Courageous Yoga Chick

Overcoming PTSD and Self-Injury Through Yoga

Life Before Yoga – Read This First

“My name is Jennifer, and I’m an alcoholic.” The words rolled off my tongue so smoothly, you would’ve thought I had been sitting in AA meetings for years. The truth was, it was my very first meeting, and I was so scared that I was literally shaking. It was August 1, 2012. It is a date that will forever be engrained into my mind.

I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to be “sober” at that moment, but I also knew that I had to do something to escape the hell that was in my head. I had spent the previous year trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, fighting with my husband, and drinking. Now drinking wasn’t anything new in my life. I drank for the first time at the ripe old age of 12 and that phenomena of craving that they talk about in AA meetings was instant. Sitting in the Virgin Islands with my parents, waiting for them to walk away so I could have “just one more sip” of my mom’s daiquiri. Ha! If you have ever spent time with an alcoholic, you know that there is no such thing as “just one more sip.”

As I sat in that very first AA meeting (12 years after taking my first sip of alcohol), I reflected on my drinking. I had spent most of my teenage years drinking and drugging, but once I went to college, I tried to keep things mostly together and only drank occasionally. Of course every time I drank, it was always excessive. Gradually I drank more and more frequently and by 24, I was sitting in the rooms of AA wondering if I really needed to be sitting in this circle of crazy women. But I ended up having a lot more in common with those crazy women than I originally thought, and they told me to keep coming back….so I did.

Unfortunately, drinking wasn’t my only addiction. Believe it or not, most people in AA don’t fall into that “pure alcoholic” category – many of us have other addictions. Mine just happens to be one of the most taboo topics out there, even in 2016! Self-injury. Yep. That’s right. I’m a “cutter.” Ugh – “cutter” – a word that makes me cringe. It isn’t who I am, it’s what I do (or did) to cope with the emotions that I don’t want to feel. In all honesty, I’ve been self-injuring since I was just a kid, maybe 7 or 8 years old. It started with wrist-banging and hitting myself, and by the time I was 14 I had started cutting when life became too overwhelming. 14 years later, it’s still an addiction that I struggle with. But every day I go without it gets a little bit easier. Today is day 217 by the way…but who’s counting?

There are a number of reasons that people self-injure or drink or use drugs. For me, it is about numbing. It has always been about numbing. The things that I have been through in my life were truly tragic. I am a survivor of severe sexual abuse that lasted from the time I was about 5 years old until I was 11; sexual abuse that I never really disclosed to anyone until I was 27. In addition to that, I witnessed some pretty intense domestic violence growing up. Alcoholism runs in my family. I also grew up in a household with minimal to no emotional support. I am not writing this to get your sympathy. I am writing this because all of these circumstances and experiences factor into why I have “Complex” PTSD. This blog will hopefully help other people who have had similar experiences.

I have spent the last 15 years of my life in and out of therapy (and done some pretty intensive dialectical behavior therapy); I’ve been on various medications for depression and anxiety;  and I’ve used a variety of coping skills, healthy and unhealthy. In 2015, I started seeing a therapist whom I would disclose all of the details of my traumatic experiences to. In order to help me through the process, she suggested we incorporate yoga into our work (she was going through yoga teacher training at the time). Through yoga, I have learned to thrive. I have learned what it means to truly find inner-peace, love myself, and show compassion. I am different today because of yoga. I want this blog to showcase my experiences and help others who struggle with PTSD. 



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Post-Thai Update

Yesterday, I had an emergency Thai Massage to help my mind and body work through some very pressing trauma memories. After the session, I blogged about the experience and what I was taking from it. Writing about it helped me feel a sense of closure around the memory in the woods.

Today, I had therapy. I read the trauma memory I had worked in Thai to my therapist. Usually, my voice is quiet and shaky, and I’m unable to read the memory without several long pauses. Today, even though I was reluctant, I read through the memory with a smooth, audible voice. After reading it, I laid on my bolster in a restorative twist, feeling the memory work it’s way out through cleansing breaths.

