Being present to the truth

We need to count by touching

Not by adding and subtracting

Mark Nepo

There are thoughts about life and then there is just life, pure and simple as it appears before you in all of its wondrous and at times terrible beauty, as you touch it and taste it, rather than analyse it. What is the story we make of life?  This is a question I am asking myself at present.

Recently when I started my Body Harmony therapy I got a bit offended when the therapist made mention of my being caught up in a story. I guess I thought on some level she was trying to imply that my pain was not real. This week when I just let out the feelings of deep sadness and grief I had trapped inside with very little of the story around it and she placed her hand on me knee and looked into my eyes with true deep empathy and compassion, I got it and I realised my fears that she was yet another person who was going to deny, invalidate and shut me down were unfounded?

My ideas of who people are, are not always right, (sometimes, yes, but not always). I have had two experiences this week with projecting onto two men around me in the park things that were not true when we finally began to talk. These two experiences have left me questioning my view of the world. How much of the story I make up around life and other people is actually real? How much also do I hold back after having decided something upon supposition or past fear will be detrimental to me or difficult or painful

I am not meaning to imply here that the impulse to be protected and safe while we seek healing is wrong, especially if we have been traumatised in the past.  Such damage can create so much fear of reaching out and may block us permanently.

One of the other impacts of trauma is that it captures your attention and takes it to another place where it is no longer so fully present to the sensations of today, instead we are caught up in past sensation or triggered by new ones which echo old and leave us no longer truly and fully present to the external and real in an open, feeling way.

I have tried to express this in an earlier blog about being caught between two worlds. What came up for me this week was how much the illness of my older sister took from me, how much separation came about as a consequence and how much fear of being present to life and love as a result. For some time I have been wanting to go and visit her surviving children, but I have been feeling held back. I know seeing them will bring up pain for me, but also deep joy and a part of me longs to connect while the other fears and holds back.

Another aspect of my past I relived in session this weekwas  the trauma of undergoing my first termination of pregnancy in 1983. It comes as a memory of being laid flat on my back with legs spread wide and pain going up deep inside me and spreading all through my abdomen, a terrible dragging pain which I seem to fight off every morning now when I awaken. When I am feeling all of these painful sensations and then feeling myself so powerfully pulled back to the room I sat in following the procedure with tears falling down my face, the present has faded out of consciousness.

I am being reminded by my therapist to be in present time to bring myself and my focus back to the room while still being aware of the sensation. then rather than thoughts there are deeper body sensations flowing like waves and often tears erupt which evokes a relief of the painful holding on and in. The sense of my heart faltering as tears break through to the surface of consciousness …. I am reminded of how last week when I went to the dentist and they tilted the chair back and then placed a heavy lead coat on me before taking an x-ray I was triggered back to other situations of being laid flat out on my back.

With so many of these deep body memories is it any wonder I struggle each morning to get out of bed? Its interesting to me that the more fully I feel the pain of these experiences, deeply feel it, allow it to move through me and release it, the more joyful desire I now feel to be present and engage deeply with life. My retreat into isolation all those years ago was driven by so much fear. There came a point in my sobriety where I had to begin to feel and engage in the deep pain I had buried. There was a desire to go back somewhere safe, to be in the old environment but also a resistance towards that too. It took me further 10 years to make it back to my home town and it has taken another four to begin to fully engage with the process through a number of stops, starts and replays of separation trauma where intense anger and fear came up for me.

you-cant-expect-to-have-a-deep-relationship-with-a-shallow-person

There is a joy I feel today in feeling real, in having places to go where I am truly seen below the surface by others being real who can see deeply.  Many people don’t touch that depth and they may fear it deeply, I am aware shallow may be a value judgement that doesn’t sit well with me, but I am also aware that in order to heal I need to find places of validation where I am truly seen and can be real in order to touch deeply and engage fully with what lives inside me.

