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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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A Day Of Firsts

I had therapy today for the first time in a week. I decreased my sessions from twice a week to once a week about 6 months ago. Currently, I am starting a “trauma work tune up.” I know that I don’t need regular trauma work anymore; however, occasionally my post traumatic stress symptoms become more prevalent. Right now is one of those times.

I wrote down a trauma memory today for the first time in months. It’s one that I have written and worked through over and over again. This time, when I wrote it, things were different. Historically, I have always switched back and forth between 1st and 3rd person point of view when writing about my memories. When the memories become painful or scary, I have always distanced myself from them, referring to my younger self as “her” or “the little girl.” Today is really the first day ever that I haven’t done that. My therapist says I am taking ownership over my memories. I don’t know about that… but it definitely makes them feel more real, more a part of me.

There was another first in my therapy session today. I started doing trauma work in September of 2015. In my very first sand tray session, we had therapy in a room other than my therapist’s office. Over time, this room has evolved into a “Breath Room.” It has yoga mats, bolsters, blankets, blocks, sandbags, etc. It also houses my box of play-doh, coloring books, crayons, etc. I have had therapy in this room for every session since September 2015. However, when I walked into that room today, it felt dark and dismal. I didn’t want to be in there. Instead, I walked out and asked my therapist if we could have therapy in her office. She seemed surprised, but agreed. I am pretty sure she smiled throughout my entire session. I didn’t think about what a big deal it was for me to have therapy in her office instead of the room that I’ve been in for the last 2.5 years. I didn’t plan it. I didn’t overthink it. But now, looking back, that is such a BIG deal! To go into a room without my bolster, play-doh, coloring book… a room where my only support is myself and my therapist… and read through a memory… that was huge!

After reading the memory, my body felt anxious. I knew that I needed the weight of a sandbag, so we did transition into the Breath Room. However, I made it through almost the entire session in her office. I didn’t hurt myself. I didn’t shut down. I was ok. 

I am proud of myself today. While these unexpected accomplishments may seem minor, to me, they were major. They are a true indicator of the progress that I have made.

Day 800

Today is 800 days without cutting. It’s also my first single Valentine’s Day since I was 13 years old. And actually, I’m pretty sure at 13, I had an online boyfriend that I was sexting with…. probably some 60 year old creeper to be honest… and his AIM screen name was probably something super cool like eyewantu696969 😂

This year, I loved seeing my daughter’s face when she got to see her Cinderella chocolates and tiny Princess Aurora doll that I got her. I loved making her treat bags for school and her valentines cards. Tonight, I made pasta for dinner and we played with her doll house. Before I picked her up from school, I got a quick workout at the gym and walked the dog. Overall, it was a pretty chill evening – nothing out of the ordinary.

Sometime between leaving the gym and picking up my daughter, the sunlight caught my forearm. My scars glared at me. I checked my app. 800 days. It has been 800 days since I’ve cut. I wanted so much to cut my entire arm in that moment. I can not explain why. I just wanted to. I wanted to cover the scars with blood so that I couldn’t see them anymore. I wanted to numb all of the things racing through my mind.

But I didn’t.

I emailed my therapist and went on with my evening. I’m laying in bed now and I can confidently say that I will make it to day 801. I practiced self care tonight: gym, nourishing food, legs up the wall, and now sleep. Tomorrow is a new day. I am looking forward to what it has to offer. 💜

$180 of Finding What Feels Good

I posted this about a year and a half ago. The conversation of sex toys came up in my Thai Session and it made me think about this post. This one still makes me smile. Perhaps this is why my marriage failed 😏

Courageous Yoga Chick

This weekend one of my friends had an online pleasure party. Did you know that this particular company sells a vibrator that costs $180?!?! I’m all about finding what feels good, but $180 seems a bit excessive. For $180, it better be the best damn vibrator in the world… and the batteries should never die.

As much as I would love to know what $180 on/in my chach feels like, I decided to settle with a more cost-effective toy. I found one that was only $40, and I felt like it would probably meet my needs. $40 still seemed a bit pricey for the two minutes of pleasure that I’m looking for, so I decided to run it by my husband first. Here’s the conversations:

Me: My friend is having this party and I found a $40 vibrator that I want. Do you care if I get it?

Him: Don’t…

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When I Wake Up, I’ll Feel Normal Again

Addiction.

It’s something I’ve struggled with my whole life. Whether it’s drugs, alcohol, self-injury, orgasms, or starvation, anything that dulls the pain is what I crave. After 5.5 years of AA, I have learned how to tune out the voice that tells me I need ____. However, with the recent stress of my sister being sick, that voice has become too loud to tune out.

