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Courageous Yoga Chick

Overcoming PTSD and Self-Injury Through Yoga

A Hot, Drunk Mess

I have spent my weekend cleaning, trying to get my house ready to sell. It has been exhausting. I still have so much to do, and my motivation is quickly dwindling.

As I was cleaning off a bookshelf and making a pile of books to donate, I came across a picture from prom my senior year. 


The image made me laugh a little at first, but then I looked closer. Anyone else would probably see this and say that I was having a great time partying for senior prom. The reality of this picture is heartbreaking though. 

I had just turned 18. I was torn between wanting to have sex with my boyfriend, but also wanting to avoid it. I remember him pushing me to sleep with him that night and me getting up and walking out…. well, stumbling is probably more realistic. 

That night, I drank no less than 7 Smirnoff Ice drinks. I remember because I had a whole six pack to myself and then had to take one from my friend’s pack. At some point, there was vodka involved, but I don’t remember how much. I know I threw up, but continued to drink afterwards. Actually, I drove from our party house to my friend’s house. It’s a miracle that I wasn’t hurt or didn’t hurt someone else. In the morning, I got up and went to church, because I was desperate for anything that could make me feel better about my life.
Whoever took this picture did a good job of capturing what it was like for me at 18 years old. I drank. Hard. Almost daily. I was anorexic. You can see the bones poking out beneath my fragile skin. When I put on my prom dress earlier that day, my mom got mad at me for gaining weight… for “getting fat.” I was 121 lbs in this picture and 5’9″. Had my left arm been in this picture, you would’ve seen over 50 fresh scars zigzagging across my arms. Just a few weeks before prom, I had cut up my entire arm. I remember coating it with Vitamin E during the days leading up, hoping no one would notice at prom. 

I was a mess. A hot, drunk mess. How I had a boyfriend and friends is beyond me. I have come a long way in the 11 years since then. I keep this picture to remind me of that. However, it is still hard to look at; it is still difficult to accept that moment in my life. 

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The End Of A Chapter, But The Beginning Of A New Life

This past weekend I completed my 200-hour yoga teacher training program. If you haven’t been following along, and you would like to read all of my YTT posts leading up to and during yoga teacher training, you can find them here. In a nutshell, I signed up for yoga teacher training as a way to celebrate 300 days without cutting myself. Four months later, training began. I was terrified and anxious those first two days, but by the end of day three, I felt completely at peace with my life. Throughout the nine weekends of training, spread across eight months, I have found a level of growth, contentment, and community that I could have never imagined possible.

Throughout my yoga teacher training, I have found growth: in my yoga practice, as a yoga teacher, and personally. When I signed up, I rarely took vinyasa classes. Actually, I was afraid of them. With a knee injury and minimal physical strength, I never felt like I could keep up. At the end of yoga teacher training, I can confidently tackle pretty much any yoga class… I know how to use props to support myself, I take rest in child’s pose when I need to, and I have learned how to engage my muscles in poses. My teaching has also blossomed through this training. I feel completely comfortable teaching a gentle or restorative class, and eventually will probably broaden out to teaching flow classes.

When training began, I was really having a difficult time with trauma memories. I also constantly had issues within my marriage. Throughout teacher training these difficulties improved in very different ways. My trauma memories and PTSD symptoms go through distinct phases now: when I am stressed out, they are bad; when I am relatively calm, they go away. When I started teacher training, I didn’t have periods where I was “relatively calm.” I have done a lot of work in therapy and through Thai Massage to address the trauma memories and PTSD symptoms while in YTT. In general, I am “relatively calm” like maybe 75% of the time. That’s not great, but it is so much better than it used to be!

There is a peacefulness that I feel inside about life now, and that has caused a huge decrease in my suicidal thoughts. When YTT started, I would have suicidal thoughts that lingered for days or weeks. My last suicidal thought was almost two weeks ago and it lasted maybe an hour or so. In YTT, I came to believe that life is worth living.

One week before my last weekend of yoga teacher training, I made the decision to move out, ending my marriage. I moved in with my cousin. It’s been so much harder than I anticipated. However, I also feel a little bit of relief too. Each day is better than the one before. The constant stress and turmoil from my marriage are no longer weighing me down. It is like I can finally breathe without feeling guilty. I can keep the kitchen clean, I can clean up after my daughter, and I can eat healthy dinners. I can do what I do best: take care of myself and my daughter.