For so many years all of this felt like a deep ocean that would threaten to drown me.  I needed help to navigate and deep sea dive it, it was just too much alone.  What came up too when I shed those tears about my sister and then my Dad’s sudden death was the deep understanding that all those years ago I had no place to express the pain, it got driven deep in my body, I used booze to cope, then there were the painful explosions as others drew close to someone who had a mine field of grief trapped inside her.  I felt true compassion for myself and for everyone else who wanders lost, looking and yet not truly knowing what for until that truth emerges in a difficult to find place which offers support, understanding and recognition.

It can be a long and difficult journey to find the right kind of help.  Having had so many negative experiences I can only say you know when you are in the right place with those who will help you.  it may take some time to trust if you have tried and been hurt before, but don’t stop searching until you find the place where you can be real and present to the deep truth that lives inside you,

The loving gaze

I wrote this post earlier in the week.

As a child we need the loving eyes of the mother to connect with, to mirror us. I had a powerful experience in today’s body work session as my therapist was working with my spine.  I was standing upright and she was touching me gently around the heart, one hand on the front and the other behind.

As usually happens, she was reminding me to breathe. At that moment I had trouble breathing and then I was pulled deeply into a past traumatic time/memory  :  I am in the car with my lungs crushed by the steering wheel and my teeth broken, legs cut with car pieces inside them, searing pain although me, struggling to breathe as my lung is pierced by a rip and fluid flows inward, paramedics behind me with a mask trying to put it over my face which I wanted to fight and twist to push off.

My therapist kept her gaze on mine and I felt anxious at connecting to her gaze being so powerfully drawn in by the trauma and in the session, her gaze became for me an anchor to connect me with present time. My tendency is to dissociate back into the trauma which obviously still lives for me on a body level.

As she was looking into my eyes with love and telling me I was safe a huge well of emotion rose up. Trauma takes you into a lonely place where it seems no one else can accompany you. It is about a split or a removal from a place of connectedness and love where you are flooded with pain and no one can help you or reach you. You feel yourself to be so alone.

On the day of my accident all those years ago I was conscious enough to be able to give the paramedics my mother and father’s telephone number. Mum came to the site of the accident and rode with me in the ambulance. I was lucky to be found. At the time I was so caught up in my own experience I had not consciousness of its impact on others.

I have relived this event in another cranio-sacral session many years ago after which I had a bike accident and the pattern was repeated, except this time I was on the other side of the world with no support, only my ex husband and his mother who didn’t want to have to really be bothered with me. It was a dark and lonely time.

Glimpses of light came. The beautiful girl from my Dad’s home down in Holland who came to help me with my shopping and be a companion when I needed it. I don’t know how I would have survived without her.

And yet then again the family I was with were unable to cope and I made the decision to take myself to Glastonbury and an ashram away from the support of my friend.  This is a pattern for me.  Uranus and Pluto in the first house.

There are imprints and echoes for me at this time of year which represents the time I was in hospital in 1979 in the final term of school unable to attend my graduation and of that journey to the underworld over in England later in 2005.

It takes time to integrate the overwhelming nature of trauma. I am still deep in process. I seem to be making progress.

Last week was hard. I had four days where the trauma pulled me in, what pulls me out each time is talking to someone, my best friend, my Mum or the Lifeline counsellor on the days no one else is answering the phone call.

Without love and connection there is nothing to form  a link into the traumatised reality and the fact it scares others, since we are undergoing enormous fear means we can be abandoned again. As a trauma sufferer who has often lashed out I am grateful for those who understand and don’t abandon me. I think of the times I was alone as a child and there was no set of eyes to see me. To hold me in a loving gaze.

It is something my recently deceased sister used to give me, in the absence of my Mum’s care she was there, until she married and went overseas. In later life in the care home she would often gaze on me with love. She too was traumatised, she was stuck, it’s a family pattern.

I am not entirely sure where this blog has gone. I just came home from the dog park where I have not been able to connect with the group I usually connect to. They are caught up in an easy banter and joking that on some days I just cannot participate in.