It is 11:00pm and I can say that today is the first day in weeks that I have not had any flashbacks. No trauma memories surfaced, aside from when I read the memory in therapy. The anxiety that I felt yesterday has dissipated. I feel ok again. I am grateful for my support system, the tools I utilize to work through trauma, and my breath. I am grateful that I am safe today.

Emergency Thai: November 11th Thai Massage

I had an “emergency Thai Massage” today. Any time I feel like I need Thai as soon as possible and I don’t have a session on the schedule for a while, I consider it an “emergency.” This felt like a legit emergency though. My trauma stuff has been so, so challenging this past week. I went on a walk with my friend earlier tonight; her and I try to walk our dogs together once a week. On at least three occasions during the walk, I started to become anxious and dissociate when my dog traipsed through piles of fallen leaves. Images of the memory of the first time I had sex with my abuser flashed through my mind.

When I walked into my instructor’s house tonight for our emergency Thai session, I was anxious. My whole body was shaking. I wrote about the memory in the woods – the first time we actually had sex. This memory should be easier. It isn’t painful like when he used objects. But it’s not easier; at least not right now.

We started our Thai session with feet. I am having a lot of joint pain right now, and there were several moments that were physically unpleasant as my instructor massaged my feet and toes. I tried to verbalize the things that didn’t feel good, practicing my abilities to advocate for myself when something hurts.

Then we moved to my legs. I asked my instructor to play wind chimes. In addition to leaves, the memory with the wind chimes, the first time he put an object inside of me, has been coming up frequently. I have been getting anxious in yoga any time music plays or the song changes – anxiously awaiting chimes to start. I was so anxious about it in Thai Massage tonight that my entire body was shaking and I could not make it stop. My instructor cued my breath and told me where she was pressing. I couldn’t feel her pressing on my legs, but her voice made me feel less alone and afraid. I was able to get through chimes without completely dissociating. It was a lot of work, and when chimes ended, I rolled onto my side so that I could find my breath. When I got into child’s pose and my instructor laid across my back, I knew I was going to be ok. My hope is that I will remember that feeling, that calmness and safety, the next time I hear sounds that remind me chimes.

As our session progressed, and my instructor worked her way up my legs, I began to feel the pain between my legs. This pain is always associated with another memory – not the memory in the woods. We talked about that some, and why that sensation is tied to that particular memory. When we switched to the other side, without any real warning, I was gone – trapped in the woods. I am nine years old. This is how you play Indians. The little girl lays on her back – jeans off. I feel the leaves crunching in my hands and under my body. He’s so heavy. Everything feels heavy. I watch as he hurts the little girl so, so much. 

I couldn’t get out of the memory. I think my instructor talked to me, but all I can remember is the overwhelming fear that consumed me. She pressed on my right leg just like she had my left, but I was too far gone to distinguish between past and present. He’s hurting her. I jerked away and rolled over. In my mind, I was screaming at my abuser to stop. I don’t know how long I laid on my side. It felt like an eternity before I could catch my breath. I could feel my instructor sitting next to me, and I am pretty sure her hand was on my back, though I couldn’t really feel her. I did hear her words though, “You are safe.” I didn’t feel safe. I felt terrified and vulnerable. If I had to pick anyone in the world to be terrified and vulnerable with though, it would be my Thai instructor. I rolled onto my belly and she began pressing on my back. She was smushing out the memory, smushing out the fear, and smushing out the pain. I got into a child’s pose and she laid across my back. The heaviness of her body brought me back to the present moment. I am safe. He can’t hurt me right now. 

When I finally sat up, I asked for a hug. Every bit of the nine-year-old me felt that hug. That flashback was one of the scariest moments I have had in Thai, and I cannot explain why. It was almost as if all of the fear that I felt on that Fall day at nine years old had come rushing back into my body. Fear. I was afraid of the boy who hurt me. 