My addictions are screaming at me. They are begging me to give in. Tomorrow I celebrate 800 days without cutting. However, tonight, I just need to feel a razor against my skin one more time. I just need to taste vodka. I just need to be hungry.

I know that the urges will pass. The cravings will dissipate. Life will go on. I will be ok. I know that I am stronger than my addictions. Hopefully when I wake up in the morning, I’ll feel normal again.

Processing Grief: February 12th Thai Massage

I had a much needed Thai Massage Session today. It had been just over four weeks since my last session, and I could tell that not only did my body physically need this session, I emotionally needed it as well.

I’ve been pretty distant from my blog lately. I have a hard time talking about my sister’s current state. She has been in the hospital for the last 4 weeks, with several trips up to ICU. My youngest sister and I were instructed by our mother to talk to our sister about how we will be ok if she decides to give up the fight. She’s been sick for 10 years now, and she’s tired. She told me last week that her body is tired, and she’s tired. I believe her. It’s been a hard 10 years. There have been countless surgeries (over 20 of which were brain surgeries). We’ve celebrated all of the holidays at the hospital by now, and several birthdays, a bachelorette party, and a honeymoon. The hospital is like our second home. And even though we try to always make the most of the situation, seeing my sister suffer for 10 years has been devastating. It is the grief cycle that never ends.

Originally I had planned for today’s session to focus on trauma work. I’m having more trauma memories come up lately, and they’ve been really dysregulating. I know there are things my body needs to process and store, but due to the stress of my sister being so sick, I decided to change the plans. Today’s session needed to be about self-care.

I’ve not been doing a very good job of taking care of myself lately. I find myself not eating healthy, not exercising like I was, not sleeping, and wrist banging/scratching again. I was ashamed of my scratched wrist this afternoon. I forgot how bright the new space is. It was impossible to hide my red scratches from my instructor as the sunlight streamed in through the windows. When she pointed them out, I apologized. Shame. She said I didn’t need to apologize to her, but maybe I could apologize to myself. That comment stuck with me. It made me think about how my body didn’t deserve to be scratched up yesterday. Instead, it deserved to be nourished and loved.

I worked hard in today’s session to stay present and just focus on accepting the care and love that I was receiving. There were a few moments when trauma memories came up. I need to work on my big memories again: the woods, dinosaurs, the night light, wind chimes... but for today, I just needed to take care of my grieving body and mind. I need to be present.

I cried before our session even began. I thought this would be an indicator of what the entire session would look like, but I only really cried towards the end. She had massaged my arms and my belly, and then began working on my back. I was laying on my belly as she pressed up and down my spine. I felt the sadness and grief radiating through my body, as if it were floating through my blood vessels and slowly dripping from my fingers and toes. My whole body felt sad. As my instructor pushed down on me, the sadness dispersed, making room for fresh air. It feels like you’re smushing out all of the hurt, I said. My instructor suggested we keep working on it. I wanted to just curl up into a ball and be numb, but I knew that I needed to feel the feelings. When she finished, I pressed back into child’s pose and the tears started. My instructor laid across my back. I tried to match my breathing to hers, but the tears wouldn’t let me. All of the sadness released as I sobbed, grieving my sister’s suffering.

My sister and I have always been incredibly close. Even though we fought a lot as kids, we were still always close. We have so many great memories together. Knowing that we may not get to make more memories together hurts. There are so many things that I want us to do together. I want us to travel together, celebrate holidays together outside of the hospital, go to yoga together, etc. I want her to be ok, but deep down I know that she never will be. Releasing some of that hurt today made my entire body feel a little better. I felt acceptance and peace for the first time in four weeks. I felt cared for.

During today’s session, my instructor asked me something along the lines of “what does taking care of yourself look like?” I quickly responded with I don’t know. I can give you a long list of what it doesn’t look like (scratching my wrist being the first thing that popped into my head), but finding things that look like self-care is difficult for me some days. I like to categorize Thai Massage as self-care; however, I think what I’m really doing is paying someone else to show me care. My goal for March (the hardest month of the year for me) will be to find at least ten things that I can do to show myself care, love, kindness, and compassion.

Post-session tonight, I am exhausted. However, I also feel at peace. I received a phone call with some positive news about my sister. I ate. I rested. I journaled. Tonight, for the first time in a couple weeks, I am going to bed feeling ok, feeling safe, and feeling cared for.

