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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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Back To Reality

I am back from NYC and missing it terribly. I love all of the things about it there. I love that I can disappear into the crowd. I love the subway. I love the food. I love the rawness.

Today I had flashbacks in yoga. Not only were we in reclined bound angle, chimes were playing. I chose to work on it more in therapy this afternoon. I set my phone up to play the chimes track that my Thai instructor typically plays. I felt the anxiety start. My instructor talked me through a body scan and cued my breath. It didn’t matter. My brain knew it needed to be anxious. Snapshots of laying on the wicker couch flashed through my mind. After 4 minutes and 15 seconds, I had had enough.

The rest of therapy was mostly fine. However, it occurred to me that one of my biggest dilemmas at the moment is that I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I’m 30 years old, with a slew of higher ed degrees and certifications, but I don’t know what I want to do with my career. I don’t feel like I make much of an impact with my life right now. I feel like I could and should be doing more. I just don’t know what I want that to look like.

In the next six to twelve months, I’ll need to make a decision about where I want to live. I’m not sure if I want to stay where I am, or move closer to my family and boyfriend…. or move somewhere else entirely, like NYC. I would love to live in Brooklyn. But a move like that makes me nervous. I’d be so far away from all of my supports. I just don’t know what I want to do. I don’t know what would be most beneficial for me and my daughter.

I Am Happiest When I Am Traveling

My first day in NYC was packed. My sister and I walked roughly 27,000 steps yesterday! We walked through Central Park, ate an amazing dessert at Alice’s Tea Cup, shopped on Lexington, got pizza from My Pie, saw A Bronx Tale at Longacre Theater, ate and shopped in Time Square, and, of course, got cheesecake from Junior’s.

“Busy” is an understatement.

When I was video chatting with my boyfriend last tonight, he said, “Oh my gosh, I think this is the happiest I have ever seen you!” Yep. It is. Because I am the happiest when I am traveling. I love exploring new things and being away from the stress of my everyday life. It is easier to manage my mental health when I don’t have to also deal with life stressors.

Today has been a busy day in NYC. I am loving every minute of it though.

Here We Go ✈️

I’m heading to NYC with my youngest sister this weekend. We’ll be attending a couple of hours of free life coach training, and, of course, exploring the city that never sleeps. When I went to NYC last August, I fell in love with the city. However, it was also during this trip that I realized my then-husband and I had nothing in common anymore.

I am hopeful that this NYC trip is full of care-free fun. I’ve already been hardcore patted down by TSA. Neurofeedback must be helping because I am not anxious at all 😊

Actively Unstuck

It’s been exactly a year since my first Thai Massage. I went back and found the post I wrote after that first session. Wow! How powerful! I am so grateful I chose to incorporate this into my healing process. The partnership I have built with my instructor is such a special part of my life. 💜

Courageous Yoga Chick

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

Well, seven and a half…

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Celebrity Suicides

The recent celebrity suicides have been difficult for me. I remember when Chester Bennington died by suicide last year. I remember how everyone posted about the suicide hotline and the need for more awareness around mental health and suicide ideation. I blogged about the role that dissociation and sexual abuse plays in suicide ideation. You can find that post here.

Today, a friend of mine wrote about how inspirational Anthony Bourdain was, and how his words and his life mattered. I instantly found myself wondering what people will say about me when I die. How much meaning does my life really have? Would anyone even notice? Like most deaths, I imagine people will be sad for a little while, and then move on. Their lives will continue. I will be forgotten.

This life that we are given… what are we doing with it? If I died tomorrow, would any of it have mattered? I want to do something different. I want to change the way people view suicide. It isn’t a selfish act. It isn’t about anyone else. It is about finding respite from the demons that haunt every thought. It is about being so tired of fighting that you just finally give in.

I see these celebrities taking their own lives and I just want to say, “I get it. I’ve been there.” And I have. More than once. But I don’t have the answers. I don’t know how to help someone when they are suicidal. I don’t know what would help me if I were suicidal. I don’t think anyone does. All we can do is be present for each other. If we can show up for each other, stepping outside of our own minds for just a little while, we can find that being present for someone else can actually help silence our own negative thoughts.