This was, in a way, an “ah-ha” moment for me. I had never really identified with fear when I was little. My present-day self was and is very much afraid of my trauma stuff. It is dysregulating and difficult. But my younger self was fearless in the throws of it — or so I thought. I have often felt like maybe what I went through wasn’t actually abuse… maybe I wanted it to happen… maybe I wanted him to have sex with me. But no. Today’s crippling flashback in Thai validated that I did not want him to have sex with me that day. I was terrified of him; terrified of what he would do to me. I lived in a constant state of fear that he would hurt me more than the time before.

The remainder of our session was relatively uneventful in all of the best ways. I appreciated the attentiveness and care my instructor showed my body as I laid on the mat. I was exhausted from the work I had done on the memory. However, at least for now, that memory feels complete, and my body was able to receive positive physical touch without more trauma memories arising.

When I got home, I was able to walk into my apartment, across the leaf-covered sidewalk, without dissociating. I ate soup and a grilled cheese sandwich – comfort foods. And now, I need to go to sleep. My whole body feels drained from the trauma work I did tonight. I am hopeful that I will have less flashbacks this week.

What A Week

It has been a week.

Work has been terrible. I am actively job hunting in hopes to find something less stressful.

My trauma stuff continues to be challenging. I had two meltdowns this week over trauma triggers. Both times I sobbed, tugged on my hair, and thought about cutting. I didn’t hurt myself though, so that was successful 🙂

I broke up with my boyfriend of almost 9 months. The last few months have been rough for us. He has pretty much quit acting like my boyfriend. I thought ending things with him would be easy, but the reality is it has really sucked. I really liked him. I saw a future with him. He checked most of my boxes and I enjoyed spending time with him. But a couple of months ago he became depressed, and it greatly affected our relationship and his ability to be my boyfriend. He doesn’t really want to get help, so there isn’t a lot I can do for him, which is sad.

I did decide that I want to date women. I’ve liked girls for a long time now, at least the last 14 or 15 years. I’ve hooked up with girls, but I’ve never actually dated one. It’s no secret that I have a thing for girls though. I’m having a tough time finding girls who want to date me. I’ve been on a couple of dating apps and haven’t found anyone who is interested in me. It’s a bit depressing, but I’m trying to trust that things will happen if and when they are supposed to.

I woke up at 5am today to my 4-year-old covered in vomit and crying. Stomach virus. Of course, I’m out of PTO. While I enjoyed the snuggles, naps, and Netflix time with my daughter, I really needed to be at work.

Despite all of the shittiness from this week, I am going into the weekend with a positive outlook. I am hoping that everything will work out just the way it is meant to 💜

All Of Me Matters, All Of The Time: November 4th Thai Massage

I had Thai Massage today. It has been a little over three weeks since my last one, which really seems like forever ago. I had mixed feelings leading up to today’s session: I was looking forward to it, but also anxious. My trauma stuff has been more prevalent lately, and my flashbacks and dissociations have been more intense. I wasn’t sure how this would show up in my Thai session, but I trusted my instructor to help me through whatever surfaced.

The space we typically use for Thai Massage was unavailable today, so the session occurred in my instructor’s home. It took me a few minutes to adjust to the new environment. However, once I examined the space and picked out a few things that I could focus on if needed, I was ok. My instructor played the same music that she always played, I had my bolster and my blanket, and I was safe.

The beginning of the massage was totally ok. I had a few sensations that were triggering, and I would pull away from my instructor, breathe, and then continue talking. When the talking stopped, the trauma memories would surface. I tried to keep talking. I was terrified of dissociating, not confident in my ability to become present again. As my instructor worked the inner lines of my legs, the pain between my legs took over and I quickly became trapped in a memory. I am so little – seven, maybe eight years old. My abuser and I sit by our nightlight. We’re supposed to be sleeping, but we aren’t. I couldn’t make myself come back to the present, not completely. I was terrified of leaving the little girl in the memory alone. He hurts her so much in that memory. It’s not fair. She deserves to be safe. 

