, I went to yoga. My class was really good and I was able to do some things that I’ve never been successful with before. I found myself marveling at my strength and growth. I have come a long way in my yoga practice in just a couple of years.

On Wednesday, I have Thai Massage. I am anxious. My goal is to work my new memory. I am afraid it will be more than I can handle. I trust my instructor to help me get through it, but I worry about what happens when I go home. If all goes well though, I will leave feeling at peace with things – at least that’s the goal.

All in all, I can tell that this week is going to be better than last week.

I’m Having A Hard Week

The new memory that surfaced in yoga on Sunday is kicking my ass. It has all of the power right now. It’s winning. I am struggling to stay present and I have some pretty big emotions that are tough to sit with.

Tonight, I have intentionally tried to use all of my healthy skills. I spent almost an hour in restorative postures with my bolster. Eventually, I allowed myself to give in to the tears and just let them fall. I tried to talk to my boyfriend about what was going on, but he has a lot on his plate right now and wasn’t really emotionally available. While disappointing, I am not sure I blame him – my stuff is foreign territory and it’s a lot to handle. I reached out to my Thai Instructor to, at the very least, just touch base with someone who knows my history. I ate dinner with my daughter tonight. I worked. I talked to my ex husband (he had called about another thing and I was mid-crying because of trauma stuff when I answered the phone). I walked my dog. I prayed. And finally, I am writing.

I don’t understand why this memory is so different. In all of my other memories, it’s like I’m watching the event happen to my younger self. But in this memory, it is happening to me and it feels so intense when I have a flashback that I literally can’t become present again. I dissociate indefinitely. I cannot remember the last time my trauma stuff has been this dysregulating. It’s scary.

I’m going to bed. I hope that when I wake up, I will feel better.

New Memories Are Shit

It’s been a difficult 24 hours with flashbacks. I had a new memory come up in yoga last night. I always knew that things happened to me by my abuser in the bathtub, but I never really remembered them. In the middle of a restorative twist though, I did. It felt like I was submerged in the water, sliding against the wall in the bathtub, and feeling terrified.

I spent most of the restorative yoga class dissociated last night. I wasn’t able to find my breath. My instructor, who also happens to be my therapist, asked me a few times if I was ok. I don’t remember if I answered her, but I wasn’t ok. I was anything but ok.

Today, the same memory came up in the two yoga classes I took. Each time, my body filled with fear. But when the memory passed, I felt angry… angry that there are more memories. I want it to just end. I want to just be done with having complex PTSD. I can’t figure out how to make that happen. 😭

Tonight, my dog is laying on top of me. She knows that I am not ok. She knows that I need her weight to keep me present.

1000 Days

This weekend, I celebrated 1000 days of not cutting myself.

1000 complete days!

I never thought I would be able to go this long without cutting. In some ways, the last time I cut seems like yesterday, but in other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago. I don’t know that cutting would give me the relief that it used to. I have trained my brain to crave positive touch when I am overwhelmed or emotionally dysregulated (thanks, Thai Massage). And this morning, in yoga, when I was feeling overwhelmed with everything going on in my life, I began to lightly press my fingers into my forearm, tracing my scars and massaging away the urge to cut. Massaging my arm is something I’ve been doing for months now. Even though I usually can’t feel the massage, I believe it somehow helps the urge to cut dissipate.

My aliveness and how far I have come in 1,000 days, and everything I have worked through and conquered… it is all nothing short of miraculous. I have an incredible support system, and each person brings something different to the table to help me survive without cutting. I have yoga, which provides me with a haven to retreat to so that I can stay safe. I have a self-care practice that involves time for reflection, essential oils, leaving space, taking ownership, and making empowering choices. My life is different now than it was 1,000 days ago because I worked hard to make it different… and because I worked hard and showed up for myself, other people have continuously shown up for me.

For 1,000 days, I celebrated with nothing but gratitude with my daughter. We got ice cream. It seems simple. And truthfully, I was a bit disappointed that no one else showed up. But at the end of the day, my daughter is the entire reason I quit cutting in the first place. I am the reason I have continued to remain cut-free. It is only fitting that her and I celebrate on our own.