Perhaps the most important thing I have gained from yoga teacher training is community. I have learned to trust people, to be open and vulnerable, and to accept their love and support. This group of amazing humans sat through nine weekends with me, listening to parts of my story, understanding how trauma and PTSD impact my yoga practice, and sharing love, compassion, and support. The gratitude that I have for these incredible souls is infinite. They have helped me see that I am worthy of care and compassion. I deserve to be treated with love and respect. I am strong and courageous.  It would have been difficult to get through some of the challenging events of these past eight months without their guidance and support. Each person brought in a new dynamic of wisdom and hope; each person in the program was a valuable part of my journey. Now that teacher training is over, I am making the effort to remain connected with my support system, and I look forward to watching these relationships continue to blossom.

During our last weekend together, we each taught a yoga class. My class was a restorative class, and the theme was community. I read a couple of Brene Brown quotes about the importance of connections and relationships. My class went well and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Then we shared about our karma projects. Click here to read about mine. I managed to get through it without crying. And next was our vision boards. Some pieces of mine is posted below, and another part is the cover photo for this blog. There was something raw and beautiful about the way my vision board came together. It is split into four sections: writing, love, travel, and yoga. In the middle is a picture of me, with all of the things that helped me get to where I am today. I am proud of my vision board because it shows how far I have come, and where I want to go next. It helps empower me.

Despite the amount of time and money that were required for me to complete the 200-hour YTT program, I have no regrets. While maybe not more valuable than therapy, it certainly was a worthwhile experience. I gained so much both in and out of my yoga practice. I look forward to sharing the gift of yoga with the world.

 

The Emotions Attached To The Memories

Today in therapy, amidst everything else going on in my life, I decided to address a “new” memory. This memory is not new to me, but it is a memory that I have not yet addressed in therapy. My plan was to write about the memory over the weekend, and then read it to my therapist today. However, between yoga teacher training, a yard sale, and separating from my husband, that didn’t happen. Instead, I chose to write about the memory when I arrived at therapy.

As I wrote the memory down, I felt the fear pulsing through my body. I felt the room change. I felt myself dissociate. My therapist walked in. She normally makes us sit for a moment of silence before we begin. I was so alarmed by her presence, and still so caught up in the memory, that I frantically begged her to not make us sit. I don’t remember her response, but I watched as she sat down and got on her iPad until I was ready.

The tears came. So many tears.

Typically I do not cry in therapy over my trauma memories. Today was different. Today was different because I hadn’t had the opportunity to work through this one on my own at home. There were so many emotions: fear, anger, hurt, and shame…. so much shame and guilt. I am bad. When my therapist looked up and saw that I was crying, she asked me what was going on. She asked what I needed. I knew that the solution would be to read the memory to her. This is how my trauma work has always been, because this is what works best for me. It took me several tries and a lot of tears, but I finally read the memory to her.

I could have told. It was the very first time he hurt me that badly and I could have told. But I didn’t. 

There are a lot of reasons why I didn’t tell. One being that I was only 6 years old and I probably didn’t really understand what had happened. I get it. I do. I understand all of the reasons why I didn’t tell. They all logically make sense. However, I still feel so much shame for not telling. Had I just told that one time, the rest of the awful things, the 5 or so years of abuse that followed, would not have happened.

It is heartbreaking. It makes me angry. Angry at myself. Angry at my abuser. And angry at the adults who were supposed to be taking care of me. That one situation changed my entire life. I am at least semi responsible for that.

Protecting Her

Trauma nightmares are the worst. When I was doing trauma work every week, I expected them. They became so regular back then that I was afraid to even go to sleep. Now that I’m not actively working through trauma memories on a regular basis, I don’t anticipate the nightmares. 

This morning I awoke in a panic – my first trauma-related nightmare in weeks. It took me several minutes to get oriented. And four hours later, the fear lingers. I hate what he did to me. I hate that I am still haunted by it. The dreams feel so real that I can reach out and touch the girl that he hurts. And I try. I try to hold her hand and make her feel not so scared, but I can’t. I can’t protect her. 