I don’t know how long I was stuck in the memory, but it feels like it was a large portion of my session. I wasn’t able to verbalize the memory today. All I can remember is being so, so afraid. I was afraid of leaving the little girl alone; I was afraid of telling my instructor what happened to the little girl; and I was afraid I would be stuck in the past forever. Finally, when my instructor asked me what would be helpful, I asked her to press on my back. I rolled onto my stomach and felt my body absorbing the weight of my instructor. Each time she pressed her palms into my back, the memory dissipated a little more. When she laid across my back while I was in a child’s pose, and I felt her breathe, I realized that I no longer needed to be stuck in the past.

Being in the past with the little girl doesn’t change what happened. She survived it all on her own, without the help of my present-day self, or any other adult to help her through it. For someone who was so, so little, she was so brave. She didn’t need me to hold her hand through it, even though she wanted someone to be there for her. She was able to take care of herself during those terrifying moments of excruciating pain. And throughout it, she did not cry a single tear. 

One of the things my instructor and I discussed today was my mantra: “I Matter.” This is the mantra that I repeat to myself when I am contemplating self-injury, suicide, or battling with whether or not I should eat when I’m hungry. There are still many moments when I don’t believe that I matter. The adult-me knows that I matter. That is why I work so hard for myself; it’s why I invest in therapy, and Thai Massage, and a nutritionist, and all the other things that I do to take care of Me. The younger version of myself, the little girl that I used to be, does not believe she matters. Because when I was little, my safety and other basic needs did not matter. Little Jen was not important, not worthy of being loved – she didn’t deserve to be safe or taken care of. That’s the voice that drives a lot of my suicidal thoughts and urges to self harm. If I’m not careful, that inner voice can make me fall down the rabbit hole, trapping me in Wonderland.

As the session was coming to an end, and my instructor massaged my arms, I felt safe and cared for. I closed my eyes and could see my younger self absorbing all of the care and love that my Thai instructor was giving in that moment. My Thai Massage sessions are my most favorite thing that I do for myself as part of healing from trauma. They are one of the only times where I feel like my younger self matters. Something about it truly bridges the gap for me between today and 22 years ago. If I could afford to do it every day, or even every week, I would. For the first 28 years of my life, I did not believe that I mattered, and that includes the first 12 years of critical development. So far, Thai Massage with my particular instructor has been the only thing to successfully make my younger self feel like she matters. If I could find a way to help that part of me feel loved and cared for on a daily basis, I would imagine my life would look very different. It’s actually hard to fathom a day when I will 100% believe my mantra: I matter. However, I will continue to strive for that. I will continue to work hard for myself and invest in the things that help me receive the care and support that I did not receive when I was little, even though I was able to be brave enough to survive it on my own. I deserve love and support because ALL OF ME MATTERS. 

Double Down on Dissociation

If you read my last post, you know that I’m having some issues with dissociation right now. If you didn’t see it, you may choose to read it here. My therapist’s response to my increased dissociations was that I needed more neurofeedback. While I don’t think neurofeedback is going to make things worse, I’m not 100% confident it’s going to fix it either. And, ultimately, I’d like to just be able to help myself when I dissociate. I ended up reaching out to my Thai instructor about it because she has witnessed and been involved in my dissociations more than anyone else.

I talked to my instructor about how I instinctively resort to self injury when I dissociate – that’s what brings me back to present. But, I would like to be able to come back to the present moment without hurting myself. After some discussion, we concluded that the strong physical sensation of self-injury is what brings me back, just like her pressing on my back firmly while wind chimes play during my Thai Massage helps keep me present. We started brainstorming other activities I could do. We talked about squeezing ice, a strategy I had used when I was much younger. We also talked about various yoga poses and gross motor movements that could help.