Show up. Be present. Spread love.

Traveling Back In Time

The TimeHop app can be a painful reminder when you’re going through a divorce. This morning, as I scrolled through the pictures, I came across one from last year. I am sitting on my bathroom floor, the door is closed, and I am clinging to my emotional support dog who is sitting on my lap. In that moment, she was weighing me down so I didn’t hurt myself. She isn’t a trained emotional support dog, but she learned very early on when I am a danger to myself. When I am struggling with suicide ideation, urges to self-injure, nightmares, or dissociation, my dog will lay next to me or on top of me. She is incredible. And in this picture, she is sitting on my lap, waiting with me until the feelings pass.

The reason I felt the need to share this today is because I no longer have to lock myself in a bathroom. I remember this day. I remember my ex-husband yelling at me, calling me a bitch, and making me feel worthless and unsafe. I remember thinking that I was trapped, that I would never be able to leave him.

A year later, I have been on my own for almost 10 months. My daughter and I are doing great. I only get stressed out like that when he and I fight on the phone, which has improved greatly since I blocked him on social media. Now, when life becomes challenging, I reach out to my cousin, who I live with. I talk about what’s going on. I don’t feel afraid to be myself or ask for support in the house where I currently live. I don’t feel degraded on a daily basis. I don’t feel unsafe.

The fact that I had to lock myself in a bathroom with my dog several times a month should have been a sign that I was in an unhealthy relationship. But I had done it for so many years that it just seemed normal. A year later, I feel sad for that girl who had to lock herself in a bathroom to escape the wrath of her husband. No one should ever have to live in that kind of fear.

Reflections and Growth

This afternoon, I was walking to yoga class. I realized it had been about 2 years since I started attending classes at my home studio. I thought about that first year of yoga. I was so anxious all the time. The act of even going to a class made me anxious. I would walk in, head down, quietly set up my mat, not make eye contact, and hope no one noticed me.

Today was a very different experience from that first year. I walked in, shoulders back, admiring the blue sky and green trees on the way. I didn’t feel any anxiety. I wasn’t worried about the class or the instructor. I was eager for the class, and eager for the opportunity to connect my breath with movement. It didn’t matter to me if I was noticed or not – I was there for myself.

As I thought about this shift that I’ve had in the past two years, I reflected on how my journey with yoga began. I have so much gratitude for my therapist. I don’t know where I would be right now had she not introduced me to yoga. My entire life is different because of it. The way I view myself, the way I view the world, the way I project myself into the world is different because of my experiences with yoga. I did a lot of work to get to this place. I pushed forward when I wanted to stop. I worked hard for myself in and outside of my therapist’s office. I committed to bettering my life. I was determined to feel better. And that is exactly what has happened.

There are not words to adequately describe how grateful I am for this moment.

Bad Days and Sharp Edges

I’m struggling tonight. I shouldn’t be. I should be perfectly ok. But I’m not.

My ex and I had another huge fight today. I ended up blocking him on social media because of his comments. Then he started texting me, calling me a whore and a slew of other things. I wish it didn’t hurt so much when he said mean things to me or about me.

Work was busy today. My daughter was a handful. Our AC is broken. All of the life on life’s terms bullshit is weighing me down. I tried to do some self massage on my arm, but it didn’t help. I struggled to stay present all afternoon. I can’t eat. I just feel numb.

As I was looking for my extra tube of toothpaste, I found the scissors I used to cut with. It’s true that nothing cuts quite as good as a razor blade, but these were always a close second. I ran my finger over the tip to feel the sharp edge. I know I shouldn’t. I know I will regret it if I do.

Instead of cutting, I’m going to go to bed. I hope when I wake up, tomorrow will be better.

Brave, Not Broken: June 3rd Thai Massage

It’s been three and a half weeks since my last Thai Massage. This seems like an average amount of time, but prior to this stretch, I had appointments almost weekly while working through some childhood traumas. While my body appreciates weekly Thai Massage Sessions, my bank account does not. By the time today’s session rolled around, I emotionally and physically needed the massage. I went into today’s session just wanting to feel cared for.