I need to just play with my dog and have some simple time together where we are not frozen in place by conversation but are free to move about the park. I am aware today how important movement is for me.

The longing for the loving gaze from the wrong quartes is not as strong now I have the therapeutic support. Being seen, held and understood makes it easier to do this for myself.

For now I want to write about the experience as it so important that those living within a traumatised reality are understood and attempts made to connect with them.

You do not know what even a kindly smile can do for a person who may not have seen or been able to connect with anyone else all day. In the end its love that heals, its non judgemental awareness and presence which makes trauma bearable for us.  Even if you cannot understand, even it scares you, please try.  And if you cannot, please try to be kind.  Do not devastate us more with your misunderstanding, fear and judgement.

The importance of validation

Do you have a really good friend who sets your world back to rights when you get a little mixed up, uncertain, filled with confusion?

I am blessed to say that I do. This friend is a lot like me, he never judges me, he shows me understanding, when I am confused and stuck in self judgement as a result of my invalidating past, he sets me straight in the nicest way by valuing, validating and putting out a sane and balanced point of view.

This happened to me today. I was feeling like there was something wrong with me. In a body work session some deeply buried anger and grief at not being supported or loved when I was grieving by a few rigidly defended members in my support group 7 or so years ago came up. I had an outburst about it in the therapy as I was tapping into the feelings in my body work session.

At the time, all those years ago I had stuffed the distress and upset in my body. When I came home I put on loud music and danced around the room in a frenzy and as a result I ended up falling backwards and hitting my shoulder very painfully against a lounge chair arm with a steel casing. This is quite funny as I read it back and it not sound like a very traumatic injury but it really hurt me and it came one year following a major head trauma I suffered overseas, on the first anniversary of my husband making the decision to end my marriage.

I now see how stuck I was at the time, still very bonded to a family with lots of unresolved trauma in both my family and myself. When the second injury occurred I was isolated and living alone in a coastal town without any support or daily contact with anyone but my support group on one day a week. I didn’t have a therapist which I now know is essential to healing and I could not move forward to make a new start. I was too traumatised. The bridge of trust to the outside world and others was broken due to past invalidation and lack of emotional support.

My family suffered from a difficulty in showing empathy, unconditional love and I now see it was a mistake to look to them. I needed to build a sense of support within myself from knowing who I truly was, what I had suffered and the extent to which my grief over past difficulties including the loss of my father had impacted on me. I only realise all of this now though, with the gift of hindsight.

It is only lately that I am able to feel the true pain of the things I carried and struggled with, without self judgement. I didn’t really have a place to go to fully express my aching soul.

I am so grateful to have come across a wonderful blog online here : The Invisible Scar through following a post, reblogged on yet another site by Robert Goldstein yesterday. This blog is related to informing people about the impact of emotional abuse in childhood, abuse which is not as obvious as overt physical abuse but never the less leaves deep scars on the psyche and soul which are invisible.

This invisible wound or scar aches, throbs and burns. In my own case I have felt this wound to self like a piece of schrapnel which is lodged deep within me, which moves around, is sometimes soothed and receeds into the back ground from a time, and then comes to consciousness in pain especially at night when the unconscious makes itself more conscious on a somatic level. I am working with a body work therapist now to understand and help with the total immobilisation I suffer on some days.

I am not sure if in today’s bodywork session my anger was fully validated by the therapist. She looked a little taken a back. My anger wasn’t directed at her it was at the old situation. She said to me “you know it is okay to be angry”. Part of me doesn’t truly believe this to be so. She questioned me as to whether I was in the present or past when I was feeling it. I have always been able to keep a check on my anger in that I won’t lash out at others and am very much aware it is of the past. At times I have projected and transferred it but it doesn’t take me long to get a handle on it. It first began to emerge over seven years ago after Chiron passed over my natal Mars Saturn Moon, I would allow myself to scream and shout or hit something after removing myself to a safe space.  I would also express it in my journal often tearing up the page through about seven layers with the pen after laying down an angry scrawl. Then after many years the grief under the anger began to make itself felt.