I ended up making an index card to use when I dissociate. My hope is that I will remember to use it. If I can use it enough times consistently, maybe I can successfully retrain my brain to not self injure when I dissociate. I added cooking to the list. I was hesitant about being in the kitchen when I dissociate, however, following a recipe and a list of steps could help bring my brain back to the present moment.

I still have a lot of fear around dissociation and its impact on my behavior. My worst episodes of self harm have been when I’ve been in a dissociated state. That includes my most recent one about six weeks ago where I left therapy in a dissociated state and tore my wrist up with my fingernails during my drive to yoga class.

I’m hopeful that having visible, written steps will make a difference. I have Thai on Sunday and I am a little anxious about what may happen if I dissociate. But, I know that it’s safer to dissociate in Thai than it is at home. And today, I encountered a trauma trigger (leaves crunching under my feet) without dissociating. Perhaps this is just a phase that will quickly pass. Either way, my index card is going on the kitchen counter so it will be clearly visible.

Edit: The updated title is courtesy of my Thai instructor – she’s so good at coming up with snazzy titles 😏

Dissociation Probs

Today is Tuesday. I need to write today.

I had a small breakdown in therapy yesterday towards the very end of my session. It still feels incomplete — I feel incomplete. I have had a drastic increase in dissociation lately… probably the last five or so days. I am skipping a step in my dissociations though. Normally, a trigger is present, then a trauma memory surfaces, and then I dissociate. Right now, that middle step is missing. So, a trigger is presented, and then I immediately dissociate. Because the middle step is missing, I am not able to use any skills to prevent the dissociation. It happens so fast that I don’t see it coming.

The result? I have so much anxiety over “what if I’m triggered.” I haven’t felt this way, afraid of being triggered, since the very beginning of trauma work. But right now, I am living in fear of my past. Tonight in yoga, I was terrified that wind chimes would play in the music. It was actually so stressful that I couldn’t keep up in class. Physically and mentally, I was consumed by the fear of the past surfacing again. And ya know what? There weren’t any wind chimes in the music tonight!

Some of you may be thinking: so what if you dissociate? 

I have a problem with dissociation. If I dissociate for too long, I hurt myself. It is inevitable. My Thai instructor once tried to talk to me about finding another solution other than hurting myself, but I honestly can’t right now. Even in yoga on Saturday when I dissociated, I dug my fingernails into my ankle until I became present again. If I dissociate for too long, I always resort to hurting myself to become present. It’s like this innate response that happens.

Last night, I had a dream about cutting. I dreamt that I cut my entire left arm, from wrist to elbow. I had cut so many times, so deeply that I needed to go to the hospital to get stitches. In my dream, I called my therapist and left her a voicemail to let her know what I had done. I woke up this morning in a panic, not sure if it was real. When I realized it was not real, there was a part of me that was worried the dream may be foreshadowing what’s coming. I am terrified that I will cut if I dissociate at home. I am trying to keep myself and my mind busy, so that I do not become triggered. The dissociations have been coming so quickly that I can’t prevent them. And if I can’t prevent myself from dissociating, then I am afraid I won’t be able to prevent myself from cutting. If any of my readers have ever experienced anything similar, or have suggestions on how to end a dissociative period without self-injuring, please share with me. ❤

Anchors and Actions

For my work with my health/life coach, I am supposed to be working on anchors and action steps. Anchors are things that can help remind me why I am doing this hard work to eat healthy, nourishing meals three times a day, and help me combat the negative self-talk that I have around food.