Our session began in the usual way. I talked a little about what’s been going on with my ex. I haven’t been actively working on my trauma stuff these past few weeks, so I wasn’t sure what would come up for me today. As my instructor massaged my feet and legs, there were no trauma memories that surfaced. We talked about my ex, yoga retreats, and my love for hot blonde girls.

My instructor asked me how things were with my mom. If you read about my last Thai Session, you may remember that I was working through the neglect and the lack of support I received as a child from my mom. Things with my mom are mostly ok at this point. I feel a sense of acceptance around the neglect. It’s like: “I was neglected as a child and that sucked. It was not ok. But it happened, and I survived. I am ok now.” I currently don’t feel resentful towards my mom for it. Actually, I feel a little sad for her. Whatever was going on for her during that time of my life must have been incredibly difficult for her to treat me the way that she did.

As the massage continued, we did a stretch that was a little bit different. My feet were flat on the floor and my knees were up towards the ceiling as I laid on my back. My instructor pressed her hands into my calf muscles. We were discussing something at the time, but I can’t remember what it was. Out of nowhere, the room shifted. I wasn’t expecting it. I’m little. 7 or 8 maybe. I lay on my back on the bottom bunk. My feet press into the wood that supports the mattress of the top bunk. What happens next is scary and it hurts. The fear consumes me.

My instructor asked me how I was doing. It must be obvious to her when I have trauma memories come up. I wonder if it’s obvious to everyone? I talked to her about the memory. I told her that one day, I hope I can view my sexual abuse memories the same way that I view my neglect memories: This happened to me. It sucked. But I got through it and I’m ok now. Unfortunately, there is still so much fear and sadness that surrounds these memories. It’s hard to believe I will ever get to that point.

When it was time for arms, I thought about the urges to cut that I had battled earlier that afternoon. I thought about the sting of my ex’s words: “I mostly just got the broken you.” Broken. It’s not a word I have ever used to describe myself. I wanted to cut my arm until the sting of his words dissipated.

I decided to share his comments with my instructor. As I did, the tears welled up in my eyes. I wasn’t broken. I did all of the things I was supposed to do when I was meant to do them. I firmly believe I would not have been able to do trauma work when I was younger. After three years sober, I was finally ready to address the abuse I endured and start to heal.

I rolled onto my side and cried. My instructor rubbed my back, and for a moment, I was little again… my Nana rubbed my back as I laid next to her. I could see the little girl that I used to be, and despite everything she was going through, she was not “broken.” She was brave.

Next, it was time for chimes. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do chimes today. Because I am not actively doing trauma work right now, I also questioned if I needed to work on chimes. What is my purpose for working on chimes today? I decided to work on them. Because there was the one trauma memory that came up earlier in the session, I figured chimes would maybe be a good way to tie up any loose ends from that or let me know if there is more work that needs to be done on that memory or any others. As the chimes played, I did ok at first. The longer they played though, the harder it was to stay present. The room shifted and my body filled with fear and sadness. The same memory that I typically associate with chimes took over. I am six and we play doctor; it’s the first time he put an object inside of me. The chimes end and I push back into child’s pose.

The fear and sadness lingered. I took several cleansing breaths, but it didn’t go away. My tummy felt anxious. Suddenly, my instructor’s hands were pressing on my back. I am little again. I am riding my bike and the warm sunshine splashes on my face. Peace radiates throughout my body – the fear is gone. I sat in my child’s pose, feeling every bit of six years old. It wasn’t the kind of six years old that I had experienced as a kid though. Instead, I felt six years old and happy. I felt an abundance of peace. This is what life should feel like for a six year old.

As my session came to an end, I thought about the fear. I lived in so much fear for most of my life. It wasn’t until I started getting Thai Massages that the fear really started to diminish. Between therapy, Thai, and neurofeedback, I have finally found some respite. Now, the fear only makes itself present when there are trauma memories… or when my ex husband is being verbally/emotionally abusive. However, for the most part, I have been able to find freedom from the fear. My hope is that as I continue to grow and move beyond my traumatic experiences, the fear surrounding my memories will be eliminated completely. One day, I want to feel the way that six year old girl felt while riding her bike with the sun shining on her face — I want to feel peace.

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