I am proud of where I am today. I know that I still have work to do. One day, I hope to be 100% free of all self harm. I’m not sure if that will ever be possible, but I am going to continue to strive for it. I will continue to fill my life with people who support me in the healthiest of ways, and continue to practice self-care as often as I can. One day, maybe I’ll have more days without cutting than with it. 💜

I Am Not A Time Travel Magician

I have spent some time this week reflecting on my last Thai Massage. I’ve talked through it with my therapist, and explained the frustrations that come with dissociation. I don’t always understand the purpose of the dissociations, but particularly in my Thai sessions, they seem to help me work through things at a deeper, subconscious level. For example, in Sunday’s Thai session, I didn’t want to be present; I wanted to stay in the memory. It was as if I were sitting right next to my younger self, stroking her hair as the boy hurt her. I didn’t want to come back to the present because I was terrified of leaving her alone by herself.

Weird as shit, right?

Yep. That’s my thought about it. I don’t understand it. I am not a time traveling magician! I can’t magically transport back 23 years and “save” my younger self. But in all actuality, this is what my dissociations sometimes feel like.

I am going to start working on verbalizing more in my Thai sessions. My hope is that this will help me have more power over the trauma memories, while at the same time giving me another way to work through them and process them. Typically, I don’t talk about what comes up for me in Thai… it is difficult for me to verbalize it because the words become jumbled or the dissociation doesn’t make sense… or it’s too scary to talk about. I spent some time talking with my instructor today about how we can work together to best support me during those moments in Thai when I am not present.

I think we have a really clear, solid plan in place and I am hopeful it will help. I’m also anxious though. I am afraid she will judge me or think that I am crazy. I know that logically that probably won’t happen, but the fear is still there. I am also afraid I won’t be able to be brought back to the present and I’ll end up hurting myself after the session.

I’ve expressed my concerns, we’ve developed a plan, and I know she’s going to help keep me safe in my next session. I am interested to see what this does for me. It will be the first time I’ve ever tried to articulate a dissociation as it is happening (or shortly after the fact). My next session is in 2 weeks 😬

Smushing Out The Sadness To Make Space For My Purposeful Life: August 26th Thai Massage

I haven’t been able to go to yoga much lately – only one class in the past 14 days. I was eager for today’s Thai Massage. My body and mind missed all of the things that I don’t get to experience when I skip yoga: connection with my instructor, receiving positive touch, stretching my muscles, releasing tension, breathing, processing emotions. My work schedule has been chaotic lately, and my self-care routine has been nonexistent.

Our session started differently today. We worked on my upper back and neck first because I have been having more pain there than normal. As we moved to my feet, my instructor talked about a yoga teacher training she had recently attended. Today, I found it easy to concentrate on what she had to say. None of my trauma memories were coming up, and instead of having to work to stay present, I was able to just listen and absorb what my instructor was passionately excited about. It is a delightful experience to be able to do that – to be able to just listen. So often in my life I have missed out on what someone is sharing with me because I am consumed with anxiety or trauma memories. Even though I knew that some trauma stuff would eventually surface in this session, I was not concerned about it. I was able to be a reciprocal conversation buddy for my instructor.

As my instructor worked the tops of my legs, my body willingly absorbed her weight. It was as if all of the tension I had been carrying was being smashed out of me… almost like a rolling pin flattening out dough until it is ready for its purpose. The weight felt so comforting that I asked her to do it again. Every ounce of anxiety left my body, trickling out of my fingers and toes.

Then, it was time for chimes. It has been a while since I have worked chimes, and I specifically requested them today. For the most part, my trauma memories have been dormant these past few weeks. Work has been busy and my daughter and I are preparing to move again. I haven’t had much time or energy to spend on the past. However, these last few days I have had some stuff surface and I knew I needed to find a way to work through it.

When my instructor got up to turn the chimes on, my body filled with anxiety. I am scared. The chimes began to play and my instructor worked the lines on my inner thighs. This time, the memory on the porch surfaced, but it was quickly followed by another memory: a new memory… one that had come up in restorative yoga around the middle of July. The fear wins. I dissociate. I am little. Seven maybe. We’re playing dinosaurs. This memory is different than the others. I feel the pain scraping against me and I pull back. His hand grips my leg, holding me down. I am frozen. Lost in the horror of the memory. My instructor tries to bring me back to the present moment, but I’m not sure I want to come back. I am still so afraid. And I don’t want to leave the little girl by herself. I have to stay with her.