My anchors include:

  1. My 2018 vision board
  2. My app that counts how many days since I have cut (1051)
  3. A picture of my daughter
  4. Yoga Classes, Thai Massage, and my home-practice
  5. My Alice tattoo (safety and santosha)

These past four days, I have had to use my anchors to remind me of why it is important to practice ahimsa and eat. Today was a difficult day in therapy. I worked in my sand tray. When I had finished the scene, the tears were streaming down my face. I worked to process letting go of the blame and shame that I have carried for not telling anyone about the abuse when it began. I was so afraid of getting in trouble when I was little. The work in therapy was difficult and draining. All day, I have not really been hungry or wanted to eat. However, I reminded myself of my anchors and ate 2.5 meals today. While it isn’t a complete 3 meals, it is more than I ate last Monday.

In addition to anchors, my coach and I came up with five action steps that I am supposed to take.

  1. Be aware of mental clutter (negative self-talk) as it occurs and confront it, going back to my mantra of “I matter.”
  2. Connect with my anchors
  3. Pay attention to my feelings around food
  4. Eat mindfully (food meditations, how is the food nourishing my body, etc.)
  5. Eat 20-minute meals
  • I have struggled the most with number 5. I don’t eat 20-minute meals. And the idea of eating enough food to take up 20 complete minutes is overwhelming and terrifying.
  • This past weekend, I saw my family really for the first time in 2 months. They all commented about how skinny I am and how much weight I’ve lost. The only person who said it with concern was my Nana. Everyone else praised me. I didn’t want their compliments though. There was a part of me that wanted them to ignore my weight loss, and another part of me that wanted them to acknowledge it as an issue and offer help. None of that occurred though. Instead, they (with the exception of my Nana) raved about my figure, and the whole time I hung my head in shame, knowing I don’t deserve praise for starving myself.
  • My focus in therapy and with my nutritionist will be on the emotional aspects of diet and food over these next few weeks/months as I continue to work with my health/life coach on what and how to eat. I feel really good about the level of support that I have surrounding my food issues right now. I am hopeful that I will be able to finally make some progress in this area if my life. And truthfully, I look forward to the day when food no longer overwhelms or terrifies me.
  • Free Life/Health Coaching

    I was chosen to participate in 12 free weeks of life/health coaching. It could not have come at a better time. I have been working really hard on my food issues and have felt pretty defeated lately. I found out late last week that I was chosen for this free program. I am grateful to have this additional support. I see a nutritionist every 2-3 weeks, but my insurance doesn’t cover it and I can’t afford to go more frequently, even though I need to. This additional support of a free health coach will hopefully help me feel more supported and have more structure as I go along this journey.

    I met with my life/health coach today for the first time (she is both a life coach and a health coach… and a retired nurse). I enjoyed my meeting with her and I think I can learn a lot from our work together.

    My goal for the end of the 90 day journey:

    Eat three balanced meals a day without having negative self-talk about my weight, the food I’m eating, etc.

    My goal for this week:

    Acknowledge the negative self-talk and challenge it, sticking to my mantra of “I matter.”

    I am looking forward to the possibilities that these next 90 days hold 💜

    An Update On Self-Care This Week

    I am halfway through the week. I have been practicing self-care by making sure I eat meals. Yes, I know that sounds dumb, but I promise it is not as easy as you would think to make myself eat regular meals throughout the day. I saw my nutritionist today and I got so overwhelmed by how difficult it is to eat some days that I broke down in tears. I don’t usually cry in front of people, but I just couldn’t help it. It feels like I am failing at overcoming my disordered eating habits. However, yesterday and today I was able to eat 3 complete meals each day. This is huge progress.

    Other ways I have practiced self-care this week:

    • writing
    • going to bed at a normal time
    • investing time and energy into my job
    • enjoying long walks with my dog
    • staying in the present moment with my daughter

    It has been 9 days since I’ve seen my therapist. When I last saw her, I was pretty suicidal. I don’t see her for 5 more days, but overall, I am doing mostly ok. Aside from my frustration over food issues, I haven’t really had much come up in the way of trauma memories. I also haven’t had any major urges to self-harm, and my suicidal ideation is getting back under control.

    All in all, I am doing ok.

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