I know at times I have scared others and even when I have not hurt them they have tried to make me feel my anger has hurt them and I am bad or wrong for feeling it.  Today I know that feelings just are, emotional invalidation is to judge someone’s feeling as wrong if it challenges you and the to try and manipulate them to change.  I have suffered this at the hands of my family many times.

This kind of invalidation has had to happen several times for me to see it wasn’t my problem, but theirs especially if they tried to demonise me for it.   At the time these reaction made me feel that it was NOT okay to be angry. But I beginning to trust that when I feel angry some kind of boundary has been violated or I have been abused subtly. I now have a good therapist who can help me in this.  As my  awareness has grown, I don’t have to vocalise as much and can take steps to deal with it. When I do I can ask myself how I have been triggered.

My catholic education led me to believe anger was wrong and yet justified anger is what is needed most to protect our spirits from violation. In the temple Jesus showed real anger with the sanctity of the space was violated by the money lenders.

My being, soul and body is my own temple. It’s a temple that has often been invaded, in childhood by having procedures forced on me like painful orthodontic treatment to improve my bucked teeth, a haircut of long hair off I didn’t want or need, through to injuries from parental neglect or lack of care and attention. Once I  got third degree burns to my foot after my Mum placed a boiling hot bucket of water on a step near to where I was drawing which I stepped into. My arm was pulled out of socket by her pulling me back. Once I cut open my wrist and nearly severed the tendons after being locked outside the house. The key to the house had not been put back on the hook and when I came home I was locked out and ended up breaking a window which cut my wrist open. I ran down to the neighbours and they took me to hospital but when the cut happened I felt so scared and alone.

In addition as a child I learned to orient myself around my mother’s needs, it was the only way to get her attention which was focused almost solely on her business and keeping the house and us perfectly clean, tidy and controlled. She was never there after school to care, cherish, nourish and support. I found myself in tears yesterday after seeing the support being offered to someone who was being mentored for singing.

Reading about similar issues on the blog of The Invisible Scar has made me realise where the emptiness, loneliness and sadness of my late childhood and early adolescence came from. I sought relief from it through addictions from my late teens on and caused myself even more damage through picking people who could not support or validate me.

I feel a certain anxiety even writing all of this, a fear of judgement, inner voices telling me I am being narcissistic and self obsessed. Whose voices are these?. That is part of not feeling very strong in my own sense of self.

Those of us recovering from this kind of history know how long it takes, how painful the road and how necessary it is to have those who can validate us along the way. My friend that I mentioned earlier does that for me. There was a period a few years ago when I had to let go of some friends who seemed determined to blame me and shame me. It was a painful lesson but in the end I was better off alone, hard as that was. They had no idea of how trauma had trapped me, how jangled my nervous systems was.

Now I am lucky enough to have my best friend as well as others online and a very good therapist who support the part of me that is truly me and trying to emerge, that unconsciously carries all the body memory of violation and is working hard to integrate these into awareness.

Without them I don’t know if I could have made sense of my twisted world or of the body symptoms I have suffered from repressed feelings. I am beginning to attain clarity into my past by listening to what has been buried in my body. In releasing it, in acknowledging it, I heal.

For this to happen I need first external validation and help in understanding how I can be confused when those threatened or unaware or unconsciously triggered in their own defences seek to invalidate me.

Blogging gives me a voice, a place to share, and reading others blogs helps me to recognise we are all in this together and have much to teach and learn from each other along the journey of healing. Through hearing your story I can heal and I hope by hearing mine you can too. xo

To feel the wind : Lessons in trauma recovery

I just had one of those beautiful moments when I felt the wind gently caress my face and was touched by the grace of nature. Nature offers me a place of peace far from the storm of painful sensations, emotions and conflicts stirred up by my past trauma and by my own reactions to being hurt.