🙏🏼

ICU And A Sleepless Night

Some of my readers may remember my previous posts about my sister and her chronic illnesses. I haven’t posted much about it recently, but her health has continued to decline. Tonight, I am sitting in ICU with her. My heart breaks for her. No one should have to live in the amount of pain that she lives in. I am having a hard time leaving her. I’m not allowed to sleep in the room with her, but I can’t bring myself to leave her side. If I were dying, I would want someone to hold my hand.

Feeling Normal: My First Massage

I did itI finally had my first massage.

A year ago, I would’ve told you that there was no way in hell I would ever strip down mostly naked and let someone, a complete stranger at that, rub all over me. Actually, even after the fact, I’m still a little surprised by my follow through on this. Granted, I have been in bed with boys I barely know, and I’ve skinny dipped in the middle of a river. In high school band, I regularly stripped down to my thong in the middle of a bus parking lot to change clothes. But there is something different about being touched the way that you’re touched in a massage. It is more respectful; more caring. It’s the kind of touch that makes me uncomfortable. Give me pain any day; it’s familiar; it’s what I know…. but touch me with care and compassion, and it’s a breeding ground for anxiety and trauma memories.

I didn’t have a conversation with the massage therapist beforehand about my trauma. I completed her intake form and, in two small sentences, summed up what I’m about. In reality, two sentences doesn’t do it justice. 6+ years of sexual abuse, not to mention the physical abuse and neglect, all in two sentences? And the amount of work I do to live a “relatively normal life” and function each day? Two fucking sentences isn’t enough.

But I was determined to make this session about taking care of my body, not about trauma work. And in reality, I do want to be seen for more than my trauma stuff. So, two sentences was all the massage therapist got, and when she sat down and talked to me about the process, not once did we discuss my trauma. We talked about the pain in my back/neck, she went through how the whole massage would go, and then she left the room so I could prepare.

As I undressed and got under the blanket, I anxiously awaited her return. I took deep breaths, tapped my fingers, and tried to remind myself that I would be ok. Nothing that happens in this room will be worse than what I’ve already been through.

When she came back in, she jumped right into rubbing my back. I was oddly calm. And for the majority of the massage, I felt safe. I had written on my intake form that I do a better job of staying present if someone talks to me. She did just that. She talked. We talked about everything from Netflix to Tinder to dogs. There were a few times where trauma stuff came up for me: when she was working up my legs, when she was rubbing my left arm, and when she touched my feet. I anchored to her voice and my breath, determined not to go to those dark places today. I succeeded. I pushed the trauma memories away, knowing I could come back to them at a later time if I choose.

Overall, my experience was pleasant. I enjoyed most of the massage, and I’m happy to add this to my self-care tool box. More importantly, though, I am PROUD of where I am today. I am proud of myself for being at a point where I can enjoy receiving a massage for the sole purpose of taking care. A year ago, that wouldn’t have happened; but because of the combination of consistent therapy, Thai Massage, and neurofeedback, because of my hard work and partnerships with amazing professionals, I can relax and enjoy positive touch. Today, I feel “normal.”

First Day Jitters

I have my first regular massage today. I’ve only ever had Thai Massage, and it’s always been with an instructor that I know and trust. Actually, before my first Thai Massage, I sat down with my instructor and told her an overview of my life story. Her and I have worked closely to determine the best way for us to work together to create a positive experience for me.

Today will be different.

While I feel confident that the massage therapist I am seeing is a safe person, I can’t help be feel anxious. I am not anxious that she’ll hurt me; I am anxious about what will come up for me. My trauma stuff has been more prevalent lately. I’m trying to have the courage to face it, and to remember my intention for today.

The Little Things

There are these moments in life that are truly beautiful in every way possible.

When I walk my dog at night, I can often see all of the stars. Magnificent. The world is so much bigger than just me and I embrace that. I stare at the sky in aw and wonder.

This weekend, I was standing in my best friend’s living room belting Celine Dion with her at the top of my lungs, laughing until my eyes watered. Joy in its truest form. Pure; happy; connected. I cling to moments like that when life becomes overwhelming.

Sometimes, in yoga, I am so deep within my practice that it feels like nothing else exists. It is me, my body, and my breath. The rest of the world is invisible. I feel strong, powerful, and alive. I strive for that mindfulness.

Last week, I felt all of the stress and pain of selling my house, trauma work, and heartbreak. This week, I find myself appreciating the smaller moments in life. I am finding gratitude in little things like snuggles with my dog, fresh fruit, and blue skies. I am present; I am whole; I am courageous.

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