 

 

 

Image from http://incolors.club/collectionhdwn-hand-reaching-out-pencil-drawing.htm 

First Night Alone

Yesterday I officially moved out. 

I went to yoga in the morning; my favorite instructor was teaching. I burst into tears as soon as I saw her. She told me that even though it’s hard right now, it will get better. The lady working the desk came over and hugged me. She gave me her mala beads to borrow during this difficult time. My heart filled with gratitude from the support and kindness. 

Class started with a reclined bound angle. Not today, I thought. I chose to leave my legs out long and felt my body melt into the props. I am safe. As we then moved into a restorative twist, the tears came. The reality of moving out is hard and painful, so much more than I thought it would be.

My day was busy after yoga – filled with stress as I worked to move things from my house to my cousin’s house. It felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day. Around 3:00, my husband called and asked if I could watch our daughter while he went to the grocery store. I was instantly frustrated because I had a million other things to do. 

He was gone for 2 hours and spent $140 from our joint account…. $90 more than what we had agreed on. Of course he bought nothing but crap. It looks like the only real meals my daughter will get are when she’s with me. 

When it was time for me to leave, I sobbed. I was so upset. The pain I feel surrounding this situation is inexplicable. It is a level of pain that I could’ve never fathomed. Nothing could have prepared me for it. 

My daughter asked me why I was crying, and I had to tell her that “Mommy’s just sad today.” It is one of the only times I’ve ever cried in front of her. My husband helped put the last few things in my car, hugged me, and said he was sorry. I instantly felt the resentment towards him, hot fire in my belly. This is your fault, I thought. I am losing my house, husband, and child because you refused to get a second job to help. I’m losing everything because of you! 

As I drove away, leaving the marriage I had worked so hard to save, the house I worked so hard to buy, and the child I worked so hard to have, I sobbed. I cried so hard that I thought I literally may die. And then, I wanted to – I wanted to die because I didn’t want to feel anymore. I tried to call my therapists – neither of them answered. I started typing an email to my trauma therapist. As I was finishing up, a call came through. It was my friend from the West Coast. She is a yoga teacher who has also separated from her husband. Her words brought me so much comfort and relief. She reminded me that this decision was not impulsive, that just last year I was talking to her about wanting to leave. The decision feels impulsive, even though I know it isn’t. 

Losing everything in one day hurts so much. I am finding it difficult to sleep or eat. I just want to be numb. I imagine the next few weeks will be hard. I worry I won’t be ok. I worry I’m making a mistake. It seems like this should be an easy fix: he should just be more responsible and then we wouldn’t be in this situation. But people have to want to change and commit to it, and he doesn’t want to do that. 

Lost

Today I moved all of my clothes and my daughter’s bed over to my cousin’s house. Words cannot even express the sadness I feel. It is as if a part of me has died. I have tried to hide my tears from my daughter; I want her to see this as a positive thing instead of a negative thing. But the reality is that I am having a hard time seeing the positives right now.

It would be so much easier if I didn’t still love and care about him, but I do. I hope taking some space for a while means that he will grow up. I want him to learn to take responsibility for himself. I want him to develop some self-confidence and a sense of belonging. I want him to learn to show love in his words and actions.

Wanting something doesn’t make it come true. 

All I can do is pray that this will work out in the best way possible – whatever that means.

Until then, I just spontaneously sob all the time. I can’t eat. I feel helpless and overwhelmed, instead of strong and courageous. I feel lost.

Trusting The Process

The whole world feels heavy. 

Now that the work week is basically over, the reality of what my weekend is going to look like is sinking in. I will be cleaning and packing. I will be managing life with a hostile husband and a confused three year old. I will be moving across town, away from the neighborhood I’ve lived in for the last 6 years. I will be moving in with my cousin…. her and I basically stopped talking when I got sober. However, when I texted her yesterday saying my daughter and I needed a place to stay, she didn’t hesitate to say yes.

I am moving closer to a part of town that I enjoy – closer to some of my friends and yoga. Closer to public transportation and a city. At the same time though, I’m moving 30 minutes away from my daughter’s daycare – double the distance we are now. 