I am considering this issue at the moment since beginning to work over the past few months with a therapist to foster body awareness due to painful symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. What happens in trauma is the over activation of the nervous system which goes on high alert and begins to pump out stimulating chemicals which can’t easily be soothed or arrested. I am learning there are things I can do to help myself and breathe through the feelings without freaking out as much.  I can also help myself by reaching for remedies which support my recovery at the cellular level.

One interesting fact that I have recently learned from my therapist is how the chemical content of our body cells is changed by ongoing trauma and stress, I am taking tissue salts to help redress this balance and as result I am starting to sleep unbroken for the first time in over 10 years. Not for very long, maybe max 5 hours, but that is fine for me to feel able to cope and that I have energy if I am refreshing my system with time spent in nature, good company, cuddling my dog and letting myself be present to the elements instead of closing myself off and shutting down to life.

So much is changing for me and I am seeing how my past trauma has affected me, how rough it was when I began to enter recovery and uncover deep and complex emotions that got split off and drowned in my addiction. Around 7 years into this process of recovery I began to look for a less stimulating lifestyle and one in which I could release what was trapped inside but I was not in a supportive environment. Instead I had others around me who were frightened by me and my emerging feelings and wanted me to change. I had to lose a marriage, (admittedly not by my own choice) and then have a very dark time alone where I had two other major traumas on the anniversary of that abandonment which triggered all my pain from other times of being left and told I wasn’t good enough and I flailed around for quite a few years looking for new support which would encourage me in the process of healing.

I was not aware until very recently (and now it is clear as I finally AM in a supportive environment with several people who encourage me to take my inner world seriously) how hypervigilant I was in trying to seek approval from the wrong places and how often I was made to believe by my catholic education and upbringing that there was something wrong with me for having very real strong human feelings and needs. This is a very powerful unconscious conditioning which I now understand and that understanding is making it easier for me to be alone and sustain myself from within and in healthier ways.

Nature is a profound source of soothing for me in this process. Trauma leads to dissociation from the body and from our inner nature, if we lack a sufficiently supportive holding environment to help us re-engage with that trauma in a context of self soothing we remain split off, and it seems to me that nature helps me to split off from myself less, a good walk along the windswept pathway puts me back in my body and that feels wonderful.

Movement helps my trauma to dissipate because so much of my trauma is associated with being still and overpowered by an accident of some kind in which something from outside entered my body and ruptured the continuum of my boundaries. This left me struggling to know my boundary and in having good boundaries.

Walking and moving or pushing out shows me where my boundary is. The wind on my face shows me where I meet the wind in life and helps me know how it feels to be soothed and caressed rather than penetrated painfully and jangled around, it gives me a context for soothing rather than painful experiences.

One of the powerful exercises in working with trauma developed by therapists such as Peter Levine is to pendulate or move between the parts of the body which are in pain and carry traumatic imprints and the parts of the body which feel sensations of peace and pleasure.   So much of being traumatised leads us to a focus on what hurts, that place of hurt is like a magnet that draws the iron filings of our attention towards it, but if we can find a focus of goodness in the body to counter balance that we can learn to draw our attention away from the pain. It is not that we deny it, we can notice or touch it with our awareness but we don’t need to let the painful, traumatic sensation engage our entire focus.

Feeling the wind on my face is such a blessing and I am not sure if you will understand if you haven’t suffered trauma why, but that caress of the wind shows me I am in the body that I took flight from due to trauma and that there is the hope of pleasure outside the dark valley of pain that for so many years has held me down under its weight of sadness, loss and longing.

I feel a new sense of purpose in this work with trauma.  I want to share about it as much as I can to help others who are trapped in trauma.  Sometimes I can hear a voice in the wind which is a portent from spirit with a message about what my purpose is.  Wind is associated to spirit.  Spirit enlivens and engages, it moves things about and lets a flow happen which trauma dams up.  In my heart when I listen to the voice of wind telling me there is freedom beyond pain I wish to let the message circulate, freely like the wind and to remind others of the precious gifts nature offers us in helping us to reconnect and heal.