I hear my instructor’s voice in the distance. She asks me what I am feeling. I can’t tell what she means. “I feel the weight from the eye pillows in my hands. It’s heavy, but in a good way.” I respond, but I’m still not present. The room is shifting in and out of focus and I watch, horrified, as the little girl hurts so much. You don’t deserve to be safe. You don’t deserve to be loved. You deserve to suffer. The voice repeats in my head and I watch as no one comes to save her… over and over he hurts the little girl. “And sad,” I say. “I feel sad.” It was as if my instructor were smushing out all of the sadness that existed surrounding my trauma stuff.

The tears begin to fall down my face. But I am so oblivious to the present moment that I don’t move; I don’t wipe them away. When my instructor finishes, I roll onto my side. The tears continue to fall. Eventually, when all of the tears stopped, I sat up. My instructor asked me if I needed anything. I wanted to ask for a hug, but I couldn’t find my words. I wasn’t present enough to speak. I shook my head no and we moved on.

I laid back down onto my side while my instructor massaged my back. Please don’t leave me. I was terrified she would get up and walk out. Logically, I know that she won’t. But in that moment, I couldn’t trust that. It took a long time for me to become present again, and when I finally got out of my dissociated state, I felt exhausted. If you didn’t deserve love, you wouldn’t be sitting here getting a Thai Massage; you wouldn’t spend the time and money that you do on self-care. 

I know that my parents did the best they could given their own mental health issues. However, it is still difficult to find peace surrounding the tremendous trauma I endured as a child. When I look at my trauma as a whole: the sexual abuse, the neglect, and the domestic violence, it is challenging to comprehend it all and it makes me feel an overwhelming sadness. How could one little girl go through so much all on her own? My heart aches for her. She didn’t deserve it.

As the massage continued, I verbalized some of these things. I also talked about my success with not cutting – almost 1000 days now. I am not sure if cutting would even satisfy me or decrease my anxiety the way that it used to. My body craves yoga and positive touch now when I become anxious. I crave connection with others and feeling like I matter when life becomes difficult. I no longer crave the sharp edge of my razor blade biting through my skin. This is an accomplishment that you will only understand if you have struggled with self-injury… and it is one that I never thought I would achieve. 

When my session ended, I felt complete. I had worked through the things that were most pressing. I allowed myself to sit with the sadness, to sit with the little girl that I used to be, and I allowed my body (present and past) to absorb the positive physical touch and compassion that I so desperately needed and deserved. Tonight, I am exhausted. But it was worth it. It feels like I am complete again, ready to face a new week. It is as if all of the sadness, anxiety, and pain I had been holding onto was rolled and smushed out of me so that I can move forward into living a purposeful life.

Punishing Myself

The other day I was eating my “lunch” at my coworker’s house. By “lunch” I mean: cheese stick and hard boiled egg. I made a comment about how it was supposed to be peanut butter and jelly sandwich day, but I couldn’t bring myself to make one and eat it. I talked about my resentment for my nutritionist and how I feel completely alone in this journey to eating more nourishing meals.

My coworker is not always the most compassionate when it comes to my issues, but that’s ok because sometimes I need to hear the raw truth. She looked at me and said “I don’t understand why as soon as you get one issue under control, another one shows up.”

She’s right.

I can never just be “normal.” I can never just be issue-free. I’m not sure that it’s a conscious decision, but rather my innate need to have control over something. My Thai instructor once pointed out that my continuous self-harm behaviors (including starvation) were ways of punishing myself. I was bitter about this comment at first, but upon reflection, I realized that her perception is probably accurate. I punish myself. Those words I identify with: disgusting, bad, and gross repeat in my mind every day. My mom telling me I’m fat when I’m 14 years old is a clip I cannot erase.

I want to get better, I really do. There is a big part of me that believes that I do deserve to be loved and cared for, by myself and others. But there is this other piece that has been there for my entire life, telling me that I don’t deserve anything.

Today, I am feeling torn, frustrated, and overwhelmed.

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