Everything is so overwhelming. I just want to get into my bed and cry. I’ve reached out to all of my supports. My favorite yoga teachers, my hometown therapist, my trauma therapist, my friends, my coworkers…. What I am beginning to realize is that no amount of support takes the pain away. It’s been helpful to have their compassion and advice, but at the end of the day, I’m still hurting. And I know they won’t be able to fix that for me. 

I look at my backseat filled with empty boxes that I need to fill. It’s just a process I guess. I am setting an intention for this weekend to just trust the process. 

Getting Out

I am moving in with my cousin on Sunday. It’s happening so fast. But I had to get out. Staying only made it so much harder for me to stick with my decision of separating. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t scared. I’m terrified. And I’m afraid I’m making a mistake. 

I can’t believe this is really happening 😩 I’ve told my parents and he’s told his. Of course he is impulsively searching for a place to live, even though he can’t move out until we sell the house. Things are so tense right now – we fight constantly. I am hoping me moving out and us having some space will be good for us.

Taking Care: Thai Massage Number 6

Tonight I had my 6th Thai Massage. I really should quit counting because I automatically calculate the amount of money I’ve invested and cringe. Self-care and healing is something I don’t like to feel guilty about, but often do. Thai Massage is a prime example of that (of course so is therapy, and yoga, and those new jeans I bought last year…). 

Typically, I have utilitized Thai as a way to compliment my trauma work and find healing surrounding the severe sexual abuse I endured as a child. However, with everything going on in my marriage right now, I knew I would not be able to handle trauma work. I debated on canceling the session since I probably wouldn’t get productive trauma work out of it. However, I decided to keep it, and reached out to my instructor to let her know that I really just needed love, compassion, and self-care. I informed her of my ending marriage and chronically ill sister.

I went into the massage knowing that I wouldn’t be able to manage or prevent trauma memories due to my heightened emotional state. Instead of being anxious, I was hopeful that the massage would help me relax some. Our session started with discussion about where I am with things – particularly with my marriage. Over the past two weeks, I have learned to feel completely numb when I talk about what is happening in my life. If I allow myself to feel even the slightest bit, I break down into tears. 

As my instructor started massaging my feet, memories of my wedding day took over. The hot tears ran down my cheeks as I grieved the loss of the love that I felt back then. At some point, I quit loving him like that. 

When my instructor got to my legs, the song changed. The music is different today. For the past five sessions, she has played the same music. I noticed when I walked in today that it was different, but I tried not to attach a judgment or fear to that. But as I laid on the mat with my legs being massaged, the sound of the windchimes, which could be heard faintly in the background of the song, screamed in my head. I am six years old and it’s the very first time he hurt me like that. We’re little and he wants to play doctor. We’re on the porch and the windchimes clang together. It’s a defining moment in my life. I watch him hurt me and I don’t stop it. I don’t yell or cry. I don’t tell anyone. I allowed it to happen. And because of that, it continued to happen for 5 more years. Despite all of my work, when that memory comes up, the guilt defines me. I am bad. 

Only one other trauma memory came up for me, and it didn’t linger long. As my instructor pressed into my thighs, I felt myself become little again. I could see my younger self in the woods. The first time he had sex with me. I’m 9 now. His hands on my legs and he’s so heavy. Everything is heavy. I quickly reminded myself that I am NOT nine years old. I knew I couldn’t go there today. I knew that if I got stuck in the woods, this Thai session would not be about self-care anymore; it would be about trauma work. I needed self-care. 

To prevent the dissociations and trauma memories, I talked. Typically I don’t talk much during our sessions, but today I felt like I talked nonstop. I talked about my fears surrounding leaving my husband. I talked about how hard it has been to use healthy coping skills. I talked about my daughter and ice cream. And at one point I even talked about what I want out of life. Anything to prevent the trauma memories from coming up.

When it was time for arms, I felt the anxiety take back over. I had specifically asked for her to work on my arms. When I struggle to show myself compassion, it’s usually in the form of injuring my arms in one way or another. Her work on my arms is like the holy grail of compassion. It reminds me that I am ok and I am worthy of more than the self-inflicted pain that I sometimes cause. It also teaches me how to cope differently. Earlier this week, I sat in my bathroom contemplating getting out my razor blade and cutting, but I chose to get out my essential oils and massage them into my arm instead. While it didn’t exactly take away the desire to numb my feelings, it did allow me to sit with them without self-injuring. If it weren’t for my experiences in Thai Massage, I wouldn’t have had that skill.

When my instructor massages my left arm, there are always a lot of things that arise. Today it seemed like there was more than usual. Like previous sessions, I found myself in the past, images of cuts and crimson running across my arm. The extreme fear of being alone came next. Please don’t leave me; I am not safe; don’t leave. At some point, I lost my breath. Trapped under the weight of shame. She’s touching them, I thought… The red marks stretching the width of my wrist. I had hoped they’d be gone by now, but they weren’t. I didn’t want her to know. This week, as the world became more than I could handle, I found relief by snapping a rubberband against my wrist. Most of the marks had faded, but a few remained. Today it felt like her hand stayed in that spot, gently applying pressure to the areas I had so cruelly destroyed in a desperate attempt to feel numb. At one point, as I caught myself holding my breath and lost in fear, I realized that I was clinging to her hand. This has happened in another session. I apologized, embarrassed by my lack of awareness and invasion of her personal space. 

When she finished, a flood of emotions came rushing in: fear, guilt, shame, pain, exhaustion, and gratitude. Accepting the compassion that my instructor was giving me on my arms was hard. I want it, but I don’t deserve it. That internal battle was overwhelming.

I rolled into a side lying position and sobbed. 

As I was curled up in a ball, in a puddle of tears, I felt my instructor gently rub my back. I am not alone. I am safe. I deserve to feel loved. 

When we had finished with arms, she asked if I was ok with trying a new stretch. She had me lay flat on my belly as she worked the back of my legs and into my back. I think she hesitated because of my trauma history. For me, I have no trauma memories where I am on my belly; I was on my back or sitting up for all of those events.  Therefore, even though I can’t see what’s coming, I feel safer on my belly.

While I was on my belly, she did this awesome stretch where she bent my knees, with my feet towards the sky, and pushed my shins towards my back. I loved the way this felt. It felt as if my torso was elongating. I felt a stretching sensation down my spine and the center of my belly. Coolest feeling ever.

The session ended with much-needed work on my back and neck, and finally savasana. I didn’t want to get out of savasana. I didn’t want to return to the real world, to the emotional chaos in my life. However, I felt so much gratitude for the time I took for self-care. This week, it was a necessity. 

As the session ended, I wanted to know if my instructor had noticed the marks on my wrist. She had spent so much time with her hand on that place that I felt like she had to have seen it. When I brought it up though, she indicated that she had not noticed the marks. She did say that she noticed the rubberband and wondered if I was using it to “punish” myself. It’s interesting: in the ~22 years that I have self-injured through wrist banging, snapping rubber bands, digging my fingernails into my wrist, cutting, and burning, I never once viewed it as “punishment.” I always saw it as a way to numb the feelings. Ahimsa, I thought. Nonviolence. I did not do a very good job of practicing ahimsa towards myself this week. When the emotions became too strong, instead of compassion, I acted violently towards myself…. in thoughts and actions. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to treat myself with the same compassion and care that I receive during Thai Massage. 

When we walked out, my instructor said, “Take care.” As I walked to my car, the words were ringing in my head. I have never given much thought to those words. Today, it was as if the meaning behind them really sunk in. Take care. What does that look like? I’m not entirely sure. I know that “taking care” is not self-injuring. It is practicing ahimsa towards myself. It is treating myself with care and compassion. It is feeling safe. 

Today’s Thai session was different than any of my others. I verbalized a lot more than I’ve ever done before. My regular readers may remember how difficult this is for me. Verbalizing my thoughts to others has been a goal I have spent the last year working on. While today it was used as a distraction from trauma memories, I am still proud of my ability to do it… to talk about the things that are coming up as they come up. That’s huge for me! 

These next few weeks are going to be difficult. Thai Massage gave me confidence that I can get through this difficult time without hurting myself. I am capable of using my healthy coping skills when I want to. I also got a level of empathy from my instructor that I don’t get from most people who know my situation. Today, it felt like she was on the mat with me, not just standing there giving me sympathy from a distance. I have so much gratitude for her care during the session. I deserve to feel safe. And because of my work in Thai tonight, I do…. I am safe and I am capable of keeping myself safe 💜🙏🏼




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